I recently plowed through my DVDs of "The Avengers," and came to the reluctant conclusion that while Diana Rigg's Emma Peel remains the sexiest woman in screen history, the episodes starring Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale are better.
Would you mess with this lady?
Patrick Macnee's John Steed begins the series in 1962 as a manipulative, slouch-hatted agent and a definite second fiddle to the rather earnest Dr. Martin King, as played by Jon Rollason. Steed cheerfully puts nitwit chanteuse Venus Smith (Julie Stevens) at considerable risk from assassins and suchlike, and is clearly alarmed by Dr. Gale, who keeps up with her kung fu.
In the 1963 episodes Steed is slightly more likeable and the bowler hat appears. Still, Gale has the brains in the duo - Steed is a cross between James Bond and Bertie Wooster.
Mrs. Gale patiently explaining things to Steed
The plots are believeable - the bad guys are usually corrupt industrialists and recognizable thug archetypes, and while Gale's reasoning gets the pair to the truth, they still have to resort to the rough stuff to wind things up.
You never know when you'll have to untie a gorgeous girl in black leather
By 1964, with Rigg on board, what most fans think of the classic era of The Avengers begins. The villains get more and more ambitious, the plots more far-fetched, and the campiness level is slowly ratcheted up until, by 1967, it's a mod mod mod mod world.
Mrs. Peel's outfit's become more, uh, subtle, as Steed gets tubbier
The years 1965 and 1966 are the best of these. The dynamic between Steed and Emma is one of equals - they divvy up assignments and bail each other out of jams.
And the producers never allowed the pair to become romantically involved, "romantic" meaning "sex." It's a distinction that would be completely lost on the creators of today's wretched television programs, save Chris Carter of "The X-Files," who kept Mulder and Scully in separate rooms, never mind beds.
This little number, from "A Touch of Brimstone," got "The Avengers" banned in Boston
More on The Avengers:
One woman's take
History of the series