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Book Review

Book Cover

The Avengers
A Celebration - 50 Years of a Television Classic (Hardback)


Author: Marcus Hearn
Titan Books
RRP: £24.99, US $29.95, Cdn $35.00
ISBN: 978 1 84856 672 9
Available 29 October 2010

Celebrations of television programs usually have more to do with their age than their quality, not so with The Avengers (1960-1969), which celebrates its fiftieth year. Often The Prisoner (1967-1968) is lauded for its innovation and experimentation, which is patently unfair to a show which revelled in wit, visual flair and narrative playfulness.

The Avengers a Celebration: 50 Years of a Television Classic is a large coffee table book, new from Titan, written by Marcus Hearn (Hammer Glamour, The Hammer Story), which gathers together many never-seen-before pictures from the show's history. The Avengers was unusual for a television program for a number of reasons, not least of which was its combination of science fiction and spy thriller which allowed the show to pretty much explore any area it liked.

The stalwart of the show was the very dapper Patrick Macnee (John Steed), who was originally paired with Ian Hendry (David Keel), in fact the show was designed to be a vehicle for Hendry as the star, when he left after only a single season Macnee took centre stage and a whole new show evolved.

Over the period of the show's existence Macnee had three significant, female partners, though the show was designed so that the women had equal importance and not just window dressing. The first was Honor Blackman (Cathy Gale) a self-assured anthropologist with a wit which was as sharp as her martial arts skills. Blackman started the trend of stylish clothing, especially the use of deliberately fetishist leather clothing and ‘kinky boots’ so famous they even made a record about them.

This style was taken to another level by Steed's second partner Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) who not only took this element to another level, but also helped to sell the show to the States. Tara King (Linda Thorson) was the last companion and through no fault of her own, reversed the trend of a strong female companion.

The show was also unusual in that the producers chronicled many aspects of the show in high quality photographs and given the importance that style played, many famous names, for the sixties, were more than happy to lend their names and images to the promotion of the show, expanding even further the body of reference material.

Following the cancellation of the show this material was preserved and Marcus Hearn has had the pleasant task of sifting through around ten thousand surviving images to choose three hundred and fifty of the best for the book.

Following a forward by Macnee and a general introduction to the show by Hearn the book's format settles down to producing a preface for each of the show seasons before you can feast your eyes on an astonishing collection of both colour and black and white photographs. The shots are wonderfully sharp, partly due to the quality of the original and partially due to the digital restoration. Each of the episodes get a picture, but there are many full page shots (290 x 253 mm) in the book's one hundred and sixty pages.

Suitably, with the show's concentration on visual style, it is fitting that it is celebrated in this fashion. A real must buy for all Avengers fans.


Charles Packer

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