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Avengers, The (1961-69)


Main image of Avengers, The (1961-69)
ABC Television for ITV
161x50 minute episodes, black & white/colour
Directors includeDon Leaver
 Peter Hammond
 Robert Fuest
 Roy Ward Baker
Writers include Brian Clemens
 Philip Levene
 Roger Marshall

Cast: Patrick Macnee (John Steed); Ian Hendry (Dr. David Keel); Honor Blackman (Catherine Gale); Diana Rigg (Mrs. Emma Peel); Linda Thorson (Tara King); Jon Rollason (Dr. Martin King); Patrick Newell (Mother)

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The unusual caseload of MI5½, featuring the debonair John Steed and his succession of partners, including Catherine Gale and Mrs Emma Peel.

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The Avengers (ITV, 1960-1969) is one of British TV's greatest successes, although the series, best remembered for its mix of outlandish plotting and tongue-in-cheek humour, started life as an altogether more mundane affair.

Howard Thomas, managing director of ITV broadcaster ABC, suggested to his director of drama, Sydney Newman, that the company's output could benefit from a crime thriller. While these discussions were taking place it became clear that producer Leonard White was having problems with one of the company's shows, Police Surgeon (ITV, 1960). The series' star, Ian Hendry, was popular with audiences but the programme was not performing as well as hoped.

Rather than discard the series, Newman and White decided to refashion it into something closer to Newman's idea for a lightweight thriller. In the revised format Hendry would play Dr David Keel, a reprise in all but name of his Police Surgeon character Dr Geoffrey Brent, but this time he would be partnered by a slightly shady secret agent, John Steed (Patrick Macnee).

In the first episode Keel asks British Intelligence for assistance in avenging the death of his wife, killed by a drugs gang. That help turns out to be John Steed, a ruthless and unlikeable agent with questionable morals. The pair's 'avenging' exploits proved popular but it was only after Hendry left the show to pursue a film career that The Avengers came into its own.

With Steed promoted to centre stage and Keel replaced by leather-clad anthropologist Kathy Gale (Honor Blackman), the series quickly transformed itself into a more stylish affair infused with a growing level of humour. Blackman left the show in 1964 to appear in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964) and her character was replaced by Emma Peel (M(an) Appeal). Mrs Peel, played by Diana Rigg, proved Steed's perfect foil and their witty double act helped establish The Avengers as a worldwide hit. After two highly acclaimed seasons, Rigg also left for a Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), to be replaced by an inexperienced Canadian actress, Linda Thorson, as trainee agent, Tara King.

Unfortunately, this final line-up failed to create the on-screen chemistry audiences had come to expect and with waning interest from the US market The Avengers was finally cancelled although the show's producer, Brian Clemens, attempted to resurrect the series six years later as the short-lived and forgettable New Avengers (ITV, 1976-77).

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
The Case of The Missing Corpse (3:08)
U.S. Opening sequence (0:28)
Production stills
Police Surgeon (1960)
Best, Richard (1916-2004)
Blackman, Honor (1925-)
Clemens, Brian (1931-)
Glover, Julian (1935-)
Goddard, Jim (1936-2013)
Jeffrey, Peter (1929-1999)
Kwouk, Burt (1930- )
Macnee, Patrick (1922-)
Mitchell, Warren (1926-)
Nation, Terry (1930-97)
Newman, Sydney (1917-1997)
O'Hara, Gerry (1924-)
Rigg, Diana (1938-)
Spooner, Dennis (1932-1986)
Tanner, Peter (1914-2002)
ABC Television
'60s Spies and Private Eyes