Theme from “The Avengers,” 1965

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It’s hard to overstate the impact that the James Bond movies had in the mid-’60s, especially for a kid like me. My dad took me to opening day for Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice at the Seavue Theater in Pacifica, California, and I loved all that secret agent/spy/save the world from evil madmen stuff. {Although seeing that poor girl die from being painted gold gave me nightmares for a while.) I didn’t get all the sex stuff, but I loved the gadgets and the plot twists and how the good guys always won in the end.

And the public had a real desire for this stuff. Soon you had the Matt Helm movies (good God, what dreck), the Flynn movies, and all the LeCarre stories. And on the small screen, you had “The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” “Mission: Impossible, “Get Smart” and tangentially shows like “Mr. Terrific” and “Captain Nice.” I owned a James Bond squirt gun, and Sixfinger, which was a toy spy gun made to look like a finger so you could surprise the bad guys.

I especially loved “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” It was cool the way the two agents, one CIA and the other KGB, put aside their animosities to pursue evil. I have a tape somewhere of me humming the most completely unhummable theme song Jerry Goldsmith ever wrote, and I had the TMFU toy gun with the removable stock and the cool U.N.C.L.E logo on it. And I was such a huge fan that, at the age of 9, I wrote a script for it. A friend of mine named Steve Kirby had an 8mm film camera, and we were going to make a fan film, with me as Napoleon Solo and Steve as Illya Kuryakin. Unfortunately, we never got to it, and the script has long ago disappeared. But I went around for a year pretending I was Napoleon Solo, walking with an extra-long stride that I thought made me look grown-up, but actually just made me look kinda awkward and geeky.

But that all paled next to “The Avengers.” It was a British show, a rarity since we didn’t get many shows from the UK in the ’60s. It had been on for a few years, a serious spy show, until Season 4 in 1965. That’s when the show went color, and added the inestimable Emma Peel to the show.

Ah, Mrs. Peel. She was gorgeous and brainy and dressed in catsuits and slacks, unlike any other woman on TV back then. She was witty and hip and dry and just about the sexiest package in the world. OK, I was 9, but Mrs. Peel was my first crush, the first time I realized that girls could actually be a lot of fun. She has stood as the signpost for all the woman I’ve met since, the standard against which I compare the fair sex.

Her teaming with John Steed, the proper English gentleman who could kill you with his Homburg or his bumbershoot, was brilliant. Along with Mrs. Peel joining the show, the show got kinda weird. It had an odd sense of humor, always with a proper quip over a dead body, and the plots started involving aliens and paranormal crap and general oddities. But to a 9 year old, it was brilliant.

Alas, the dream team of Steed and Peel only lasted two seasons. Diana Rigg left the show in 1967, and was replaced by a dippy blonde played by Linda Thorson. The show never recovered and died soon afterwards. But definitely check out some of the Season 4 and 5 episodes. They are cool beyond belief.

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