We all have favourite TV channels and programmes therein. Quite a number of programmes considered to be ‘classics’ (i.e. from former times) feature within choices available via UK Freeview (though no doubt not exclusively so).
Last week, on the True Entertainment channel, some of us ‘old enough to remember’ were treated to one particular time in TV history, and were afforded the privilege of wandering down memory lane, as some episodes of the original hit series ‘The Avengers‘, have been found/acquired, and it was great fun to view, for a second time, just what that programme looked like in 1960/61.
I was a child then, but can recall how the series came across, as it was the newest drama and was breaking the mould – nothing like it had ever been seen before. It was 1960/61 ‘cutting edge’ or ‘state of the art’.
One caveat to the exact year, and specific content, however. I believe the precursor to the emergence of the character we came to know and love as John Steed, featured solely the exploits of Dr Keele for a whole series, which I am led to believe has been lost. Dr Keele was played by the well known actor, the late Ian Hendry. Dr Keele was part Doctor and spare time detective or spy. When Steed did join the series, many were unsure, as Dr Keele was a most popular character on his own.
Last week showed one episode of Dr Keele then the second and ongoing featured Steed as a type of associate. It was intriguing to study social history elements as well as production aspects. All was broadcast in black and white, of course. Money was tight as was the lack of filming areas or locations, whether indoors or outside.
So much so, little tricks were initiated by moving a dividing section of a room on the right in one scene, to the left for another, a desk being replaced by an armchair then one could utilise one take as someone’s living room, the other as an office. ‘Fade out’ was effected in an area within a setting by zooming in on a covered section of wall in a corridor, then zooming out, as if the location was at another venue for the next scene, but the wall of the corridor was still present for both.
The sweetest aspect was when the end credits wobbled up and down as if hand-held, which they may well have been. John Dankworth‘s great theme music came to an end but almost as an after-thought in one episode, had to partly commence again to facilitate more credits.
The opening titles and end credits were basic still shots or drawn blocks as if shadows – almost Banksy style. To get the effect of pace within limited interior shots during a circus scene, every one of the performers walked, or ran from left to right then right to left, including the chap on stilts – though the viewer saw only the leg to chest area for the range of shot, no head or face as the camera would have had to have taken a longer camera shot.The storyline, though, did have elements reminiscent to The ‘Lady Vanishes’ in that episode.
Famous actors were cast in various episodes (many would not be so famous ‘at that time’, but others were). Viewers would be surprised to see the actors who either had their start in those days or made guest appearances as established faces from other series or films.
One taxi scene was really clever for its purpose, albeit also bizarre. The black cab taxi was stationary, but the two passengers, Dr Keele and Steed were sitting facing but opposite each other, then one of them moved to sit next to the other, thus giving the viewer the illusion that the drama was continually progressing with movement of any kind.
I do not know if the programme went out live or if it was all scripted, it may have incorporated elements of improvisation, but there were moments of exaggerated lines and then some were staggered or delayed, i.e. perhaps momentarily forgotten, hence a pause.
There seemed to be a lot of drinking via hospitality scenes as these often fill out time spaces between progression of storyline. However, in 1960/61, to have had that type of refreshment in the average home would be rare as to cost. Cigarettes were more common-place though, and once again, if a host or colleague offered a cigarette to someone, then should it be accepted and lit, that could also fill out a few moments of dead broadcasting within the storyline to stretch out a moment or two.
Despite all of the above, it is still fascinating to watch. Dr Cathy Gale – the first of the Avengers’ female co-stars, has not yet made her appearance, but no doubt will do so soon in this 1960/61 series.
All the Avengers’ female Co-Stars were Dr Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), Mrs Emma Peel (Dame Diana Rigg) and Miss Tara King (Linda Thorson). The New Avengers series starred Purdey (Joanna Lumley) as well as a male co-star, the late Gareth Hunt whose character name was Mike Gambit.
Both Steed (the late Patrick MacNee) and all the women co-stars, as well as the late Ian Hendry, all appeared in one James Bond film or another.
It is truly remarkable that from such a ‘humble beginning’ or little acorn, a wonderful TV series oak tree has grown.
It is fascinating to see that Patrick MacNee’s acting style, techniques and mannerisms from the very beginning and throughout his entire acting career remained constant – but would one expect any less of Steed who we all came to love so much.
Two episodes from more modern episodes of The Avengers related to Steed talking to a guest who was in his lounge, and was looking at framed photographs of horses. The visitor shouted through to Steed something like “these photographs are interesting, who are they/what are their names?” Steed replied with some really funny responses, but then walked into the room, went to three different framed photographs and repeated his earlier remarks. I will not spoil the full detail by disclosing same herein.
The other clip related to the final scene in an episode where Diana Rigg (Mrs Peel) handed over to her successor Linda Thorson (Miss Tara King). Very Freudian but a great ending.
The early years may have had to rely on minimalist sets but in due course the sets, locations, props and decor, plus costumes/clothes throughout were truly very high class – especially the residences and cars.
Thank you to all the huge team of people involved over the years and series – each episode of The Avengers will have its place in our hearts forever.
Photo (c) Hazel Speed – used by kind permision to Tuck Magazine