Steed Drives Off Into History
What a crap year it’s been for losing my heroes. Now Old Etonian actor Patrick Mcnee has died, albeit at the ripe old age of 93. He played the young Marley in the definitive ‘A Christmas Carol’, and was terrific in ‘The Howling’, but of course he’ll be remembered as Steed in The Avengers, for me the single most influential TV show in history.
To explain to the Youngs, before The Avengers there was The Avengers (although of course your Avengers is actually as old as my Avengers, if you get my drift).
Macnee was pro-feminist, anti-gun, posher than posh, and stayed with the sci-fi-spy show for decades, through five leading ladies and cast changes. When the series began with Ian Hendry it was shot live, and the early episodes now look positively Victorian. Honor Blackman changed all that as the badinage got racier and pacier. Crucially, though, John Steed played opposite Diana Rigg’s Mrs Peel (1965-68) and the series reached a peak as it burst into colour with increasingly deranged plots.
The best episodes were the strangest, with tales of killer rain, robots and murderous grannies, and endless shots of eerily deserted airfields and villages. The most amoral and fantastical episodes were written by Philip Levine and Brian Clemens, who also conjured the show’s marvellous lineup of eccentric cameos, from deranged colonels to railway fanatics. Best of all, every episode had a simple hook that suckered you in – the town that loses an hour, the man who is killed by an invisible winged creature, the church with no parishioners and a graveyard full of coffins. The episodes were virtual blueprints for budding writers.
Of course it was de rigeur to own Steed’s Bentley (toy version of course) and Emma Peel’s Lotus Elan, both of which came with figurines. In 1911 the whole set of shows was released on Blu-Ray, and stand the test of time very well indeed.
I have a story to share that I heard first-hand. Christopher Lee got into a hotel lift in Canada to find Macnee standing inside in full Steed country gentleman gear and said in surprise, ‘Patrick, what are you doing here?’ Macnee said, ‘We’re filming The Avengers’. To which Lee replied, ‘You always are, dear chap, you always are.’ Coming from a bloke who didn’t want to be typecast as Dracula, I find this most amusing.
Here’s an Avengers mash-up to conjure a few memories.