THE AVENGERS (1965-1967 UK) Television Review

tumblr_magrwlB6qe1qaxluno1_500No TV series can summon up the 1960s better than this one. Other shows tried to imitate it, but never successfully. How could they, when The Avengers itself finally lost it after a two year peak. Patrick MacNee (as John Steed) had a devilish charm while Diana Rigg (as Emma Peel) combined beauty and brains.

As two mysterious agents they played it straight but with a tongue in cheek smile. The primary technical device for bringing about this atmosphere was the teaser. The Avengers made an art out of it. A man in a field is rained on, tries to escape, is rained into the ground. Superimpose title: “A Surfeit of H2O.” The title is the punchline. A man breaks into a house and opens a door; a lion jumps out at him. Title: “The House That Jack Built.” And so on. The puzzle posed by the opener often suggested philosophical or metaphysical possibilities, but they were never followed up on. The solution generally turned out to be slightly science-fictional, and the climax, rather than expanding on the potential implications of the story’s premise, was just a comic fight. But it was remarkable in itself that the series could progress from one to the other with such deftness, then steadily narrowing it down to a trivial joke.

4306261_l1They set an incredibly high standard for each episode. Most of them are classics, but for some reason my favourite is ‘The Winged Avenger’. This comic book spoof seems to sum up the Avengers world in one story. Another classic is ‘The Superlative Seven’ where a kidnapped Steed has to use all his guile and charm to stop an assassin on a deserted island. The series even boasted an episode just for all you cat lovers out there: ‘The Hidden Tiger’ starring a very whimsical Ronnie Barker. Among the black and white adventures one type of plot The Avengers mined to considerable success was the ‘where has everyone gone to?’ premise. Seen first in ‘The Town Of No Return’ it was reused to more creepy effect in ‘The Hour That Never Was’ though executed differently. These pre-colour stories were slower paced as well.

The series always had quirky settings too. In ‘Death At Bargain Prices’ Mrs Peel has to take a job as a sales clerk in a large department store and the climax is played out among the children’s toy section. The heroes were invincible (otherwise the stories would have been too horrifying), inexplicable, androgynous (Steed the fancy dresser, Mrs. Peel did the manhandling), paradoxical (Mrs. Peel was widowed, yet somehow virginal), and timeless. Once Diana Rigg left the series the magic touch disappeared. It soldiered on for one more season, parodying itself to a dwindling audience, and like that other symbol of the carefree swinging 60s, the Beatles, it was gone as 1970 loomed over the horizon. Its probably the most colourfully entertaining TV series that Britain ever exported.

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