JOHN STEED AND THE AVENGERS
In October 1960, Patrick met his old friend and colleague Leonard White by chance at a London West End theatre. The two Englishmen had worked together in Canada for CBC, and, unbeknownst to Patrick, White and another CBC colleague, the Canadian Sydney Newman (now drama supervisor at ABC Television where White was a producer) had been discussing the possibility of using Patrick in a new series they were planning. Consequently, White spoke of the possibility to Patrick and asked him whether he might be interested in a return to acting in this series, which would soon be named The Avengers, as a “sidekick” character called John Steed. Patrick expressed his interest, met with White and Newman, and the rest is history.
Fortunately, Patrick accepted the role!
Patrick Macnee portrayed John Steed for ten years from 1960 to 1969, returning in The New Avengers (1976 - 1977), a follow-up which was made by the producers of the final series of the original version.
The production of the first episode ever Hot Snow was completed in late December 1960. It premiered in the United Kingdom on Saturday 7th January 1961. A fifteen-minute fragment of this episode survives today, while the rest of the episode shared the fate of the majority of the first year’s adventures and is today lost, presumed destroyed. Of the 26 episodes produced in 1961, only two complete episodes remain for fans to enjoy, though through the persistence of the show’s supporters, the missing episodes have been documented, reconstructed and even adapted for audio in the 21st century. Fortunately, the remainder of the series is preserved in its entirety.
Patrick Macnee became the star of the series when Hendry left The Avengers during the actors’ Equity strike which disrupted ITV drama production and brought the show’s first series to an abrupt end. Hendry’s character Dr Keel was replaced by a new partner for Steed, a woman, Cathy Gale, played by Honor Blackman. The casting was perfect and the approach was revolutionary. Until then, female roles in television had generally been written as subservient to the male protagonists, but with Cathy Gale - and the female Avengers partners that followed in her wake - came the birth of a new generation of fictional heroines who changed television and more. Avenger girls were self confident, talented and intelligent women, each of them an equal to their male partner John Steed. They were still very much women, but beware any man who tried to take them on in combat or battles of wits. Steed (and Patrick himself), meanwhile, enjoyed a special relationship and chemistry with these women.
Unlike many TV or film characters, John Steed was never static but changed over a decade, a testament to Patrick’s craft and inventiveness (in association with many talented writers and producers, of course). He slowly transformed the cynical, often devious John Steed of the early days into the perfect gentleman seen in the later eras of series. At first, Steed was only a "kind of civil servant" (Brought to Book) and a ruthless "undercover agent" who had to deal with drug smugglers, economic espionage, dealers, traitors and nefarious activities of the criminal underworld. Over the years the character developed and the elder Steed had to manage far more complicated and demanding tasks. He worked in a senior management position, directed the planning and co-ordination of tasks for the Ministry, became head of security during important meetings of ministers and NATO members, while continuing as a field agent, who had to fight against the enemies of the state. And while younger Steed was a "wolf with the women [who] revels in trouble" (TV Times, 1961), Mrs Gale taught him some manners, and Emma Peel managed to domesticate him.
Some things, however, never changed: devotion to his country, incorruptibility, ruthlessness against traitors, loyalty, among other prized qualities. By the time that he was introduced to the young agent Tara King in The Forget-Me-Knot, Steed was already a living legend of his department. During the era of The New Avengers, the elder Steed was revealed to be the second-in-command of the department and worked with two younger partners, Purdey and Mike Gambit.
Patrick Macnee starred as John Steed for the last time in the The New Avengers episode Emily, which was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on 1st December 1977. By this time, he had made the part totally his own - it is undoubtedly his signature role on television and in film - and his contribution in making The Avengers the international success that it has become cannot be underestimated.
Without Patrick’s talent, tenacity and note-perfect performances in The Avengers, the show would never have scaled the heights that it has. He will always be fondly recalled as the perfect English gentleman and the brightest, shining star of The Avengers.
Long may it continue and he will be forever John Steed!
Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman in series 2 and 3 of The Avengers
Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in series 4 and 5 of The Avengers
Patrick Macnee and Linda Thorson in series 6 of The Avengers
Patrick Macnee, Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt in The New Avengers