Pa­trick Mac­nee RIP

A trib­ute to the unique tal­ent who played John Steed in The Avengers

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Red Alert -

The UK launched the screen ca­reers of two iconic superspies in the ’ 60s. One – James Bond – has been played by a con­veyor belt of ac­tors with wildly dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions. The other, John Steed, was, is and al­ways will be Pa­trick Mac­nee. Which, iron­i­cally, Ralph Fi­ennes proved – rather than dis­proved – in the 1998 The Avengers movie re­make.

The part of Steed fit­ted Mac­nee as per­fectly as one of the bowler- hat­ted spy’s im­mac­u­late three- piece Pierre Cardin suits. Both were mar­vel­lous anachro­nisms. In the ’ 60s, when his city gent at­ti­tude and at­tire should have been the height of un­cool for an in­creas­ingly groovy gen­er­a­tion, Steed was as ef­fort­lessly hip as Pais­ley pan­taloons.

Mac­nee, mean­while, was a cher­ish­able rar­ity – an ego- less lead ac­tor. Steed was not a char­ac­ter so much as a col­lec­tion of traits. We never learn much about his past or his pri­vate life. He seemed to pop into ex­is­tence each week purely for the pur­pose of solv­ing the crime. His emo­tional range was usu­ally lim­ited to mid- spec­trum – from mildly per­turbed to mildly amused. Yet over seven se­ries of the orig­i­nal show, then the New Avengers re­vival, Mac­nee made Steed warm, love­able and be­liev­able. Other ac­tors would have de­manded pro­gres­sion, mo­ti­va­tion, fric­tion. Mac­nee sim­ply read the lines and made them sing.

He was also the per­fect gen­tle­man, happy to let his co- stars shine. He was in­tro­duced in the first se­ries as a sup­port­ing char­ac­ter for Dr David Keel, but when ac­tor Ian Hendry left the show, Steed was pro­moted, nom­i­nally, at least. But Mac­nee never hogged the spotlight as he part­nered a re­volv­ing door of crime- fight­ing al­lies. In­stead he was happy to pro­vide a frame­work that let his fe­male co- stars – Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, Linda Thor­son as Tara King ( and oc­ca­sional oth­ers) – shine. “It made them de­light in the aware­ness that they could get out there and do it all, fight men, take on vil­lains…” he said in his fi­nal in­ter­view in 2014 for The Lady. “I’m very proud of what we achieved for women with The Avengers.”

Born in Lon­don, Mac­nee, the son of a race­horse owner, grew up in Berk­shire and was ed­u­cated at Sum­mer Fields Prepara­tory School – where he ap­peared along­side Christo­pher Lee in a pro­duc­tion of Henry V – and Eton. He served in the Royal Navy dur­ing World War Two, then played a num­ber of smaller roles – in­clud­ing one in Lau­rence Olivier’s 1948 film ver­sion of Ham­let – be­fore be­ing cast as Steed. His other films in­cluded This Is Spinal Tap, The Sea Wolves and Roger Moore’s fi­nal Bond, A View To A Kill.

Pa­trick Mac­nee be­came a United States citizen in 1959, and mar­ried three times. He had two chil­dren, a son and a daugh­ter, with his first wife Bar­bara Dou­glas, as well as one grand­son. He died peace­fully at his home in Cal­i­for­nia on 25 June 2015, aged 93.

He was the per­fect gen­tle­man, happy to let his co- stars shine

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