Behind the Scenes: Cathy Gale Era
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After a successful first season of The Avengers, an Equity strike in 1961 shut down production at episode 26 out of a planned 39, and did not resume for nearly a year. By the time the dust had settled, Ian Hendry (who played Dr. David Keel, original partner for John Steed) left the show to pursue a film career—which would become a recurring theme for Avengers costars. The producers asked Patrick Macnee to stay on, and he agreed.

What audiences didn't know was that episode 27 of the first season was set to introduce a new partner for Steed: a jazz singer named Venus Smith, a total innocent used by Steed to assist with some aspects of his investigations. She was to alternate with Keel, which would have made Steed the main character by default, despite his having originally been second fiddle to the doctor. Angela Douglas was to have played Venus but was unavailable, so out of 51 applicants, second-pick Julie Stevens got the part. However, her debut would have to wait until an entirely different female partner made the scene...

With Hendry gone, Jon Rollason was called in as his replacement, Dr. Martin King, but he lasted for only three episodes, which were leftover first season Dr. Keel scripts. Meanwhile, Sydney Newman, the show's creator, decided to cast a woman as Steed's new primary partner. His inspiration was drawn from a news report from Kenya featuring a woman whose family was being ravaged by terrorists. Cathy Gale was to become the first truly liberated, self-sufficient, fighting female character ever created for television, and way, way ahead of her time. Nyree Dawn Porter (who appeared in the first season episode, "Death on the Slipway") would have been signed for the part of Cathy Gale had she been available at the time, so Honor Blackman was hired.

Newman was not especially keen on the choice of Honor Blackman, as he was familiar with her film career playing "English rose" types and was convinced she could not play the role as he'd envisioned it. This explains the marked shift in Cathy's character between her first episode, "Death Dispatch," and her second, "Warlock." In the former she was generally pleasant and smiled frequently. Newman warned that her tenure would be short-lived if she ever smiled like that again, thus she became noticeably "harder."

The black leather craze that Honor is credited for starting came about as a matter of practicality, not fashion sense. Tired of Cathy producing a gun from her purse week after week, the producers began a shift away from firearms and, after a brief attempt at hiding knives and the like on her person, settled on hand-to-hand combat. Honor was enrolled in a crash-course in Judo, and within weeks became adept at throwing extras across the studio—for real. Dresses, however, proved quite impractical when being flung about in a fight, and after she split the seam of a pair of slacks on camera, Patrick Macnee suggested suede, but because of lighting problems, leather became the choice. Fashion designer Michael Whittaker was called in to create a wardrobe of snug-fitting leather fighting gear for Honor, and a new fashion trend was born. Any hints at "kinkiness," according to Macnee, were deliberate.

For help in understanding the progression of the show's history, the Avengers Timeline puts it in graphic perspective.


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This website Copyright 1996-2017 David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved.
Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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