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The Avengers: The 1960s Television Show

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Emma Peel and John Steed

Emma Peel and John Steed

Classic Television: The Avengers

The television series The Avengers is a blend of espionage, fantasy and occasional science fiction that has always appealed to those who enjoy witty, off-beat television.

While this British programme acquired a huge international following back in the Sixties, for many it had been nearly forgotten until its revival in its cinematic incarnation in 1998 and its re-runs on BBC4 and ITV4 in the UK and BBC America in the USA. It has, however, always been a cult favourite and considered by many to be among the best of its genre from that era.

The series aired in the United Kingdom from January 1961 until May 1969, and comprised 161 episodes. The Avengers became one of the most popular television series of all time, when it was bought by television companies from 120 different countries.

The majority of the show's popularity was due to the pairing of Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg as agents John Steed and Emma Peel. While this duo are probably the best remembered and most loved, there was certainly more to the series than just Steed with Peel.

This is my homage to television at its best...the style of the Sixties lives on in The Avengers.


First Series Opening Credits

Season / Series One

Ian Hendry & Patrick Macnee

The Avengers was a replacement for the short-lived TV series Police Surgeon, produced by ABC-TV in the UK, and ran from September to December 1960. It starred Ian Hendry as Dr. Geoffrey Brent, but when it was suddenly cancelled he was asked to pair up with Patrick Macnee. Thus, The Avengers was born with Hendry playing Dr. David Keel and Macnee, John Steed. At this point, Hendry was considered the star of the show with Macnee as his mysterious, sometimes ruthless sidekick.

The first two episodes featured Steed and Keel avenging the shooting death of Keel's fiancée, Peggy, by members of a drug ring. Unfortunately, only the first twenty minutes of this introduction are known to exist (from the episode Hot Snow), along with two other full episodes from this first season: The Frighteners and Girl on a Trapeze.

UPDATE: A third complete episode has been discovered from Season 1 - Tunnel of Fear.


Series Two Opening Credits

1962: Enter Honor Blackman

Series Two & Three: Cathy Gale

During the first season of The Avengers, an actor's strike halted production at episode 26 and it did not resume for almost a year. Once production was due to recommence, Ian Hendry had decided to leave the show for a movie career. The producers asked Patrick Macnee to continue which he agreed to do. Macnee, thus, became the lynch pin of the series.

With this decision, actor Jon Rollason temporarily replaced Hendry for three episodes at the beginning of season two, playing Dr. Martin King. However, it was decided that a woman should be Steed's new crime-fighting partner.

Cathy Gale would become the first liberated female character created for television. Honor Blackman won the role (albeit Nyree Dawn Porter was the producers' first choice), and her first filmed episode was Death Dispatch in June, 1962.

Honor Blackman completed 43 episodes during her tenure. By 1964, for reasons which are still unclear, she had decided to leave and accept the role of Pussy Galore in the upcoming James Bond extravaganza, Goldfinger. This left The Avengers without a female lead, but after several months the production team started to look in earnest for a replacement.

Eventually, an actress was found and she would take the series to new levels and the television world by storm...

Cathy Gale In Action

The Avengers Arrive In The United States

While The Avengers had been running on British television since 1961, it had never been seen in the USA.

With financial backing from the Americans, the series transferred to film - albeit in black and white. With this transfer and sale, the American audience needed an introduction to The Avengers.

Below are the full credits to the black and white Diana Rigg season including the introductory sequence used at the beginning of each episode shown in the USA, but not seen in the UK.

This also introduced Diana Rigg to American viewers.

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1965: Mrs Peel...We're Needed!

Series Four: Diana Rigg

Initially, Elizabeth Shepherd was chosen for the role of Mrs. Emma Peel towards the end of 1964 (see below). However, this decision backfired when, after completing some filming, the producers released her, leading to an urgent recast of the role.

Consequently, additional searches had to be undertaken and one focused on an actress who had recently appeared in a British television drama called The Hothouse. Diana Rigg only auditioned "for a giggle" and felt that she would never be seriously considered for the role of Mrs. Peel. But, as TV history recalls, she not only won the part but was also about to take the television world by storm!

The Avengers had arrived. This period of the show's history was to feature a lighter comic touch in contrast to the much more hard-edged tone evident in the Blackman episodes. Steed and Peel's humour-laden conversations became a mainstay of the programme as they visibly enjoyed trying to top each other's witticisms.

This less serious style lent itself ideally to episodes that were now characterized by an overt science fiction tone, with dastardly masterminds creating havoc each week. Peel and Steed had to deal with giant carnivorous plants, being shrunk to miniature, killer robots, mind-transferring machines and invisible enemies. The series also parodied its American contemporaries, with episodes such as The Girl From Auntie and Mission...Highly Improbable, for example.

In addition to the humour, there was also an underlying fetishism aspect in many of the episodes - particularly one controversial episode for the time called A Touch of Brimstone. Mrs Peel, dressed in a dominatrix outfit (designed by Diana Rigg ), had the American censors in uproar and Rigg's Queen of Sin was not seen in the US when the series first aired there. Tight-fitting leather fashion for Mrs. Gale, and to some extent, Mrs. Peel was one of the classic features of the show, although Rigg only wore leather on a few occasions, preferring instead her more flexible Emmapeelers in later episodes.

Diana Rigg's arrival coincided with the programme's sale to US television. This resulted in making it the first British series to be aired on primetime American television and a change was made to the opening credits of the first Emma Peel season. A brief prologue was added, referred to as the "chessboard sequence", explaining the concept of the series and introducing the characters to the American audience.

Global sales and fame followed...


Is That You, Mrs Peel?

Elizabeth Shepherd as Emma Peel

Every Avengers fan knows that Diana Rigg was Mrs. Emma Peel. But were you aware that she was not the first actress to be hired to play the role?

Elizabeth Shepherd filmed all of the first aired episode The Town of No Return and part of another episode The Murder Market, but it was soon announced that her services were no longer required.

Why? Well, no-one is certain of the actual reasons, but the consensus seems to be that she simply was not right for the part. This decision to get rid of her appears to be compounded by her penchant for an extravagant wardrobe, along with a tendency to rewrite dialogue on the set.

The producers, therefore, made the risky choice of re-casting the role, but history shows that the selection of Diana Rigg was worth the risk. (All filming was re-recorded with Diana Rigg and it is uncertain whether the Shepherd takes still exist).

Above, you can see what Mrs. Peel may have looked like had Elizabeth Shepherd stuck around.


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Emma Peel Becomes the Queen of Sin

A Touch of Brimstone (1965-66)

The much talked about episode filmed in 1965 in which Diana Rigg's character becomes the racy Queen of Sin.

Banned in the US at the time, but shown in the UK in an edited version - due to the use of whips - unsurprisingly, this is the all-time highest-rated episode in The Avengers history at the time of its initial broadcast.

And guess who created that notorious outfit? The answer: Diana Rigg herself!

Ms. Rigg recalls that one of the worst parts of filming this particular episode was spending the whole day holding a snake and told by the owner that it might urinate on her at any moment!

Below: Diana Rigg looking her finest!

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The Strange Case of the Missing Corpse

The Avengers Get Colourful

This was a short promotional film produced to highlight the fact that the series was about to transfer to colour episodes.

Just a bit of fun, but note that both Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee are primarily dressed in black and white!

1967: The Avengers In Colour

Series Five: Diana Rigg

The Cathy Gale episodes had been shot on videotape, with very little time for editing and almost no use of location footage. If you watch these earlier episodes closely, you can detect bloopers galore, with lines fluffed, cameras hitting props and production personnel appearing briefly in shot. To all intents and purposes the Blackman episodes were shot live in the studio.

The US deal meant that the series could now be shot on film, giving the episodes a much greater flexibility. The first filmed Rigg season was produced in black and white, but by this time the American standard was for shows to be shot in colour. US pressure, therefore, brought The Avengers into glorious colour in 1967, although British viewers wouldn't benefit from this change for another two years. These colour episodes sported a new opening sequence (which you can enjoy elsewhere on this page), involving Steed unwrapping a champagne bottle and Emma shooting the cork away.

The colour episodes became ever more stylized. A change to each opening episode title was made together with a mini, comedic vignette to start each story, where Steed locates Emma to announce that: Mrs. Peel - We're Needed!

Missing from this season, however, were the short epilogues that had appeared in the black and white episodes, where Steed and Emma left in the final scene in or on a different mode of transport. These had been replaced by a short scene involving the duo at Steed's flat.

To further please the American network, the show's producers succumbed to other changes. Emma had used Karate in the monochrome stories, but the sensitive Americans had this changed to a more graceful Kung Fu for her fighting sequences in this color season. Fashionwise, the black leather catsuits became instead a set of colourful Emmapeelers. Even the dialogue was modified to suit the American market! Lifts were now elevators and flats became apartments. To Americans, the show appeared to be the epitome of Britishness, but ironically, this was being eroded by the series' biggest investors.

Behind the scenes, Diana Rigg was expressing her displeasure with certain aspects of the show. More changes were afoot, and these would see the departure of Emma Peel and the introduction of a new partner for Steed...

Enter Tara King: Linda Thorson Debuts

1968: The Avengers: Tara-Ra-Boom-Di-Ay!

Series Six & Seven: Linda Thorson

Rigg was never happy with the way she was treated on the show and she departed in 1967 to star in the Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. However, she agreed to return to film an episode that explains Emma's departure. The Forget-Me-Not ends with the news that Emma's husband, Peter Peel, is in fact alive and she leaves her role with Steed in order to be with him. As Steed looks out the window to the driveway below, Peter resembles Steed exactly.

This episode also introduced Emma's successor, an inexperienced agent named Tara King, played by Canadian actress Linda Thorson. Thorson played the role with more innocence and unlike the previous partnerships, there were hints of romance between Steed and Tara. Tara was a fully fledged agent working for Steed's organisation, whereas his previous partners had all been talented amateurs.

Steed was once again taking orders from a government official. The wheelchair-bound "Mother" (Patrick Newell). Mother's headquarters would change from week to week, including one episode in which his office was located on the top level of a double-decker bus!

The series continued to be broadcast in America, but the ABC network which carried the series, chose to air it opposite the number one show in the country at the time, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Steed and Tara couldn't compete and the The Avengers was ultimately cancelled in the US. Without this commercial backing, production could not continue in Britain either and the series ended in May 1969.

The Avengers 1968 Opening Titles

All About Linda Thorson

The Avengers Girls at the BAFTAs

The Avengers Awarded

The British Academy award a special BAFTA to Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, Linda Thorson and Joanna Lumley, with an appearance by Patrick Macnee.

Always keep your bowler on in time of stress, and watch out for diabolical masterminds.

[Mrs Peel]

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2007 Rich

Your Thoughts on The Avengers

ulfgar on October 18, 2012:

What an informative lens. I thought I knew all about The Avengers, being a long-time fan, but I have learned something here.

Such a shame that The Avengers means something else to most people these days! They don't now what they're missing

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on February 26, 2012:

Very enjoyable watching the videos and remembering how much fun the show was. Well done.

christopherwell on September 12, 2011:

Wow -- so much content! I'll have to come back when I can spend some time and luxuriate in all that is The Avengers!

bkarsono on May 22, 2011:

It's a WOW lens. I enjoyed it.

Lemming13 on March 16, 2011:

Fabulous lens, congratulations.

Sabre1000 on January 15, 2011:

Hey...Emma as the "Queen of Sin"? That Outfit? The Hellfire Club? I wonder if that's where Byrne and Claremont got their idea for the X-Men storyline?

Elizabeth Sheppard from Bowling Green, Kentucky on October 03, 2010:

I loved the Avengers! I watched all the versions. It was so fun to try to guess what would happen next. They got out of such impossible situations. I liked this lens a lot.

Grumpy-Fett on September 14, 2010:

What a fun lens! Diana Rigg rules. Thank you for such a well done and informative lens.

Holley Web on November 12, 2009:

I remember seeing this show as a young child and thinking I wanted to be Emma Peel when I grew up. I wanted to wear the black leather.. maybe I'll get that chance someday soon, you think? What a great lens with wonderful background information! ~ Blessed by a Squid Angel ~

V-Series-Online on November 09, 2009:

Amazing lens man!

Bit OT, but - Heard of "V" already guys?

There has been so much buzz lately about this new TV series which was aired for the first time on November 3rd on ABC's channel. The first season will go along path of re-imagining of older V miniseries.

Anyone seen the Pilot on ABC lately?

SparkleNZ on November 03, 2009:

I had forgotten how cool The Avengers are, it has been so long since I've watched it. Time for a trip down to the video shop to remedy that!

MikeMac on April 05, 2009:

Great lens on the Avengers. Loved the show. Loved Diana Riggs. Wonderful television form a different time...

Sami4u LM on February 25, 2009:

Great lens 5 Stars Lot of Good Information. :)

California_Dreamin on February 18, 2009:

Great lens. Very nostalgic for those of us old enough to have seen the show. They've made a lot of great T.V. shows in the U.K. haven't they? Another of my faves is "The Young Ones". Completely different from the Avengers of course, but even so, the humor is similarly dry.

Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on February 17, 2009:

I love this show, and used to watch reruns of it all the time when they were on TV. Haven't seen them lately though.

Snozzle on February 05, 2009:

The early Avengers, I loved the shows. Probably a bit dated now but was excellent television at the time. Great lens and thanks for the momories.

Mike.

anonymous on January 15, 2009:

Great website you've got here!

I see you used my uploads of 'The Avengers Must See Tv' on here, that's fine by me. This way it'll definitely get more viewings, I'm sure.

Ruth Coffee from Zionsville, Indiana on January 12, 2009:

Actually, I've never seen it, but you made me think I would be interested!

Mayflowerblood on January 09, 2009:

terrific lens!

RolandTumble on January 08, 2009:

The Avengers was one of my favorite shows of the time, and "A Touch of Brimstone" made a significant imprint on my consciousness....

anonymous on December 09, 2008:

What a wonderful trip down memory lane and a great lens, your time and effort really shows, well done! - Kathy

anonymous on December 02, 2008:

My brother got me into the Avengers. I saw the Mrs. Peel episodes first, then enjoyed the rest over time. Each Avenger girl series had its own feel to it.

Andy-Po on October 07, 2008:

Great lens (5*) and an excellent TV programme

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on September 12, 2008:

The New Avengers was rubbish and the Avengers Movie was awful, but the early Avengers, especially with Dianna Rigg was spectacular. I won't describe the effect Emma Peel had on me at 11 years old in the Touch Of Brimstone episode - she still looks hot in that outfit now! 5***** well deserved for a fantastic tribute lens.

CleanerLife on September 11, 2008:

This show is before my time, but it's legendary and still has an impact on me. I don't think many shows today can come close to even touching the greatness of The Avengers!

harryfielder on September 11, 2008:

Used to be a must see show in the 60s / 70s

Aitch UK

sinner1919 on August 31, 2008:

Thank you for all the info on Diana Rigg. I have always loved her acting!

Jimmie Quick from Memphis, TN, USA on July 20, 2008:

Stiletto boots! Awesome!

anonymous on May 08, 2008:

What a great job, I love your lens very much and I am giving 5 stars for your valuable lens, thanks for sharing your valuable information about Avengers.

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anonymous on May 08, 2008:

Hi,

wonderful lens here, I like your lens very much, because it is providing more useful information abut avengers and I love all the above movies.

I have created one important lens that focuses on home theater systems.

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on April 29, 2008:

Another great job, and perfect for SquidBoomers!

akrause2112 on April 21, 2008:

Thank you for adding this excellent lens to the BIG LENSES Group!

Robin S from USA on March 26, 2008:

Thank you for adding this outstanding lens to the Our Favorite Squidoo Lenses group. I loved this show!

Nathalie Roy from France (Canadian expat) on January 24, 2008:

Great lens!! My favorite Peel was Diana Rigg!! She was the best

GypsyPirate LM on January 11, 2008:

What a perfectly delightful and thorough page on a great series. Super job!

Surreymagic on January 07, 2008:

What an excellent lens- full of well-researched info and great videos and links- an inspiration!

tdove on November 02, 2007:

I used to watch this all the time. Great lense on The Avengers. 5 Stars!

joanv334 on September 10, 2007:

Wow... fantastic lens! Enjoyable reading, love the Avengers!

badmsm on August 06, 2007:

Fantastic! Emma Peel was (and still is) my role model! 5 *'s

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on June 01, 2007:

Terrific lens! What a great TV history lesson.

Five stars from me!

Susan

anonymous on May 31, 2007:

5 stars lens! Diana Rigg was my favorite:)

giddygabby on May 27, 2007:

Hey hey! Your Baby Boomer Lens of the Week nominee, Stuck in the 70s, won! Check it out! And thank you for participatin' in the contest. Hope to see you there this week too. Any Squidooer can nominate and vote--maybe Avengers will be next!

KimGiancaterino on May 22, 2007:

Excellent job. The show has been airing late night, so I catch it when I can. One of the best of all time!

giddygabby on May 22, 2007:

Welcome to the Boomers Rock! group, JustBon. Mighty fine lens on an iconic television series from the 60s. Five stars!

CollectorsCottage on May 20, 2007:

Wonderful nostalgia! 5 star lens.

Lady Gotrocks on May 19, 2007:

Very nice lens. I never watched the show, but found your lens interesting never the less.

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giddygabby on May 18, 2007:

Welcome to the Boomers Rock! group, JustBon. Here's your chance for your fans to nominate your lens for Baby Boomer Lens of the Week.

Susan1 LM on May 18, 2007:

How cool! Very good lens 5stars

DeWayne-FilmFreak on May 16, 2007:

I loved the Avengers! Fantastic lens! 5 stars!

DeWayne(FilmFreak)

- MovieDownloadMatrix.com -

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affiliate_guy on May 16, 2007:

Hello lens master, Your lens was very informative and gave me a few good tips (5 *s). Please stop by and check out some of my lenses.here are two of my lenses make money online and how to make money with affiliate programs. I'll get busy rating and commenting on your group lenses. Thanks again. aff. guy.

the777group lm on May 15, 2007:

Absolutely superb, 5 stars, excellent work. Great research and youtubing.

ADG

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on May 15, 2007:

So much fun! The vids of Diana Rigg and Patrick McNee made me laugh and--almost-cry. Steed, wiping a tear from his eye. Oh my!

CynthiaLee on May 14, 2007:

I am new to Squidoo and just reading around. You have alot of interesting facts on the Avengers. Cool.

surfsusan on May 14, 2007:

A most enjoyable lens. 5 star!

Gail Faulkner on May 13, 2007:

Welcome to the Best Ratings Group

Crystal Booth from Wellston, Ok on May 13, 2007:

Excellent lens! Welcome to the Squidoo Ratings Swap

surfingtheweb on March 26, 2007:

Wow! What a great lense and many cool Avenger Products. Thanks!

anonymous on February 09, 2007:

Enjoyed the look back I always enjoyed watching the Avengers.... Thanks for a brilliant lens.

Joselyn

KCStargazer on February 04, 2007:

What fun- brilliant lens!

Welcome to the Kaleidoscope Group!

KCStargazer