Books from the Outer Rim: THE AVENGERS – A CELEBRATION

Whenever a new book about The Avengers comes out, I have to get it.

I don’t mean Marvel’s supergroup.  They are nothing.  They aren’t real heroes.  Not to me.

I mean the British Avengers.  Agents extraordinary.  Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.

John Steed, top professional.  Emma Peel, talented amateur.

When I was a kid, I watched reruns of the Mickey Mouse Club and Superman, and the first run of the Adam West Batman, and loved them all.  But when I was seven or so, The Avengers popped up on ABC, and it captivated me in a way nothing ever had before.

It appealed to me, I think, not just because of the stories, but because it was intelligent and suave and good.  It was the first show that I knew was smart, and, somehow, I responded to it.

It disappeared from the national airwaves a couple of years later, but I always remembered Steed and Peel, their sense of humor, their flirting, and, especially, Steed’s 1920s Bentleys.

It took 14 or 15 years for the show to get to Hampton in syndication, but I had never forgotten my favorite spies.  And when WVEC started showing all the Dianna Rigg and Tara King episodes at 1:00 am — or later — every Saturday, I stayed up, and my Betamax was ready.

Now all the Steed and Peel episodes are available on DVD, and Maria and I watch them religiously.  There’s one we watch every December, “Too Many Christmas Trees,” that is lovely and silly and Christmasy and wonderful.  These DVDS make up for the awful, awful 1998 movie they made with Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes; so get the DVDs . . . and I suggest you try to find a used copy of the 1990 novel, Too Many Targets, which is the newest original Avengers story, and a good one, too, co-written by a veteran novelist and THE authority on all things Avengers, Dave Rogers.

I think this was the British cover.  

2011 is the 50th anniversary of The Avengers, and a new book from Titan is a photographic scrapbook of the original Avengers, filled with trivia and ultra-rare photos that every Avengers fan need to own.

The Avengers: A Celebration covers the first years as much as possible.  It was Steed and Keel, then — Keel was Dr. David Keel, played by Ian Hendry, just off of the British show Police Surgeon.  Unfortunately, most of the Steed/Keel episodes are now lost, but this book has published as many stills — both onstage and behind the scenes photos — as the author, Marcus Hearn, could find.

Hendry was replaced by Pussy Galore.  Honor Blackman stepped in as Steed’s first female partner, Cathy Gale — and the chemistry between the two caught the attention of the UK.  (Coincidentally, in the Christmas episode I mentioned earlier, Steed gets a Christmas card from Mrs. Gale, who was then at Fort Knox.  This was an in-joke: Honor Blackman was then filming Goldfinger, part of which took place at Fort Knox.)

Never seen this photo before.  Looks like it could have been taken yesterday — just substitute a very young Diana with Katy Perry, Lindsey Lohan or any Victoria’s Secret model.

The Avengers that most people remember, however, are the Diana Rigg years.  Mrs. Emma Peel — named because of the character’s planned appeal to men . . . M appeal — quickly surpassed Mrs, Gale’s popularity and became the standard of style and sophistication on British TV.

The Avengers: A Celebration lavishly showcases the Rigg years as “The Avengers that modern audiences know and love.”  And deservedly so.  These were the years that surpassed what had gone before and what would come later.  Everything about it meshed, and the smiles, the lines, the comedy, the action, the sexual tension between the characters, and the sheer joy that could be seen on the screen, propelled The Avengers into cult tv legend.

There are other, more thorough books about the show — look up Avengers or Dave Rogers on Amazon and turn over your charge card.  But this volume is the only one that gives us an insight into the day-to-day filming, along with a multitude of wonderful, never-seen-before photos that capture a slice of 1960s tv/film production. along with a heavy dose of ’60s pop culture.  The Foreword by Patrick Macnee is a lovely reminiscence from the singular star of the show, and I suggest that, if you have an Avengers fan in your family, order this book now from Amazon or Barnes & Noble so that it’s delivered in time for Christmas.

This is the perfect coffee table book for every man who’s a secret, debonair spy, and for every woman who longs to wear a black leather catsuit.

The Avengers are still very much missed.  It’s been twelve years since its unfortunate revival.

Isn’t it time for the bowler and brolly to return?

3 thoughts on “Books from the Outer Rim: THE AVENGERS – A CELEBRATION

  1. Steed was a proper English dork with the bowler and umbrella, but Mrs. Peel was a fantasy dream. England was hot then and anything that had an accent became popular. Although the stories never grabbed me, perhaps the production quality…. but they are memorable for their time in space, like james bond or “In Like Flint” (watch it) and put on your ascot and smoking jacket.


  2. Thank you for posting the link to “Dispatches from the Culture Wars,” which I check every day to get a laugh at the antics of the Insane Reactionary Clown Posse, and the photo of Ms. Rigg. Whoever took that deserves a MBE award at the least.


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