gained small screen immortality when he appeared as the dapper British secret
agent John Steed in the television series ‘The Avengers’, which received
its first screening in January 1961. Suave, sophisticated, a 'ladykiller',
Steed is also a master of the martial arts and a weapons expert. The epitome
of an English gentleman, down to his bowler hat and brolly, Steed made his
debut in the first episode ‘Hot Snow’ and was the main character to appear
in the long-running series. In
the initial two dozen episodes, Steed’s partner was Dr David Keel, portrayed
by Ian Hendry.
A strike by Equity halted production for a time and Hendry decided to leave
the series to take up a career in films. His character was replaced by that
of Mrs Catherine Gale, a judo expert. Actress Honor Blackman played the
gun-carrying blonde whose leather outfits attracted a great deal of media
attention. Honor appeared in the series for more than two years, although
Julie Stevens guested in six episodes during that time as Venus Smith, a
night club singer who occasionally joined Steed on a mission. Sixty actresses
were auditioned to replace Honor Blackman when she left the series and Elizabeth
Shepherd was chosen. However, after she’d filmed one and a half episodes
it was decided she didn’t have the right 'chemistry' for the part.
Diana Rigg made her debut in 1965 as Mrs Emma Peel, another female martial
arts expert, whose speciality was karate. The third regular female assistant
in the series was Tara King, portrayed by Canadian actress Linda Thorson
who made her debut in the 1969 series. ‘The Avengers’ ended its run with
Steed and Tara setting off into space in a rocket in an episode entitled
‘Bizarre.’ In 1976 Steed was resurrected for 26 episodes of a series called
‘The New Avengers.’ Steed’s assistants were Purdey, an ex-ballerina, portrayed
by Joanna Lumley and Mike Gambit, an ex-SAS man, portrayed by Gareth Hunt.
‘The Avengers’ brought much of the style of the Swinging Sixties to the
TV screens around the world: mini skirts, pop art décor, military uniforms
worn as leisure wear, vintage cars, cat suits, 'kinky' boots and PVC trouser
The characters who populated ‘The Avengers’ included many eccentrics and
there was also an element of fantasy in the scripts. In one episode Steed
was miniaturised, in another Mrs Peel wore exotic costumes as a member of
the Hellfire Club; there were a number of episodes featuring battling robots
called 'cybernauts' and an invasion from Venus turned out to be a plot by
an astronomer using laser rays. In the Tara King series, a new regular character
was introduced: Steed’s boss, Mother, portrayed by actor Patrick Newall.
Mother had been crippled by a bomb and was steered about in his wheelchair
by his aide Rhoda, played by a blonde-haired Rhonda Parker. In one episode,
during Mother’s absence, the department was headed by Father, a blind female
portrayed by Iris Russell.