The Avengers: A Celebration: 50 Years of a Television Classic
The Avengers: A Celebration: 50
Years of a Television Classic was written and compiled by Marcus Hearn
and published in 2010. This is an another enjoyable illustrated coffee
table book from Titan, this time devoted to the classic 'spy-fi'
sixties television series that made stars of Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman
and Patrick Macnee. The book charts the six series of The Avengers
produced in the 1960s (sadly no seventies 'New Avengers' with Joanna
Lumley and Gareth Hunt here) with many lavish colour and black and
white stills of the stars, episodes and from behind the scenes.
Although this is primarily an
illustrated celebration of the show there is a decent amount of text to
accompany the photographs and you'll pick up some interesting bits and
pieces about the history and production of this fondly remembered
The Avengers was about the
urbane bowler hatted John Steed (Patrick Macnee) - a government agent
for the 'Ministry' who battled various villains in some often bonkers
and surreal plots. Steed's female agent partners in the show were Cathy
Gale (Honor Blackman), then Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), and finally Tara
King (Linda Thorson). Although Honor Blackman did it all first, it is
Diana Rigg as Emma Peel who is most associated with the heyday of the
show, her playful banter with Patrick Macnee and leather catsuits
making her something of an icon in the decade.
The book is about three quarters
photographs and stills and many of these were previously unpublished.
It contains a chapter for each of the six series of The Avengers
although - understandably - Diana Rigg does seem to feature a lot more
than Blackman or Linda Thorson. The book tells us that when The
Avengers began it was based around Steed and Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry)
in 1961. After a middling start, they decided to bring in a female
character as one of the main leads and they cast Honor Blackman as
martial artist, widow and anthropologist Cathy Gale.
Blackman gave the show a big
boost and represented a new type of female character for the television
of the era. She left to do Goldfinger and was replaced by Royal
Shakespeare Company actress Diana Rigg. Elizabeth Shepherd was
originally cast as Emma Peel but departed after filming a couple of
episodes because it wasn't working out.
Although Diana Rigg was unknown
she impressed everyone in the tests and had an immediate ease and
chemistry with Patrick Macnee. The arrival of Rigg ushered in the most
iconic and famous period for the show and her double act with Patrick
Macnee (and general elegance and poise as she sipped champagne and
karate chopped villains) helped the series to go from strength to
strength. It became a hit in America and was shot on film - adding an
even more stylish gloss to the wonderful costumes and sets.
One thing I did find interesting
was that Steed started the series as a slightly more generic character
but then became much more of a dandy with Savile Row suit, bowler hat
and gadget laden umbrella. The stills of Macnee as Steed are enjoyably
British and 1960s. The range of photographs here is very impressive and
they provide an evocative pictorial celebration of the series.
I think one of the charming
things about The Avengers when you watch it now is that it makes no
concessions to reality whatsoever and immerses you in a complete
fantasy world. This quality is captured well in the choice of images.
Certainly, the Diana Rigg years provide the most iconic sections here
and the actress seemed to fit the world of The Avengers perfectly with
her looks, style and tongue-in-cheek approach to the whole thing.
Rigg and Patrick Macnee made a
great onscreen duo and the images of them from episodes and behind the
scenes snaps are excellent. You don't get a strict episode guide or
complete history of the show here but you do get a good overall feel
and the book works its way through in chronological order.
though what text there is helps to give the reader a potted history of
the show as we flip through and we learn that the series began to creak
when Diana Rigg left to do stage and film work (including, like Honor
Blackman, a Bond film) and was replaced by Linda Thorson as Tara King.
Thorson was not as feisty or dashing as Blackman and Rigg and somehow
just not iconic in the way her predecessors were.
They decided to bleach her brown
hair to make her a blonde but it damaged her barnet to the extent that
she mostly wore wigs as Tara in the show. There are some great stills
of Thorson though, including a wonderful closing one of her and Macnee.
The book explains that when the series suffered a drop in its American
ratings it was duly cancelled.
Although the book runs to 160
pages you can't help wishing you'd got just a little bit more and
perhaps a tad more text too. The decision to ignore The New Avengers,
the seventies series with Macnee, Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt, is
understandable but I personally wouldn't have minded a chapter on this
at all. The New Avengers is one of the funniest television programmes I
have ever seen. I don't think I've ever actually seen the nineties
Avengers film with Ralph Fiennes and Urma Thurman but it was by all
accounts a train wreck and, like The New Avengers, absent from the book.
The 1960s was a memorable era
for British fantasy television and The Avengers, at its best, was as
much fun as anything to emerge from this swinging decade. The Avengers:
A Celebration: 50 Years of a Television Classic is a suitable tribute
and well worth getting hold of for anyone interested in the show.