Themed Blog Series


Cunning Old Foxes IV: Hiding in Plain Sight

But famed Odysseus’ men already crouched in hiding —
in the heart of Troy’s assembly — dark in that horse
the Trojans dragged themselves to the city heights.
Now it stood there, looming …
— Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles

Another in an occasional series about Steed as trickster.

Going under cover is one of the most important things that Steed does in his quest to capture the bad guys. Sometimes he goes under relatively deep cover, assuming an entire identity complete with back story and profession, sometimes even with an assumed name. He does this kind of cover most frequently during the Cathy Gale era, for example in “Death a la Carte,” where he poses as chef Sebastian Stonemarten in order to prevent the assassination of a Middle Eastern Emir, or in “Mission to Montreal,” where he pretends to be a steward called “Jim” on a cruise line while trying to stop the transfer of top secret material to the opposition. Most of the time, however, he goes under his own name, even if he is pretending to be something other than an agent of the Ministry, as he does in “Surfeit of H2O,” where he assumes the persona of a loopy, extravagantly gallant wine merchant in order to gain access to the baddies’ lair.

In cases like “Death a la Carte,” Steed doesn’t want to give away anything about his own true identity. Protecting the Emir depends on Steed staying well under cover, so he uses an assumed name and behaves entirely as though he were a normal chef. In other instances, as in “Surfeit of H2O,” it’s unclear the degree to which he wants to misdirect the baddies: his behavior in that particular instance is odd enough to make the secretary a bit suspicious, but it’s hard to tell whether or not Steed wants her to wonder what he’s really up to.

And then there are the episodes where he is working in a grey area between being under cover and tipping off the bad guys that he’s on to them, places where he hides in plain sight. Steed seems to have more than one reason for doing this: partly it’s just fun to tweak the villains’ noses and watch them flail as they try to figure out what he’s really after; but also he’s dropping hints along the way that he’s on to them, that their schemes are about to be exposed, thus giving them an opportunity to stop their bad activities and turn themselves in before he has to actively fight with them. Of course they never do stop, they never do turn themselves in, and I doubt very much that Steed expects them to even if on some level he hopes that they will.



The Westminster Mews Irregulars

One of the cool things about the Season 3 episode “November Five” is Steed’s little pair of Irregulars. Evidently he has recruited these two old ladies to shuffle around the Houses of Parliament and scoop up information for him. They make perfect spies: nobody will ever suspect a pair of sweet old ladies of being up to something.

When we first see Steed, he is hanging out in the Houses of Parliament, waiting to talk to an MP, Major Swinburne, who is a suspect in the case he’s working. The two little old ladies walk up to him and start a cheerful conversation, asking Steed if he is an MP himself. They exchange some banter about this. Then the man Steed has been waiting for shows up, and the women make themselves scarce.

Once the MP is gone, the ladies come back for further instructions, the whole time gushing about how cool it is to be visiting Parliament. Then Steed goes all serious. “Follow the Major,” he tells them, and off they go to tail the guy Steed talked to earlier. So now we know that they’re more than just two voluble old women: they’re working for Steed.

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L: The little old ladies mistake Steed for an MP. They have a nice chat.
R: After Steed talks to the Major, he tells his Irregulars, “Follow him.”

Later, the women find Steed again, this time on the terrace. They have more conversation about how wonderful Parliament is. And the taller woman shakes hands with Steed before she and her friend leave. This wasn’t a benign little handshake as among friends, though. The woman has passed Steed a note with important information on it.

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L: One of the women shakes hands with Steed as she and her friend are leaving.
R: Once they’re gone, Steed reads the note the woman passed him.

This is the only episode that I can recall where Steed actively employs Irregulars a la Sherlock Holmes. It’s rather sweet how he plays spymaster to these women, and how well and enthusiastically they play their role in the case.

Originally published at

Lady Secret Agent Badassery

As I have noted elsewhere, there are many points of contact between The Avengers and The Champions, two British television series from the 1960s, and between The Champions and The New Avengers, which aired in the mid 1970s. In those previous blogs, I wrote about how elements of Avengers episodes are echoed in some of those from Champions, and then later how a New Avengers story echoed a Champions one.

Plots and villains and action aren’t the only places where these three series intersect, however. One important point of contact is in the character of the female secret agent. In Champions, this is Sharron Macready (Alexandra Bastedo), a medical doctor, biochemist, and agent of a private security service called Nemesis. Across the entirety of Avengers (including TNA), there were five female partners who worked with John Steed, but the one I’d like to concentrate on here is Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), since in many ways she has the most in common with Sharron.


Great Detectives Think Alike: II

In an earlier post, I discussed the apparent confluences between the The Avengers Season 2 episode “Mr Teddy Bear” and a handful of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Well, it turns out that “Teddy Bear” isn’t the only episode that does that, and it turns out that The New Avengers also has a few of these. So for your delectation, below are some more additions to that collection. As with the previous post, the Holmes images are from the Granada television series starring Jeremy Brett.


Medieval Maunderings

Today is International Hug a Medievalist Day, so since I am a medievalist by training and inclination in my other incarnation, I’m republishing here some of the stuff I did on my tumblr about confluences between medieval things and the Avengers (yes, there are some of these), some with occasional unacknowledged edits because my views have changed a bit since I wrote these almost a year ago.

Links to the posts in this series:

Disclaimer: For the sake of y’all who might also be professional medievalists/scholars/historians/whatnot: yes, these are kind of facile, but I’m not doing them to make some kind of deep historical, literary, or analytical point. I’m just pointing out some fun parallelisms that I happen to enjoy. So please read these in that spirit, k?

The New Avengers Meet the Champions


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The Champions: Richard Barrett, Craig Sterling, and Sharron Macready (L)

The New Avengers: Purdey, Mike Gambit, and John Steed (R)

A while back I started a new blog series about confluences between the 1968 British television series The Champions and the original Avengers series. (You can find the others by scrolling to the bottom of this post or by going to the category menu and selecting Themed Blog Series: The Champions Meet the Avengers.) Soon after I started that set of blogs, I got my copy of the complete New Avengers disks (SQUEE!!!) and started watching those episodes. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a TNA ep that had many points of confluence with a Champions story. On reflection this is unsurprising, partly because of the precedent already set by Champions in reflecting earlier Avengers stories, and partly because Dennis Spooner, one of the co-writers of the TNA episode, happens to have been one of the creators of Champions. (And now I also have the complete Champions DVDs—also SQUEE!!!—so I can make stills and gifs that actually have decent quality!)


What I Learned from Catherine Gale

So I finally buckled down and got one of these lists together for Cathy Gale.
  • Have your own unique sense of style. Wear what works for you.

  • Have strong boundaries and enforce them.

  • If your best friend does something that hurts you, forgive them, but don’t be afraid to tell them how you feel about what they did.

  • Don’t be afraid to say no, and mean it.

  • Have a clear sense of your own values and be willing to fight for them.

  • Know that your feelings are valid, even the unpleasant ones, and allow yourself to experience them.

  • Have at least one intelligent and very good friend who always has your back, whose talents and skills complement your own, and who always treats you as an equal.

  • Never, ever sell yourself short or pretend to be anything less than you are in order to make others feel comfortable with you.

  • When someone disrespects or attacks you, deal with them. Judo works nicely, but always adapt your approach to fit the situation.

  • Find a way to make a living that lets you draw on your interests, passions, and education. Be flexible and willing to try new things.

  • If a friend asks for help, do your best to accommodate them.

  • Never apologize for being skilled, intelligent, and strong.

  • Drink some champagne with a friend every day.

  • Live each day as though it could be your last. Because it very well might be.


blogs in this series:
what i learned from john steed
what i learned from emma peel
what i learned from catherine gale