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Barbican Film: ‘The Avengers’ 50th Anniversary evening

During an evening of rose-tinted nostalgia, London’s Barbican last night celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of that most British of TV series, The Avengers. Whilst some will remember The New Avengers of the late 1970s, this special event was dedicated to the original episodes starring Honor Blackman (Catherine Gale), Diana Rigg (Emma Peel) and Linda Thorson (Tara King) alongside the king of 1960s cool, Patrick Macnee as John Steed.

Curated and hosted by The Avengers fan Jaz Wiseman, the evening centred around the screening of a live-to-videotape story from the Cathy Gale-era called Mandrake, and The Hour That Never Was, an early episode from the first Emma Peel season shot on 35mm monochrome film. Though familiar from television repeats and now DVD, it’s seldom – if ever – that you get the opportunity to see the show on the big screen, which only serves to magnify its magic one hundred fold.

Though not the episodes you’d necessarily choose if asked for your favourites, the two shown did – as Wiseman pointed out before the screening – best epitomise what the show was all about in its early heyday.

Mandrake‘s designer David Marshall and Gerry O’Hara – who directed The Hour That Never Was – emphasised this fact when they talked with Wiseman about their involvement on the show. Marshall’s description of designing sets for a programme which – to all intents – went out in the early 1960s as a piece of ‘live theatre’ – and the resulting restrictions this placed on crew and cast – gave a fascinating insight into a style of television production long since past.

O’Hara, on the other hand, had more freedom with the introduction of filming on location for the early Rigg episodes, and happily reminisced about the luxury of the 11-day shooting schedule for The Hour That Never Was. Altogether, this evening of informal repartee between old friends felt like something which Steed, Cathy and Emma would most certainly have approved of.

Cleaver Patterson