Thursday, 25 June 2015

RIP, Patrick Macnee

I was watching an episode of The Avengers tonight when I heard Patrick Macnee had died. I love The Avengers: it's one of those bonkers British midcentury series that you either adore or just don't get. Macnee played many roles, but John Steed is the one he will always be remembered for. Immaculately dressed, driving vintage cars and drinking champagne, he was in many ways an Edwardian, perfectly balanced by a succession of liberated, sparky and completely modern female agents. Rarely irritated and never ruffled, he faced the world with a raised eyebrow and a furled umbrella.

You could say that the gentleman adventurer-spy is something of a British archetype, going back to W Somerset Maugham's fictional character Ashenden, John Buchan's Richard Hannay, and even Leslie Charteris' Simon Templar. No-one does private eyes like the Americans, and no-one does gentleman spies like the British. Steed joins that lineup of suave, moneyed adventurers, and influenced similar ones in popular culture afterwards: if Harry Hart, Colin Firth's character in Kingsman: The Secret Service, wasn't a nod in Steed's direction I'd be very much surprised, especially given the Kingsmen's use of umbrellas.

It's saddening to say goodbye to Patrick Macnee so soon after Christopher Lee - and Macnee did twice play Watson to Lee's Holmes. Here's hoping no more of that era's best-loved actors pass away any time soon...

8 comments :

  1. That is sad news. He was a great actor and I have very fond memories of The Avengers. Xx

    ReplyDelete
  2. He was definitely one of a kind. Harry Hart has to have been modelled on him. He did a lot of voiceover work on the Bond DVDs, and of course he was the voice of the Imperious Leader in the original Battlestar Galactica (as well as showing up as the evil Count Iblis as well)

    And of course much like Lee he starred in a Moore era Bond film as well (in fact he and Roger made quite a nice duo in that film). It’s a great age to reach but still feels like a loss, so many of the actors and actresses we grew up with are dying but I guess that’s something we’re going to increasingly get used to.

    It’s interesting to mention the notion of the gentleman spy, I always kind of forget that one of the reasons Bond took off was because he was, in many respects, the antithesis of that character, although I’m never sure if he’s the first such character or f that was Bulldog Drummond or Dick Barton?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm, I wouldn't say Barton was the antithesis of the gentleman spy - he was both chivalrous and an amateur, probably more of a grammar-school Saint. You can see elements of Bond in Hannay - the novels can be pretty rough and involve some exotic travelling. Bond's personal lack of chivalry, though... I suppose there are chunks of that in Drummond, though rarely towards women. I shall have to think on it!

      Delete
  3. I still haven't seen The Avengers, I must get hold of the first series on DVD. My mechanic thinks I look like Diana Rigg and mentioned it last week again!! x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now THAT is a compliment of the highest order!

      Delete
  4. Well that's sad. I loved the Avengers, but you're right about the love it or hate it divide. I didn't know anyone else that liked it (The Prisoner had that reaction from people as well).

    I just discovered Mr. ETB hasn't seen The Avengers (he spent a good chunk of the 60's in Germany, but I'm still amazed he hasn't seen it since). I guess I know what we'll be watching this week. It'll be my memorial.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It'll be interesting to hear what he makes of it. I know loads of people who like it, but then I'm British and nerdy, so it goes without saying. We recently discovered a couple of our friends had never seen the Prisoner, so we bought it on DVD and are planning a Prisoner marathon at their place at some point.

      Delete
  5. I haven't visited your blog in awhile (boring family crisis stuff got in the way), and it's such a pleasure to hear your views again. The Avengers was always one of my favorite shows (Emma Peel was a distant idol of self-possession, although that word doesn't begin to do her justice). I loved the way Steed and Peel interacted, testing each other, protecting each other--a beautifully complex relationship for a telly show. And of course, the Prisoner, although he could get a bit annoying. For a Yank, getting access to those shows was so wonderful, both for their own sakes and for the cachet among my friends of being au courant with British telly. (I know, lots of poncy words, but they seem to fit). By the way, good luck with the dental work, from one who has spent many hours with many judgmental, snarky dentists--glad you seem to have found a compassionate one. Take good care of yourselves, and come to Portland sometime before I'm too decrepit to show you a good time. Kate in Oregon

    ReplyDelete