Sunday, 4 August 2019

The Avengers: Could The Avengers Have Been Influenced by Bond?

Why haven't I thought of this similarity before? As I write this I am watching Never Say Never Again, and while fans will know some don't even think of this as a real Bond film, I have a weakness for the unloved and orphaned.
I see from t'internet that the first Bond novel by Ian Fleming was published in 1953 - although push that back to the middle of the forties if you believe that Fleming plagiarised Bond from another writer. The first film was in 1962, although again there was a Bond episode broadcast in the 1950s US TV show Climax! I am not convinced that UK scriptwriters on The Avengers would have been that likely to have seen that show, but of course you never know. The first Avengers episode was broadcast in 1961. In novel terms Bond has the head start but The Avengers was broadcast in the UK before the first Bond film.
This  page has a list of real people who could possibly have contributed to Bond's personally - I had no idea there were so many! But one thing will strike The Avengers fan - they are all out of the same stable (ha) as John Steed, the upper-middle or upper-class spies of the middle of the twentieth century. I suspect that spies would have had to be able to be gentlemen, so this is not really surprising.
My own opinion is that Steed (particularly the more louche early Steed) bears striking similarities to Bond. So let's think of some  Steed is a thorn in his bosses' side - simply by being the best but being unmanageable at the same time. He drinks like a fish, and while it's champagne, he has the same luxury taste as Bond. He can come across as louche, and we will all remember periodic comments in the show to the effect that he's a layabout. Above all Steed is a ladies' man, and will flirt with virtually any woman. Both use humour in situations really not calling for it. Finally the main similarity is I think both men would not be kept on as spies, because their faces wouldn't fit.
And then of course we have the girls, where a difference must be acknowledged, because there is no doubt that Bond slept his way around the world: while Steed might have liked to, and his flirtatiousness and the outrageous sexiness of the show for the time is undeniable, much of the chemistry of Steed and the Avengers girls comes from the fact that nothing sexual ever really happens. Despite the many writers of slash fiction who wish it would. I feel that Steed's gentleman nature is subtly different from Bond's - you could think that Bond was a cad, but never Steed. Incidentally I have read that Fleming really wanted David Niven to play Bond, which would make Fleming's own picture of Bond far closer to the Steed character.
The character crossover is of course continued by the tendency of Avengers girls to go off and become Bond girls, a process which reached its apotheosis (obviously I like the film, you would probably call it the nadir if you don't) in the 1990s Avengers film, when Bond, sorry, Connery, played Sir August de Winter, to dramatic effect.
The other show which is always mentioned in the same breath as Bond when it comes to TV, is The Man from UNCLE. Personally I think this similarity works best with the gadgets, of which there is a striking lack in The Avengers  It doesn't work as well with the sexual side of Bond - while UNCLE is a mixed organisation the men who are our heroes don't really have sexual conquests as a motivation. Actually Napoleon Solo might have, but Kuryakin's staidness brings him back to earth.
The other show is Get Smart, and I find it difficult to see a similarity there, Get Smart being too much of a spoof of the craze for all things espionage at the time. Which brings me nicely round to a conclusion, because while I think there are striking similarities between Steed and Bond, it is difficult to detect a direct influence but it is true to say that there was a huge fad for anything to do with espionage at the time, and it is that fad being parodied in Get Smart, in The Man from UNCLE, and the parody takes more and more acid as the sixties wear on.
Anthony Clarke has already said what I want to say, helpfully illustrated with a picture of Steed and Mrs Peel on the BFI website:
The 1960s witnessed a number of events that helped change the face of the industrialised world. These included deepening East/West tensions, an explosion in international travel, the growth of military technology and the establishment of a global communications network. Combined, these helped create the conditions for a worldwide spy craze.
The modern popularity of the secret agent began with the first James Bond film, Dr No (1962), but growing Cold War tensions and the accompanying shadowy propaganda further fuelled the public's appetite for espionage. TV was quickly teeming with globe-trotting government spies and hard-bitten private eyes. The US contribution tended to focus on the former - The Man from UNCLEI Spy and the humourous Get Smart - while the UK concentrated on the latter category.
Most of the UK's undercover operatives were created by ITCLew Grade's independent production company. These included a disgraced CIA agent - Man in a Suitcase (ITV, 1967-68) - a private investigator and his ghostly partner - Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (ITV, 1969-70) - a crime writer who helped out Interpol - Department S (ITV, 1969-70) - and NATO agent John Drake - Danger Man (ITV, 1961-67).
The decade's top rank of British detective talent was represented by two series, The Avengers (ITV, 1960-69) and The Saint (ITV, 1962-69). The debonair John Steed and his fighting female sidekicks, and international playboy Simon Templar came to epitomise a peculiarly 1960s' vision of Britishness. But not every '60s British private eye enjoyed the high life.
The brutal government agent Callan (ITV, 1967-72) and the down-at-heel private detective Frank Marker in Public Eye (ITV, 1965-75) lived a more grubby existence at the fringes of society, where morality is flexible and right and wrong are commodities. Interestingly, both these shows survived into the 1970s, a decade that was anything but swinging.
In my tradition of including pictures of myself in the summer, here's another one today. I was going to say that in Never Say Never Again Connery is running to moobs a bit, and that he looks like me, but I think I look more like Busty O'Toole!

6 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Chicago Calling (featuring Time Travel!):

The first times I ever heard of James Bond would have been circa 1960-61.
Signet Books, an American paperback imprint (New American Library was the parent), had gotten word that John F. Kennedy, who was a just-announced candidate for President, was a fan of Ian Fleming's books.
Signet's response was to issue all the Bond titles (I think there were six books in the series at that point; correction welcomed, if needed) in an attractive uniform edition, which hit the paperback racks in drugstores and airports just in time for JFK's election.
The movie deal popped up at the exact right moment, and Sean Connery (whom I mainly remembered from Disney's Darby O'Gill And The Little People, a year or so before) was fast-tracked to stardom - but you knew that, I guess …
Hollywood Law #1: All Hits Are Flukes.
Nobody in The Business figured that James Bond would be the Next Big Thing (the property had been around for almost a decade by the time Dr.No was made); when Bond did in fact break through big time, everybody was playing catch-up like crazy.
Among other things, I never heard of 007 until the movie came out; suddenly Signet reissued all the uniform paperbacks with '007' stickers stuck to the front covers, soon followed by dump displays at book outlets and the like.
(I don't know how you do this sort of thing in the UK, but Stateside this is Standard Operating Procedure for The Latest Craze.)
Well, all this was nearly sixty years back; Bond took root, as few other characters have (or would), which I suppose proves something.
As it happens, I wasn't a Bond fan back then; I sometimes wonder if I had gotten those Signet paperbacks, with a cover price of fifty cents (50c US), when they were like-new (think about that - I could have gotten the whole extant series for under ten bucks!).
… but I was but a lad of 10 back then, and my Irish-Catholic mother would have looked askance at those covers (which were '60s-discreet, but for that time pretty frisky) …

Excuse the above; I'm closing in on sixty-nine these days, and it ain't as much fun as I thought it might be.
'Til next time?

John said...

Oh I think we do it similarly. Not with Bond though because obviously he went into paperback here in his own right. I didn't know that about Kennedy though. Did you know that Peter Wyngarde had one of his brushes with the law right here in Birmingham in a place called Kennedy Gardens? It no longer exists but the mosaic of JFK has been moved elsewhere in the city now.
I remember how sexy the Bond novels were, with some explicit details and they were passed around like contraband in my Catholic school 😇
Till next time definitely!

curlydog said...

I think the answer is essentially "No".

Although you have drawn a few similarities between Bond and Steed, in particular their disrespect for authority and their drinking habits, if you listen to Patrick talking about how he created the character of Steed, he gives examples of where he drew his inspiration, partly his father; partly a regency dandy; and partly an officer in the navy whom he admired for being very cool and suave.

Patrick also has said that he despised Bond for many reasons; partly his willingness to kill - Steed avoids killing as much as he can; Steed doesn't carry a gun, (although he occasionally is seen to use one)- for personal reasons, since he witnessed his chums being blown to pieces in the war; Bond's opinion of women is not very nice at all, he uses them openly for his own pleasure and is quite misogynistic; Steed is much more of a gentleman - yes he flirts outrageously, but he is not overt and disrespectful; Steed would rather disarm his enemies with a smile and humour rather than brutality and he is not a cruel man, although Mrs Gale in the early episodes often acts as a moral compass. Bond's humour does not even come close and I'm not sure he has morals at all. Bond is distinctly brutal and cold.
Steed is a very animated and playful character and often takes on silly disguises. Bond is much more two dimensional and serious. Part of this is that the world of the Avengers became a surreal world, and this gave more scope for crazy shit to happen.
So much of Patrick is in Steed - there were no books for him to refer to, so he made it up and worked it through with his partners. He respected his women partners and accepted their superior knowledge as women with serious qualifications. Bond's women were not at all like this and I don't ever remember Bond respecting women in this way.

Although the Bond books existed in the 50's, the films came later of course. So take Pat's word for it, The Avengers and Steed, were not influenced by Bond. Pat found the Bond character from the books distasteful. He built Steed from the things that he loved and added himself into that mix. He is almost an "Anti-Bond" in a way.
One similarity - is that they both dress well - although I personally think Steed wins on this one too. He is the most well-dressed gentleman ever.



John said...

Thank you for commenting, curly dog. Of course you are right that Patrick Macnee was not influenced by Bond, however reading your comment I am reminded that the Avengers was not the creation of Macnee alone, and I am finding myself wondering whether other people in the team had at least one eye on Bond?

Mike Doran said...

Chicago Calling:

About influence:
There's more than one kind, you know.
I've read up about this stuff over the many years - and the genre goes back even farther than Bond, Steed, Bulldog Drummond, and any number of other characters in all media.
If a writer gets into the adventurer field, everybody else who took a swat at it is there before him, with styles and mannerisms galore to choose from.
There's something around that I'd call negative influence:
Seeing something that you think has been overdone, or that you simply don't like.
So - you decide to do it differently.
If Bond is a roughneck, make Steed a gentleman.
If John Drake is taciturn, make Steed gregarious and humorous.
If the official agents are nondescript, have Steed be a touch flamboyant.
If the others use women, have Steed enjoy their company.
What the others do by rote, you go in a different direction.
Books, movies, TV - this has been going on for years, as far back as we want to go.
And as long as we're here to take it in, we will.
(And guys like you and me will be writing it all up on blogs like this one - and we wouldn't have it any other way.)

All the best - 'til later on …

John said...

Actually yes, perhaps that's the sort of influence I meant, rather than a direct inspiration. It also strikes me that all the people who could have been inspiration for Bond are out of a similar stable to the people who were inspiration for Steed...