Of all the television spies and secret agents who saved Britain in the ’60s – Champions, Saints and Danger Men – none are more iconic or better loved than The Avengers.
Patrick Macnee’s dapper, bowler-hatted, umbrella-wielding John Steed and his female associates – Honor Blackman’s karate-chopping anthropologist Cathy Gale; Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel, expert in science and martial arts; and Linda Thorson’s rookie spy Tara King – drank champagne and exchanged innuendo as they thwarted diabolical masterminds intent on stopping the Sixties from swinging.
But it didn’t begin like that.
In its earliest incarnation, The Avengers was a gritty, noir-ish drama; Steed’s associate was a doctor named David Keel (Ian Hendry), whose fiancée was murdered by drug dealers; and the villains were extortionists, blackmailers and black marketeers. Almost all of the first season, which ran from January to December 1961, are lost. The only surviving episodes are the first half of the pilot episode “Hot Snow”, “Girl on the Trapeze” and “The Frighteners”.
Big Finish Productions, best known for their Doctor Who audio dramas, adapted the scripts for the missing episodes, starring Julian Wadham as Steed and Anthony Howell (Foyle’s War) as Dr. Keel, with Doctor Who stalwarts Colin Baker and Sophie Aldred in other roles.
Hendry left the show, and the second season saw Steed teaming up with a Keel clone, Dr. Martin King (Jon Hollason); a hapless nightclub singer, Venus Smith (Julie Stevens) – and Cathy Gale.