Series Guides, Biographies and Spin-off Books

The Avengers by Toby Miller
(Published 1997 by the British Film Institute, 192 pages, no price indicated on cover.  Softcover).

Contents:
An academic overview of The Avengers as TV Series, fashion icon and acknowledged Swinging 60s cultural signpost.

Unique Selling Point:
It will help you to justify writing your dissertation on The Avengers.  (For the record, it was published during the time I was writing mine).

Note
If only the contents had been as consistent as the cover.

The Avengers by Toby Miller, 1997

Review
Ever wondered what a book about a quintessentially English phenomenon would be like if it were written by an Australian Cinema Studies expert working in America? No, you probably havenít, but thatís what we have here. Toby Millerís "The Avengers" (BFI Publishing, 1997) is unique among texts devoted to the series, in that it isnít a guidebook, but an academic study of the history of "The Avengers", its influences and effects. Aside from his occasionally wayward usage of the Queenís English (e.g. 'valorise', 'ironise' indeed!) - Steed would flinch at such linguistic abuse - Millerís work is an interesting, if flawed, addition to the seriesí library.

Although the cover illustration may suggest otherwise, itís pleasing to note that Millerís discourse is not limited to the Emma Peel series, and takes in everything from the cathode ray noir of 1961ís debut season, right up to mid-Nineties repeat runs. However, "The Avengers" acknowledged halcyon days - the productions featuring Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg - are understandably at the core of this study.

The book examines the series from seven different standpoints: no, not each of the deadly sins, but history, pop culture, fashion, sex, genre, the post-modern and audience. If youíre looking for a chapter on "Star Cars", go look somewhere else! 

Millerís prose style is accessible, if somewhat lacking in zest. This may have something to do with his insistence for noting research sources regularly throughout the text, via a system that even now I have yet to fathom! Likewise, his continual references to the academic works of others in the field assumes an unreasonable degree of foreknowledge on the part of the reader, who may well be approaching the work, as I did, for its subject material. This can mean one of two things: either Toby Miller has aimed his book fairly and squarely at the academic, without regard for a wider audience... or... I simply read the wrong book!

In general, Toby Miller has done his research well - the bibliography and notes of sources account for a tenth of the page count - and displays a good grasp of the series and its impact on society and popular culture. Itís unfortunate then that despite this, there are a string of howlers in the text. If Millerís "The Avengers" is to be believed, Patrick Macnee and Ian Hendry featured in "The Charmers" - I must have missed that momentous Hendry cameo appearance! I think he must have meant "The Frighteners"... Likewise, I was completely unaware until now that Jon Rollason (who played Dr. Martin King) had a twin brother, Martin Rollason, who appeared as Dr. John King! You learn something new every day... My favourite howler though must be the photo caption on page 50, which claims to be of "Mrs. Peel - restrained, as ever". The photograph is from "Murdersville" and actually features Little Storpingís telephone operator chained to a wall, her face partially obscured by the Scoldís Bridle she has been made to wear. Not Emma Peel in a million years! Thatís an embarrassing faux pas in a book claiming to be authoritative "Avengers" source...

I was a little disappointed to read Millerís thoughts on the respective careers of Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. While all would agree, including Patrick himself, that his post-"Avengers" career has not exactly been glittering, Millerís condemnation of the manís work while putting Rigg on a pedestal was more than a little gleeful, not to mention cruel. Miller refuses to pick out the highpoints, such as Macnee's acclaimed stage appearances in "Sleuth", for instance, and prefers to resort to cheap jibes about Patrick having made a movie with American wrestler, Hulk Hogan. Shortly however, there followed a comment so surreal that I laughed out loud. Only I donít think I was meant to... Anyone who can say, in all seriousness, that the acting in "Escape in Time" is reminiscent of Ian Bothamís pantomime efforts, has to be up there with Salvador Dali as a King of the Absurd... 

Overall, the book is interesting, even if the writing style is a little leaden. However, while it makes for a diverting read, Miller is, I feel, guilty of sometimes overlooking the real focus of the programme. He mentions it in passing himself - "entertainment and relaxation" - and then, for the most part, proceeds to ignore this thought, preferring to attribute intellectual, metaphorical and philosophical subtexts to "The Avengers" that were either never there in the first place, or were very much secondary to producing an hourís escapist entertainment for the viewing public.

In conclusion, Miller has written a reasonable academic study of "The Avengers", which if it isnít exactly definitive, at least plugs a gap until something better comes along.

Alan Hayes

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