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Spying in Style : 'The Avengers' Is 30 Years Old and Patrick Macnee Is Still Dashing as John Steed

October 14, 1990|SUSAN KING | Times Staff Writer

"It's quite extraordinary to be able to represent a show that began 30 years ago and still be alive," Patrick Macnee said with a laugh.

Macnee is not only alive, but he's thrilled that the Arts & Entertainment Network is airing reruns of "The Avengers," the stylish British spy series of the 1960s. Macnee starred for nine seasons as John Steed, the debonair, suave secret agent with the bowler hat and bumbershoot.

Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson co-starred as his partners: Mrs. Catherine Gale, Mrs. Emma Peel and Miss Tara King.

"It's on twice a day, five days a week," Macnee said, "including 25 shows that have never been seen (in America) with Honor Blackman. I hope they're good. I presume they wouldn't put them on if they weren't. We did them live, you know.

"Basically, it was live," he continued. "We would stop for five minutes for the fights, but it was a major crime if we didn't get through it live. It was telecast the next day. A little boy on a bicycle rushed with a tin (the can of film) and it was put on."

Macnee created the character of Steed. "He wasn't a literary character," he said. "It was the producer saying 'Pat Macnee, go away and create the character.' Not only was I the first Steed, I would like to think I was the last."

Macnee mentioned that he has never seen the black-and-white live episodes with Blackman.

"I will tell you what's good about them," Macnee said. "Johnny Dankworth wrote the music. It was awful original at the time. They had a way ahead-of-the-time quality. We won the award for best show of the year in 1963, which is the year the Beatles kind of started."

Blackman's Mrs. Catherine Gale, Macnee believes, reflected the rise of the women's movement. "She came in and got the idea of playing her with a sort of force. She was this beautiful blonde with an angelic face who dressed toughly and threw men over her shoulder.

"It was written as a combination of Margaret Mead and Margaret Bourke-White. Now, most women are running banks and the government."

"The Avengers" was enormously popular when it aired on ABC from 1966-69, five years after it was first seen in England. It was the first British-made series to be included on an American network's prime-time fall schedule.

"We didn't realize it was as successful in America," Macnee said. "I love meeting baby boomers about their mid-30s who say, 'We grew up with you.' At first I didn't believe it, but it's awfully significant to be a part of people's growing up. It's like old people saying we grew up with Sinatra or something. It's rather lovely."

Macnee said there's been talk about an "Avengers" movie, reuniting him with his most popular partner, Diana Rigg (now host of PBS' "Mystery" series).

"Diana is a very distinguished lady," he said. "She's practically a dame. I don't think she would want to be seen doing it. The concept is great, but I think it has been used since, in 'Moonlighting' and 'Remington Steele.' I don't think you could really re-create it.

"There are so many firsts which now have been retreaded. I think we just hope people enjoy the originals for their own sake."

Macnee is in currently Luxembourg filming a new syndicated eight-hour Sherlock Holmes series--he's playing Dr. Watson to Christopher Lee's Holmes. Macnee's voice also is featured in the new syndicated series "Super Force."

"I am an old-age pensioner," Macnee said with a laugh. "I'm 68 and get a pension from the Screen Actors Guild, a very healthy one. Thank goodness."

"The Avengers" airs on A&E Monday-Friday at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and repeats Saturday at 3 p.m. "Super Force" airs Fridays at 7:30 p.m. on KTLA Channel 5.

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