Rewatching The Avengers Part II

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Here are some more selections from the fourth season of The Avengers, which introduced Diana Rigg as Emma Peel and the first season produced on film.

Too Many Christmas Trees: John Steed (Patrick Macnee) is having nightmares involving Christmas trees and someone who has dressed up like Santa Claus. After awakening from one sucsh nightmare, Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) arrives at Steed’s flat and gives him some Christmas cards he has received.

One is from Cathy Gale. Steed is pleased but wonders why Mrs. Gale sent it from Fort Knox. Mrs. Gale, of course, was played by Honor Blackman, who played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.

The Girl From Auntie: Emma is incapacitated and kidnapped after an “MFU” (Man From U.N.C.L.E.?) all-night costume party. Another woman has been substituted in Emma’s place.

Auntie refers to Mr. Auntie, the villain of the episode. But there are multiple in-jokes. Two dead men (of several) are named Bates and Marshall, presumably a reference to John Bates (costume designer for Diana Rigg) and Marshall (presumably a reference to writer Roger Marshall). Auntie operates out of the offices of Art Incorporated. Steed investigates the office. While checking out a control panel, it starts beeping. The sound is similar to (but not identical to) the communicator sound of the communicator from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

We also see in Emma’s apartment she has a copy of “Self Defence: No Holds Barred” supposedly written by Ray Austin. Austin was the stunt arranger for the series. He’d become a director and emigrate to the U.S. where he would helm episodes of various productions. One was the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The cast includes David Bauer as a sinister Soviet bloc diplomat. He’d later appear in You Only Live Twice (American diplomat) and Diamonds Are Forever (Mr. Slumber). At one point, certain knitting needles are referred to as “double-ohs.”

A Touch of Brimstone: This episode is perhaps best remembered for Diana Rigg appearing in a skimpy outfit while wearing a spiked collar

When the U.S. ABC network imported the show to the United States, ABC did not broadcast this installment. In 1999, the U.S. cable television channel TV Land had a week of spy-related TV shows as part of a promotion for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The night for The Avengers included A Touch of Brimstone and referenced the censorship issue.

A new Hellfire Club is doing no good, bringing Steed and Mrs Peel into the case. The striking visuals cause this to be one of the best-remembered episodes of the series.

The cast included Carol Cleveland, who often appeared with Monty Python, and Alf Joint, the stunt performer who appeared in the pre-titles sequence of Goldfinger.

The House That Jack Built: The audience learns A LOT about the background of Emma Peel. In previous episodes, we’re told how she’d a genius. In this episode, we eventually are told how she took control of the empire of her late father, Sir John Knight. The audience is shown part of a newspaper headline that says, “21-year-old girl to head board.” Once in control, Emma fired an automation expert.

That expert is Professor Keller. He is the one who has lured Emma into the trap. Except it turns out that Keller IS DEAD. He laid out the trap to live beyond him. He has made recordings to test Emma. The point of the exercise is to drive Emma to kill herself

Thankfully, Steed is on the job. Regardless, the episode is a showcase for Diana Rigg and art director Harry Pottle, with his imaginative sets. Pottle would work on the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, working with production designer Ken Adam

Re-Watching The Avengers Part I

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

In the U.S., the Amazon Prime streaming service is showing the fourth season (the first Diana Rigg season) of The Avengers.

That was the season that Rigg (as Emma Peel) succeeded Honor Blackman (as Cathy Gale) on the series starring Patrick Macnee. The Avengers debuted in 1961, a year before Dr. No was released in the U.K.

Season Four had other changes. The Avengers had been a studio-bound, videotape series for its first three seasons. With the fourth season, the production was on film and there was some location shooting.

A few highlights from the early part of Season Four:

The Town of No Return: John Steed (Macnee) and his new partner, Emma Peel (Rigg) already are up to speed with no explanation about the departure of Cathy Gale.

The duo head to a small British town where agents keep disappearing. One of the villains is played by Robert Brown, who’d go on to play M in four James Bond films in the 1980s, including A View to a Kill, which included Macnee in the cast.

Macnee and Brown have a fight scene at one point. The hurried pace of the now-filmed production shows up at places. At one point, a boom microphone can be seen at the top of the screen.

Still, the episode demonstrates why The Avengers attracted a wide audience. There’s a mix of adventure, quirky characters, weird shots, and humor all within 50 (or so) minutes of screen time. The episode was written by Brian Clemens (1931-2015), who had the title of associate producer at the time. He’d be promoted to producer in the next season and would have that title in the 1970s revival The New Avengers.

The Gravediggers: Again, striking visuals, including an odd-looking funeral at the start of the episode. After an apparent burial, an antenna rises up from the grave. The cast includes future Bond film actor Steven Berkoff.

The episode includes a sequence where Rigg’s Emma Peel is tied to the tracks of a miniature railroad. Composer Laurie Johnson provides “Peril of Pauline” type music.

The Cybernauts: One of the show’s best-remembered stories where a robot is killing off industrialists. The episode would inspire a sequel in the next season as well as another sequel in The New Avengers revival.

The cast of the episode includes future Bond film actors Burt Kwouk and Bernard Horsefall. The villain is played by Michael Gough, who’d portray Alfred the Butler in four Batman movies from 1989 through 1997.

UPDATE: When I watched this episode on Jan. 12, it said Brian Clemens wrote it. But the IMDB.COM ENTRY says it was scripted by Philip Levene. When I tried to check it again on Amazon Prime, it says the video is unavailable. Levene was one of the best writers on The Avengers.

UPDATE II: The episode is back up on Amazon Prime. The writing credit says, “Teleplay by Brian Clemens.” That’s not what it says on IMDB. Readers reassure me it was written by Levene. (See comments below.) I don’t know what’s going on. I am a fan of the Levene-written episodes. He would get a story consultant credit in the final season of the show.

TO BE CONTINUED

George Perez dies at 67

Cover to a collection of George Perez art at Marvel

Retired comic book artist George Perez died May 6 at age 67 from complications from pancreatic cancer. His death was reported by the Comic Book Resources website.

Perez announced in December that he had been diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer and opted to forgo treatment.

The artist retired a few years ago because of health issues related to diabetes. During his career, which began in the early 1970s, he worked extensively at both Marvel and DC.

His efforts included the Avengers, the Justice League of America, and the Teen Titans. His stories helped influence comic book-based movies. He illustrated Crisis on Infinite Earths, a mid-1980s series meant to streamline the DC Comics universe.

DC published a tribute to Perez on Saturday afternoon.

UPDATE: Marvel also came out with a tribute.

Dr. No’s 60th-anniversary conclusion: Legacy

Adapted from a 2012 post.

In evaluating the legacy of Dr. No as it approaches its 60th anniversary, start with the obvious: There’s still a 007 film series to talk about.

James Bond isn’t the biggest entertainment property in the world the way it was in 1965. But its longevity is unique.

The time that has passed includes more than a decade of enforced hiatus (a troublesome 1975 financial split between Eon co-founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; a legal fight in the early 1990s between Broccoli and MGM; and MGM’s 2010 bankruptcy) disrupting production of the Bond movies.

Still, the Bond films soldier on. The 25th entry, No Time to Die, debuted in the fall of 2021.

The series turned actor Sean Connery into a major star. It made Roger Moore, known mostly as a television star, into a movie star. The same applies to Pierce Brosnan. It made Daniel Craig a star. Even George Lazenby (one movie) and Timothy Dalton (two) who had limited runs as 007 are identified with the series.

The films generated new fans of Ian Fleming’s hero to the point that the movie 007 long ago outsized the influence of his literary counterpart. Finally, the film 007 helped form an untold number of friendships among Bond fans who would have never met otherwise.

All of that began with a modestly budgeted film, without a big-name star, led by a director for hire, Terence Young, who’d be instrumental in developing the cinema version of Agent 007. Dr. No, filmed in Jamaica and at Pinewood Studios, made all that followed possible.

Fans may fuss and feud about which Bond they like best. This 007 film or that may be disparaged by some fans, praised by others. The series may get rebooted. Bond may get recast. The tone of the entries may vary greatly.

In the end, Bond continues. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can’t say that; The Avengers, the John Steed variety which debuted the year before Dr. No, can’t say that; Matt Helm can’t say that. Jason Bourne, which influenced recent 007 movies, hasn’t been heard from since a 2016 film.

Many of those responsible for Dr. No aren’t around to take the bows.

They include:

–Producers Broccoli and Saltzman

–Director Young

–Screenwriter Richard Maibaum

–Editor Peter Hunt

–Production designer Ken Adam

–United Artists studio executive Arthur Krim, who greenlighted the project

–David V. Picker, another key UA executive, who was a Bond booster

–Joseph Wiseman, who played the title charater, the first film Bond villain

–Jack Lord, the first, and some fans say still the best, screen Felix Leiter, who’d become a major television star on Hawaii Five-O

–Art director Syd Cain

–Composer John Barry who orchestrated Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme and who would later define 007 film music.

–Nikki van der Zyl, who dubbed Ursula Andress in Dr. No and would work on other Bond films.

–Finally, Sean Connery, who brought the film Bond to life, passed away in 2020 at the age of 90.

That’s too bad but that’s what happens with the passage of time. The final product, though remains. It’s all summed up with these words:

James Bond will return. (Even with the ending of No Time to Die.)

George Perez announces terminal cancer diagnosis

Cover to a collection of George Perez work at Marvel

Retired comic book artist George Perez said in a statement on Facebook he has been diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer.

Perez, 67, said he has opted to forgo treatment and that his life expectancy is six months to a year.

The artist retired about three years ago because of health issues related to diabetes. During his career, he worked extensively at both Marvel and DC, including the Avengers, the Justice League of America, and the Teen Titans. His stories helped influence comic book-based movies.

“This is not a message I enjoyed writing, especially during the Holiday Season, but, oddly enough, I’m feeling the Christmas spirit more now than I have in many years,” Perez said in the statement.

Perez received tributes on social media, including from current and former comic book professionals.

1978: QM tries its version of The Avengers

In the late 1970s, things were changing at QM Productions. Founder Quinn Martin sold his company to Taft Broadcasting and those he left behind tried to carry on.

One project after Martin’s departure was Escapade, a QM version of The Avengers. It starred Granville Van Dusen and Morgan Fairchild. QM brought aboard Brian Clemens as writer-producer. Clemens was was of the major creative forces behind The Avengers and its 1970s revival, The New Avengers.

Escapade included a mammoth computer to assist its heroes. QM held onto the general notion. In 1979, QM launched A Man Called Sloane, which also had a chattering computer.

By this time, many of the QM behind-the-camera veterans had also departed. One who was still around was John Conwell, QM’s long-time casting director. So was John Elizalde, the music supervisor who hired composers for QM productions.

Here is the video. H/T @LeeGoldberg who got our attention about this.

Diana Rigg gets left out of BAFTA ‘In Memoriam’

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

This weekend, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, or BAFTA, gave out its film awards. It’s the U.K. equivalent of the Oscars.

Like the Oscars, the BAFTAs include an “In Memoriam” segment. This year’s “In Memoriam” left out Diana Rigg (1938-2020). Variety, which was covering the awards inquired why. Here’s a tweet the entertainment news outlet put out:

Rigg was known for both movies and TV shows. For spy fans, she played Tracy, James Bond’s ill-fated wife in the 1969 film adaptation of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. On TV, she was known for The Avengers and other television series.

UPDATE (April 12): Viewers advise that Bond film veterans Honor Blackman and Earl Cameron also didn’t make the “In Memoriam” segment. THIS STORY says Prince Philip, who died last week, was included.

UPDATE II: Reader @toysofbond advises Honor Blackman was included in the 2020 BAFTA TV “In Memoriam.” So she, lie Dame Diana, was deemed a TV performer rather than a movie one. See tweet below:

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

The nature of fandom

Daniel Craig as James Bond

The past few weeks have been rough for James Bond fans. They’ve witnessed the passing of key actors such as Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Michael Lonsdale.

All three had long careers that extended beyond James Bond films. But some Bond fans say something to the effect that they represent OUR Pussy Galore, OUR Tracy, OUR Drax.

However, fans of The Avengers TV series might counter something like, yes but that’s OUR Cathy Gale or OUR Emma Peel.

This extends beyond Bond fandom.

I’ve seen some fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. say having an American and a Russian as partners was BIG AND BOLD.

Meanwhile, fans of the original I Spy television series counter that having a White and a Black man as equal partners was a lot more controversial in the U.S. in the 1960s.

Undoubtedly, there are many other examples. Many fans, though, don’t want to examine all that. They are concerned with their fandom. No more, no less.

No criticism is intended in any of this. It’s the way of the world. It’s also the nature of fandom.

Diana Rigg dies at 82

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Diana Rigg, who entertained generations of fans in The Avengers, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Game of Thrones, has died at 82, the BBC reported.

The actress was versatile, acting in a variety of roles on stage, television and films.

Rigg became an international star in the 1960s, playing Emma Peel on The Avengers. She joined the series after Honor Blackman exited, going on to play Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.

The Avengers didn’t lose a step. One of the Rigg episodes had John Steed (Patrick Macnee) receiving a Christmas card from Blackman’s character, Cathy Gale. Steed wondered what she was doing in Fort Knox.

Rigg had a huge impact on the show. Mrs. Peel, a “talented amateur” (in the words of one introduction for The Avengers) could out-fight and out-think male opponents. Rigg and Macnee had a chemistry that fans enjoyed.

The U.K.-produced series was imported into the United States during Rigg’s run. Mrs. Peel became an icon on both sides of the Atlantic.

She was twice nominated for an Emmy for The Avengers. She lost both times to Barbara Bain of Mission: Impossible.

Rigg left the show to seek new challenges. One of her post-Avengers projects was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. She played Tracy, the doomed bride of James Bond.

The actress got the role, in part, because the filmmakers figured they needed an experienced female lead opposite the inexperienced George Lazenby.

Majesty’s, while financially successful, wasn’t as big a hit as earlier Bond entries. Nevertheless, Rigg again was memorable. Her character’s death at the end of the movie, was the first unhappy conclusion for the film series produced by Eon Productions.

About the only format Rigg couldn’t conquer was starring in her own TV situation comedy. A U.S. series, Diana, ran less than a full season during 1973-74.

Rigg’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 70 movie and TV credits.