Behind the Scenes: The New
The French Connection
The story goes that when Rudolph Roffi, a French TV and film executive, asked Brian Clemens if Linda Thorson could make an appearance in a Laurent-Perrier champagne commercial playing Tara King, Clemens agreed, and contacted Patrick Macnee as well to reprise John Steed. Thus The Avengers was reborn in 1975—if only for a precious sixty seconds—to share a glass of champers after a classic fight scene.
Having learned that The Avengers was no longer in production (it took him six years to realize this?), Roffi contacted Clemens to find out why. Clemens explained that he was unable to get any British backers for the project. A few weeks later, Clemens received another call from Roffi: "I have the money. When can we start?"
Within three months Clemens, Albert Fennell and Avengers music composer Laurie Johnson formed The Avengers (Film & TV) Enterprises Ltd. But what would anything to do with The Avengers be without Patrick Macnee—or, more to the point, John Steed? Thinking at first it was a joke, Macnee almost didn't bite. But curiosity got the better of him, especially since Clemens and Fennell were involved, people he respected.
Of course, they needed an "Avengers girl," and Joanna Lumley was chosen out of 300 auditioners to play Purdey (originally Charley)—a role she almost literally fought to win. (Joanna, for all of you trivia freaks, has the distinction of having been in a Bond movie before appearing on The Avengers. She was the "English Girl" in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, in which, of course, Diana Rigg starred.) It was also decided that another male character should be added to the team to handle the harder action sequences, and Gareth Hunt landed the role of Mike Gambit, something of a think-with-your-fists block of wood.
Production began in Britain on April 1976, yet the show did not appear in the US until two years later. There were also two very different title sequences; Cornell, Day and Topping claim the live action version was created for the American market as a substitute for the original computer animation, although this does not explain why both versions appear on both US and overseas prints, with a chronological dividing point.
A much more plausible explanation has emerged during some recent online forum discussions: The animated version was not yet completed when the first episodes were scheduled to air, and so a live action montage (which apparently includes a couple brief clips of Joanna Lumley's screen tests!) was hastily assembled so the episodes could ship on time. Once the animated version was complete, they were used for the balance of the series. In some markets, the earlier episodes were retrofitted with the animated titles for re-runs. (All of this bears a spooky similarity to the sequence of events during the Tara King era.)
Macnee in particular was not very happy with things. "I felt... I was being badly used. I wish I hadn't done it now. I don't like The New Avengers. I think it was bad and ordinary and unimaginative and not interesting." (Patrick Macnee speaking to Starlog Magazine.) Not surprisingly, Macnee subsequently softened his remarks on TNA.
For all of its faults, the show is not without its merits, at least when regarded more as a creature unto itself and less as an extension of The Avengers legacy. It is competently produced and occasionally clever. In particular, Purdey and Gambit are enjoyable characters who play off of each other quite well—something that could have been exploited much more to "lighten" a show that usually took itself far too seriously. Sadly, Steed seems out of place; although Macnee would have no doubt refused the role, he might have fared better as a new Mother, which would have saved him from the awkward challenge of trying to keep up with his youthful colleagues.
After filming just 13 episodes—which would ordinarily be considered half of a normal season—the producers took a break to re-group.
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