Over its eight years and six seasons, The Avengers acted like a repertory company for British character actors. Many faces that would become more famous got early exposure in the series, while multiple jobbing actors put in multiple jobbing performances over the years. It’s almost impossible to narrow to only five truly noteworthy appearances, but to refine the search, here are five that stand out for sheer “WTF?” impact.
Wyngarde put in two memorable appearances in The Avengers, one in each of Diana Rigg’s seasons, but glossing over the pretty horrible Epic leaves us his turn as The Honourable John Cleverley Cartney, grand master of The Hellfire Club. Notorious as the episode the US banned, Brimstone is full of memorable visuals and clever dialogue, and a great deal of its charm and sinister conviction comes from Wyngarde’s performance as the bored nobleman out to spice things up a bit.
Why he’s on the list: Peter Wyngarde went on to star in two different series as the novelist Jason King, all flamboyance, frilly shirts and flared nostrils. So let’s put it all together: he’s part of an underground S&M club for society’s elite called The Hellfire Club. He’s called Wyngarde, and his best-known role was as a heavily moustachioed velvet smoking jacket-wearing bloke called Jason who dressed a much-loved heroine in black leather fetish gear…
National Treasure(™) Barker is well known for his starring turns in sitcoms like Porridge, Going Straight and Open All Hours, and probably best known as one of The Two Ronnies. His role in The Hidden Tiger is as classic Avengers obsessive Cheshire, head of the Philanthropic Union for the Rescue, Relief and Recuperation of Cats (yes - P.U.R.R.R). The episode is ostensibly about a possible big cat on the loose, but in typical style that’s all secondary to the goings-on at P.U.R.R.R.
Why he’s on the list: Though ultimately far better known as a comic actor, Barker’s fifty year career encompassed more dramatic roles than most people would realise. Here he does a great job of playing basically straight in a role that’s really little more than a series of strung-together innuendoes (so essentially an extended audition piece for The Two Ronnies). He steals the show when, talking about Steed’s cat ‘Emma’, he notes "And what a joy for you it must be when she's curled up in your lap."
Another National Treasure-in-the-making, Keith actually turned in three Avengers performances of varying weight. This one makes the cut even though it’s not her most prominent appearance. The plot of this lightweight but fun episode involves the pursuit of a briefcase which is passed from courier to courier under directions issuing from the case itself. Keith’s character Audrey Long is one of a number of incidental figures encountered on the chase.
Why she’s on the list: For one key moment. Having dismissed her dance class of little girls “back to their cages”, teacher Audrey opens her mouth wide and screams. And screams. Margot would never approve.
This episode is Diana Rigg’s black and white year at its best. Witty, clever, and with an actual (if farfetched) plot, it’s the kind of episode that can tie Mrs Peel to a miniature railway track as Steed fights the bad guys on the miniature train to save her, while playing a silent movie soundtrack over the whole thing. Bliss.
What do you mean, I haven’t even mentioned acclaimed actor, author, playwright and director Berkoff’s pivotal role in the proceedings?
Why he’s on the list: Because he doesn’t have one; he’s just a random heavy. His character is named in the credits, but might as well not have been. Watched today, aware of the almost fifty years of his illustrious career between then and now, seeing him tussle with Steed on a miniature railway goes beyond “WTF?” and into the downright surreal.
This pretty strong Cathy Gale episode features some memorable characters, including the gun-toting Bishop of Winnipeg. Lois Maxwell’s role as the nurse Sister Johnson is a key position in the international crime syndicate Bibliotek, where she serves as enforcer/persuader as the organisation looks to appoint a new leader.
Why she’s on the list: It’s Miss Moneypenny. Dressed as a nurse. With a machine gun. Which she uses to kill a bunch of people. In what world does she not make this list?