Friday, 24 November 2017

The Beginning of the Avengers

That's the Steed Avengers, not the Captain America Avengers.

I grew up watching The Avengers, and wanting to be Emma Peel when I grew up (or Sharon Macready from the Champions - I wasn't fussy as long as it involved stylish costumes and the ability to throw a man across a room!)
I was rather too young to have watched the very beginning of the series, though, and I only have very hazy memories of Cathy Gale, Steed's partner before Emma Peel.

So this week a collection of DVD boxed sets arrived at the Cinema Bookshop, where I work - and amongst them was a complete set of the Avengers. So I raided the piggy bank, and I watched the first disc last night.
I was aware that the first season was all about Steed and Dr Keel, played by Ian Hendry - not all of the episodes survive, but the few that do are quite entertaining from a historical viewpoint. Ian Hendry had been the lead in Police Surgeon, which only ran for 13 episodes before running into some legal difficulties, so the idea of the Avengers was thought up very quickly to give him another series to star in, and Steed began as a supporting character. The trademark umbrella and quips are there from the start, though - he's recognisably the Steed of the later series, though he does seem to be a bit more ruthless - he has a thug wailing in fear (off camera so we don't see exactly what he does to him) at one point, and a cut throat razor is involved....

Only the first fifteen minutes of the very first episode survive, and most of those are taken up with a man in a raincoat lurking around a doctor's surgery after hours, which introducing Dr Keel, his fiancée Peggy, and Dr Tredding, the partner in the London practice. Pretty quickly, though, Man in Raincoat's criminal gang decides that Peggy must die, and she is 'fridged' to give Dr Keel his motivation to help Steed bring the criminal gang to justice.
I honestly don't know why they bothered killing Peggy, because the next episode to survive has a new young woman, Carol, as the practice nurse, helping Dr Keel and really, it may as well have been Peggy.
There's a fair amount of location shooting in the episodes, which is fun. I recently watched the Dalek Invasion of Earth, a First Doctor story with a lot of location work around London from just a few years later than this season of the Avengers - so there was Dr Keel helping to get a body out of the Thames on the Embankment very close to where the Daleks later patrolled.
There was also a busy scene of a London shopping street, complete with man wheeling a bicycle laden with onions - I don't suppose many of those shops are still there. However, there was a nice acknowledgement of multi-culturalism, as that week's criminal gang had their headquarters in the back room of a shop owned by an Italian, and Steed speaks Italian to him. One of Steed's informants on the street is a black man, who gets a few lines, too.
And the women are mostly pretty capable - Carol the nurse proves to be brave and resourceful when captured backstage of an Eastern European State Circus. One of the baddies in that episode, The Girl on the Trapeze, is Vera, looking like an early superhero in leotard and long cape - Dr Keel gets to punch several men, but of course Carol can only fight another woman - but it's pretty good for the early 1960s.
There are parts for older women as well, one of whom is the wonderful Doris Hare, as an actress brought in to con a con man (she's pretending to be his mother to expose his con to his victims). As soon as the bad guys are successfully rounded up, she drops the poor old mum routine and shares a glass of brandy with Steed as she gets her fee for the performance.
There's some wonderful slang, too, which can be pretty obscure for a modern audience. One posh character talks about "debs" and "The Season" - young women were still being presented at Court as debutantes in the early sixties, though the custom was about to die out.
And then there's the money - there's a bit of business with Dr Keel paying for tickets for the circus. Sixteen shillings each, with him giving an extra two shillings so he got a ten shilling note in change (there were twenty shillings to the pound). And after all that, they only got to watch half the show.

No comments:

Post a Comment