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Series: The Avengers
aka: Avengers
John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed and Mrs Emma Peel (née Knight)

"Always keep your bowler on in times of stress, and a watchful eye open for diabolical masterminds."

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 tropes.

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 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 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, proved to be the most popular and Venus was quietly dropped.

This retooling of the show became a massive smash. With a consistent Spy Couple 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 Britain.

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) 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.

A Revival 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. 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, see The Avengers (1998).

In the 2010s, the franchise was revived by Boom! Studios for a comic book series, Steed and Mrs. Peel, which could not be titled The Avengers because of the well-known Marvel comic.

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:

Plot tropes include:

Other tropes that appeared on the show include:

  • 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 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.
  • She-Fu
  • Shout-Out: In one episode a plot to destroy a train is summed up as such: "Pop goes the diesel?"
  • 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 Couple
  • 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.
  • Older and Wiser: Steed.
  • Only One Name: Purdey.
  • Revival
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: "Gnaws".
  • Shooting Gallery: "Target!".
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: "The Eagle's Nest".

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alternative title(s): The New Avengers; Avengers; The New Avengers
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