Summer Geekout

By K.K. Beck

One of the highlights of my adolescence (and believe me, there weren’t many) was The Avengers. Next to The Brady Bunch and I Dream of Jeannie and other perky hits of the period, the show seemed to have come from another planet – a planet that was wittier and more stylish and charming than ours. I had never seen anything so cool on television or anywhere else in my whole life. I believe this is when I stopped bleaching my hair with Clairol Summer Wheat so it would be brown like Emma Peel’s.

I could have seen something almost as cool some years earlier – Peter Gunn starring Craig Stevens wandering around in the dark on wet pavement and dropping in to hear Lola Albright sing at a dimly lit club, but I had to go to bed as soon as it started. I lay there in the dark, bitter and aggrieved, and heard the Henry Mancini theme music from the TV room and knew I was missing something incredibly cool.

In any case, since receiving the sad news of the recent death of The Avengers‘ male lead, Patrick Macnee, I have been completely geeking out. I started by reading With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes: an Unauthorised Guide to the Avengers Series 1. It was free on Kindle. This is a strange work with the feeling of outsider art. It illustrates the depths fandom can reach. If the authors could have told you what one of the writers had for lunch during the filming of a specific episode they would have told us and provided the recipe. And I would have been happy to read it.

The first season of The Avengers was broadcast live from a studio and almost all of the episodes are lost. This book reconstructs them from old stills and production notes, and if the plots ever made much sense then, they don’t now. The show’s star was Ian Hendry playing a sensitive crime-fighting doctor. Macnee played John Steed, his mysterious sidekick, a cynical, sarcastic, dangerous and posh cad and thug. I’ve seen some of the early episodes and it’s kind of like discovering Mr. Jekyll.

Now I am reading The Avengers – The Inside Story by Patrick Macnee with Dave Rogers. It is proving to be very entertaining, but someone – presumably Dave Rogers – seems to have tracked down a bunch of producers and other staff members and got oral histories from them on tape, typed up the transcripts and cut and pasted them into the books as quotes that go on for many paragraphs, so it’s kind of hard to figure out who is talking.

Anyway, I learned all kinds of things, and am getting more obsessed by the minute. I was genuinely upset to hear that Macnee lashed out and yelled at Honor Blackman – who played Mrs. Peel’s similarly leather-clad predecessor, Cathy Gale – when she criticized him for not remembering to invite the security people to a staff party. And how had I never learned before that Macnee and Blackman recorded a novelty song called Kinky Boots in 1964? I must find it on You Tube or somewhere. I was also fascinated to learn that the guy who hired Diana Rigg had first met her at a party while she was lying on the floor under a piano.

I’m only halfway through – who knows what other riches are lurking in the rest of the book. And, Patrick Macnee’s autobiography (with another co-author) is on its way to me in the mail! My summer reading is shaping up nicely.

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One Response

  1. My dear Ms. Beck, I am a big fan of your books and now of your blogging. Great stuff. I, too, remember The Avengers, and Peter Gunn. Surely you weren’t sent to bed before Johnny Staccato, that great weird series starring John Cassavetes as a jazz pianist/private investigator? Very cooooool.
    All the best to you, and I look forward to reading more.
    Linda Kupecek (a mystery author as well, but not of your stature)

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