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Date: 25/06/15

A Class Act

Photo of Patrick Macnee as John Steed

Daniel Patrick Macnee
b. 6 February 1922, d. 25 June 2015

When I was a small boy, about five or six years old, my father worked shifts at the steelworks.

This meant that, quite often, my mother would be alone in the house late of an evening. Well, not entirely alone; I would have been there, but would have long since been packed off to bed.

However, being a whiny, insecure child with no better sleeping habits than I've had since, I would often creep downstairs sometime after ten. My mother, driven beyond stern-ness, would let me lie on the sofa while she watched television.

Late at night on ITV, that would often mean The Avengers, a series which had started out as a rather different type of drama than it later became after its original star, Ian Hendry, decamped after one series.

The show then turned its focus on to Hendry's assistant, one John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee. Assisted by a sequence of talented and beautiful actresses (Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and - less successfully at the end - Linda Thorson), Macnee's Steed - adopting the sartorial style of the City gent and adapting it to become a style all his own - was, in one sense, the embodiment of the English gentleman as fabled in song, story and calculated insult. And yet, this character was no cold, stand-offish old conservative; rather, he became an epitome of possibly the last time when le style Anglais was admired and imitated in the wider world. It combined a sartorial nod to tradition with the newer, freer and more adventurous world which was developing apace, and which Macnee/Steed embraced with only an occasional sardonically raised eyebrow. Tough when he needed to be, amiable and impish when not, even to the point of the slightly cheeky but nonetheless thoroughly chaste relationships he had with Cathy Gale, Emma Peel and Tara King, Steed was the embodiment of suaviter in modo, fortiter in re; he oozed (very decorously, of course) style, something which I - even at such a young age - could admire, even while not remotely understanding either the plot or much of the dialogue, even as advanced in vocabulary for my years as I was.

All you needed to see was those opening titles, and all you had to hear was that wonderful Laurie Johnson theme, to know that - for all the hokum in the story-lines - you were in the presence of something iconic:

YouTube logo

And so, indeed, it has proven to be. Even despite the somewhat mistaken attempt to re-make the magic in the 1970s, John Steed became - and remains - an icon of late 20th century popular culture; and although it may have galled Macnee slightly to be forever associated with one rôle, he was probably happy enough to have created one which spoke so much of its time and place.

I raise my glass to you, sir.