More sad news from the world of gentlemanly acting, just a little after we lost the remarkable Christopher Lee (indeed the two acted together as boys and would again as professionals) the news is breaking online that we have now lost Patrick Macnee, who has passed away at his California home at the age of 93, with his family around him. Macnee had an astonishingly long career, appearing in many stage productions and innumerable television and film works, including Bond, Battlestar Galactica, Spinal Tap and the Howling, to name but a select few. But for me, and I imagine for many others, Macnee will forever be John Steed, umbrella, (armoured) bowler hat, impeccable breeding and manners, the ultimate gentleman spy, saving the world regularly with extremely powerful, emancipated female colleagues like Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg throughout the 1960s in The Avengers. I’ve been rewatching The Avengers in recent months, and it still an utter delight, inventive, clever, very innovative, and often with oddball threats and villains, all handled with calm steadfastness by Macnee’s Steed, and so full of wonderful, flirtatious chemistry with his partners like Rigg’s Mrs Emma Peel (ever the gentleman, Macnee declined to name his favourite Avengers partner).
(Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg as Steed and Mrs Peel in the classic 60s Brit telefantasy series The Avengers)
“Mrs Peel, we’re needed...”
Saving the world while observing proper, gentlemanly manners – I recall one scene where Steed rushes into a supposedly haunted ruined church to rescue Mrs Peel, but being a properly brought up gent he naturally pauses to doff his hat as he enters the church. One of the wonderful things about the show was that frequently Steed would be the one being rescued by his female partner, they were both depicted as equally capable, both in the brains and action department – quite amazing given the 1960s period it was made in, and both inspiring and influential. Macnee somehow managed to combine old-fashioned British manners with a vibe that somehow also still managed to chime with the exploding new pop culture of the period. Even the most outlandish plots were given the same Macnee cool, calm, mannered approach, which grounded the fantastical elements perfectly. And after thwarting another dastardly scheme Macnee would normally be found opening a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Goodbye, Patrick, your John Steed was one of my boyhood heroes and really, he still is and always will be.