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Saturday 10 June 2023 Dublin: 16°C
# The Avengers
The star of one of the sixties' most famous TV shows has died
Patrick Macnee, who played secret agent John Steed, has died aged 93.

The Rap Sheet / YouTube

PATRICK MACNEE, THE British-born actor best known as dapper secret agent John Steed in the long-running 1960s TV series The Avengers, has died. He was 93.

Macnee died of natural causes with his family at his bedside in Rancho Mirage, his son Rupert said in a statement.

The clever spy drama began in 1961 and ran for eight seasons before continuing in syndication for decades afterward.

Macnee’s umbrella-wielding character appeared in all but two episodes, accompanied by a string of beautiful women who were his sidekicks.

The most popular was likely Diana Rigg, who played sexy junior agent Emma Peel from 1965 to 1968. Honor Blackman played Catherine Gale from 1962 to 1964, and Linda Thorson was Tara King from 1968 to 1969.

“The TV Beatles”

“We were in our own mad, crazy world,” Macnee told the Wichita Eagle in 2003 when The New Avengers was being issued on DVD. “We were the TV Beatles. We even filmed in the same studio.”

But while he made his name internationally playing a smart, debonair British secret agent, Macnee was never a fan of the James Bond movies.

“I think their stories aren’t that realistic,” he told Salt Lake City’s Deseret News in 1999. “I think the sadism in them is horrifying. … On the other hand, the books — the James Bond books — were fascinating”.

THE AVENGERS_PATRICK MACNEE, DIANA RIGG AP Patrick Macnee in his famous role in The Avengers. AP

Macnee nearly lost the role of Steed because of his aversion to violence. In a 1997 interview with The Associated Press, he recalled being told by producers that he would have to pack a gun on The Avengers.

“I said, ‘No, I don’t. I’ve been in World War II for five years and I’ve seen most of my friends blown to bits and I’m not going to carry a gun.’ They said, ‘What are you going to carry?’ I thought frantically and said, ‘An umbrella’.”

The talented Macnee, who managed to make the improbable weapon seem probable, later became an outspoken opponent of the proliferation of privately owned guns.

In his droll 1992 autobiography, Blind in One Ear, Macnee noted that his early life matched that of his famed character, John Steed, in many ways.

Born Daniel Patrick Macnee on 6 February 1922 in London to a pair of eccentrics, he attended Eton, although he claimed to have been thrown out for dealing in horse race bets and pornography.

He also served in the military during World War II, captaining torpedo boats that sought to destroy German U-boats in French waters.

Before he left Eton, Macnee had discovered acting. He apprenticed in the British theatre, toured in provincial theaters and made his film debut as an extra in the 1938 film Pygmalion.

At 19, he married Barbara Douglas, and they had two children, Rupert and Jenny.

After the war, Macnee graduated from drama school, but he had trouble finding work, moving to Canada at one point to hunt for acting jobs.

Patrick Macnee death PA Photos Patrick Macnee and Linda Thorson pictured in character in 1967. PA Photos

He married actress Kate Woodville in 1965, and they divorced in 1969. His final marriage was to Baba Majos de Nagyzsenye in 1988. She died in 2007.

Macnee became an American citizen in 1959 and moved to Palm Springs in 1967, saying the dry desert air benefited his daughter, who suffered from asthma.

Among his films include Hamlet, A Christmas Carol, Until They Sail, Les Girls, Young Doctors in Love, Sweet 16 and This Is Spinal Tap. He had a memorable comic turn in the latter film as British entrepreneur Sir Denis Eton-Hogg.

Before The Avengers, he had appeared in such TV shows as Twilight Zone, Rawhide and Playhouse 90, among many others.

But it was The Avengers that provided a permanent living for Macnee. He owned 2.5% of the profits, and the series continued to play worldwide into the 21st century.

He explained why in his interview with the Deseret News:

It’s a very simple reason: It’s extremely good. I feel very justified and delighted in seeing after all these years that the show works.

Besides his son and daughter, Macnee’s survivors include a grandchild.

Opinion: Pop culture is saturated with throwbacks to the 1960s right now – but why? >

Read: Old films ‘hidden in biscuit tins’ reveal life in Dublin during the 1960s >

Associated Foreign Press
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