Friday, March 2, 2012

The Avengers: The Inside Story

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Avengers: The Inside Story (Titan, 2008).

One thing that I'll always firmly believe is that The Avengers was one of the best two or three TV shows of the 1960s. It's become a little sadly fashionable, as the medium matures and, apart from stuff on CBS, mostly leaves episodic programming behind for more sophisticated and intricate drama, to think of the show as a relic. It is, inarguably, dated. Darn near everything from its period is. It is simple and shallow melodrama, but, and this is a big but, it was made with more style, wit and panache than anything else in its day. If viewers are willing to accommodate the program's simplicity, then it remains a complete thrill and joy to watch.

In the nineties, the show's star, Patrick Macnee, teamed up with the eminent uber-fan Dave Rogers to pen a memoir about his time on the show. Titan reissued this volume in enhanced, hardcover packaging and under a new title in 2008, and, among the many Avengers books that have been written, this is certainly among my favorites. Macnee is very forthright and unflattering about his own problems, errors of judgement and poor decisions during the 1960s, and this gives the book a real sense of honesty and sincerity. He loves The Avengers, and rightly so, but he's clearly spent the decades since it ended kicking himself for not making it a more consistent and exciting product. It's not all behind-the-scenes gossip and dirt, but it must be said that his candor about his addiction to a since-banned diet pill with ugly side effects is really eye-popping, as is his self-loathing about not stepping up and taking on the studio and the network for their casual indifference to Diana Rigg, his co-star for three years. Some of his other candor, about, for instance, his gigantic sideburns during the show's final year, is a little more amusing.

I really appreciated the way that Macnee chose to think of The New Avengers, which was badly flawed but often very fun, as simply more episodes of the program and not an inferior sequel. There's a real sense of Macnee wishing to be honest and give an accurate record of what The Avengers was for all of its long run. The original season of 26 episodes, when Macnee played the co-star part to the original series lead, Ian Hendry, gets more detail and attention here than just about any other book that I can recall.

It is very lavishly illustrated with dozens of photographs that I've never seen before. The whole package is one that just glows with love and affection, and I certainly recommend it to any fans of the show.

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