As a kid I adored The Avengers. John Steed, the man who carried an umbrella instead of a gun and managed to have the world’s most beautiful women as partners in the world of off the wall espionage was a childhood hero. While my crush may have been Diana Riggs as Miss Emma Peel, the chap I aspired to be was Macnee’s Steed and it hurts to say so long to John Steed and Patrick Macnee who died Thursday at 93.
161 episodes of a series that featured Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson as the other half of a team that was years ahead of the rest of the world in showing that feminism could work. Although poor Thorson was never in the same league as the first two female stars of the show by the time she showed up, as the actress put it herself, the producers did not really know what to do with her character.
The Avengers was a parody of spy movies like the James Bond franchise, and later the Harry Palmer “bargain basement” version of Bond, where Steed was not quite so glamorous, or as rough, as Sean Connery’s Bond. Steed was: Totally cool, a gentlemen, utterly unflappable, and braver than brave; going up against all sorts of baddies and rarely armed except for that umbrella.
Steed never carried a gun and his character was actually the “second banana” to Ian Hendry’s character (Dr. David Keel)in season one. By the time the series reached season two Keel was gone and Steed was not. Macnee was the quintessential Englishman from 1961 to 1969 and the show made stars of Patrick, Blackman and Riggs on both sides of the big pond. Macnee would go on to do The New Avengers but it never gelled with me the way the first series did, despite Joanna Lumley’s Purdey.
Macnee worked practically nonstop, even appearing in one of the Bond films, A View to a Kill with Sir Roger Moore, whom he had worked with on The Sea Wolves, as well as David Niven, and according to Sir Roger, he was under the impression that Patrick and he were related. Moore gave his old “relative” and colleague a sending off after news of his death was made public.
The actor was a prolific performer and played many different roles, most of whom were English although he did portray other nationalities. He was also very good at playing villains, in the 1988 horror/comedy Waxwork, and its sequel, Macnee was a treacherous old family friend and stinker who tries to kill the hero. He played the baddie many times in his long career and always quite convincingly.
But it is as John Steed that he will stay in my memory. He once revealed that the reason The Avengers worked so well was that he and Diana Rigg, a very serious actress with a background in Shakespeare who was also voted, somewhat ironically, the world’s sexist ever TV star by the American publication TV Guide, wrote their own dialogue as the show’s scripts were, he said, abysmal.
Arthritis slowed him down later and forced him to give up acting except for voice over work. Patrick Macnee died at his California home of natural causes and his son Rupert informed the patrickmacnee.com website that he was with family when he died.
So long Patrick Macnee, aka John Steed, the umbrella carrying English gentleman and “action man.”