There are certain iconic series that you watch growing up that stay with you forever. For many who grew up in the UK in the 60’s and 70’s, it was most certainly Doctor Who. Given the fact that American television didn’t jump on the DW bandwagon for some time after, choices could be categorized as more than limited in the States unless you are now willing to admit that you were glued to the set each Tuesday and Thursday for Batman, starring Adam West. Mainly because American television in the 60’s and 70’s consisted of a steady diet of variety shows and some pretty generic family friendly comedy/drama shows like Andy Griffith, Dick Van Dyke and Beverly Hillbillies, you had to really search up and down the dial for good telly. And, ‘up and down the dial’ meant 4-5 channels max. Three network stations, PBS and, usually, one independent station.
It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 60’s when The Avengers, starring Patrick Macnee as the ever-so-dapper secret agent, John Steed, and Diana Rigg who played junior agent Emma Peel, became one of the first imports to air on an American broadcast network. If it wasn’t for The Avengers, Monty Python, The Prisoner and Secret Agent, I would have never noticed that that big console television in our living room was more than just a big piece of furniture that weighed a ton.
Sadly, Patrick Macnee, the British-born actor best known as the bowler hat-wearing, umbrella-carrying British secret agent, John Steed, in the long-running 1960s TV series The Avengers, has passed away at the age of 93. Interestingly, Macnee’s opportunity to play the dapper agent nearly didn’t happen because of his aversion to violence. In a 1997 interview with The Associated Press, he recalled being told by producers that he would have to pack a gun on the show. “I said, ‘No, I don’t. I’ve been in World War II for five years and I’ve seen most of my friends blown to bits and I’m not going to carry a gun.’ They said, ‘What are you going to carry?’ I thought frantically and said, ‘An umbrella.'”
While Macnee was best known for his role in The Avengers, which ran for 8 years and 6 seasons, he was quite busy before and after appearing in such TV shows as Twilight Zone, Rawhide and Playhouse 90, in addition to films such as Hamlet, starring Laurence Olivier, A Christmas Carol and This Is Spinal Tap.
Unfortunately, the comparisons between The Avengers and the James Bond franchise were both expected and endless but in the end, for me, it was The Avengers all the way for its’ believability. Of course, having Diana Rigg (Emma Peel) as a sidekick didn’t hurt. RIP, Patrick Macnee. Thank you for helping to give me an early direction in life towards a career to where I get to watch British television on a daily basis.