Television Review: The Avengers – The Complete Series 4
(Optimum Home Entertainment)
By Guy Sangster Adams
First broadcast between 1965 and 1966, with series 4 The Avengers entered the era for which it is best remembered and which was also its most influential, as
Diana Rigg, in the role of Emma Peel, took over from Honor Blackman’s Dr Cathy Gale, as sidekick to John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee. Emma Peel’s name, so the story goes, came from ABC’s (Associated British Pictures, the programme’s production company) press officer, Marie Donaldson, saying that the character need to have ‘man-appeal’, which became abbreviated to ‘m-appeal’… Emma Peel.
The crackling sexual tension that had already existed between Steed and Cathy Gale, was ramped up to become far more overt in Steed and Emma Peel’s relationship. Equally the use of leather and PVC costumes, which had been introduced in series 3 for Cathy Gale, particularly for the fight scenes, was continued and became more body conscious and more markedly fetishistic, with zips and buckles. The fetishism was taken even further in the episode, A Touch of Brimstone, when she is dressed as the ‘Queen of Sin’, in a leather corset, knee-length stiletto heeled boots, and a dog collar studded with six inch spikes. All of which played up the vaunted man-appeal of the character, but Emma Peel also, as with Cathy Gale before her, equally and importantly subverted stereotypical roles for women combining not only brains, beauty, and independence, but also physical prowess; she dispatches her male, whip wielding adversary in A Touch of Brimstone in very short measure. Emma Peel became just as much an icon for women as she did for men. Though the dominatrix look proved too much for the American censors, and the episode was banned in the US.
With her striking op-art clothes designed by fashion designer, John Bates, Emma Peel also became a key fashion influence. Under the label, Avengerswear, Bates also licensed his designs to a number of manufacturers, and they were available in shops around the country from the moment series 4 aired. Bates’ geometric designs were also groundbreaking in that before their use in The Avengers it had been considered they would not work on the film cameras of the day. Both reflecting the times and setting the times, Emma Peel’s Mod style, replete with Lotus Elan and Vespa 150 scooter, juxtaposes pleasingly with the continuance of Steed’s bowler hatted and furled umbrella, dandy-edged, vintage Bentley driving, English gentleman.
Sexy, stylish, witty, and inventive, this first series of the Emma Peel era of The Avengers remains as influential and enjoyable now, extraordinarily 45 years on, as it was first time around.