THE AVENGERS debuted on British TV January 7, 1961 as a spin-off of "Police Surgeon". John Wickham Gascone Berresford Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry) star as a crime-fighting duo. They are sophisticated equals, serious and confident, with an offbeat and subtle tongue-in-cheek approach. Steed is a charming and witty secret agent and Ian Hendry...quit the series during a BBC strike. Only 2 episodes survive along with the first 22 minutes of the premiere episode.
The next incarnation of AVENGERS includes nightclub singer Venus Smith (Julie Stevens) for 6 episodes. Steed's third partner is Dr. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), an anthropologist. She is a beautiful widow, cool and in control, and wears practical leather outfits. Steed's wardrobe is stylish Edwardian. They are equals. After 52 black & white episodes on videotape, Blackman left the series for movies, most notably as "Pussy Galore" in GOLDFINGER (1964).
In October 1965 Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) became Steed's new partner. Emma Peel's name is derived from "M Appeal" or "Man Appeal". The series switched from video to film, and the 26 b & w and 24 colour episodes are considered to be the classic AVENGERS shows, the best.
Emma Peel is a sexy, independent, wealthy widow, with fast reflexes for Kung Fu fights she invariably wins. Nobody looks better in black leather than Emma Peel. Both she and Steed live sophisticated lifestyles, constantly drink far too much alcohol with no effect, and respect each other. During their adventures they are a romantic couple with perfect chemistry, yet we never learn if they have a sexual liaison.
John Steed: "There isn't a body."
Emma Peel: "There's no body?"
John Steed: "There's no body."
Emma Peel: "There's always a body!"
John Steed: "Mrs. Peel, we're needed."
(Emma is admiring an antique bed)
Emma Peel: "I've always rather fancied myself in one of these."
John Steed: "So have I... I mean, I have too."
Emma Peel: "You know my wavelength."
John Steed: "I do indeed."
Emma Peel: "Would you like a drink?"
John Steed: "Intravenously!"
(Emma is bouncing on a trampoline)
John Steed: "Look, do you mind? It's like watching a game of perpendicular tennis."
(Steed is magnetically attached to his car, Emma tries to help and becomes attached to him)
John Steed: "Don't fight it Mrs. Peel. We're inseparable."
(picking up Emma, who is injured)
John Steed: "Lean on me, Mistress Peel, as much as you like."
By 1966 THE AVENGERS had become an international hit. However, Diana Rigg left the series at the height of its success in 1967.
Enter Tara King (Linda Thorson) for 32 episodes. The relationship with John Steed is changed, because Tara comes from the government espionage service, is much younger, and is Steed's student rather than his equal. She admires him, but there is some conflict and tension. And THE AVENGERS degenerates into outdated spy antics, campy sets, and copies itself and its imitators.
THE NEW AVENGERS (1976-1977) stars Patrick Macnee as John Steed, Gareth Hunt as Mike Gambit, and Joanna Lumley as Purdey. The trio work for a vague arm of British Intelligence. The youngsters do most of the work and look up to Steed for guidance. We learn more about Steed's past in the 26 episodes.
THE NEW AVENGERS IN CANADA is the name of the last 4 episodes of THE NEW AVENGERS. It was filmed in Toronto, and I love watching the old footage of my home town--which is not disguised as an American city as it is in countless movies and TV shows.
Laurie Johnson composed the theme music for THE AVENGERS. The classic series has lovely orchestral music with a memorable melody. THE NEW AVENGERS' theme is aggressive and not as good.
THE AVENGERS (1998) is the inferior movie version. Ralph Fiennes is miscast as John Steed, Uma Thurman is OK as Emma Peel, and Sean Connery is good as Sir August de Wynter--the villain who tries to control the Earth's weather. Patrick Macnee has an amusing voice only cameo.