Avengers, The

Tagged: TV

UK tv series (1961-1969). ABC TV (which became part of Thames TV in 1968). Created Sydney Newman. Producers Leonard White (seasons 1 and 2), John Bryce (seasons 2 and 3), Julian Wintle (season 4), Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens (seasons 5-7). Writers included Clemens, Terence Feely, Dennis Spooner, Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks, Eric Paice, Ludovic Peters, Philip Levene, Peter Ling, Roger Marshall, Terry Nation, John Lucarotti, Jon Manchip White, Martin Woodhouse. Directors included Don Leaver, Peter Hammond, Roy Baker, Sidney Hayers, Gordon Flemyng, John Moxey, Robert Day, Robert Fuest, Charles Crichton, Don Chaffey, Don Sharp, John Hough. Cast includes Honor Blackman, Patrick Macnee, Patrick Newell, Diana Rigg (replacing Blackman), Julie Stevens and Linda Thorson (replacing Rigg). Seven seasons, 161 50-minute episodes. Black and white 1961-1966, colour 1967-1969.

This series' indirect precursor, Police Surgeon, began in 1960; produced and written by Julian Bond, it starred Ian Hendry as a compassionate police surgeon who spent his time helping people and solving cases. In 1961 Newman, later to be the BBC's head of drama, changed the format, making it less realistic; the title, to The Avengers; the running time, from 25 to 50 minutes; and slightly changed Hendry's character, though he was still a compassionate doctor. Most importantly, he introduced Macnee as the new protagonist, secret agent John Steed, a cool, well dressed, absurdly posh gentleman. 1962 saw the departure of Hendry and the arrival of Blackman as leather-clad Cathy Gale, judo expert; at first she alternated with Stevens as Venus Smith, nightclub singer, who appeared in only six episodes.

The series, now far removed from its original format, became ever more popular as Steed and Gale battled increasingly bizarre enemies of the Crown.

The Avengers peaked in 1965, becoming more lavish, coincident with its sale to US television and Gale's replacement as sidekick by the strong-minded, intelligent, cynical and beautiful Emma Peel (Rigg). The scripts became ever more baroque, not to say rococo. There had been occasional sf episodes from early on (nuclear blackmail, terrorism using bubonic plague); now sf plots became the norm, involving everything from invisible men (see Invisibility) and carnivorous plants to "Cybernauts" (killer Cyborgs), Androids, mind-control Rays and Time Machines, mostly connected with plots to take over the UK or the world. The Avengers had become perhaps the archetypal 1960s television series, in its snobbery about the upper class, its stylish decadence, its high camp and its sometimes surreal visual ambience. Robert Fuest, who later made The Final Programme (1974; vt The Last Days of Man on Earth), directed many of the later episodes; so did other mildly distinguished film-makers such as Roy Baker, John Hough and Don Sharp. The writer most associated with the series, and responsible for much of its new look and lunatic plotting, was Brian Clemens, who became coproducer of the last three series. The last season (1968-1969) had Tara King (Thorson) replacing Emma Peel as female sidekick, and also introduced Steed's grossly fat boss, "Mother" (Newell).

A number of original novels and at least one story collection were based on or around The Avengers. The first nine were numbered: #1 to #4 were by John Garforth, being The Floating Game (1967), "The Laugh Was on Lazarus" (1967), The Passing of Gloria Munday (1967) and Heil Harris! (1967); #5 to #7 were by Keith Laumer, being The Afrit Affair (1968), The Drowned Queen (1968) and The Gold Bomb (coll 1968); and #8 and #9 were by Norman A Daniels, being The Magnetic Man (1968) and Moon Express (1969). Other Tie authors (whom see) included Peter Leslie writing as by Patrick Macnee, and John Peel writing with Dave Rogers. The Complete Avengers (1988) by Dave Rogers is a nonfiction book about the series; another is The Avengers Dossier (1998) by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping.

Although The Avengers belonged spiritually to the 1960s, Albert Fenell and Brian Clemens revived the series in 1976, with French financial backing, as The New Avengers, again starring Macnee, with Joanna Lumley as beautiful female sidekick Purdey and Gareth Hunt as kung-fu expert Mike Gambit. The series was made by Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises/IDTV TV Productions, Paris, with Canadian episodes co-credited to Nielsen-Ferns Inc; two seasons, 1976-1977, 26 50-minute episodes, colour. Unfortunately the stories lacked the ease and panache of the 1960s version, and the sf ingredients became fewer and less inventive; the Cybernauts returned in one episode. John Steed's visible ageing must have acted as a kind of memento mori for nostalgic but dissatisfied viewers. In 1977 the entire production company moved to Canada, where the final episodes were set. Ties to The New Avengers included novels by Peter Cave (whom see). [PN/JB/DRL]

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