The Most English Thing In England

Great Britain

Avengers Village

Every week in ‘The Avengers’, the old TV series, not the Marvel Comics lycra-fest, John Steed and Cathy Gale/Emma Peel/ Tara King (not sure I count Purdy though I’m willing to hear a persuasive argument) solved a bizarre plot. The situations involved losing an hour, losing the population of a village, losing a graveyard, losing a train, and finding dead agents who suffered delusions or nightmares, who drowned in dry fields or were attacked by non-existent winged creatures. There was always a villain guest-star (Donald Sutherland! Christopher Lee!) and his henchmen, and a simplistic resolution involving a trap, some karate-chopping, the villain telling a henchman ‘Mr Steed is snooping around. Make sure he doesn’t leave’ and the reason for the situation – a code, a bomb, a gamma ray or another assassination device.

But the abiding image of the Avengers is a deserted country road. It’s surprising how little of it was shot in London. Steed’s flat in Weymouth Mews was rarely seen from its exterior, and there was no London location shooting. Instead, Steed’s green Bentley always raced through the country lanes to the south-west of the capital, where nobody had to pay London shoot fees.

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This week a story has appeared in the press that feels like an Avengers episode. The 2,000-acre North Yorkshire village of West Heslerton has been owned by the Dawnay family for more than 150 years. It has a pub, a garage, playing fields and a sports pavilion, a 21-bedroom historic hall and 43 houses. It’s a functioning English village, with a population of around 375, frozen in time until now. Because for £20m, a buyer is being sought to purchase the perfectly preserved, quintessential Yorkshire village, where time has stood still.

It’s not a chocolate-box village but it’s quintessentially English. What if an evil lord (Michael Hordern, possibly, or Peter Jeffrey) takes it and sets about training the occupants into an elite squad of hitpersons, masquerading as trainspotters or dead people?

8 comments on “The Most English Thing In England”

  1. Peter Dixon says:

    A German once asked me whether I thought James Bond was the world’s best secret agent and I pointed out that he wasn’t even Britain’s best secret agent – all the points go to John Steed for saving the country, coolness under fire, dress sense, unflappability and always getting the best girl at the start and the finish. In one 60’s episode he gets a postcard from Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) “from Fort Knox, I wonder what she’s doing there?”.

    An altogether brilliant series with plots and cast you couldn’t possibly replicate today. Its great to look at streets and roads with only a few cars, even in the centre of London, car parks half empty. The countryside roads always seem to be shot in late autumn or early spring with no leaves on the trees.

    Its pretty clear that the scriptwriters worked on the wing; “we’ve found an abandoned airfield /railway station /department store”, or ” We’ve got Charlotte Rampling to dress up as a cowgirl”.
    Even Warren Mitchell, Cardew ‘the Cad’ Robinson and Bernard Cribbins make appearances.

    As for West Heslerton, it obviously belonged to a family of vampires and there’s no way I’m going to spend £20m on a 21-bedroom hall for me and my attractive wife and her favourite wispy neglige to live there unless we can guarantee:
    A) That the telephones don’t work after we’ve been there for 24 hours
    B) The moors are nearby
    C) Theres a railway station that only gets 1 train a day
    D) Edward Woodward is the village policeman
    E) Fog surrounds the village on a night of the full moon once a year (usually to coincide with the phone and electricity going off). Don’t even ask about Wi-Fi and mobile reception.

  2. Steve says:

    @ Peter: I read an interview with Avengers scriptwriter Roger Marshall where he revealed exactly that: that he and showrunner Brian Clemens used to drive around looking for likely locations and then write stories around them 🙂
    Couldnt agree more about Steed, I recently purchased The Avengers on bluray and scripts like “Touch of Brimstone” “House that Jack Built” etc are really an explosion of style and creativity rarely equalled in tv. Lets not forget the equally amazing Diana Rigg too 🙂

  3. Colin Quinton says:

    I was going to comment that your Strange Tide synopsis from April 2nd (“In which Mr May Hunts a Riverside Killer And Mr Bryant Gets Into Hot Water”) was very Avengers-esque as the Diana Rigg episodes had “Steed… Emma…” subtitles and then lo and behold you do a post on the Avengers! And who says this blog is just thrown together?

  4. admin says:

    See what I did there, Colin? I hide that sort of stuff around all the time on the off-chance that some bright spark will spot it.

  5. chazza says:

    I once saw them shooting an external location scene of John Steed driving his old sports car into the forecourt of the block of flats ar the top of Highgate Village. Much excitement followed by a collapse into the welcoming arms of “The Wrestlers” boozer opposite…

  6. Ken Mann says:

    Those country lanes were North West, Radlett and the roads around Habadashers Askes school, which is minutes from Elstree.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    The “village for sale” finally made it to our news today. Concern was expressed by people of the area that a sale might mean their rents would go up. A reasonable concern.

  8. Gerry Duffy says:

    The “Journey to the unknown” TV series is the one that puts me in mind of the Bryant & May books.
    Using locations that no longer exist like the King Lud pub in Fleet Street.

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