Since 2012, when most people say “The Avengers” viewers immediately think of comic book heroes and loud explosions. But prior to this decade, outside of the comic book world, “The Avengers” meant something quite different to a great many people. It brought to mind bowler hats, mod hairdos, and plummy accents. The original Avengers weren’t superheroes, they were superspies.
Debuting in black and white in 1961, the original series was perhaps not the promising cult hit it became. ITV originally saw it as a vehicle for actor Ian Hendry, who played various medical doctors on previous shows. But his co-star, Patrick Macnee, whose dapper spy Steed recruited Hendry’s character Dr. Keel to the world of espionage proved the more popular character, and by the end of the first year was carrying the show.
ITV’s dive into spy TV series was inspired by the popularity of James Bond. But Bond, as long-lived as he’s been, is what one might call in this #MeToo era “problematic,” especially during his antics in the 60s and 70s. If you’re looking for a Bond type character who aged far better, Steed is your man. Steed is so old school, he’s still wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella, even by the time the show ended in 1969. He’s got all the dapper English spy charm, but he’s also someone who a female partner can trust to have her back during the day without expecting repayment at night.
Perhaps that’s why Steed had female partners from Season 2 onward, each of which stood as Steed’s equal. There was Honor Blackman as Dr. Cathy Gale (she was a judo expert) from 1961-1964. There was Linda Thorson as Tara King, an accomplished spy in her own right from 1968-169. But the one everyone remembers is the one in between them: Mrs. Emma Peel.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fans looking for something to fill that Lady Olenna shaped hole in your life, the Emma Peel episodes are the ones for you. This is the role that made Diana Rigg famous. (It helped that her first season was the first season where the show was broadcast in America.) Her name might have started out as a joke (Emma Peel = M Appeal, aka “Man Appeal”), but her character was no mere punchline. Mrs. Peel, as Steed affectionately called her, may have sported the latest mod fashions, but she was every inch the equal to Steed, and sometimes his superior. They fought everything together, from Russian spies to robots to alien plant life. And when they were done (always within an hour or less) it was time to have a cocktail.
The Avengers series was great fun for the decade it lasted, and a series that holds up nearly fifty years after it began. So, if you haven’t sampled this wonderfully old-school action yet, you can watch classic episodes every weekday, right here on Charge!