1 October 2003 | fdpedro
"Good morning Cathy, what's for breakfast?" "Cook it and see!"
PART ONE: THE EARLY YEARS (61-64)
When most people think of THE AVENGERS, they often think of the Emma Peel episodes and tend to ignore the magic that the entire series is. What began as a cheap weekly live-broadcast B&W thriller managed to become a major color series with quite high production values and also the first British TV show ever to be exported to the US.
THE AVENGERS began in 1961, as an attempt to cash in ABC's previous medical thriller POLICE SURGEON. The former stared Ian Hendry who became one of the biggest TV stars of the time. The show failed to be a hit however. So Hendry and his co-star Ingrid Hafner were called in to do a replacement called THE AVENGERS. The weekly show would pair up the widowed Dr. Keel (Hendry) with charming secret agent John Steed (Patrick McNee) as they hunted down criminals and diabolical masterminds while walking on the noir-like soaked London streets wearing raincoats. Hafner starred in some episodes as nurse Carol. Only two of these episodes are known to exist, and they have been rarely seen. After many videotaped episodes, the show became a hit and Hendry decided it was a perfect time to start a movie career. He quit the show and so did Hafner. This left co-star McNee all by himself.
The second season started in 1962 and McNee was paired up with Dr. King (Jon Rollason), a temporary replacement. After shooting left-over season one scripts, King was dropped and Julie Stevens as jazz singer Venus Smith was brought in to be Steed's new female partner. A bad one by the way. Not only was Stevens a young unexperienced actress, but the character itself was a manipulative innocent teenager that would always become the damsel in distress and have to be saved during the climax. Weak material here. However, the writers decided to pair Steed up with a different kind of female partner. One that would be written as a male character on the script, and play it like a man. And so was born television's first true independent woman: Mrs. Catherine Gale. Played to perfection by Honor Blackman, the high-tempered Cathy would always have "battle of the sexes" arguments with Steed, hit him with outrageous answers and punchlines, ("Good morning Cathy, what's for breakfast?" "Cook it and see!") and always try to erase his sexist side. Also notable were Cathy's leather catsuits that launched an entire fashion in England, as well as her weekly judo fights with male thugs. The many Cathy Gale episodes have remained in obscurity during the years for the fact that they were videotaped on low production values and transfered into poor prints with lackluster sound. This makes them almost unwatchable. And the bad guest acting and all the technical bloopers that were never fixed during editing didn't help. But all the purists who try to avoid these episodes are actually missing a great load of fun. If you overlook all the negative elements, you are left with entertaining stories that always surprise you with all the wit, poison, and humor from McNee and Blackman. You would also be surprised at how superior the material is since back then the show took itself seriously.
Some episodes speak for themselves: MANDRAKE is a slow-paced but well done suspense with a great fight scene with Blackman and wrestler Jack Parlo. THE LITTLE WONDERS is a funny episode featuring Lois Maxwell (a.k.a Miss Moneypenny) as a wicked machine-gun shooting evil nun. DRESSED TO KILL is a well done variation of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. THE MAN WITH TWO SHADOWS was one of the first spy stories to use the look-alike element. And THE CHARMERS is perhaps one of the best episodes ever.
It is true that these shows don't even come close to the wonderful filmed seasons that would start in 1965 and they do not hold up to today's standards when compared to other shows of the time. But the biggest reason you should go back to watch these episodes is Cathy Gale herself. A wonderful actress (Blackman) and a wonderful character, Gale is one of the most important female characters of all time. She is for sure my favorite out of all of Steed's partners. Long live Cathy Gale!