❚ DANIEL PATRICK MACNEE IS 92 TODAY – congratulations! And the keen nudist and actor best known as TV’s secret agent John Steed was spotted yesterday collecting the mail from from the end of his driveway in La Jolla, Southern California. Suave old Etonian Macnee, who became an American citizen in 1959, came eventually to define the spy series, The Avengers. Yet from its first episode in 1961 – broadcast live in black and white – the show’s initial incarnation was as a gritty cops-and-robbers drama, when Macnee played second fiddle to the uber-cool Ian Hendry, for whom the role of Dr David Keel was created.
As an in-demand star of film and TV, Hendry quit after the first 26 hour-long episodes when industrial action held up production, to star in the film Live Now, Pay Later. Macnee inherited the leading role and the rest is Swinging 60s history. His trenchcoat gave way to bowler, brolly and Pierre Cardin suit. The Avengers ran eight years until 1969, becoming jauntily more tongue-in-cheek and making stars of Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson as Steed’s assistant. Then a brief revival, The New Avengers (1976–77), saw Steed teamed with Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt whose careers also went stratospheric.
Handsome, sexy and compassionate, Ian Hendry was one of British television’s first idealised heroes. Health issues cut short his life at the age of 53, his last public appearance being on This Is Your Life, which reunited him with Macnee.
“The thing I’m really proud of is that I never carried a gun. I said that I wouldn’t carry one; when they asked me why, I said that I’d just come out of a world war in which I’d seen most of my friends blown to bits. In a way, I was politically correct at that time.”
Dame Diana Rigg, DBE, whose Avengers action woman Emma Peel from 1965 to 1968 proved the generator of a huge fan following, was once described by TV chat-show host Michael Parkinson as “a lustrous beauty”. Her range from comedy to serious drama puts her in the world-class league of respected British thespians. Last year she guested in two other cult TV series, Game of Thrones and Doctor Who, and today she still gives sharp and candid interviews at 75.