Mon 3 Aug 2015
PART TWO: MRS. CATHERINE GALE
by Michael Shonk.
THE AVENGERS, Seasons 2-3. ABC, (Associated British Corporation) Production for ITV, 1962-63. Cast: Patrick Macnee as John Steed and Honor Blackman as Mrs. Catherine Gale. Produced by Leonard White (Season 2), John Bryce (Seasons 2 and 3). Theme composed and performed by Johnny Dankworth.
PART ONE (THE BEGINNINGS) can be read here.
When we last left The Avengers we had looked at the first two seasons (or as the British say “series”) and all of John Steed’s closest partners except one, Mrs. Catherine Gale played by Honor Blackman.
Originally Steed’s next main partner after Ian Hendry (Dr. David Keel) left the series at the end of Season One was to be a man named Charlie Gale. Then ABC Production executive Sydney Newman decided to make him a woman: Mrs. Catherine Gale.
According to producer Leonard White, in his book Armchair Theatre – The Lost Years (Kelly Publications, 2003), writer Doreen Montgomery was brought in to help with developing White’s idea of a woman playing a male role. She did not last long writing for the series but helped establish the character Cathy Gale. Her only The Avengers script credit is for the episode “Warlock.” The episode was originally planned to introduce Cathy Gale to the audience but some scenes needed to be reshot and that pushed its air-date back.
Despite Season Two starting to air episodes in May 1962, Honor Blackman was not cast as Cathy Gale until June 1962. Sydney Newman did not believe Blackman could handle the role. After shooting with Blackman began, Newman called her into his office and ordered her to play the part with less smiling and more seriousness or she would be fired. Blackman usually followed that bad advice, but one wonders how more popular Gale and Blackman would have become if they had let the character lighten up a little.
Mrs. Catherine Gale was an intelligent widow, a scholar, and someone who had survived living in adventurous Africa. She would prove to be a type of female hero TV audiences had rarely seen before. Played by the sexy Honor Blackman, Gale feared no man including Steed, as we can see in the Season Two’s episode below:
First a note about the YouTube videos used here. Each is the best available at the moment, but the videos are marred by the presence of a iris-shaped light in the center of the picture that was added by whoever downloaded these episodes.
“Propellant 23.” Teleplay by Jon Manchip White. Directed by Jonathan Alwyn. Produced by Leonard White. Guest Cast: Justine Lord, Catherine Woodville, Geoffrey Palmer and Ralph Nossek. *** A courier is set to hand over a top-secret package to Steed but is killed before Steed gets the item. The problem is Steed does not know what the package is or what it looks like.
Baddies are everywhere in this above average Cold war thriller. Blackman and Macnee are fun to watch and while this was an episode before Blackman donned the black leather outfit it offers a nice scene where she uses the gun in her thigh holster. The episode’s greatest flaw was the low production values that was common for 1962.
By Season Three, The Avengers was a major hit in United Kingdom and getting attention beyond the British TV viewer but still had yet to reach America. The series was still limited by its low production values and being videotaped live in black and white. The tone of the series was still dark and hardboiled, but the characters started to get more offbeat and the series focused on the engaging chemistry between Macnee and Blackman.
It was the 60s London and the city was the center of a fashion revolution. The time was right for Cathy Gale and for her “Kinky Boots” …
… and fondness for black leather. Audiences loved Gale and Steed and especially what they were wearing as they beat up the bad guys.
But this attention to a TV series because of its fashion was not by design, just a lucky by-product from the decision to feature more hand-to-hand combat such as Judo. It was impractical for Gale to perform the martial arts while wearing a dress, and normal slacks could not withstand the stress (as learned during shooting), so much to the audience’s delight black leather outfits were adopted.
The third season continued to push the naughty boundaries of British TV in 1963. With original bosses network executive Sydney Newman and producer Leonard White gone, John Bryce would produce the third season.
John Bryce was one of the series’ original story editors and had been involved in the group that created the series. In the middle of the second season he became the series producer and stayed until the end of Season Three. He returned to the series when Clemens and Albert Fennell left at the end of season six. Unable to reproduce the magic Clemens had with The Avengers, Bryce was fired after three episodes and a reluctant Clemens and Fennell were begged back.
In the third season Gale became Steed’s only partner as she had earned the respect of Steed and his superiors (and approval of the viewers). Steed was becoming more appealing and stylish. Gone was the callous Steed who thought nothing about tossing an inexperienced Venus into situations she might not survive. Steed may have kept secrets from Cathy but he cared about her, and Cathy cared and trusted him.
“The Outside-In Man.” Written by Philip Chambers. Directed by Jonathan Alwyn. Produced by John Bryce. Guest Cast: Ronald Rudd, James Maxwell, and Beryl Baxter. *** A leader of a developing country is visiting England to sign an arms deal. Five years earlier the British government had tried to kill him and thought both of its agents had been killed in the attempt. Now one of the agents turns up alive and wants to finish his assignment.
A good hardboiled spy thriller with a dark and true view of politics in the Cold War that takes for granted that the British government assassinated political opponents in foreign countries.
The series popularity was growing and was attracting attention worldwide including America. Then Honor Blackman quit the series, getting the role of Pussy Galore for the James Bond film Goldfinger. Without a female star ABC shut down production while considering what to do next.
Six months later ABC turned over The Avengers to Telemen Limited, headed by Julian Wintle. Wintle would hire Albert Fennell and Brian Clemens to produce Season Four. This would not be Brian Clemens first involvement with the series. Not only did he write five episodes in the third season, he wrote two episodes for Season One. He was among the group lead by network executive Sydney Newman and producer Leonard White who were involved in the creation of the series. Clemens made not have created The Avengers, but he made so many important changes in Season Four that perhaps we should give him a “developed by” credit.
Beyond a new partner for Steed, other changes were made that would improve the series in Season Four such as replacing live on videotape with film and eventually black and white with color. The creative staff lead by Clemens would replace the serious hardboiled tone for a wacky playfulness. The character Steed would turn into a delightful wink at the American’s British male stereotype. Steed’s new partner was Mrs. Emma Peel played by Elizabeth Shepherd. But before Season Four would air, one more change would be made, a casting change that took a hit British TV series and made it a television icon that is still remembered today.
The Avengers Forever: http://theavengers.tv/forever
Avengers Declassified: http://declassified.theavengers.tv/introduction.htm
The Strange Case of the Missing Episodes – The Lost Stories of THE AVENGERS Series 1 by Richard McGinlay, Alan Hayes and Alys Hayes (Hidden Tiger, 2013).
With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes – An Unauthorized Guide to The Avengers Series 1 by Richard McGinlay and Alan Hayes (Hidden Tiger, 2014).