Bowler hat and leather boots: the women of John Steed

Bowler hat and leather boots, aka The Avengers, returns to madelen, the INA streaming platform. The opportunity to review all of the most popular episodes in France, and the 3rd and 4th cult partners of John Steed, Emma Peel and Tara King, as well as a forgotten partner, Lady Diana Forbes-Blakeney.

The Peel years

We had left, in the previous episode, Patrick Macnee alias John Steed in solo, his partner Honor Blackman alias Cathy Gale having left him at the end of season 3 to join James Bond 007, “a real male, him!“. The Avengers will then return to 1965 in a completely new formula. No more video recordings, the series is now filmed in 35 mm black and white. The production has completely changed, the old team knowing nothing about directing A new team, made up of Albert Fennell, Brian Clemens and Julian Wintle, is in charge.

Watch Bowler hat and leather boots on madelen, the INA streaming platform

An actress is chosen to play Steed’s new partner. It is Elisabeth Shepherd who embodies the very first Emma Peel, a character whose name is taken from the expression M (for Men)-appeal. Unfortunately, the chemistry with Macnee doesn’t work. Sheperd leaves the series after an episode and a half, now considered lost, and Diana Rigg replaces her. Couldn’t be more different. While Sheperd was blonde, Rigg is redhead. But Rigg looks like a soft version of Cathy Gale, enough to deceive the public, who are waiting for the new actress at the turn. On the night of the first episode, Journey of No Return, all the English are glued to their screens, ready to celebrate. We know the rest! Miraculously, the Rigg/Macnee ratio is even better than the Blackman/Macnee ratio, despite being entirely modeled on it, which French viewers, who are discovering the Avengers with this season, are completely unaware of. The Avengers, which in France become Bowler hat and leather boots, are transformed into a veritable theater of the absurd. Virtually every aspect of English life will be parodied in it. Institutions are described as landmarks of crazy eccentrics. The fights are now choreographed by Ray Austin, a then-unknown ex-docker, Hollywood stuntman, and martial arts expert. It is he who will show on European television for the first time a character doing kung-fu… a woman… Emma Peel!

Under Austin’s watch, and with the move to 35mm film, the show’s violence would become more theatrical, mocked by its startling harmlessness. Never blood, but many deaths in episodes, without impact of bullets – it is also the rule – when they are killed. To reinforce the impression of unrealism, Clemens sets out a few basic rules: no extras, no colored characters, no children, no blood, no woman being killed… The Steed / Peel couple evolves in this universe like a fish in water. Huge worldwide success, the Avengers soon go to color, for a second season with Emma Peel in 1967, the fifth, too, like the previous one, available in full at madelen.

Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee in Bowler Hat and Leather Boots
1967 STUDIOCANAL FILMS Ltd

Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee in Season 5 of Bowler Hat and Leather Boots

Faced with the wave of acute spyware that invades large and small screens, bowler hat also begins to parody competing productions. Episode titles, hints, or even full episodes take aim Batman, Impossible missionWhere Man From Uncle, and make fun of them. But we’re looking behind the scenes for a way to stage a coup on the hit show. The executives harass Brian Clemens, producer author of a large part of the scenarios, memos, criticizing the unrealism of the series, and its humorous aspect. Bowler Hat is a series made of cheap ideas, less than Very special agents”, wrote a sinister thief. The latter even dares to add that the team should take some seed!

Despite Macnee’s efforts to convince her to stay, Diana Rigg also decides to follow in the footsteps of Honor Blackman, and leaves at the end of her second season to seduce James Bond, alias George Lazenby, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The producers, Albert Fennell, Brian Clemens and Julian Wintle are then fired, and the producers of the first seasons called in as replacements. On the casting side, another female character appears.

Gone Tara

Linda Thorson, aka Tara King, becomes the new Steed girl. John Bryce, producer of the video episodes with Honor Blackman, decides to make new episodes “correct”, and not “stupid”, as he describes those produced by the Wintle / Fennell / Clemens team. The new season is pre-sold in the USA, and should include a record 33 episodes. But disaster: having discolored Linda Thorson as a blonde to “differentiate her from Emma Peel”, (they also dressed her in… candy pink!), the new producers were surprised to see her arrive one fine morning with a shaved head. : all her hair fell out due to discoloration! We repatriate wigs as reinforcements. But production is falling behind. Except, the episodes must be delivered on specific dates in the USA, under penalty of breach of contract. What to do ?

After three episodes, with a heavy heart, ABC fires John Bryce and recalls Clemens. Advised on Saturday that the filming of an episode begins on Monday, Clemens is shown those made in his absence. Appalled, he decides to put them aside, and writes the bridge episode in one weekend, not meforget pace, in which Emma Peel says goodbye to Steed and gives Tara King advice on how the British spy likes her tea. Clemens knows there won’t be another Bowler Hat season. It is an atmosphere of end that hovers over this year. But the budgets are now heavier, and it is among the episodes of this season that the greatest classics of the Avengers are grouped, superior to many episodes with Diana Rigg.

There are remakes of the Maltese Falcon (the Legacy), from Train will whistle three times(noon doomsday). Madness in the episode Clowningwhere retired clowns murder talent agents, (with an appearance by John Cleese of Monty Python), hordes of Steed doubles who kill each other, each thinking the other is the real Steed (But who is Steed?) , and the ultimate masterpiece, Gamessigned Robert Fuest, the best episode of ALL seasons, a crazy surreal opera, a real artistic firework, a symphony of murders carried out in giant board games by the infamous Bristow, who leaves puzzle pieces in the hands of each of his victims!

Linda Thorson and Patrick Macnee in Bowler Hat and Leather Boots
1968 STUDIOCANAL FILMS Ltd

Linda Thorson and Patrick Macnee in Season 6 of Bowler Hat and Leather Boots

Clemens will have some of the episodes already filmed refilmed (easily recognizable, these are the ones where Tara King wears a blonde wig), and will find a way to integrate the most failed of them into the framework of a story. imaginary story that Grandmother, Steed’s new superior, tells his two aunts. The implausibilities are thus put on the account of the imagination of the character! The memorable character of Grandmother makes her appearances in the most absurd places, floating in the middle of a swimming pool filled with divers, (“there are leaks in the ministry” he says in all seriousness) , or at the bottom of a river. Grandmother was introduced by Clemens, officially to make up for Linda Thorson’s deficiencies in terms of comedy, the latter being a beginner, only 19 years old at the time of her casting! Over the episodes, however, she quickly earns her stripes, developing a nonchalant and ethereal attitude to the best effect. She is even the ultimate Steed woman, since the only one to have a bow, beginner in the first episodes, then more and more liberated and assertive, she will embody the then nascent women’s lib, her evolution having to be put in parallel with that early feminists.

The episodes of the Tara King season are offered on madelen in their logical and original order, showing the evolution of the character. In one episode, Murders on the program, Tara King is replaced by a new partner, Lady Diana Forbes Blakeney, a sort of clone of Emma Peel, who will bet the fandom on a possible replacement for decades. Finally in one of the first episodes of this season, Too muchclues, another ex (partner?) of Steed appears, Janice, played by Tracy Reed, one of the most prominent actresses of the time to take the place of Diana Rigg during the transition. Particular sign: Steed kisses her on the mouth!

Patrick Macnee and Lady Diana Forbes-Blakeney in Season 6 of Bowler Hat and Leather Boots
1968 STUDIOCANAL FILMS Ltd

Patrick Macnee and Lady Diana Forbes-Blakeney in Season 6 of Bowler Hat and Leather Boots

Each of its partners embodies a different face of feminism, very far from the sexism then in vogue of James Bond, and its female characters represent all the progressivism of the sixties on the position of women in society.

After nine years, the series disappears. In the last episode, Weird, John Steed and Tara King are blasted off into space in a rocket ship, whose return kit “is coming next week.” Thus ends the saga of avengers originals, available in full at madelen.

The latest partner: Purdey

In 1975, a French producer, Rudolf Roffi, contacted Clemens and Fennell, to produce an advertisement for Laurent-Perrier champagne, with Macnee and Linda Thorson. While the absolutely brilliant commercial (Tara King savagely beats up intruders in Steed’s apartment, while he uncorks a bottle of champagne by tripping) is filmed at Elstree Studios, Roffi is surprised to learn that the avengers are no longer in production. Fennell explains to him that he spent three years trying to revive the series without succeeding. Appalled, Roffi promises to find the money needed to revive bowler hat. This new version co-produced by TF1, entitled new avengers, was shot at the end of 1975 and broadcast in 1976 and 1977. Patrick Macnee is still present, but Linda Thorson, whom the French wanted, is discarded in favor of Joanna Lumley, who plays Purdey. Gareth Hunt Mike Gambit, a new male assistant to Steed, bails him out of all the action scenes.

Bowler hat and leather boots: the secret story of a diamond in the rough

Bowler hat and leather boots: the women of John Steed