Friday, 2 April 2010

The Avengers

It seems to me that the older a photograph becomes, the more it is the background that interests rather than the subject. I have an album of old photos of me as a child and it is the settings and the objects lurking in the background that are so fascinating. Room interiors of houses long forgotten and gardens with small trees and vegetable patches (unheard of these days) tug the memory banks like nothing on earth. Common place things like wallpaper and furniture, long since thrown away toys and once living pets suddenly take on monumental importance.

And so it seems to be with old TV programmes as well. Watching some old clips of Dusty Springfield, you can’t help noticing the weird and wonderful sets she was given to sing amongst. There are what look like stacks of toilet roll tubes, giant spotty boxes and all manner of strange pieces of furniture but nothing can beat the set where she is singing ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’. This one comprises a mesmerising geometric floor pattern interspersed with towering Grandfather Clocks all stopped at Ten o’Clock (Geddit?).

The whole effect reminded me strongly of the sort of sets used in the 1960s spy spoof series, ‘The Avengers’. I am a huge fan of the original Avengers series from the early Cathy Gale days right up to the Linda Thorsen exploits but, of course, nothing beats the two seasons which starred Diana Rigg as the incomparable Emma Peel, especially season 4 produced in black and white in 1965. There is something about this monochrome season that emphasises the tongue-in-cheek, yet slightly dark eccentricity of it all which didn’t quite recover when the following season 5 was made in colour for the first time.

It goes without saying that the plots are ridiculous, the characters bizarre and the list of guest stars reads like a catalogue of British character actors from that era, John Le Mesurier, Terence Alexander, Gordon Jackson, Patrick Cargill, Patrick Mower, John Barron, Nigel Davenport, Patrick Wyngarde, Liz Fraser, Bernard Cribbins, Peter Bowles, Warren Mitchell, Geoffrey Palmer, Penelope Keith, Bill Fraser…the list goes on and virtually every episode has a familiar (and very fresh) face.

The trick to a conceit such as The Avengers is to never let it touch reality. Steed and Mrs Peel live in a parallel world populated entirely by potty scientists, ex-army majors, power-mad politicians and upper class twits who live in landed estates and isolated villages or who work in futuristic office blocks. You never see a policeman, a normal member of the public or a terrace house at any time. None of your kitchen sink grittiness here - but for sheer escapism, it has never really been bettered.


Rose said...

I used to love the Avengers when I was little- it must have been repeated I guess. I kind of wanted to be Mrs Peel. Still do really- or look more like her at least!

musicobsessive said...

Hi Rose

Actually, I wanted to be Dennis Law of Man Utd when I was small, but that's an entirely different story. At least I didn't have to worry about the leather catsuit!

If the number of times the series has been released on DVD is anything to go by, you are not alone...