Avengers star Patrick Macnee dies, aged 93

Patrick Macnee as agent John Steed with Diana Rigg as his sidekick in The Avengers. Picture: PA
Patrick Macnee as agent John Steed with Diana Rigg as his sidekick in The Avengers. Picture: PA
Share this article
Have your say

Patrick Macnee, the British-born actor who played a dapper secret agent in the long-running 1960s television series The Avengers, has died aged 93.

Macnee died of natural causes with his family at his bedside in Rancho Mirage, California, his son Rupert said in a statement.

We were in our own crazy world. We were the TV Beatles

Patrick Macnee

The cult spy drama, which began in 1961 in Britain, made its debut in the United States in 1966. It ran for eight seasons and continued in syndication for decades afterwards.

Macnee’s character John Steed appeared in all but two episodes, accompanied by a string of beautiful women as sidekicks. One of the most popular was Diana Rigg, who played sexy junior agent Emma Peel from 1965 to 1968. Honor Blackman played Catherine Gale from 1962 to 1964 and Linda Thorson was Tara King from 1968 to 1969.

“We were in our own mad, crazy world,” Macnee said in 2003, when The New Avengers was being issued on DVD.

“We were the TV Beatles. We even filmed in the same studio.”

Joanna Lumley co-starred as Purdey in The New Avengers from 1976 to 1977.

But while Macnee made his name internationally playing a smart, debonair British secret agent, he was never a fan of the James Bond movies.

“I think their stories aren’t that realistic,” he said in 1999. “I think the sadism in them is horrifying ... On the other hand, the books – the James Bond books – were fascinating.”

As he noted in his 1992 autobiography Blind in One Ear, his early life matched that of his character John Steed in many ways.

The fictional John Wickham Gascoyne Berresford Steed was born in the mid-1920s to a noble British family, educated at Eton and served in the military during the Second World War.

Daniel Patrick Macnee was born on 6 February 1922, in London to a pair of eccentrics and he also attended Eton, although he claimed to have been thrown out for dealing in horse-race bets and pornography.

He also served in the military during the Second World War, captaining torpedo boats that sought to destroy German submarines in French waters.

Before leaving Eton, Macnee had discovered acting. He did his apprenticeship in the British theatre, toured provincial venues and made his movie debut in the 1938 film Pygmalion.

At 19 he married first wife Barbara Douglas and had two children – Rupert and Jenny.

After the war, Macnee graduated from drama school but he had trouble finding work, moving to Canada at one point to hunt for acting jobs.

“I did desert my family,” he admitted in a later interview.

“I left when my son Rupert was five and my daughter Jenny was three and I will always feel bad about that.”

He married actress Kate Woodville in 1965 but they divorced four years later. His final marriage was to Baba Majos de Nagyzsenye in 1988.

Macnee became an American citizen in 1959 and moved to Palm Springs in 1967, saying the dry desert air benefited his asthmatic daughter.

Before The Avengers, he had appeared in TV shows such as The Twilight Zone, Rawhide and Playhouse 90, among others.

But it was The Avengers that provided a living for Macnee. He owned a share of the profits and the series continued to show worldwide into the 21st century.

The reason was simple, he once said. “It’s extremely good.”