When spies were sexy
Back when I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be Mrs. Emma Peel of The Avengers. She was witty and had a great voice (still does), wore great clothes, her hair and nails always looked good, and invariably at the end of each episode she drove off into the sunset with Mr. Steed after saving him & kicking the bad guys’ butts. Mr. Steed was one of the reasons why I developed early on a liking for British actors (Alan Bates was another one — Patrick Macnee turns out is Canadian — but I digress).
I still would like to grow up to do stuff like Mrs. Peel used to. Regrettably, real-life espionage doesn’t live up to the 1960s TV version and I never took up Karate.
Now the BBCA cable TV channel has The Avengers lined up for Fridays at 8PM (if you don’t get cable, you can rent the DVDs at Netflix; they’re also available in a pricey Complete Emma Peel DVD Set). Luke Collins of the NYTimes writes about it today and sees Peel/Steed as a any metrosexual couple
The characters’ clothes are impeccably tailored, they are surrounded by sleek furniture and they drive sexy cars – the life to which every metrosexual in an Eames chair or a Mini Cooper aspires.
You’ve been watching way too much Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Luke. While there were Eames chairs in The Avengers, Mr. Steed drove lovely vintage cars with great elan. No Mini Cooper for him. May I also point out that Mr. Steed’s clothes and umbrella were made for fighting? Luke goes on,
In any case, it’s quite obvious that Ms. Rigg’s karate-chopping Peel would stomp all over the bowler-hatted Steed.
Luke, please! Mrs. Peel would never need to stomp all over Steed, and it probably would never even occur to her. Theirs was a relationship of equals, one of the few that have ever been shown on TV, and they finely complemented each other. No master locking up a Genie in a bottle, no husband preventing Samantha from being her bewitching self, no Ricky telling Lucy she couldn’t be in his nightclub act. Mrs. Peel was no Bond girl (even when Diana Rigg played the only Bond wife), and definitely was not a Mission Impossible spy that would turn on and off her sex appeal at Mr. Phelps’s command. She was no Girl From UNCLE — she was no “girl”, period. Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg are wonderful actors and were able to pull it off and made it seem totally effortless. They worked off each other perfectly — none of the other actresses working the lead part in the series did as well, and certainly not the actors in the awful 1998 movie.
Clueless Luke also thinks there never was anything going on between those two
So instead of sexual tension, we have entertaining and cheerful presentations of plot flourishes that are still outlandishly fantastical – a standard criminal on “The Avengers” might travel through time or be invisible. Almost 40 years later, the anxieties behind the mysteries (involving corporate treachery or false information being peddled to governments) seem less escapist, but the presentation is so breezy you rarely sense anyone is in danger. You also never forget that “The Avengers” is a product of its era – the lo-fi special effects are a dead giveaway – but you are happy to be swept along to the conclusion of each episode, where Steed and Peel ride into the sunset. Chastely, of course.
The tension part of “sexual tension” is arguable — as The Husband puts it, they weren’t tense because “Those two looked pretty comfortable about it”, but there certainly is great sexual chemistry between Peel and Steed. One could, for example, spend some time discussing their names, or giving a Freudian meaning to Steed’s cars (no Mini Copper for him) and to why he always did the driving at the end. One could discuss the symbolism of that red rose Mr. Steed gives Mrs. Peel in the credits, which she gracefully accepts. Or remember their conversations, “Mellors?” asks Mrs. Peel, “The groundskeeper”, replies Mr. Steed, with a glint in his eye, provoking a groan in Mrs. Peel. I recently rented several episodes and was delighted to listen to the double entendres and mild innuendos that peppered the script. Never mind Mrs. Peel’s leather jumpsuits. Assuming that those two drove off into the sunset chastely misses the point of their relationship. NYTimes’s Luke needs it spelled out for him, but the appeal of the Avengers is that it’s all between the lines.
As you may or may not already be aware, members of the Watcher’s Council hold a vote every week on what they consider to be the most link-worthy pieces of writing around… per the Watcher’s instructions, I am submitting one of my own posts for consideration in the upcoming nominations process.
Here is the most recent winning council post, here is the most recent winning non-council post, here is the list of results for the latest vote, and here is the initial posting of all the nominees that were voted on.