A huge amount has been written about The Avengers TV series in the fifty-plus years since it debuted, though as it’s not been in production for decades there are many people to whom it’s an unknown quantity. Which is to say that in terms of historical facts, if you know your Avengers, those I’m about to include will not come as a surprise. But I feel it’s worth restating where the series came from and how it was made to give context to an analysis and background for the unaware.
In simple terms, The Avengers was a British drama series broadly in the thriller/espionage school. “Broadly”, because where it started and where it went are by no means the same thing.
The history: First broadcast in January 1961, The Avengers initially starred Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel, and Patrick Macnee as John Steed in the roles of ‘civilian suddenly entangled in stuff he shouldn’t be’ and ‘shady security service operative who uses him to defeat the bad guys’. Hendry, fresh from starring in Police Surgeon, was initially the series’ focal point - it was he who had something to avenge in the murder of his fiancée, though as he did that in the second episode it’s frequently been noted that the rest of the series was really pretty seriously misnamed.
Through season one, the situations in which they found themselves involved ranged from the relatively mundane (theft and murder) to those playing off concerns of the time - the theft of radioactive material for example - and some that hinged on conspiracies and plots. Most of the first season’s episodes are now lost from the archives, meaning it’s hard to gauge to what extent these early outings feel like the series as it developed, (though audio drama company Big Finish are in the process of releasing new audio versions which do a great job of conveying the atmosphere and ‘feel’ of the episodes). The development of Keel from incidental player to active protagonist is essentially a given; he is as likely to bring a situation to Steed as vice versa from very early on.