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Series / The Avengers (1960s)

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The show's most iconic pairing: John Steed and Emma Peel.

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

The Avengers is a very popular (and often revamped) British series that ran during most of The '60s (from 1961 to 1969). It was created by Sydney Newman (a few years before he created Doctor Who) and produced by Associated British Corporation (or ABC, unrelated to the identically-abbreviated American TV channel) for ITV. The series aired a total of 161 episodes across six seasons - undertaking an abnormally-wide Genre Shift from a dour noir-influenced crime drama to a lighthearted and campy quasi-spoof of Spy Fiction in the process - popularized the Action Girl archetype as a TV staple and singlehandedly started the Spy Catsuit trope.

While the series generally centred on the escapades of John Steed (played by Patrick Macnee, who would later appear in a James Bond film) and a revolving series of co-stars, its most famous incarnation, between 1965 and 1968, paired Macnee with Diana Rigg (who would later appear in a Bond film) as Emma Peel. 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-quite appear in a not-quite Bond film), to capitalise on the popularity he had developed during his previous show, the realistic crime drama Police Surgeon. In the pilot, his character, the subdued and pragmatic practitioner Dr David Keel, was recruited by charming-but-hard-edged spy John Steed (Macnee) as a part-time expert assistant in return for Steed's help capturing the murderers of Keel's fiancée; this was pretty much the last time in the series any actual avenging took place. The ensuing first season was generally a gritty and hardboiled (and decidedly low-budget) crime melodrama, centring around cases such as drug smugglers, arms dealers and urban gang warfare, often within the confines of a realistically-presented early-'60s London. Contrary to subsequent seasons, the show was frequently divided between Keel-centered (focalizing smaller-scale local or domestic crimes and conflicts) and Steed-centered episodes (focalizing his international assignments), thus presenting Keel and Steed more as recurring collaborators and co-protagonists as opposed to a regularly-partnered duo. As the season progressed, the series gradually became a moderate success, with Steed becoming a minor breakout character among viewers.

A TV strike delayed the start of the second season, so Hendry left to pursue a film career. Steed subsequently became the show's definitive central character and the production team started to explore other partnerships. The first, lasting just three episodes, was Dr. King, a blatant Suspiciously Similar Substitute of Keel. He was followed up by stories that alternately paired Steed up with nightclub singer Venus Smith (played by Julie Stevens, who has never appeared in a Bond film) and female anthropologist and "talented amateur" Catherine "Cathy" Gale (arguably TV's first true Action Girl, and played by Blackman, who, as noted already, would later appear in a Bond film). Cathy, who was initially written similarly to Dr. Keel (Word of God is that some of her early scripts were actually written for Hendry), proved to be the more popular and Venus was quietly dropped. With Steed now consistently partnered with his now-female co-protagonist (instead of entering and withdrawing from their otherwise-mundane daily occupation on call), much of his initial lechery and guarded shadiness was gradually removed in favor of a more affable and debonair characterization, although he would nonetheless retain elements of his ruthlessness and manipulative prowess, as demonstrated by his frequent tendency to both unscrupulously conceal information from Gale and abruptly throw her into elaborate, pre-emptively calculated cat-and-mouse ruses. Steed and Gale's relationship was resultantly cagier and more tenuous than that of the series' later leading duos, although a degree of underlying sexual tension began to form between the pair as of the third season.

This retooling of the show became a massive smash. With a consistent Agents Dating format, the more mundane villains and smaller-scale urban dramas of the first season began to fade in favour of pulpier, more bombastic plots centred on international espionage, political corruption and industrial sabotage, albeit while retaining a hard-edged tone and emphasis on sordid moral dilemmas; by its third season, the series had effectively evolved into an intricately-plotted spy thriller as opposed to a sombre crime series. Partially owing to this genre shift, the show began to feature more overtly unrealistic concepts - among them criminal doppelgangers, electromagnetic weapons concealed within watermills and fanatical conspiracies to reignite the Roman Empire - during this period, although these were more the exception than the rule.

Following the third season's conclusion in 1964, Blackman left to pursue a film career (playing Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, a Bond film). Following one-and-a-half unsuccessful (and never broadcast) episodes pairing Macnee with Elizabeth Shepherd, Steed was joined by Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel, described as a "talented amateur" (the Shepherd episodes were reedited and recycled into Rigg episodes). Buoyed by the national success of the Gale era, ABC banked on revamping the show to pursue American TV markets and, aided by funding from the American ABC network, increased its budget per episode to a then-lavish £56,000 GBP (from an average of £6000 for the previous season), enabling the show to convert from videotape to the more cinematographically-versatile medium of 35mm film (and thus compete with its U.S. contemporaries visually). Whereas episodes in previous seasons were filmed in a single session due to lower budgets (producing a "pseudo-live" aesthetic), the revamped series' boosted production values granted episodes access to a legitimate editing process, rendering their visual pacing noticeably brisker. Brian Clemens, previously a writer on the show's first and third seasons, was likewise promoted to the head writer position, with newly-appointed producer Albert Fennell supervising the translation of Clemens' story ideas into physically and financially-feasible episodes.

Owing to Rigg's energetic charisma (and chemistry with Macnee), Clemens' more whimsical, fantasy-oriented inclinations and its upgraded production values, the show resultantly became much more stylish, fast-paced and irreverent - even gaining a now-iconic new theme song - 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, although the further evolution of Steed into a mannerly, exaggeratedly British gentleman (as opposed to the conniving and unscrupulous alpha male of the Keel and Gale eras) gave this era's incarnation of the dynamic a decidedly more parodic flavour. Possibly due to the more international reach of their seasons as co-stars, Steed and Mrs. Peel became the show's most iconic pairing, becoming synonymous with the cultural memory of the series (and its associated merchandise) at large despite featuring in less than a third of the show's overall run. The Peel seasons (particularly the colour-produced season 5) are likewise the only period of the show to have received significant reruns across much of the globe, further cementing this image to later generations of viewers.

The stories, meanwhile, abandoned realistic crime altogether in favour of diabolical masterminds and accordingly became crazier and crazier — Carnivorous plants from the moon! Murderous robots! Assassination by laser! Inventors dressed as comic book superheroes! Killer rainclouds! Invisible spies! Housecats brainwashed to kill! Politicians hypnotised into becoming children! A Shrink Ray! — typifying the swinging cool of 1960s Britain, particularly to American audiences of the period.

Eventually Rigg, weary from the show's rigorous production schedule and frustrated by the staff's refusal to pay her proportionately for her leading role, left Steed for the doomed embrace of George Lazenby's Bond, and Steed took on his last partner, Tara King. Tara (played by Linda Thorson, who has not appeared in a Bond film,note  but made up for it by being the only one of the bunch to appear on Star Trek) was a young spy fresh from training (the first of Steed's partners to officially share his occupation) characterized as hero-worshipping Steed, who correspondingly became more of a mentor figure. While less resourceful and adept at physical combat than Gale or Peel (thus drawing some criticism for eroding the show's progressive qualities), King nonetheless qualified as an Action Girl.

Regardless of audience reception towards Tara King, however, Thorson would immediately be faced with the misfortune of fronting the show's most significant production disaster. Following the fifth season, the US ABC network, desiring more control over the show's production, fired showrunners Clemens and Fennell and reinstalled Cathy Gale-era producer John Bryce. Bryce's subsequent attempts to rewind the clock stylistically and return the show to a more hard-edged tone (even contemplating replacing Laurie Johnson's iconic theme with a rearrangement of Johnny Dankworth's theme from the first three seasons) proved catastrophic owing to his inexperience helming the revised production flow the show had adopted in his absence. With only three episodes completed far behind schedule, Bryce was dismissed and Clemens and Fennell were reluctantly rehired to helm the season on a truncated schedule (forcing scripts to be put to camera with fewer revisions than the Peel era). While the King era (comprising solely season 6) thus emerged as a modified variant on the Peel era's comedy-fantasy format (albeit with sporadic darker elements), the show's doom was sealed by the ABC network scheduling it against the ratings juggernaut Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, vastly reducing the show's exposure in the U.S. Resultantly, the series was quietly cancelled, thus open-endedly launching Steed and King into the vacuum of space for its appropriately-titled finale "Bizarre". While viewed as a ratings disappointment in the U.S., the King season would acquire notable popularity in France during the early 1970s, setting the scene for the series' eventual resurrection.

A short-lived revival was attempted by Clemens and Fennell in 1976, titled 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 from the Nescafe adverts (but who, in lieu of actual Bond films, appeared in the James Bond parody Licensed to Love and Kill instead), as Mike Gambit. While Lumley and Hunt were initially the sole leads, the revival's French backers, due to the previously-mentioned domestic popularity of the Tara King season, insisted that Macnee reprise his role as Steed. Nonetheless, Macnee would later expressed his distaste for the revival in interviews, viewing it as sacrificing much of the Peel era's whimsical comedy in favor of emulating Starsky & Hutch. Following the cancellation of the revival, Brian Clemens repeatedly attempted to pitch further continuations of the series - most notably a completed script for a film adaptation (aptly titled The First Avengers Movie) intended to feature Macnee and Hunt alongside several new co-stars - throughout the 1980s, none of which were ultimately greenlit.

In 1998 the show was made into a movie starring Ralph Fiennes (who now appears in Bond films) 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, and is otherwise disowned by fans of the series for straying too far from its concept.

In the 1990s, the franchise was revived by Eclipse Comics and writer Grant Morrison (who has not appeared in a Bond film, but who has their own superspy alter-ego already). It could not be titled The Avengers thanks to Marvel Comics, and so was instead retitled Steed and Mrs. Peel, as it had been in the short-lived 60s Gold Key Comics series. This comic was reprinted twenty years later by Boom! Studios, who then continued it as an ongoing series with newly-written stories, starting with writer Mark Waid (who became the only person to write for both these Avengers and the other Avengers, but has never been in a Bond film).

As of late 2020, Linda Thorson and Julie Stevens are the last living main cast members, with both Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg having passed away earlier that year.

Not to be confused with the American comic book superhero team or its film adaptation, the latter of which was renamed Avengers Assemble for the British market for precisely this reason.

This series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Cathy Gale was the first one on television. She replaced Dr. David Keel and there were reportedly no changes in the early scripts, so that she was effectively playing a "male" character. She was later replaced with the equally tough Emma Peel, who became the series's iconic female character. Both of them occasionally needed to be saved by John Steed, but they saved him just as frequently.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • In "The Frighteners," Steed tells Keel to take the unconscious Moxon to his surgery, saying, "Give the police surgeon the night off?" Police Surgeon was a series that starred Ian Hendry, the predecessor to the show.
    • In "Too Many Christmas Trees," Cathy Gale has sent Steed and Peel a postcard.
      Steed: (after Mrs. Peel hands him a Christmas card from Cathy Gale) Mrs. Gale! Oh, how nice of her to remember me. What ''can'' she be doing in Fort Knox?
    • We learn that prior to transferring to the Coldstream Guards and then the Intelligence Corps, Steed served as a motor torpedo boat commander in World War II, as did Patrick Macnee.
    • Christopher Lee appears as a military officer interrogating prisoners. In real life he had served in RAF intelligence and did just that to Nazi war criminals.
  • Agents Dating: Played pretty much straight throughout, with John Steed and his various female partners in a state of perpetual UST, and often seen in romantic or dating-esque scenarios. However, in keeping with the tone of the series, rarely more than hints were offered, with Steed and Peel (a Mind Swap scenario notwithstanding) kissing only once. The relationship between Steed and Tara, despite its May–December Romance aspects, was allowed to be somewhat more suggestive, with the final line of the final episode featuring a character expressing concern about Steed and Tara being unchaperoned while riding a rocket ship into earth's orbit.
  • Alice Allusion: The chess-themed restaurant in "Lobster Quadrille" contains a cut-out of Alice and in "The £50,000 Breakfast," Emma quips, "Curioser curioser".
  • Alien Kudzu: In "Man-Eater of Surrey Green," a Man-Eating Plant from outer space lands in Middle England and takes several top horticulturists as its prisoners in an effort to germinate and spread across all of the Earth.
  • Alone with the Psycho: "The Joker" has Emma Peel trapped in a house with a psychopath who is obsessed with her, and wants to drive her as insane as he is. The script was recycled from "Don't Look Behind You," which starred Cathy Gale.
  • Amphibious Automobile: In the coda to "Castle De'ath," Steed and Peel are driving back, when he decides to go fishing. When Peel incredulously says, "In those clothes?" he promptly drives his amphibious car into a nearby loch.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The series ends with Steed and Tara accidentally launched in a rocket, and Mother saying to the camera that they'll be back.
  • Animal Assassin: In "The Hidden Tiger," house cats are turned into man-killers.
  • Anonymous Ringer: The Prime Minister in "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Station" is very clearly supposed to be then-incumbent Harold Wilson since he looks like him, but he's never explicitly identified by name.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: "A Touch of Brimstone" involves a group of decadant aristrocrats who form a secret society that re-enacts the Hellfire Club. Oh, and they're planning a political coup.
  • Artefact Title: The title of the series referred to the efforts of Dr. Keel to avenge his fiancée who was murdered in the first episode. The murderer was caught in the second episode, and Keel left the show altogether at the end of Season 1, but the title remained through all six seasons.
  • Arrowgram: One of the ways John Steed delivers his "Mrs. Peel, we're needed!" message to Emma Peel at the start of every episode in Season 5.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: "Too Many Christmas Trees" gives us Emma Peel dressed as Oliver Twist, while "A Sense of History" has her dressed as Robin Hood and in "Silent Dust", Steed hallucinated her dressed as a Wild West sheriff.
  • Auction of Evil:
    • "Have Guns - Will Haggle": Thieves steal 3,000 highly-secret, brand-new rifles and stage an auction for the guns for buyers on the black market.
    • "The Girl from Auntie": An organization which steals items for collectors kidnaps Mrs. Peel and plans to auction her off to them.
    • "The Hour That Never Was": A team of technicians at a Royal Air Force base is brainwashed by a team of criminals using ultrasonics. The Big Bad intends to set up an auction of the brainwashed personnel to the highest bidder.
  • Avenging the Villain: "Revenge of the Cybernauts" sees Paul Beresford (Peter Cushing) concoct a scheme to avenge his brother Dr. Clement Armstrong (Michael Gough), the villain of "The Cybernauts".
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: Aside from Steed's slightly dated "British gentleman" look throughout, "A Touch of Brimstone" features a bunch of prankster villains, the Hellfire Club, with a taste for 18th century styles.
  • Baby Carriage: "Quick-Quick Slow Death" opens with a man pushing a pram along the high street. He stops to make a phone call, then is aghast to see the pram start rolling away - he chases it but after a contretemps with a sports car it's upturned, and a man's corpse rolls out, bullet holes in his starched shirt-front.
  • Backup Twin: In "The Superlative Seven", Wade is impaled by a spear and falls off a balcony during a fight with Steed. However, the twin shows up and fights with Mrs. Peel. The Reveal comes after Mrs. Peel dispatches of the second Wade (the first twin was buried under heavy brush after getting killed).
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Steed is a very well dressed secret agent, and knows how to kick ass.
  • Bad Habits: In one episode, three foreign assassins are the only prisoners in what appears to be a monastery, with their guards dressed as monks. The advantage of this is not discussed.
  • Bad Santa: In "Too Many Christmas Trees," Steed suffered from disturbing dreams featuring a creepy Father Christmas.
  • Bag of Holding: In "The Town of No Return," Steed and Peel take a train journey, where Steed, in the absence of a restaurant car, produces a carpet bag containing a full tea service, including a stand of small cakes and a boiling kettle.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: In the season five title sequence, Emma Peel aims a revolver at Steed, then shoots the cork off his champagne bottle.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: Steed didn't routinely use firearms as Patrick Mc Nee disliked them due to his wartime combat experiences as a Motor Torpedo Boat commander. He does occasionally employ them in episodes such as 'Take Me To Your Leader' and 'Game' and kills at least 2 men using guns in 'Legacy of Death' and 'Homicide and Old Lace'.
  • Batman Parody: "The Winged Avenger" centres around a comic studio making "The Winged Avenger" in a parody of Batman (1966). The climactic fight has Mrs. Peel and Mr Steed hitting the villains with Hit Flash panels while a Musical Pastiche of the theme plays.
  • Bear Trap: In "Silent Dust," Steed steps in a bear trap while being chased by one of the bad guys. He manages to free his foot but passes out shortly afterward.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Played With in "The Danger Makers:''
    Steed: How did you get out?
    Mrs. Peel: I knotted some sheets and climbed out the window.
    Steed: Oh, that old thing.
    Mrs. Peel: Well, originality didn't seem important at the time.
  • Bench Breaker: In "The Thirteenth Hole," 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 Red Button: In "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station" the villain proudly shows off the red button that will blow up the railway carriage carrying the Prime Minister of Britain. Later, Emma Peel (who wasn't present to hear this) accidentally puts her hand on the button giving everyone an Oh, Crap! moment; fortunately Steed has already disconnected the wires.
  • Birdcaged: In "The Girl From Auntie," Emma Peel gets stuck in a rather feathery outfit and locked in one of these.
  • The Blank: In "Death's Door," Lord Melford has a nightmare about attending a peace conference where he is greeted at the door by a faceless. Steed and Emma later discover he had been drugged and the nightmare staged. During the final fight against the bad guys, Emma shows up wearing the costume and mask used to create the faceless man.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Steed's partners were Cathy Gale (blonde), Emma Peel (auburn-haired) and Tara King (brunette).
  • Bloodless Carnage: The series actually made a point of not showing blood, to maintain the lighthearted tone of the series, despite numerous deaths by gunshot, stabbing, explosion, and so on. There were some episodes where a little blood was shown, but they were few and far between. In one episode, we are led to believe a character was mauled to death by a tiger; the victim's clothes are in shreds, but there's no blood at all.
  • Botanical Abomination: In "Man-Eater of Surrey Green," a Man-Eating Plant from outer space lands in Middle England and takes several top horticulturists as its prisoners in an effort to germinate and spread across all of the Earth.
  • Bound and Gagged: Emma Peel. Routinely. The only times she ever seems remotely put out by this is when it looks like a related Death Trap might go off while she's still, ah, indisposed.
  • The Boxing Episode: "Killer Whale" involved a boxing ring that's being used as a front for a smuggling operation.
  • Brandishment Bluff: In "The Frighteners," Dr. Keel threatens a villain with a syringe he claims is filled with hydrochloric acid in order to learn who hired him. It turns out to be filled with witch-hazel.
  • Break-In Threat: This was the schtick of one villain; in one example, a victim finishes his tea and finds the word "POISON" inscribed on the bottom of his cup.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Occurs in the final episode, "Bizarre," when Mother directly addresses the viewers.
  • Bulungi: In "Small Game for Big Hunters," it's Kalaya. An old colonel who couldn't face the fact that Kalaya became independent has recreated his Kalayan HQ in rural England. There's a conspiracy to unleash an epidemic of sleeping sickness back in the real Kalaya.
  • Busman's Holiday: In "A Chorus of Frogs," Steed is on holiday in Greece when he's asked to investigate the mysterious death of a Greek deep-sea diver and part-time smuggler.
  • The Butler Did It: "What the Butler Saw" involved an entire school for butlers, which turned out to be a criminal enterprise. At the end, there's an exchange along the following lines:
    Emma: Go ahead, say it. You know you've been dying to.
    Steed: The butler did it!
  • Cacophony Cover Up:
    • In "Castle De'ath," a man is being tortured on the rack and the sound of bagpipes drowns out his cries.
    • In "Who's Who???," a pair of agents who have swapped bodies with Steed and Emma summon a man to Steed's flat so they can kill him, covering it up by playing pop music on the radio.
  • Cartoon Bomb: In "Look - (stop me if you've heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers...," a pair of vaudeville clowns kill off a number of folks — one with such a bomb, complete with "BOMB" painted on it in big white letters.
  • Cartwright Curse: "Dead Man's Treasure" featured a race where participants were assigned to partners. Steed's partner was a young woman who recounted the tragic deaths of her many husbands, apparently by bad luck, as Steed grew more disconcerted each time she revealed a new former spouse.
  • Casting Gag: Christopher Lee appears in "Never, Never Say Die" as Doctor Frank N. Stone, a nod to his role in The Curse of Frankenstein.
  • Cat Fight: "The Living Dead," between Mrs. Peel and a female guard.
  • Cats Are Mean: In "The Hidden Tiger," several prominent businessmen are mauled to death, leading to speculation that a big cat like a lion or a tiger is on the loose. In reality, the Villain of the Week has discovered a way to turn the domestic felines of the country into vicious killers.
  • Catch and Return: In "Noon Doomsday," Tara returns a throwing knife to its thrower — to his belly, more precisely, which causes him to fall to his death.
  • Chained to a Railway: Parodied in "The Gravediggers," in which Mrs Peel is tied to the tracks of a miniature railway.
  • Chairman of the Brawl:
    • In "Never Never Say Die," Steed attacks Dr. Stone's robot duplicate with a chair, but it does nothing.
    • In "Epic," Emma playfully hits Steed with what she thinks is a breakaway prop chair that turns out to be real.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: One episode had a villain escape from prison and attempt to murder John Steed with such a gimmick.
  • Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: One episode had a villain who changed outfits every time he was off camera. This gets really ridiculous in the fight scene at the end of the episode, where the focus changed from him to Steed and back every ten seconds or so for the entire thing.
  • Changing of the Guard: The show originally focused on Dr. David Keel solving crimes, with John Steed being his ally. When Ian Hendry decided not to renew his contract, Steed was made the main character and given female sidekicks.
  • Character Catchphrase: The colour Emma Peel episodes would always begin with Steed delivering the phrase "Mrs. Peel — we're needed!" in an unusual or quirky way.
  • Characterisation Click Moment: In the first season, Steed was a hard-edged, trenchcoat-wearing operative with ambiguous morality. During the Cathy Gale era, he became noticeably more emotionally-open and empathic, though he retained a casually manipulative streak. It wasn't until the Emma Peel era, however, that his familiar sophisticated, dapper, exaggeratedly British gentleman persona kicked in.
  • Characterization Marches On:
    • During the first season, Steed's character was a more rough-and-tumble operative than the suave, sophisticated gentleman he became culturally enshrined as. He's also quite manipulative and unscrupulous in the Cathy Gale era, which led to conflict between the two. It wasn't until the Emma Peel era where he truly became the familiar chivalrous gentleman.
    • The first episode Honor Blackman filmed was "Death Dispatch," where Cathy is rather tolerant of Steed's sexist attitude towards her, which would have been unthinkable in her later episodes.
    • The first episode Diana Rigg filmed was "The Murder Market," where it's clear that Emma's character hadn't clicked just yet. Instead of her usual bright, razor-sharp wit, she is low-key, almost sultry. Other anomalies include her uncharacteristic, rather Cathy-ish lashing-out at Steed and her awkward catfight with the female baddie.
  • Chess Motif:
    • In "Lobster Quadrille," there are two chess sets in Steed's flat, a chess shop, chess style tiles at the mortuary, and a restaurant in chess style.
    • "Room Without a View" features Max Chessman, who runs a hotel with tiles like a chess board.
    • When the show aired in America, it opened with the famous chess board sequence.
  • Christmas Episode: The aptly-named "Too Many Christmas Trees," where Steed has a nightmare featuring a sinister Father Christmas and there's a Charles Dickens-themed Christmas party, where one character dresses as Jacob Marley.
  • Christmas in July: In "Take-Over," Steed walks into a hostage situation because he is celebrating Christmas in the summer. It turns out he and his friend (whose house the killers have taken over) were in a POW camp in Asia and lost track of the date. Only later did they find out they had celebrated Christmas in summer and decided to make it an annual thing.
  • Circus Episode:
    • "The Girl on the Trapeze" has Dr. Keel investigate the supposed suicide of a trapeze artist.
    • In "Conspiracy of Silence," Steed learns that a circus clown is trying to kill him. Cathy moves in with the clown's wife and learns that the mafia is trying to keep him from interfering with their American drug smuggling connection.
  • Class Reunion: "The Hour That Never Was" sees Steed and Emma attend the former's army reunion at an airbase, only to discover that it's completely deserted.
  • Clear My Name:
    • In "All Done With Mirrors," Steed is accused of selling secrets, so he is placed under house arrest to help flush out the real traitors, leaving Tara to find the culprit.
    • In "Who Was That Man I Saw You With?," Tara is accused of working with an enemy agent, prompting Steed to clear her name.
  • 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..."
  • 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 as above 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! Studios 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.
  • Compilation Movie: Two season five episodes - "The Winged Avenger" and "Return of the Cybernauts" - were coupled together and given a theatrical release in Europe.
  • Consistent Clothing Style: John Steed is always in a dark suit and tie paired with a bowler hat, although the colors tend to vary.
  • Continuity Nod: Cathy Gale sends a Christmas card in "Too Many Christmas Trees" from Fort Knox. Doubles as a Shout-Out to Goldfinger.
  • Contrasting Replacement Character:
    • Emma Peel has a few things in common with Cathy Gale - they're both widows (though Emma's husband was eventually revealed to be alive) and they both kick ass while wearing black leather. That said, Emma is lot more easy-going and less uptight than Cathy, as well as having a more playful, flirtatious relationship with Steed. Whereas Cathy's fighting style was judo, Emma was into kung-fu and karate. Whereas Cathy was motivated by a desire to help the innocent, Emma just loves the adventure and adrenaline.
    • Tara King is significantly younger and less experienced than either of her predecessors. Whereas they were equal partners with Steed who enjoyed a bit of flirtatious banter, Steed took on a teacher/father role to Tara. She's also sported the shortest haircuts out of the three partners of Steed. Whereas both Cathy and Emma were both widows, Tara was a single woman who hero-worshipped Steed.
  • Conveyor Belt o' Doom: Mrs. Peel is tied up and put on a conveyor belt to a giant buzzsaw in the episode "Epic."
  • Cool Car: The automobiles used in the series became almost as famous as the actors.
    • From the fourth season on, Steed's signature cars were six vintage green 1926–1928 Bentley racing or town cars, including Blower Bentleys and Bentley Speed Sixes (although, uniquely, in "The Thirteenth Hole" he drives a Vauxhall 30-98). In the final season he drove two yellow Rolls Royces — a 1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost and a 1927 Rolls Royce New Phantom.
    • Peel drove Lotus Elan convertibles (a white 1964 and a powder blue 1966), which, like her clothes, emphasized her independence and vitality. During the first Peel series (Season 4), each episode ended with a short, humorous scene of the duo leaving the scene of their most recent adventure in some unusual vehicle. Mother occasionally appeared in silver Rolls-Royce.
    • Tara King drove an AC 428 and a Lotus Europa.
    • Lady Diana Forbes Blakeney drove an MGC Roadster.
  • Costume Copycat: In "They Keep Killing Steed!," a group of criminals plan to assassinate a group of VIPs using technology which changes them into identical copies of attendees. One of the people to be copied was Steed. Steed eventually arranges for ALL the criminals to take HIS identity. They start killing each other.
  • Coupled Couples: "Who's Who?" involves a pair of enemy agent lovers who swap bodies with Steed and Emma. The contrast between the heroes' UST-laden platonic relationship and the villains' overtly sexual one is played for laughs.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: Emma and Steed frequently infiltrate innocent sounding organizations that are a front for (admittedly goofy) dark covert operations.
  • Cultured Badass: Steed kicks much ass throughout the series while remaining a refined and well-mannered gentleman, being knowledgable on a wide range of subjects, enjoying fine wines, and collecting old-fashioned cars.
  • Damsel in Distress:
    • Almost all of Emma Peel's episodes feature her in some kind of predicament, generally clad in tight fitting (not to say clinging...) apparel and bound in a weird situation. Examples are: tied in aluminium foil to act as an electric conductor to electrocute Steed when he touches her, tied to train tracks (classical but effective), bound to a Mad Scientist patented reclining table to act as guinea pig for his super strong laser, tied, scantily clad in a harem outfit...
    • Tara King often gets chloroformed or clubbed and kidnapped.
  • Dangerous Key Fumble: In "The Living Dead," Emma Peel is Forced to Watch from a cell as John Steed faces a Firing Squad. She quickly knocks out the Diabolical Mastermind and takes his keys, but has to try every key before finding the one that opens the cell door, drawing out the suspense as the firing squad is readying to shoot her partner.
  • Dashingly Dapper Derby: John Steed is likely the Trope Codifier. His often had a steel plate built into the crown, useful for giving villains a quick clonk on the head.
  • Deadly Graduation: In "Invasion of the Earthmen," the villain is training students to conquer space, including a survival exercise involving two students where only one is allowed to return. Meanwhile our heroes are infiltrating the school and end up getting into a fight with the students. Steed ties one up, and he watches horrified as the other student approaches him... only to cut him free. Turns out the exercise has been cancelled as everyone has been ordered to kill the heroes instead.
  • Deadly Prank: "A Touch of Brimstone" sees the Hellfire Club play childish, yet harmless pranks on dignitaries. Then they swap the ribbon at a cutting ceremony with an electrified one that gives a VIP a fatal shock. Naturally, Steed and Peel are appalled and decide to put a stop to them.
  • Deathly Unmasking: In "Too Many Christmas Trees," Steed fatally shoots "Father Christmas," the mastermind behind an elaborate spy ring. When Steed and Mrs. Peel unmask him, it's revealed to be publisher and party host Brandon Storey.
  • Denser and Wackier: The series started off with the intent of becoming a gritty crime drama. Around the time Emma Peel took over as Steed's partner, plots became a lot more cartoony and the lead spies much quippier. By the time the series shifted to colour, the show featured plots like man-eating plants, housecats trained as assassins, and an actual shrink ray. Uniquely for this trope, it's the wackier seasons that are more fondly remembered, and any attempts to bring the series back to its 'realistic' roots have been met with hostility.
  • Destination Defenestration: Lampshaded when Steed advises Tara King (who is practicing her judo) that if possible she should throw her opponent through a plate glass window.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: The bread-and-butter trope of the series (at least in seasons 4-6), which has no shortage of diabolical villains with plans. It may have even originated the term, and certainly was a Trope Codifier - the characters frequently actually refer to their opponents as "diabolical masterminds".
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: In "Thingumajig," Tara plays a bit of the series' theme tune on a church organ.
  • Does Not Like Men: In "How to Succeed... At Murder!," a group of man-hating and power-hungry Sexy Secretaries form a secret collective to murder their bosses (after confusing them to utter uselessness with impossible filing systems that only the secretary/the soon-to-be boss lady can understand) and take over as the executives of their respective companies, as part of a female world domination plot. Their mantra? "RUINATION TO ALL MEN!"
    • After Emma infiltrates the group, Steed and Emma discover that the female marionette that controls the group is actually controlled BY A MAN, and the butler who the group treated like a lapdog to boot.
  • Doomed Appointment: Setting up a meeting with Steed and Mrs. Peel to tell them some bit of vital information was a surefire way to die.
  • Dying Clue: A victim writes "COP," so everybody suspects Coppice is the murderer. Mrs Peel proves that the victim was Russian. In the Cyrillic Alphabet "COP" = "sor". Sorrel is the murderer.
  • Early Instalment Weirdness: Or rather, an early instalment lack of the weirdness that most people associate with the series. The first season, with Steed paired with Keel, was a straightforward crime melodrama with a realistic, hard-edged tone unrecognizable to the show's later incarnation. Even the early Cathy episodes (in season 2) were pretty much just straight crime stories as well (along with those featuring short-term partners Venus Smith and Martin King). It wasn't until Cathy became Steed's only partner in season 3 (which nonetheless featured a slew of darker episodes and moments compatible with earlier seasons, most notably a scene in "The Nutshell" in which Steed is threatened with electroshock torture by British government interrogators) that the bizarre and occasionally SF-tinged stories began, although these elements would only appear sporadically until Emma Peel's introduction in the following season.
    • The show's earlier opening theme (composed by noted jazz musician Johnny Dankworth) comprises a series of sparse, ominous-sounding brass notes (as opposed to the lusher, more vibrant Laurie Johnson theme used for seasons 4-6), reflecting the earlier seasons' more foreboding and noir-adjacent tone.
    • The substantial increase in the show's production values between its third and fourth seasons create a visible divide in their aesthetics. The first three seasons, due to their lower-budget production, thus feature slower visual pacing (due to a lack of editing), sparser background music, more muffled sound editing and less emphasis on action and visual spectacle than the Peel and King eras.
    • During the first season, Ian Hendry's Dr. Keel was billed as the lead character (Steed would correspondingly be absent from several episodes across the season), with Steed a recurring collaborator more than a defined partner. Note, however, that numerous season 1 episodes alternately featured Steed's more Bond-reminiscent international escapades (with Keel reduced to cameo roles), although none of these episodes survive in video form.
    • The characterization of Steed in the first three seasons was markedly different to the comically-mannerly gentleman of the Peel era. In the first season, Steed is presented as an outwardly-charming yet ruthlessly-mercurial and womanizing figure (initially lacking his trademark bowler hat and umbrella in favour of a trenchcoat; both would debut circa episode 10) recurringly emerging from the underworld to draw the more pragmatic Keel into a given episode's plot. Upon his promotion to the lead role in season 2, Steed's characterization began to gravitate towards a Lighter and Softer image, becoming more affable and urbane, although he retained noticeable elements of his earlier brusqueness and lechery: note his initial appearances with Cathy Gale, in which his attitude towards her is conspicuously more sexually-aggressive than in her later appearances. Despite the increased personability of his dynamic with Gale, Steed arguably regained numerous elements of his earlier shadiness in season 3, with multiple episode plots hinging on either the possibility of him "going rogue" (as with "Brief for Murder" or "The Nutshell") or the ramifications of his tendency to rampantly conceal information from Gale. These traits would almost entirely evaporate in the following season, rendering him a dapper British gentleman casually and covertly equipped with a myriad of skills and gadgetry instead of an unscrupulous and mercenarily-minded operative carrying elements of dandyism. Whereas his previous co-stars often functioned as humanistic foils to his schemes, Emma Peel is therefore portrayed more unequivocally as a friend to Steed.
    • The diabolical masterminds dominating the Peel era were entirely absent in the first two seasons in favour of more realistic criminals (such as urban gangsters, drug smugglers, corrupt businessmen and jewel thieves). While season 3 featured several more conceptually-outlandish antagonists (including the two comically-corrupt Dickensian lawyers in "Brief for Murder" or the outlandishly-ambitious "aspiring" Roman emperor Sir Bruno in "The Grandeur That Was Rome"), these portrayals either serve as briefer moments of absurdity within more dramatic and sobering plotlines ("Brief" features Steed ostensibly assassinating Cathy Gale and confronting the ensuing legal ramifications) or are assigned noticeably more dramatic pathos and psychological detail than the more comedic antagonists of later seasons. The earliest antagonists to be dubbed "diabolical masterminds" in-universe conversely appear in the appropriately-titled fourth season episode "The Master Minds".
    • The first three seasons display a markedly-greater commitment to social realism than the Peel era, frequently featuring guest characters from a wide range of social brackets, ethnicities and professions and utilizing plots set (albeit not filmed) within varying nonfictional areas, cities and countries. Their social and political quandaries likewise tend to inform their character arcs. As of season 4, however, the show seldom engages with these realities, instead centring on a fantastical approximation of rural southeastern England populated mainly by middle and upper-class eccentrics.
    • The show's one-shot characters tended to receive substantially greater narrative focus and emotional development in earlier seasons, frequently receiving more screentime in their respective episodes than the show's leads (who resultantly served more as plot catalysts or framing devices for the one-shot's arc); season 3 more firmly centers the show's plots on the relationship and interplay between Steed and Gale, providing the foundation for the Peel era's format.
    • Several of Cathy Gale's early episodes were actually written for the David Keel character, with the dialogue left more or less unchanged; this led to some characterization refinement as scripts written specifically for Cathy began to emerge.
    • The first two seasons had Steed answering to an on-screen superior; this was abandoned for the better-known Cathy and Emma eras, but it was revived with the introduction of Mother in the Tara era.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: "The Living Dead" had a huge underground city built by the villains for the purpose of raising an army.
  • Emotional Regression: "Something Nasty in the Nursery" features the use of a a child's ball, treated with a psychedelic drug, to induce hallucinations and mental regression to childhood in the victims.
  • Enemy Without: In an episode where a man's brainwaves are projected into a series of hapless British spies.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • John Steed appearing in Dr. Keel's flat sitting in an armchair and offering to help him avenge his fiancée's death, all the while not revealing his name.
    • Emma Peel's first scene in "The Town of No Return" has Steed visit her flat and the pair engage in flirtatious banter while fencing. Emma's character is fully on display - classy, sexy, playful, witty, and up for an adventure.
  • Every Episode Ending: Steed and Mrs Peel would depart the area into the distance in whatever conveyance was available or appropriate.
  • Evil Cripple:
    • Horatio "King" Kane from "Death at Bargain Prices," a wheelchair-bound businessman who plans to use a department store as part of a plan to hold Great Britain to ransom with a nuclear bomb.
    • Dr Clement Armstrong (Michael Gough), creator of the Cybernauts, moves around in an automatic wheelchair as the result of an unauthorized project.
  • Explosive Leash: In "Take-Out," the people in a house were held hostage by implanted bombs to prevent them from revealing their plans to kill people at a conference.
  • Extremely Dusty Home: In "Too Many Christmas Trees," a Charles Dickens enthusiast has his manor house themed to the author's works, down to a recreation of Miss Havisham's dusty, cobwebbed wedding feast room.
  • Extruded Book Product: "Love All" centered around romance novels of this sort. When visiting the publishing house, Steed learns (though unrelated to the actual plot) that the novels are actually generated by a piano-shaped computer. During the climactic fight, it's accidentally activated and spits out a new manuscript.
  • The Faceless: "The White Elephant" has Steed and Cathy looking for a missing elephant. The elephant is never shown and when Steed finds it, it's shown from the elephant's POV.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Steed gets a classic one in "The Living Dead." Asked by his firing squad if he has any last requests, he responds "Yes - could you cancel my milk?"
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: Steed and Mrs. Peel fake a kiss while following an enemy spy in "Escape in Time." However, they only face one another in a street corner and don't actually kiss.
  • Fake Town: In "House of Cards," a Soviet spymaster has trained sleeper agents to pose as impeccable British citizens. This training includes a very London-like town where the agents are given immersion training in British mannerisms. The regimen is so intense that one trainee makes the mistake of addressing his commander as "comrade," which nets him a bullet to the head.
  • Faking the Dead: "November Five" has an MP who gets assassinated at the moment the East Anglia by-election results come. He turns out to be one of the ringleaders behind a ransom plot involving a stolen nuclear warhead and still alive.
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: In "Death's Door," a potentially world-changing conference is put on hold when a key delegate pulls out, having had a bizarre recurring dream in which a chandelier falls on his head. He interprets this (with good reason) as a warning not to attend the conference, lest he meet his demise in this manner. The heroes inspect it and find nothing wrong, but the villain still ends up crushed by it.
  • Fantasy Creep: The first season, with Steed paired with Keel, was a straightforward crime melodrama with a realistic, hard-edged tone and down-to-earth antagonists like drug smugglers and urban gangs. Later seasons increasingly became more whimsical, with plots involving diabolical masterminds, alien visitors, shrink rays, and the like.
  • Fauxtastic Voyage:
    • "Escape In Time" involved a criminal mastermind who had created a fake time machine. He offered to send other criminals into the past, the ultimate untraceable hideout, and gave them a brief trip into various periods of the past (actually well-dressed sets) to "prove" the time machine was genuine. Once they were convinced, they paid him a fortune for their permanent escape — and were promptly killed as soon as they handed over the money.
    • In "Pandora," Tara is abducted and taken to a house convinced that it's 1915 and she is Pandora, the deceased wife of a dying old man.
  • Feathered Fiend: In "The Winged Avenger," a cartoonist who disguises himself as his own bird of prey-like comic superhero and lacerates people to death, using magnetized boots to climb walls.
  • Film Felons: "Epic" sees a crazed film producer and a pair of washed of actors luring Emma Peel into a studio so they can kill her as part of their new film - The Destruction of Emma Peel.
  • Finger Poke of Doom: In "The Positive Negative Man," just a touch from the villain's finger can literally knock a person through a wall. Of course, he's electrically charged.
  • Flynning: Steed gets into some of this in "A Touch of Brimstone" when forced to duel a member of the Hellfire Club.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: "Who's Who???" sees a pair of enemy agents (Freddie Jones and Patricia Haines) attempt to infiltrate and destroy the government by impersonating Steed and Peel via body swap.
  • Freeze Sneeze: In the episode "You'll Catch Your Death", Tara sneezes while spying on the villains, as she's just escaped from a cold room.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal:
    • In "The Golden Fleece," three army officers are involved in gold smuggling in order to support pensioned-off soldiers who find it hard to adapt to civilian life. They appeal to Cathy not to reveal the names of the men who have been benefiting from their well-meant crime, and she burns their account book.
    • In "Espirit De Corps," a highland regiment plans an armed insurrection. Cathy infiltrates them by doctoring records stating that she's a descendent of royalty.
    • "The Danger Makers" features a mad doctor mentally regressing fatigued soldiers into crazed thrill-seekers as part of a plot to steal the Crown Jewels.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: In "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station," while fighting in a railway dining car, a helpful crewmember called Crewe throws a sheet over a mook's head, then offers Emma Peel a frying pan.
    Crewe: Ladies first.
    Peel: Be my guest! (Crewe knocks out mook)
  • Fun with Acronyms: Quite a few.
  • Gaslighting: In "The House that Jack Built," Emma is trapped in a house that is an elaborate psychological maze, built by a now-dead businessman who had too much free time, too much money, and one hell of a grudge against her. A recorded message he leaves flat-out states that the intention is to drive her insane and eventually to suicide.
  • Genius Cripple: "Mother" is a stocky man in a wheelchair (who can get around briskly in his office via a series of ceiling-mounted hand grips).
  • Ghostwriter: "Love All" centered around romance novels of this sort. When visiting the publishing house, Steed learns (though unrelated to the actual plot) that the novels are actually generated by a piano-shaped computer. During the climactic fight, it's accidentally activated and spits out a new manuscript.
  • Girls with Moustaches: Mrs. Peel gets one when she puts Steed's electric shaver in reverse in the epilogue of "Dead Man's Treasure".
  • Grand Theft Me: In "Who's Who???," Steed and Emma's minds are switched with those of two enemy agents. They did not switch voices, if only because the plot demanded that the enemy use the heroes' hijacked bodies to infiltrate British security. In an amusing touch, after each commercial break, the episode also includes a "reminder" about the swap to the viewer, but the supposedly helpful voice-announcer merely gets progressively more confused.
  • Hall of Mirrors: "Too Many Christmas Trees" finishes up in a gallery of distorting funhouse mirrors where a killer Father Christmas meets up with Steed and Peel - naturally, he shoots a reflection.
  • Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: Villains were often referred to as to "the other side" instead of "Soviets" or "Russians".
  • Hat Damage: Steed lost quite a few bowlers:
    • In "Death at Bargain Prices," it gets shot off during a fight.
    • In "Castle D'eath," it gets squashed in a bed.
    • In "A Surfeit of H₂O," it gets squashed in a wine press.
    • In "Small Game for Big Hunters," it gets stabbed.
    • In "From Venus with Love," it gets bleached a lovely shade of white with a laser.
    • In "The Fear Merchants," it gets damaged during a fight in a gravel pit.
    • In "The Bird Who Knew Too Much," it gets destroyed in an explosion.
    • In "Death's Door," it gets shot twice.
    • In "Game," it gets cut in half.
    • In "Whoever Shot Poor George Oblique Stroke XR40?" and "The Tale of the Big Why," it gets shot twice.
    • In "The Curious Case of the Countless Clues," he steps on it when sliding down Tara's fireman pole.
    • In "Killer," it gets squashed by Remak.
  • Heist Episode: "The Gilded Cage," where Steed and Cathy plan to steal £3 million in gold from an obscure vault as part of a plan to ensnare a criminal.
  • He Knows Too Much: In "Hot Snow", the first episode, Keel's fiancée Peggy is murdered by gangsters because she's seen the face of one of the gang and can connect him with the eponymous parcel of heroin. (The gang leader's lieutenant suggests that they could alternatively break the connection by disposing of the underling who allowed his face to be seen, but the leader decides that the underling has not yet outlived his usefulness.)
  • Hellbent For Leather:
    • Cathy has a strong penchant for leather suits. So much so that some versions of the series' title, the French one most notably, mention "Leather Boots".
    • Emma occasionally wore leather suits in season four, before shifting to flashier suits made from other materials in season five.
  • Hit Flash: Parodied in "The Winged Avenger," where the villain is clobbered with large-scale comic book panels splayed with such words. Additionally, the background music parodies Batman (1966)'s Title Theme Tune.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • In "The Danger Makers," the leader of the group is electrocuted on the same deadly obstacle course he'd made Mrs. Peel go through earlier. And she sent him there via see-saw.
    • In "A Touch of Brimstone," the Hellfire Club has a dungeon with a trap door (presumably leading to a fatal fall) activated by a secret lever attached to a wall-mounted torch. They use it to dispose of an underling who threatened to go to the police. At the end of the episode, Emma is fighting the whip-wielding head of the Hellfire Club, Cartney, in the dungeon. As she dodges his whip strikes, he accidentally snags the torch, activates the lever, and falls through the trapdoor to his doom.
    • Steed and Emma manage to dispose of the deadly Positive-Negative Man by stripping him of one of his boots and making said foot touch the ground. Touching the ground electrocutes him and sends him flying into the ceiling.
  • Hospital Hottie: In "The Gravediggers," Mrs. Peel goes undercover as a nurse to infiltrate a hospital. She also dons a nurse's outfit in "The Master Minds."
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game:
    • In "The Superlative Seven," a mysterious invitation that strands him on a remote island, with six companions who are murdered one by one, makes Steed a Little Indian.
    • In "Silent Dust," the villains, who have invited Steed and Mrs. Peel hunting, are overheard plotting by Mrs. Peel in the stables. But a henchman disarms her, and she runs. The villains get on their horses, blow a hunting horn, and pursue her through the fields as if she's the prey.
  • Hypno Trinket: In "Return of the Cybernauts," Beresford gives Mrs. Peel a bracelet, which is actually a mind-control device.
  • Hypnotize the Captive: In "Return Of the Cybernauts," Beresford gives Mrs. Peel a wristwatch, which is actually a Mind-Control Device.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That: There's a moment near the end of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station," after Steed and Mrs. Peel have defeated the villains while on a train, Steed wonders what they should do next, and the character who's helped them suggests they stop the train, adding he's been waiting to do so all his life. He doesn't get to do it.
  • I Don't Pay You to Think:
    • In "The Gravediggers," Emma, while posing as a nurse at a hospital, has to endure such a talk from the sister.
    Emma: I though that when the flowers arrive-
    Sister: You're not here to think.
    • In "The Living Dead":
    Geoffrey: Well I thought you'd-
    Marquand: You're not required to think, but to do as you're told.
    • In "The Hidden Tiger," Angora tells Peters that he wasn't hired to think, but to do as he's told.
  • Iconic Outfit:
    • The Spy Catsuits, which came to be known as "Emma peelers".
    • Emma's leather outfit from her first season (later replaced by the aforementioned catsuits).
    • Although it appeared only once, the S&M-themed outfit worn by Diana Rigg in the episode "A Touch of Brimstone" became instantly iconic (even if it caused the episode to be banned in some places).
    • Steed's bowler hat, umbrella and suit was itself a style-setter.
  • Iconic Sequel Character: John Steed's original partner was Dr. David Keel. Emma Peel, his third, longest and most famous partner, does not appear until the fourth season. Peel's predecessor, the not as iconic but still very popular Cathy Gale, was first introduced in the second season.
  • Identical Stranger:
    • "Man with Two Shadows" and "Two's a Crowd" both feature enemy agents who look like Steed.
    • In "The Forget-Me-Knot," Emma Peel's husband finally turns up alive. He looks exactly like Steed, leaving viewers to wonder how she dealt with that emotionally all the time they worked together.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: In "Intercrime," Cathy infiltrates a member of a gang by posing as a member, Hilda. Unfortunately, the real Hilda escapes from custody and confronts her. The boss, Felder, decides there's only one way to decide it, and leads them both to Kressler, declaring the real Hilda wouldn't hesitate to carry out the penalty, and produces a revolver. He hands it to Cathy and she's about to shoot him, then turns the gun on the villains - but the gun is empty, and she's apprehended.
  • Impersonating the Evil Twin: "Two's a Crowd" had foreign agents groom an unscrupulous male model who closely resembled Steed to murder and impersonate him. He didn't do a good enough job of the "murder" part, resulting in Steed infiltrating the spy ring.
  • Improbably Cool Car: Steed favored Rolls Royces or Bentleys while his female partners drove a white MGB (Cathy Gale); a powder blue Lotus Elan (Emma Peel) and a Cobra (Tara King).
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: In "Mission...Highly Improbable," Steed gets shrunk down to a few inches tall by a shrink ray. He still manages to save the day.
  • 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" features a villainous firm which collects items like this for... collectors. The "item" they've currently stolen and plan to auction off is Emma Peel.
  • It Works Better with Bullets:
    • In "Intercrime," Cathy infiltrates a crime gang. When her cover is blown, she is told to shoot a man, but turns the gun on the villains, only to discover that the gun is empty.
    • In "Who's Who???," Emma attempts to bluff an enemy agent who's swapped bodies with Steed. When she doesn't know his real name, he tries to shoot her, only to discover that Emma took the clip out of the gun.
  • Job-Stealing Robot: One episode had a small town taken hostage (with a nuke) by a general furious over being replaced with a machine.
  • Jumped at the Call: Both Steed and Mrs Peel clearly enjoy their adventures, even though it occasionally means killing lots of people.
  • Jumping Out of a Cake: In "The Hour that Never Was," Steed reminisces about an officer's birthday cake during the war that had a showgirl inside. Unfortunately, the icing was so thick that it cut off her air supply and she nearly asphyxiated, which Steed chuckles about.
  • Just Between You and Me: In "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station," the villain handcuffs Steed to a pipe so he can explain his Evil Plan with the help of a model train set.
    Villain: I have you brought here to witness the final phase.
    Steed: That's very decent of you.
    Villain: It's for me really, verging on megalomania you might say. But a coup is not a coup without someone to see.
    Steed: (indicating cuffs) Excuse me if I don't applaud.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: "Conspiracy of Silence" featured a knife throwing act played by real artists Elizabeth and Collins.
  • Known by the Postal Address:
    • In seasons two and three, Steed lived at No. 2, 5 Westminster Mews. In season four, he lived at 4 Queen Anne's Court, Tothill Street Westminster near Parliament. In seasons five and six, he lived at Stable Mews.
    • Cathy lived at 14 Primrose Hill.
    • Tara lived at 9 Primrose Crescent.
  • Last-Name Basis: Steed and Gale/Peel only ever address each other by their last names. Steed was only addressed by his Christian name a handful of times - by Mother in "The Forget-Me-Knot," by Mrs. Gale posing as his wife in "Death on the Rocks," by the Lille girl in "The Medicine Men," by his fake girlfriend in "Brief for Murder," by Mrs. Peel in "Murdersville," by his friend Bill and his wife in "Take-Over," and by Hal Anderson in "The Wringer."
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: This exchange from "The Girl from Auntie":
    Steed: Six murders in an hour and twenty minutes, what do you call that?
    Georgie: A good first act.
  • Left the Background Music On: In "The Town of No Return," Ominous Pipe Organ music began while Mrs. Peel was talking about disappearing townspeople to a priest in the church. The priest went on to explain that mice get into the pipe organ sometimes.
  • Limited Wardrobe: One episode showed Steed with a closet full of identical suits, bowler hats, and umbrellas.
  • Locked into Strangeness: In the episode showing Tara King's backstory, she was originally white-haired, until she saw something so horrifying that it turned her hair black.
  • Loving Details: When Emma Peel departs, she meets her replacement, Tara King, on the stairs. A little wistfully, Emma tells Tara, "He likes his tea stirred anticlockwise." The series had always been very coy about the nature of the relationship between Emma Peel and John Steed, so this plays as a final bit of Ship Tease.
  • Man-Eating Plant: In "Man-Eater of Surrey Green," a man-eating plant from outer space lands in Middle England and takes several top horticulturists as its prisoners in an effort to germinate the Earth. Fortunately for the Earth, Steed just happens to be a herbicidal maniac.
  • Man in a Kilt: "Castle De'ath" takes place in a Scottish castle. To make sure the audience knew they were in Scotland, everyone — John Steed included, of course — wore the kilt throughout. Ironically, the only person wearing trousers was Emma Peel.
  • 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".
    • And also when you look at her maiden name: Knight and Steed.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: In "The Superlative Seven," Steed is abducted to a secret island with five other men and one woman to participate in a deadly game. Steed survives, of course, as does one other person; no surprise who it is. One of the rules of the show is that no woman should ever die and none does through the length of the series.
  • Mickey Mousing: Parodied in "The Winged Avenger," which does the same thing in the climactic battle with comic panels, on a parody of Batman (1966)'s theme.
  • Milkman Conspiracy:
    • "False Witness" features a literal example, with the added twist that the dairy produced was absolutely central to their scheme. The series also featured, on other occasions, sinister cabals of nannies, window cleaners, hoteliers, romance novelists, secretaries, farmers, retired Vaudeville performers, butlers, knitters, a cemetery, and a matchmaking service.
    • The "British Fanatics" in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station" who killed government ministers by tricking them into getting off trains at disused stations, and then murdering them. Why? Because the trains no longer run on time under the current government...
  • Mind-Control Device: In "Return of the Cybernauts," Beresford, who has befriended Emma Peel, offers her a watch as a gift. Unfortunately, it essentially turns her into a puppet. It is a relatively dark episode since the villain poses as her friend and there is a hint that Emma is attracted to him.
  • Missing Floor: In "Room Without a View," a hotel actually has an unlisted 13th floor which is used to capture and brainwash scientists. No one expects there to be a 13th floor so they don't suspect there are two "12th" floors.
  • Mobile Maze: In "The House That Jack Built," Mrs. Emma Peel gets trapped inside one of these created by a long-time colleague.
  • Monochrome Casting: Done deliberately. In order to maintain a fantasy setting for the series, there were strict rules about what could and could not be shown in an episode, one of which was "no colored people." That said, a few non-white actors appeared in the series.
  • Monster Clown: "Look (Stop Me if You've Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellas..." has a pair of killer clowns whose boss is a Punch and Judy puppet.
  • Musical Pastiche: "The Winged Avenger" pastiched Batman (1966)'s Theme Tune in the climactic battle, complete with The Hit Flash, which took the form of huge comic book panels reading "POW!," "SPLAT!," and "BAM!" being smashed into the bad guy's face.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: In "The Living Dead," after rescuing him from a firing squad, Emma Peel asks Steed if this trope applied.
    Steed: Yes it did. Infinitely enjoyable.
  • Nasty Party: "Dressed to Kill" and "The Superlative Seven" both involve Steed and others being invited to a costume party that turns deadly.
  • 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.
  • Never Gets Drunk: The now-defunct website defined "John Steed" as "to consume insane quantities of alcohol in a short period of time and not be in the least affected".
  • New Year Has Come: "Dressed to Kill" takes place on New Year's Eve and sees Steed attend a costume party on a train. The episode ends with Steed and Cathy celebrating the New Year with a vintage bottle of champagne. Steed hopes for many happy years, Cathy quips, "Lets not push our luck, Steed, we barely got through this one".
  • Nothing Is Scarier: There is a fairly long scene in the middle of "Don't Look Behind You" with Cathy Gale walking around in a large, spooky house in the countryside. It seems at first like no-one else is present in the house, but then things in rooms begin to get changed while she is out of the room. There is no BGM at all during this scene; just the sound of Gale's footsteps.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Mrs. Peel wore one in "A Touch of Brimstone," which was about a resurrected Hellfire Club, in her guise as "The Queen of Sin".
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: In "The Town of No Return," Steed and Peel are separated during a fight by a large door and Steed faces four soldiers. By the time Emma subdues her assailants and opens the door, the soldiers are all unconscious and Steed's hat is wonky.
  • Oh, Cisco!: Steed and Peel's Off-into-the-Distance Ending banter, with the mode of travel becoming increasingly outlandish with each episode.
  • One Last Smoke: In "The Living Dead," John Steed is about to be executed and, ever the gentleman, not only declines a cigarette, but lights one for the commander of the firing squad, who is more nervous than Steed.
    Steed: It's important to do these things well.
  • Opening Narration: The American broadcasts of the Emma Peel episodes began with a specially shot narration:
    Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state have to be avenged by agents extraordinary. Two such people are John Steed, top professional, and his partner Emma Peel, talented amateur - otherwise known as...The Avengers.
  • 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.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: In "Who's Who??," two enemy agents have a machine which will enable them to switch personalities with Steed and Mrs. Peel. After the man has switched with Steed, he goes to Mrs. Peel's to lure her into the trap. As they are leaving, he addresses her as "Emma," something Steed never did. She notices, but shrugs it off.
  • Outdated Outfit: Steed wears a bowler hat and old-fashioned suits, to match his classic cars and generally old-fashioned style. Mrs. Peel, by contrast wore very up-to-date (for the time) Mod fashions and drove an also modern for-the-time Lotus Elan.
  • Outfit Decoy: In "Death's Door," Steed gets trapped behind a fence by an enemy agent with a carbine. He puts his bowler on top of his umbrella and lifts it above the fence twice for the agent to shoot: to gauge the man's position and lure him into position for Steed's counterattack.
  • Over-the-Top Secret: There's an episode where it's mentioned that British Intelligence has at least two secrecy classifications: "Top Hush" for regular top secret material, and for anything exceptionally sensitive, "Button Lip".
  • Parasol of Pain: Steed's umbrella had a sword inside, but he didn't always feel the need to draw it.
  • Parent Service: The producers were pretty blatant as to their motives when they brought Diana Rigg onboard as M(an) Appeal, er Emma Peel.
  • Parody Episode: "The Winged Avenger" is a send-up of Batman, while "Wish You Were Here" is a light-hearted parody of The Prisoner.
  • Parrying Bullets: In "Death at Bargain Prices," a villain throws a knife at Steed, who deflects it with a cricket bat. Naturally, it lands on a dartboard.
  • 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.
  • The Pen Is Mightier: "Mission...Highly Improbable" has John Steed shrunk to the point he can use a penholder as a spear, striking at baddies' ankles to distract them before Ms Peel attacks.
    Steed: The pen is mightier than the sword.
    Peel: Well, between us we've written them off.
  • People Puppets: In "Return of the Cybernauts," Paul Beresford seeks revenge on Steed and Peel by forcing a scientist to invent a device that turns them into human puppets while they are still conscious.
  • Piano Drop: In one episode, John Steed gets pinned under the contents of a piano, after the piano itself is Reduced to Dust by the fleeing villains' secret weapon.
  • Pie in the Face: "Look (Stop Me if You've Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellas..." has a pair of murderous music-hall clowns with an arsenal of weapons that included a pie filled with fast-setting glue, which nearly asphyxiated a would-be victim.
  • Plant Aliens: "The Man-Eater of Surrey Green" features a giant plant that's using psychic powers to control a team of scientists to help it spread its seeds across the world. It then eats them all, as is its wont. The episode also features a baffling off-hand reference to forests on the moon.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Steed and Miss King — though that may be debatable, as 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. Macnee has also stated his belief that Steed and Peel were lovers, too, though there is no indication of this on screen.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The series kicks off when Dr. Keel's fiancée is murdered by a drug gang in the first episode because she stumbled upon something she shouldn't have.
  • Pressure Point: Emma Peel in "The Living Dead" applies pressure to two points on the neck of a female guard's neck to render her unconscious.
  • Product Placement: In "The Golden Eggs," Steed is cutting a cowboy off the back of a packet of "Wild West Cornflakes" as the titles dissolve. Cathy joins him for breakfast, but the whole scene is played for product placement, the packet taking up the entire screen for several seconds, and remains clearly in view for nearly a minute, until Steed has demolished the box and thrown cornflakes everywhere. It's not a last-minute inclusion either, as it's in the camera script. However, as no such product ever existed in the UK, it's almost certainly a joke.
  • Professional Killer: The titular "Mr Teddy Bear," who communicates with clients via his talking teddy bear. Among his victims are Herr General Grantz (killed emulating the Führer - went to hit the table with a microphone while addressing the population of Talona and was electrocuted with several 1000 volts), Herr General Freiber (gassed when opening his safe) and Admiral Mindel (a souvenir hunter who has an American grenade turned into a table lighter; he discovered one night it had turned back into a live grenade). After the war, he disappeared for 5 or 6 years, his current price is believed to be £100,000, with a private or public execution, to the taste of the client. He likes £20,000 beforehand for expenses, the rest on completion. Only one client has ever welched - and was dropped from a helicopter into exhibition square in Zagreb.
  • Projectile Toast: "Return Of The Cybernauts" concluded with a tag where Steed's attempt at repairing Emma's toaster succeeds all too well.
  • Psychic Static: In "Too Many Christmas Trees," Steed and Mrs. Peel come under psychic attack. Their defenses include "Green Grow the Rushes, O" and an obsession with socks.
  • Psychological Torment Zone: In "The House that Jack Built," Mrs Peel is imprisoned in a house that is specifically designed to drive her insane as part of a revenge plot.
  • Pulling the Rug Out:
    • Used as a method of murder in "Look — (Stop Me If You've Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers...". The two murderous clowns slide a length of red carpet under Lord Dessington's door. When the distracted Dessington steps on it, they yank it out from under his feet, and Dessington plummets to doom out of an open window.
    • Steed does this during a fight in "The Gravediggers".
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: John Steed, though only after the series was tweaked in an attempt to make it more appealing to American audiences.
  • Rail Enthusiast: "The Gravediggers" gives us Sir Horace Winslip, an eccentric hospital proprieter whose Big Fancy House, "Winslip Junction," is done up like a railway station - Steed even has to blow a whistle and buy a platform ticket to gain entry. His butler Fred is dressed like a conductor and the drawing room has been decorated with false tracks, platform awnings, a signal box and half a train carriage, where he dines while Fred turns on fans, rocks the carriage, and runs a revolving scenery canvas and gramophone during meals. He even has his own miniature railway. He longs for the good old days of the steam train and has a low opinion of cars, which leads the villains to dupe him into having a signal box he assumes is for disabling cars, when it's really for putting England into a blackout.
    • The same episode ends with Steed driving the miniature train backwards as he tells Emma he always felt he was cut out to be an engine driver, but the family objected ("No sense of security, always on the move").
  • Reluctant Mad Scientist: "Return of the Cybernauts" has a couple of these being hired/coerced (with varying levels of enthusiasm) into assisting with the villain's revenge scheme against Steed and Emma.
  • 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 Forget-Me-Knot, Mrs. Peel's 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).
  • Retool: The show endured an unusual number of revamps across its run, to the extent where a typical episode from season 5 is almost completely unrecognizable to one from the first season.
    • The first season was a hardboiled, noir-influenced, low-budget crime melodrama centring on the humanistic Dr. David Keel teaming with the charismatic and mercurial operative John Steed to investigate realistic urban crimes such as gang warfare and jewel thievery. While wielding a sporadic dry sense of humour, the show nonetheless emphasized social realism and dramatic pathos. Keel and Steed were recurrently partnered, but functioned as more co-leads than a consistent double act: the season was divided between smaller-scale Keel-focused and more Bond-esque Steed-focused instalments.
    • In the second season, Ian Hendry left and Steed became the lead. Steed then gained a new partner, the leather-clad, judo-trained Cathy Gale, the first Action Girl of many that Steed would be partnered with through the decade. While initially similar to the Keel era (with Gale similarly a humanist to Steed's unscrupulousness), the show increasingly began to engage with pulpier, more intricate plots, evolving into a hard-edged spy thriller with sporadic tongue-in-cheek elements. The third season also began to feature more outlandish concepts and antagonists, although these were often tempered by dramatic pathos or elements of social realism.
    • The most major retool occurred between the third and fourth seasons, coinciding with Emma Peel's introduction. Now a co-production with the American ABC network, the show was significantly revamped into a lighthearted action-comedy eschewing social realism for increasingly-fantastical villains and comic interplay between the show's leads. The show's production values were likewise enormously boosted, enabling a faster visual pace and more emphasis on visual spectacle and elaborate action sequences. Even the show's opening was overhauled, resulting in the debut of Laurie Johnson's iconic theme. To this day, some fans divide the series along the line of this retool, referring to seasons 1-3 and 4-6 as two "different" shows.
    • The ABC network attempted to impose a final retool as of season 6, firing Peel-era showrunners Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell and reinstating John Bryce (the producer of much of the Cathy Gale era) to revert the show to a darker, more dramatic thriller. A notoriously Troubled Production ensued however, resulting in Bryce's dismissal and the rehiring of Clemens and Fennell, thus aborting ABC's plans.
  • Re Vision: In "The Forget-Me-Knot", Steed and Mrs Peel are revealed to have a never-before-seen superior called Mother. He (oh yes) subsequently became a recurring character for the rest of the show.
  • Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony: In "A Touch of Brimstone", a reincarnation of the 18th century Hellfire Club, pranking the government, sets up a sabotage at a ribbon-cutting ceremony ostensibly with gag rubber scissors, but in reality, rigs things up to electrocute the ribbon cutter.
  • Right-Hand Cat: "Hot Snow" has a variation. The criminal mastermind is introduced with a classic Bond villain shot that keeps his face out of frame and puts the focus on the pet in his lap, but instead of a cat it's a small long-haired terrier dog.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The idea to give Steed a female sidekick was drawn from a news report from Kenya featuring a woman whose family was being ravaged by terrorists.
  • Roadside Wave: In "Death's Door", the diplomat Steed and Mrs. Peel are assigned to protect has a seemingly prophetic dream that he will die if attends the peace conference. The dream is full oddly specific details, and when Steed and Emma ride his route to the conference, each of the details comes true; except for being splashed by a car driving through a puddle as he gets out of his limousine. Then Steed realises that they made the run early, and Lord Melford would have been arriving at exactly 10:30. When they drive around the block and arrive at exactly 10:30, Mrs Peel is splashed by a car driving through a puddle as she gets out of the limo.
  • Robot Master: In "The Cybernauts", Dr. Armstrong builds two robots, which Steed foils by getting them to destroy each other. In "Return of the Cybernauts", the scientist's assistant is contracted to build another one.
  • Secret Underground Passage: "A Touch of Brimstone" had some fun with this. Emma Peel in a fetish outfit is being whipped by the Villain of the Week, but his whip catches on a torch pulling it out of the wall, and activating the requisite trapdoor which he falls into.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: "The House that Jack Built" has Emma trapped in a computerized maze built with the intent to drive her insane, and meets a man inside it who has already fallen victim to such a fate. Eventually, he tries to use the "suicide booth" intended for her, hoping it will shut the program down. It doesn't work; the design is too Crazy-Prepared and will not shut the program down unless she uses it.
  • The Series Has Left Reality: The first three seasons were a grounded crime series. The Emma Peel years were increasingly characterised by a futuristic, science-fiction bent, with mad scientists and their creations wreaking havoc. Our heroes dealt with being shrunk to doll size ("Mission... Highly Improbable"), pet cats being electrically altered to become ferocious and lethal "miniature tigers" ("The Hidden Tiger"), killer automata ("Return of the Cybernauts"), mind-transferring machines ("Who's Who???") and invisible foes ("The See-Through Man").
  • Sequel Episode:
    • The Cybernauts were such a hit they were brought back for a rematch in "Return of the Cybernauts". And again in The New Avengers in "The Last of the Cybernauts".
    • "Two's a Crowd" and "The See-Through Man" both feature Warren Mitchell's comic relief Russian Brodny.
  • Sherlock Homage: The murder mystery parody episode "The Curious Case of the Countless Clues" includes a character named Sir Arthur Doyle (dressed in Sherlock Holmes's Iconic Outfit), as well as three more characters named Earle, Stanley, and Gardiner.
  • Shirtless Scene: The series was known primarily for Emma Peel providing Fanservice but John Steed provided some by way of this. In "Mr Teddy Bear" he goes shirtless as his clothes are being checked for booby traps. In "Castle of De'ath," he strips to a speedo when he goes swimming in the loch. And in "Immortal Clay," he's getting exposition while in a sauna.
  • Shot at Dawn:
    • In "Espirit De Corps", Steed is sentenced to death by firing squad. He survives by bribing the regiment with his diamond tie-pin.
    • In "The Living Dead", Steed appears calmer than the commander of the firing squad, who accepts the One Last Smoke that Steed declines. Unusually for this trope, Steed accepts the blindfold, so doesn't realise that the eruption of gunfire is actually Mrs Peel coming to his rescue. The suspense of the Big Damn Heroes is drawn out by an Overly Long Gag of the firing squad manoeuvring to shoot Steed while Peel is still battling her way past a minion.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Showy Invincible Hero: Steed and Peel never lose. They're not even challenged very frequently by the diabolical masterminds who oppose them. But that doesn't matter — what matters is that they both look incredibly cool while they're doing...well, anything.
  • Shrink Ray: Episode "Mission...Highly Improbable" has a device that sends out a ray that shrinks objects or people down to the size of toys.
  • Sickbed Slaying:
    • In "The Danger Makers", an assassin abseils down the side of a hospital, enters a man's room and smothers him to death with a pillow, leaving an envelope containing four white feathers lying on his bed.
    • In "The £50,000 Breakfast", a killer disguised as a doctor slips into the hospital room of a smuggler in a coma, dismisses the policeman guarding him, and administers a lethal injection.
  • Signature Headgear: Steed's iconic bowler hat. He wears different hats in the colour seasons: black, dark blue, dark grey, grey, brown, light brown and white (bleached) ones.
  • Snakes Are Sexy: When Emma Peel debuted in the Hellfire Club as the Queen of Sin in "A Touch of Brimstone", she had a live snake wrapped around her arm.
  • Snuff Film: "Epic" has a crazed film producer trap Emma in an old studio lot in order to revive his career by dramatically chronicling her actual death on film.
  • Special Guest: Among those who made guest appearances included Anthony Ainley, BRIAN BLESSED!!!!!, Nicholas Courtney, Bernard Cribbins, Peter Cushing, Roger Delgado, Paul Eddington, Edward Fox, Eunice Gayson, Julian Glover, Michael Gough, John Hollis, Freddie Jones, John Laurie, Christopher Lee, Arthur Lowe, Philip Madoc, Ron Moody, Jon Pertwee, Charlotte Rampling, Donald Sutherland, John Thaw, Anneke Wills and Peter Wyngarde.
  • Spiders Are Scary: "The Fear Merchants" involves a group of people who find out their targets' worst fears and phobias and use them to devastating effect. Guess what one of those phobias is?
  • Spy Catsuit: Emma Peel and Cathy Gale wore this outfit frequently. It didn't look so out of place in The '60s. Peel also had a purple one.
    • This was, essentially, the entire point behind the character. Her name alludes to it, even: Emma Peel ==> M. Appeal or Man Appeal. (Her original name was the less subtle 'Mantha Peel, but it was changed perhaps on account of being the unsexiest name in television history)
    • This ended up as a Justified Trope. Rigg insisted on switching from the black leather catsuit to a colour jersey version — just as skintight, but far more practical for gymnastically kicking mooks in.
    • It worked in the sixties just because it was less Stripperiffic than modern versions, and looked like something a motorcycle-riding woman would wear. In fact, many male and female bikers wear something similar but more colourful right now. As the time went on, catsuits began to shine, reveal and tighten to the point of asphyxiation.
  • Sticky Shoes: In "The Winged Avenger", Professor Poole invents climbing boots that allow the wearer to walk up walls and walk on the ceiling.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: John Steed. When he's facing a firing squad in "The Living Dead", he actually lights a cigarette for the man who's about to shoot him, stating, "It's important to do these things well." Emma Peel is equally unruffled no matter how bizarre or dangerous the situation.
  • The Stoic: Steed, Mrs Gale, Mrs Peel and sometimes Tara King generally treat horrible murder with barely a flicker of emotion.
  • Survival Mantra: In "Too Many Christmas Trees", Emma Peel notes Steed repeating phrases of nursery rhymes over and over and fears it is a madness mantra. It is actually to keep a mind reader out of his head and she joins in with him once she figures this out.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Dr. King, an occasional partner of Steed's during the second season who was basically just a stand-in for the now-departed Dr. Keel. Also, in-universe, when the viewer catches a glimpse of Mrs. Peel's returned husband, he looks a lot like Steed.
  • The Tag: The Emma Peel episodes ended with a humourous scene of Steed and Peel unrelated to the main plot.
  • Take That!: "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station" ends with a dig at Harold Wilson. When he comes around to congratulate our heroes for foiling an assassination attempt on him, they leave him to hang outside on the basis that he's a bore.
    Steed: A speech. A long speech.
    Mrs Peel: Did you vote for him?
    Steed: Did you?
    Mrs Peel: Let's...pretend we're out?
  • Take a Third Option:
    • In "A Touch of Brimstone," Steed, trying to join the Hellfire Club, is told there is a last test he must pass: grabbing a dried pea from a table before a man with an axe can cut the pea in half. The axe-wielder is incredibly fast and accurate, as evidenced by a member of the club who is missing two fingers. Steed happily goes along with the test. When the test starts, he blows the pea out of the axe's path.
    • In "Have Guns — Will Haggle," the villains have stolen thousands of new rifles and are attempting to sell them. They demonstrate the rifles' effectiveness by standing two men together, placing two rifles an equal distance apart, and making the men run for them and try to shoot each other. Then the bad guys make Tara King participate, and her opponent is rather psychotic and an unerring shot. When the start is called, Tara doesn't go for her rifle; she runs after the guy towards his rifle and knocks him out before he can pick it up.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: "Dressed to Kill" and "The Superlative Seven" both involve Steed attending a costume party where the guests start getting murdered.
  • Thanatos Gambit: In "The House That Jack Built", Emma Peel is lured to an empty house that was willed to her by an uncle she never knew she had. The uncle turns out to be Keller, a deranged technology businessman with too much spare time, too much money, and a colossal grudge against Emma, who had sacked him back when she was Emma Knight, head of Knight Industries. The house she inherits is a giant computerized mousetrap designed to drive her insane (or drive her to suicide in an automated Gas Chamber). By the time Emma entered the house, Keller was already dead. He made a video for her and he is now sitting mummified in a glass box.
  • There Are No Police: In order to maintain the fantasy feel of the series, one of the guidelines was that there be no policemen about. They do occasionally pop up in episodes such as 'The Curious Case of the Countless Clues'.
  • There Was a Door: One episode has Steed always entering through a window. Doing this saves Mrs. Peel's life when she's Bound and Gagged and opening the door would have triggered a fatal trap.
  • Throw a Barrel at It: In "Dial A Deadly Number", a strong mook throws a barrel at Steed while they're in a wine cellar.
  • 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.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works:
    • In "The Charmers", during the final fight, Kim (the Girl of the Week assigned to Steed) saves Steed's life by hurling a sword through the villain Keller's back. She learned the skill from her great-grandmother, who was a knife-thrower.
    • In "The Correct Way to Kill", which is a remake of the above episode, Emma saves Steed from being shot in the back by the villain Nutski with a javelin throw of her foil.
  • Tonight, Someone Kisses: Fans who love the palpable sexual tension between Steed and Peel probably are all too thrilled when they pull out their DVD of the episode "Who's Who?" for the first time and see an image of their favorite couple engaged in not just one of Emma's playful pecks, but a full-on sexy makeout session. Trick is "Who's Who" is a body swap episode. Emma and Steed have their minds in the bodies of the villains and are tied up in a warehouse somewhere, while the villains are the ones in Steed's flat, in Steed and Peel's bodies, getting comfy and kissing while they live it up and continue with their evil plot. Of course, since it's just the same sets of actors switching roles, that's STILL Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg full-on frenching each other, so do with that what you will. And we'll remind you this is while they are playing villains.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: In "Murdersville", an entire town conspires to offer outsiders the opportunity to stage a murder. The townsfolk will serve as alibis and help dispose of the remains afterwards, in return for a sizable sum of money. (The villagers who refuse to participate are kept locked up in ancient torture devices in the town museum).
  • Traintop Battle: Delightfully parodied in "The Gravediggers" when Steed fights a pair of villains on a miniature train.
  • Trash the Set: The third-to-last episode "Requiem" has Mother make his temporary headquarters in Steed's apartment. As the apartment wasn't featured in the final two episodes, the set dressers were allowed to run riot and totally ruin the set for scenes showing the aftermath of a bomb explosion.
  • Treasure Hunt Episode: "Dead Man's Treasure" has Steed and Emma participating in a combination car rally/treasure hunt. The treasure also contains a briefcase hidden by one of Steed's now-dead friends.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Emma Peel is one of the codifiers for the Spy Catsuit. And yet she switched to a practical one rather quickly, and even so it still looks more like something a biker would actually wear.
  • Undercover as Lovers:
    • In "Death on the Rocks", Steed and Gale pose as husband and wife in order to infiltrate a diamond smuggling ring. This was probably the original example, since it was from 1962 and there just aren't many series prior to that where the woman had enough of an active role to get an undercover mission (and to have UST, since that implies that her main role in the series isn't already to be a love interest).
    • In "Invasion of the Earthmen", Steed and Tara pose as a married couple in order to investigate and astronaut training school.
  • Underground City: In "The Living Dead", the villain has an army in a city built inside an abandoned mine, to seize control of Britain after the country has been obliterated by a nuclear strike from an unnamed enemy.
  • Unnaturally Looping Location: In "The House That Jack Built", a slowly rotating, long hallway is used to simulate this effect. It's part of several ploys designed to drive Emma Peel insane.
  • Unreliable Narrator: In "Homicide and Old Lace", Mother tells an inventive tale of one of Steed and Tara's adventures to his two maiden aunts.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: John Steed and Emma Peel. And episodes when he's there when she wakes up! Patrick Macnee once said, "Of course they're sleeping together! It doesn't mean they have to show the world!" Cue PSL.
    Steed: All this time I've known you, and I never knew you could sew!
    Emma: Well, our relationship hasn't been exactly domestic, has it?
    • Steed also had reams of UST with Peel's predecessor, Cathy Gale. And after Peel left her successor, Tara King, was often shown sharing romantic overtures with Steed.
  • Unsound Effect: At the end of "The Winged Avenger", Steed fights the villain by hitting him with poster-sized mockups of comic book panels, each containing a word like "Pow!" and "Splat!" Meanwhile, "Batman"-like music is playing in the background.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Parodied in "Homicide and Old Lace". The normally unflappable spy Steed gets thrown around by a bigger, better fighter. His eventual victory takes place off screen, with Mother narrating the villain's fatal error: He made Steed angry.
  • Villainous Crossdresser: "The Girl from Auntie" features an old lady who serves as an assassin for the villains. At the climax, Steed subdues her and reveals that she's actually a man in disguise.
  • 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...
  • Voices Are Not Mental: Used in "Who's Who?" when two enemy agents switch bodies with Steed and Mrs. Peel. Sort of unavoidable, since the bad guys were supposed to be infiltrating British intelligence.
  • Walk-In Chime-In: "The Danger Makers" has a fabulous one where the villains declare that nothing can stand in their way. Steed and Peel then enter and Steed cheerily says, "Oh, I wouldn't say that".
  • 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 bowler hat has a steel reinforcement which he uses to knock unsuspecting villains out.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: In "The Bird Who Knew Too Much", Emma poses for a photographer wearing a Union Jack and hat. She's supposed to be advertising British Agriculture.
  • Weather-Control Machine: The villain in "A Surfeit of H₂O" had technology that could create localized rainstorms severe enough to drown his opponents in rainwater.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In "Too Many Christmas Trees", the individuals involved in the elaborate psychic espionage scheme are Martin Trasker, Jeremy Wade, Jenkins the butler, visiting psychic Janis Crane, and "Father Christmas" (who turns out to be publisher Brandon Storey). Wade is killed off when he gets cold feet about the scheme and plans to spill the beans to Mrs. Peel. In the final showdown with Steed and Mrs. Peel, Trasker is knocked out, while Jenkins and "Father Christmas" are shot. We never find out what happens to Janis Crane.
  • What's He Got That I Ain't Got?!: From "The Cybernauts":
    Emma Peel: I must say, I can't wait to meet Oyama, "The Tall Mountain".
    John Steed: What's he got that I haven't got?
    Emma Peel: A hobby.
    John Steed: Archeology, philately, knitting?
    Emma Peel: Splitting doors.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: "Man-Eater of Surrey Green" is a parody of The Day of the Triffids; "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; "Murdersville" is Bad Day at Black Rock; "Noon Doomsday" was loosely inspired by High Noon; and "Legacy of Death" is a send-up of The Maltese Falcon (1941).
  • Wolverine Claws: A bad guy in "A Touch of Brimstone" has metal prosthetic fingers to replace two that had been cut off. In a climactic battle, he pulls the ends of his metal fingers off to reveal claws beneath.
  • Will They or Won't They?: There was a palpable sexual chemistry between Steed and Mrs Peel. And between Steed and Mrs. Gale. And between Steed and Miss King.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit:
    • "The Girl from Auntie" kicks off with Mrs. Peel leaving a party and coming to the aid of an old lady who's fallen off her bicycle. The lady then injects her with a tranquiliser.
    • "A Sense of History" opens with a professor driving to his university, only to be stopped by what appears to be a dead body in the road. It turns out to be a ruse by students dressed as Robin Hood and his Merrie Men collecting for Rag Week. He pays the toll for the road, but upon turning, his back is shot by an arrow from behind.
  • Written Sound Effect: "The Winged Avenger" features a Batman (1966)-esque fight sequence. Also, the comic book writer in the episode uses rather odd onomatopoeia. "Eeee-erp!".
  • Wunza Plot: He's a suave English gentleman spy. She's a classy lady with a preference for catsuits. They fight crime, espionage, and unnatural weirdness.
  • Yellowface: An astoundingly bad example in "The Superlative Seven," in which actor Terrence Plummer is given a Fu Manchu moustache and some Chinese clothes to play a character named "Toy Sung." He does not look remotely Chinese.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: The only time Steed ever called Mrs. Peel by her first name was when he said goodbye to her in "The Forget-Me-Knot".
  • You Got Murder: "You'll Catch Your Death" had villains sending letters containing an enhanced cold.

Alternative Title(s): The Avengers Series, The Avengers