Emma Peel was John Steed's third partner in the classic British comedic-espionage series The Avengers. But for most people, Mrs Peel was the only partner who mattered.
Yes, Steed's second partner, Honor Blackman's character Cathy Gale, had her leather-clad moments. But for suave style and wit, the 1965-67 years saw The Avengers reach its absolute zenith, thanks to the magic chemistry between its two principal players.
John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) made 51 episodes together, with the first 26 in black and white. This set from Universal brings us the final 25 episodes from that partnership; this is the complete set of colour episodes from the Steed/Peel cycle.
After Emma Peel left the series, a fourth partner, Tara King (Linda Thorson) joined Steed, but the old magic evaporated. The zing had clean zanged away. There was a pretty lame attempt to revive the show with the series entitled The New Avengers, but nothing could recapture the careless grace and insouciant charm of the classic days.
These mock-dramatic espionage stories, which occupy a fringe area just a few inches shy of fantasy and science-fiction, have lost none of their fabulous edge. They still seem to represent a wondrously silly side of the fabulous Britain of the 1960s, complete with the requisite Carnaby Street fashions - sexy Mrs Peel in the clinging lycra cat-suits, Steed in his so-super-smart, tight and vulgar Pierre Cardin suits.
The stories seemed way-out in the 1960s, and are just as deliciously dizzy today. Laser guns mounted on motor cars, memory-loss inducing spray-pistols, pseudo-time trip machines, and enough crazy scientists to stock an American CIA arsenal - the plots and special effects are pretty slim; the dialogue and acting is to die for.
The show only had two permanent stars, Macnee and Rigg, but a whole galaxy of great British supporting actors would come in to enliven single episodes.
You should know each and every one of these actors. All of them crop up at some stage in the 25 episodes in this set: Peter Bowles, Geoffrey Bayldon, Ron Moody, Anthony Valentine, Jon Pertwee, Warren Mitchell, Roy Kinnear, Ronnie Barker, Christopher Lee, Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, John Laurie, Freddie Jones, Peter Cushing, our own Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, Arthur Lowe and Cecil Parker.
They're just some of the actors I immediately recognised. And in an absolute surfeit of skill, one episode alone, Something Nasty in the Nursery, boasts appearances from Yootha Joyce, Paul Eddington, Clive Dunn and Penelope Keith.
The original The Avengers from this period is a total rhapsodical delight. Accept no substitutes. Just settle back for one of the ecstatically escapist highpoints of British television, right up there with The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Young Ones. No home should be without The Avengers. I'd even go so far as to say no home should be without a Mrs Peel...
Some of the plot-lines are absurd beyond redemption. Beyond redemption for plot, that is. Even the most absurd episode can still cram in such wonderful period-detail that it is redeemed totally, even way beyond redemption. Take for instance the episode The Winged Avenger, in which a costumed Big-Bird with heavy-duty talons takes revenge upon an unjust world at large.
The story is stupid. But give me any other series which can whip into a single episode wonderful allusions to both Fred Astaire's Royal Wedding and Burt Ward's Batman, and I'll give you television genius.
Universal should not rest on these laurels. To gain a new crown, it should also issue the initial 26 monochrome episodes of the Steed/Peel years - some of those episodes were never bettered. And to keep the Honor Blackman fans happy, it should go back even further in the archives to bring us those as well.