Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Nude Avengers?

As I was attempting to lay some laminate flooring in my hallway today (a tricky job still unfinished due to the necessity of cutting several of the flooring planks lengthwise to fit the narrow room), my thoughts wandered, as they do, to television programmes again. This time I found myself contemplating the updating of 'classic' TV series which is so popular now, most notably Dr Who. Now, the revived Dr Who has been something of a triumph for the BBC, retaining all the essential features of the original, whilst successfully relocating it in a contemporary television format. The question is - could lightning strike twice? Could current Dr Who mastermind Russell T Davies similarly revive another classic TV show with the same success? If so, which show would most benefit from such a treatment? Now, for me, there's only one choice: that great 1960s icon The Avengers. The previous attempt to revive it, The New Avengers, was, in my opinion, something of a misfire, failing to recreate the essence of the series in the very different 1970s. It failed to relocate the essentials of the series in the then modern world. Likewise the more recent film version.

Clearly, any successful revival would have to translate the central conceits of the series - sophisticated, but strange, secret agents battle ever more surreal enemies of the crown - into the present day. The key to this, of course, is the character of John Steed. Now, on the surface Steed is your typical toff British agent - he wears three piece Saville Row suits, sports a bowler hat and an umbrella, drives a vintage Bentley and knows his champagne - an epitome of the establishment. However, all isn't as it seems, scratch the surface and you quickly find that Steed is also a man who seems to like dominant women in black leather and kinky boots - mind you, that sort of thing goes with public schools, doesn't it? The series cleverly deposited this outwardly establishment figure right in the middle of the singing sixties. However, far from being a fish out of water, he seemed quite at home. Indeed, that's what the sixties was really like - a violent collision of tradition and modernity. The future seemed finally to have arrived, and found itself in a pile up with the past. A lot of the people indulging in the 'swinging' aspects were actually well off toff-types, (as my late father once observed, there may well have been a permissive society in Ladbroke Grove, but down on the provincial council estates, we couldn't afford it). To cap it all off, Steed was teamed up with a succession of liberated young women who drove fast cars, were well-versed in the martial arts and wore black leather and kinky boots. Interestingly, they were all posh birds...

Getting back to the point, the key to any revival of The Avengers lies in the casting of John Steed. It needs to capture that sense of kinkiness lying just under the surface of coventionality, the collision of tradition and modernity. How about John Barrowman of Torchwood and Dr Who infamy as a mid-Atlantic bisexual Steed? He's still got the bowler, the brolly and the Bentley, and still likes the dominant ladies - but he's not averse to a bit of the other as well. Trust me, it could work. I can see the title sequence now: Barrowman stark naked apart from his bowler and umbrella - which pops open to hide his nads as he turns to face the camera. He could go through all the poses Patrick MacNee used to go through in the old titles, but with his bowler or brolly strategically placed to hide the naughty bits each time. In the silhouetted bits he could do some really interesting things with that umbrella. Let's face it, it wouldn't be so very different from the original colour title sequence used on the old show. You know, the one which opens with Steed opening a bottle of champagne, only to have its cork shot off by Mrs Peel - cue lots of foam spewing out of the neck and all over his hands as he firmly grasps the bottle's neck...

But what of Mrs Peel? Who could ever fill the shoes of the wondrous Diana Rigg? Not Uma Thurman, that's for sure. Why not ring the changes again - instead of a high kicking posh bird, why not counter soberly dressed, but sexually flamboyant, Steed with someone working class this time? What about Billie Piper? What better way to capitalise on her Dr Who success? She could be the perfect down to Earth counterpoint to Steed and his Bentley. Indeed, instead of the 1960s sports car, she could drive a Skoda, or one of those hybrid cars. Of course, there are other radical approaches. How about Colin Salmon as Steed? He's posh and establishment, has the bowler, etc., but he's black. If that doesn't encapsulate the the juxtaposition of contradictory elements which lies at the heart of Steed and, by extension, The Avengers, I don't know what does. Once you've got the two lead characters and their relationship sorted (they're clearly attracted to each other, but never actually do anything beyond innuendo), everything else falls into place. That was the problem with The New Avengers - no close relationship between Steed and the leading lady. The audience were instead expected to focus on the relationship of Steed's sidekicks, Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt. Sadly, there was just no chemistry, and thus no interest, there. It was the same with the film version - Ralph Fiennes (who I apparently went to school with, but that's another story), was just too wet for us to suspect that he was sexually adventurous underneath the bowler (perhaps if he'd had sex in the toilet of an airliner, before making the film, it might have helped), and Uma Thurman just missed the point as Mrs Peel.

So there you go - another TV show they should make. Russell T Davies, if you are reading this, take heed - a bisexual John Steed, that's what the Twenty First Century needs! And don't forget to bung me a few quid if you ever make it!

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