John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed and Mrs Emma Peel (née Knight)
Very popular British Spy Drama
running from 1961-1969, created by Sydney Newman
and produced by ITC for ITV
. A total of 161 episodes in six seasons. The show singlehandedly started the Spy Catsuit
and Action Girl
Its most famous male-female partnership, between 1965 and 1968, was Patrick Macnee (who would later appear in a Bond film
) and Diana Rigg (who would later appear in a Bond film
In earlier seasons (1962-1964), the female co-star was Honor Blackman (who would later appear in a Bond film
The series was originally created as a vehicle for Ian Hendry (who would not later appear in a Bond film), to capitalise on the popularity he had developed during his previous show, Police Surgeon
. In the pilot
, his character, Dr David Keel, was recruited by spy John Steed (Macnee) as a part-time expert assistant in return for Steed's help capturing the murderers of Keel's wife; this was pretty much the last time in the series any actual avenging took place
. This first series was generally a grim-and-gritty crime affair, centering around drug smugglers, arms dealers and endless cases involving stolen diamonds.
A TV strike delayed the start of the second season, so Hendry left to pursue a film career. Steed became the show's central character and the production team started to explore other partnerships. The first, lasting just a few episodes, was Dr. King, a blatant Suspiciously Similar Substitute
. He was followed up by stories that alternately paired Steed up with nightclub singer Venus Smith (The Chick
) (played by Julie Stevens, who has never appeared in a Bond film) and female spy Catherine "Cathy" Gale (arguably TV's first true Action Girl
) (played by Blackman, who, as noted already, would later appear in a Bond film). Cathy, who was mostly written identically to Dr. Keel (Word of God
is that some of her early scripts were actually written for Hendry), proved to be the most popular and Venus was quietly dropped.
of the show became a massive smash. With a consistent Agents Dating
format, the show began to move away from more mundane villains and towards science fictional supervillains and diabolical masterminds
Blackman left to pursue a film career (playing Pussy Galore in Goldfinger
, a Bond film) and was replaced by Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel, described as a "talented amateur". Simultaneously, production switched from videotape to 35mm film. The show became much more stylish and faster-paced and even gained a new theme tune, although it wasn't until the next season that it was produced in colour. Mrs. Peel — whose husband didn't make an appearance until her final episode — set the trend of the Spy Catsuit
and continued the gentleman spy / Action Girl
setup. Steed and Mrs. Peel became the show's iconic pairing, helped by the introduction of filmed and colour episodes raising the show in the public's consciousness.
The stories became crazier and crazier — Space plants from the moon! Assassination by laser! Invisible spies! Housecats trained to kill! Politicians hypnotised into becoming children! A Shrink Ray
! — and typified the swinging cool of 1960s
Eventually Rigg left Steed for the embrace of George Lazenby's doomed James Bond film
, and Steed took on his last partner, Tara King. Tara (played by Linda Thorson, who has not
appeared in a Bond film, but made up for it by being the only one of the bunch to appear in the Star Trek
franchise) was a more feminine character, though still an Action Girl
, but the series never survived the loss of Rigg, massive problems behind the scenes and being put up in America against Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In
. The series finished after just one season with Tara King.
was attempted in 1976, with The New Avengers
, starring Macnee and Joanna Lumley (who's better known for Absolutely Fabulous
, but had earlier appeared in a Bond film
) as Purdey
. Oh, and Gareth Hunt, the guy off the Nescafe adverts (but not Bond films, before or after The Avengers
), as Mike Gambit. But the new, gritty tone — matching shows like The Sweeney
and (later) The Professionalsnote
— was too much of a departure and it soon collapsed. (Extensive Executive Meddling
in the second year was also to blame, as the producers were forced to mount several episodes in France and in Canada, which would have been fine if the scripts and production had remained up to par.) This series lasted from October, 1976 to December, 1977. A total of 26 episodes in two seasons.
The show was later made into a movie
starring Ralph Fiennes (who appears in a Bond film
) and Uma Thurman
(who may or may not appear in some future Bond film yet), whose only redeeming quality was Sean Connery
(who had appeared in many Bond films
) hamming it up
as an evil Scotsman. For more on this film, which is pretty much disowned by fans for straying too far from the concept of the series, see The Avengers (1998)
In the 1990s, the franchise was revived by Eclipse Comics and writer Grant Morrison
for a comic book series, Steed and Mrs. Peel
, which could not be titled The Avengers
because of the well-known Marvel comic (this also happened when Gold Key Comics
released a one-off in the 1960s). This comic was reprinted twenty years later by Boom! Studios
, who then continued it as an ongoing series with newly-written stories.
Not to be confused with the comic
or its film adaptation
, the latter of which was renamed Avengers Assemble
for the British market for precisely this reason.
Character tropes include:
- Action Girl: Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, Tara King, and Purdey in the revival.
- Actor Allusion: In one episode, Cathy Gale sends Steed and Peel a postcard from Fort Knox.
- Almost Dead Guy: Countless episodes.
- Anonymous Ringer: The Prime Minister in "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Station".
- Ax-Crazy: "Escape in Time", "The Joker", "Don't Look Behind You".
- Bad Boss: "A Touch of Brimstone".
- Badass in a Nice Suit: Steed.
- Bench Breaker: At one point, Mrs. Peel gets handcuffed to a wooden chair. When the time comes, she swiftly breaks the chair and beats up the baddies with the sticks. At the end of the episode, as they stroll off across a golf course, Steed asks her what her handicap is. She shows him the chunk of wood still cuffed to one of her wrists.
- Big Bad: The puppeteer in "Look (Stop Me If You've Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellas".
- Biker Babe: Cathy Gale.
- Boxed Crook: Many episodes.
- Bungling Inventor: Quilby in "The See-Through Man".
- The Chick: Venus Smith.
- Combat Pragmatist: Steed; a producer's write-up to guide writers of episodes specifically stated that "he fights like a cad and uses every dirty trick in the book..."
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: "The Fear Merchants", "Silent Dust".
- Covert Group: Soviet spymaster Ivanov planted many undercover agents in Great Britain, where they wormed close to tactically important persons, ready to assassinate them on cue. This covert network was called "the House of Cards," because select playing cards would activate the moles. British Avengers John Steed, Emma Peel and Mike Gambit thwarted Ivanov and neutralized his moles.
- Cultured Badass: Steed.
- Damsel in Distress: Tara often gets chloroformed or clubbed and kidnapped.
- Diabolical Mastermind
- Doomed Appointment: Countless.
- Double Agent: Merlin - actually a quadruple agent - in "The Morning After".
- Film Felons: "Epic".
- Funny Foreigner: A few, most notably the Russian diplomat in "Fog".
- Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: The heroes occasionally tangled with The Other Side.
- Heel Face Mole: "The Correct Way To Kill".
- Hot Scientist: "The Man-Eater of Surrey Green", not to mention Mrs. Peel all the time.
- Iconic Outfit: The Spy Catsuits.
- Implacable Man: The Cybernauts in "The Cybernauts", "Return of the Cybernauts" and "The Last of the Cybernauts...?"
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Brodny in "The See-Through Man" and "Two's A Crowd".
- Last Name Basis
- Large Ham: Mother.
- Loony Fan: "Epic", "The Joker", "Don't Look Behind You".
- Mad Scientist: Countless episodes.
- Meaningful Name: When charged with coming up with a new character, the writers were told to create one with "Male Appeal", abbreviated as "M. Appeal".
- The Mole: Many episodes.
- Mooks: Countless episodes.
- The Napoleon: "Escape in Time".
- Old Friend: Countless, generally doomed.
- Part Time Hero: Tara King was the first of Steed's associates to be a professional agent like him; all those that came before were "talented amateurs" who maintained their own careers between outings with Steed. The having-to-balance-heroing-with-real-life side of the trope rarely came up with any of them, though.
- Emma Peel is shown pursuing numerous hobbies that suggest she is rather lonely since the disappearance of her husband. No wonder she always looks happy to be solving mysteries with Steed.
- Plant Aliens: "The Man-Eater of Surrey Green".
- Platonic Life Partners:
- Steed and Mrs. Gale.
- Steed and Mrs. Peel.
- Steed and Miss King
- Debatable: unlike Gale and Peel, Steed and King were shown in unambiguously romantic scenarios and both actors have indicated their belief that the two were in an off-screen relationship.
- Quintessential British Gentleman: Steed, naturally.
- Quirky Miniboss Squad: The clowns in "Look (Stop Me If You've Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellas".
- Red Scare: "The Correct Way to Kill".
- Right Wing Militia Fanatic: "The Mauritius Penny", "The Eagle's Nest".
- Serial Killer: "Fog", "Game".
- The Stoic: Steed, Mrs Peel and sometimes Tara King generally treat horrible murder with barely a flicker of emotion.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Dr King.
- Technical Pacifist: Steed.
- Terrorists Without a Cause: Countless episodes.
- Throw the Book at Them: During a fight in the village library in "Murdersville", Steed grabs an armful of books off the shelf and hurls them at an attacker..
- The Vicar: Numerous episodes.
- The Voiceless: Mother's bodyguard, Rhonda.
Plot tropes include:
- Alone with the Psycho: "The Joker".
- Amnesia Danger: "The Forget-Me-Knot".
- Animal Assassin: "The Hidden Tiger".
- Aristocrats Are Evil: "Hellfire Club".
- Brainwashed: "The Hour That Never Was", "Pandora".
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Occurs in the final original series episode, "Bizarre," when Mother directly addresses the viewers.
- Busman's Holiday: "A Chorus of Frogs".
- The Butler Did It: "What the Butler Saw".
- Class Reunion: "The Hour That Never Was".
- Clear My Name: "All Done With Mirrors", "Who Was That Man I Saw You With?".
- Damsel out of Distress: Emma in "The House That Jack Built".
- Dead All Along: Professor Keller in "The House That Jack Built".
- Deadly Prank: "Hellfire Club", "Game".
- Doppelgänger: Any way you can think of — Magic Plastic Surgery, Latex Perfection, Identical Stranger, "Freaky Friday" Flip — The Avengers did it at least once.
- Enemy Mine: "The Morning After".
- Enemy Without: In an episode where a man's brainwaves are projected into a series of hapless British spies.
- Fauxtastic Voyage: "Escape In Time", "Pandora".
- Finger Poke of Doom: "The Positive Negative Man".
- "Freaky Friday" Flip: "Who's Who???"
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: "Stay Tuned", and kind of, in "You Have Just Been Murdered".
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: "The Superlative Seven".
- Hypno Fool: "The Master Minds".
- Incredible Shrinking Man: "Mission... Highly Improbable".
- Invisible Main Character: Kind of, in "The See-Through Man". Definitely in "Get-A-Way!"
- Killer Robot: "The Cybernauts", "Return of the Cybernauts".
- Knife-Throwing Act: "Conspiracy of Silence".
- Man-Eating Plant: "Man-Eater of Surrey Green".
- Nasty Party: "The Superlative Seven".
- Ontological Mystery: "The House That Jack Built".
- Orgy of Evidence: "The Curious Case of the Countless Clues", had John Steed go up against a killer who planted clues over each of his hits, and then posed as a detective attempting to "solve" each of the murders he himself committed.
- People Puppets: "Return of the Cybernauts".
- Snuff Film: "Epic".
- Ten Little Murder Victims: "The Superlative Seven".
- Thanatos Gambit: "The House That Jack Built".
- The Remake: They used to remake their own episodes. Ones with Cathy Gale were often remade with either Emma Peel or Tara King. They made three episodes with exactly the same plot, one with each of them.
- Justified in that in the 1960s episodes were wiped after being shown.
- Town with a Dark Secret: "The Town of No Return", "Murdersville".
- Treasure Map: "Dead Man's Chest".
- Your Worst Nightmare: "Too Many Christmas Trees", "Death's Door".
Other tropes that appeared on the show include:
- Absentee Actor: Usually the female lead.
- Acquitted Too Late
- Actor Allusion: "Too Many Christmas Trees".
- Acting for Two: Various Doppelgänger stories.
- Alan Smithee: "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Station" gives script credit to "Brian Sheriff," alias Brian Clemens and Roger Marshall (when Marshall left the series due to Creative Differences with Clemens, he rewrote Marshall's script - the pen-name indicates the sheriff doing the marshal's job).
- Auction of Evil: "The Girl from Auntie".
- Bound and Gagged/Distressed Damsel: Happens fairly often to the female lead, considering the time period.
- Bloodless Carnage
- Catch Phrase: "Mrs Peel - we're needed!"
- Cat Fight: "The Living Dead".
- Chekhov's Wardrobe: Mrs. Peel's amazing ability to always wear a catsuit if she would be involved in a fight later.
- Clip Show: "Homicide and Old Lace".
- Chained to a Railway: "The Gravediggers".
- Chameleon Camouflage: One episode had a villain escape prison and attempt to murder John Steed with such a gimmick.
- Comic Book Adaptation: In 1968, Gold Key Comics published a one-shot comic book based on the series, reprinting a British comic strip. However due to the fact Marvel Comics owned the name The Avengers in comics, the adaptation was titled John Steed Emma Peel, though its official title remained The Avengers in the indicia. In 1990-1991 Eclipse Comics published a 3-issue comic book mini-series (written by Grant Morrison), but it ran into the same problem so it was titled Steed and Mrs. Peel; it also suffered from a months-long delay before the release of part 3. An Avengers comic strip also ran in one of the UK weekly comic magazines, but there were no problems using the original title over there. The Steed and Mrs. Peel title of 1991 was revived by Boom Comics in the early 2010s (beginning with a reprint of the Morrison mini-series and then moving into original tales) and ran for about 18 months. The New Avengers was adapted in comic strip form in a pair of UK-published Annuals.
- Continuity Nod: Cathy Gale sends a Christmas card in "Too Many Christmas Trees" from Fort Knox. Doubles as a Shout-Out to Goldfinger.
- Completely Different Title:
- In France, the show was titled Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir (Bowler Hat and Leather Boots).
- The German title translated as "With Umbrella, Charm and Bowler". That hat must REALLY have made an impression.
- As noted, American-published comic-book version of the seriess needed to be retitled John Steed Emma Peel or Steed and Mrs. Peel, because the title The Avengers is already taken for Marvel's superhero comic. Turnabout is fair play, however: the 2012 Film/The Avengers film based on the Marvel title had to carry the title Avengers Assemble in the UK because of the TV series.
- Conveyor Belt-O-Doom: "Epic".
- Cool Car: Emma's Lotus Elan.
- Elaborate Underground Base: "The Living Dead".
- "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: "The Living Dead".
- Fake-Out Make-Out: Steed and Mrs. Peel in "Escape in Time".
- Falling Chandelier of Doom: "Death's Door".
- Fanservice: Mrs. Peel in "The Girl from Auntie", "A Touch of Brimstone", "Honey for the Prince", just to name a few.
- Frickin' Laser Beams: The murder weapon of choice in "From Venus, With Love".
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: At one point, Steed infiltrates into a society of radical cat lovers, and the director asks him about his own cat. Steed proceeds to describe in great detail his "beloved pussy Emma", and looks quite amused when the director asks how nice Emma feels purring in his lap.
- From the arrival of Cathy Gale onwards, innuendo became a hallmark of the series.
- Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection
- Hell-Bent for Leather
- Hey, It's That Guy!: The show is a goldmine for this kind of thing.
- Instrument of Murder: One enemy agent in had a clarinet with a blade that would slide out of the bell when the right key was pressed.
- It Must Be Mine: "The Girl from Auntie".
- Jumped at the Call: Both Steed and Mrs Peel clearly enjoy their adventures, even though it occasionally means killing lots of people.
- Last Name Basis: Steed, Gambit and Purdey are this to each other.
- Limited Wardrobe: Steed.
- Lost Episode: All but two-and-two-thirds episodes of the first season. Videotape was expensive in the early 60's and was routinely reused. The first act of the first episode can be found on YouTube.
- Milkman Conspiracy: Many episodes, and a literal one in "False Witness".
- Missing Episode:
- Most of the first season.
- Although these are now being remade as audio plays by Big Finish.
- The episode "A Touch of Brimstone" was initially "banned" by the ABC network in the US, although it was merely one of five monochrome Emma Peel episodes the network never aired — the broadcast schedule for these episodes only lasted 21 weeks, so five of the set of 26 never made it on; all five later aired in syndicated reruns in the US. Even in the UK, the most censor-troubling scene in "Brimstone", of a man attacking fetish-leather-clad Emma with a whip, was shortened; and various rerun syndications shortened it to varying greater degrees. Not until DVD release was the full-length version of the scene presented.
- Monster Clowns: "Look - (Stop Me if You've Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers..."
- Most Writers Are Male: In this case, all the writers - which explains a lot about Mrs. Peel in particular.
- Musical Pastiche: In "The Winged Avenger".
- Never Found the Body: Mrs. Peel's husband Peter; a pilot found to be alive in the Amazonian jungle years after a plane crash, which signals Mrs. Peel's exit from the series.
- NewWeird: Some of the episodes delved into "Weird Fiction," John Steed was once shrunk to "doll-size."
- Nice Hat: Steed and his bowlers, complete with a steel plate in the crown for clonking people on the head with.
- No Export for You: The American broadcasts of the first Emma Peel season featured a unique opening sequence (called the "chessboard opening") to explain the concept of the show to US viewers. Notable for providing a bit of leather catsuited Ms. Fanservice of Mrs. Peel, British fans clamored to see the opening for years, but never got a chance to see it until it was included on a DVD release relatively recently. American fans, meanwhile, were disappointed when the 1990s DVD release of the series omitted the opening because it originated from the UK masters.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup
- Nothing Is Scarier: "Don't Look Behind You".
- Of Corsets Sexy: "A Touch of Brimstone".
- Oh, Cisco!
- Opening Narration: The American screenings of the Emma Peel episodes.
- Parasol of Pain: Steed's umbrella.
- Parent Service: Emma Peel.
- Pretty in Mink: Emma Peel.
- Pressure Point: Emma Peel in "The Living Dead".
- Put on a Bus: Tara King in two episodes.
- Replaced the Theme Tune: It originally had a theme tune by Johnny Dankworth. It also underwent a complete makeover when production was switched from videotape to film, simultaneous with Diana Rigg's arrival, resulting in the more familiar Laurie Johnson theme.
- Resemblance Reveal: In the episode that writes out Mrs. Peel, her husband (a pilot who was lost in a plane crash some years before her entry into the series) turns out to be still alive. He doesn't appear in person until the final scene, at which point he is revealed to look exactly like Steed. (What this might imply about Mrs. Peel's reasons for hanging around with Steed is left as an exercise for the viewer.)
- Re Tool: The show changed dramatically with the introduction of Cathy Gale.
- Re Vision: Mother.
- Shrug of God: Steed and Mrs Peel — are they or aren't they? Since they would never have been permitted to address the question explicitly on-screen, it was deliberately left ambiguous. An interviewer once asked Macnee, Rigg, and the series' head writer what was really going on with Steed and Mrs Peel, and got three different and mutually-exclusive answers.
- Spy Catsuit: The original, in fact, and the origin of the trope.
- Spy Drama
- Spy Fiction
- Sword Cane: Steed had a sword concealed in his umbrella.
- The Tag: Humorous variety.
- Turned Against Their Masters: "The Cybernauts".
- Virtual Reality Interrogation: Tara King was victim of such a ploy by villains trying to locate John Steed and whoever he was protecting. Another episode had a fake "training seminar" orchestrated by enemy agents. British agents would not crack during the "interrogation simulations", but would later casually discuss the subject matter at the bar...
- We Help the Helpless: The Avengers' scope of action varies from episode to episode — sometimes it's impossible or unusual crimes, sometimes it's purely spy-based, sometimes it's breaking smuggling rings.
- Weaponized Headgear: Steed's steel-lined bowler.
- Will They or Won't They?: There was a palpable sexual chemisty between Steed and Mrs Peel. And between Steed and Mrs. Gale. And between Steed and Miss King. And between Steed and Purdey.
- Whole Plot Reference: "Dead Man's Chest" is basically It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; "The Superlative Seven" is a riff on The Most Dangerous Game.
- You Got Murder
- You Look Familiar
The 1976-77 remake series The New Avengers provides examples of:
- Absurdly Spacious Sewer: "Gnaws".
- Apocalypse Hitler: "The Eagle's Nest" featured a group of Nazis attempting to revive the cryogenically preserved body of Hitler.
- Awesome McCoolname: Colonel "Mad Jack" Miller in "Dirtier By The Dozen".
- Bad Habits: "The Eagle's Nest".
- Bullet Catch: In one episode, the Russians had developed a super-martial arts training program which would enable those who survived to deflect bullets with their hands. The graduate did fairly well, but it turned out he could only deflect attacks from one direction at a time.
- Cat Fight: The episode "Angels Of Death" has Purdey taking on not one but two gorgeous female opponents (played by Caroline Munro and Pamela Stephenson), after Gambit's basic decency prevents him hitting women and they beat the bejasus out of him.
- Dance Battler: Purdey was a former ballerina who practiced a very balletic fighting form, complete with pirouettes and high kicks.
- Death Course: An episode had one of these disguised as a British agent training course. Agents would be shot with harmless little darts to show whether they passed. The villains poisoned the darts.
- Deep Cover Agent: The episode "House of Cards" features a rogue Russian agent activating an old cold war project of deep, deep cover agents, two of whom are old friends of Steed.
- Doppelgänger: "Faces", of the Magic Plastic Surgery variety.
- Evil Former Friend: In "Such Men Are Dangerous", Steed's life is threatened by a revenge campaign from Mark Creighton, a childhood friend (at least to Steed), who viewed Steed as a lifelong rival, and who Steed was forced to shoot when he revealed himself to be a double agent.
- Eyepatch of Power: Colonel Miller has one in "Dirtier By The Dozen". It's never explained how a man with only one eye could remain as a serving line officer in the British Army.
- Hired Guns: The rouge British Army unit in "Dirtier By The Dozen".
- Lady in Red: Purdey in "Dirtier By The Dozen", in contrast to the men all dressed in khaki.
- Living on Borrowed Time: An enemy agent in one episode who had a bullet working its way toward his brain, and was desperate to kill Steed before that happened.
- Lock Down: "Complex".
- Married to the Job: In "House of Cards", Steed refers to his career as "my one and only marriage…and I've been very faithful."
- Instant Sedation: "Sleeper", where a group of bank robbers disperse a powerful knockout drug over London early on a Sunday morning in order to pull off a series of bank heists.
- Novelization: A half-dozen storylines from the series were adapted as novels. (The parent series also had a series of books based on it, but they were all original novels.)
- Older and Wiser: Steed.
- Only One Name: Purdey.
- Rodents of Unusual Size: "Gnaws".
- Shooting Gallery: "Target!".
- Stupid Jetpack Hitler: "The Eagle's Nest".
- Telepathic Sprinklers: In "Complex", Purdey is trapped inside a building which is attempting to kill her. Steed and Gambit dump a bunch of matches and lighters to her through the mail chute. She uses these to trigger the sprinklers which go off through the entire building and short out the computer controlling the building.