Tuesday, December 22, 2015


With Christmas, the Television Crossover Hall of Fame usually inducts a special honoree who might not otherwise gain entry into such an "exalted" institution.  And since we're celebrating the "British Invasion" of Toobworld in 2015, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to tip my bowler one last time to a great TV character whose portrayer left us this year.  (O'Bservation - for some reason, Entertainment Weekly didn't see fit to even mention him in its year-end issue.)  


Patrick Macnee is forever linked to this role, even though he had quite a portfolio or roles in both television and th movies, including two alternate TV dimensional portrayals of Dr. John Watson ("Sherlock Holmes In New York" and "Sherlock Holmes And The Leading Lady" & "Sherlock Holmes And The Incident At Victoria Falls") as well as in both TV and movie productions about the Titanic.

In 'The Avengers', John Steed didn't even start out as the main character.  Instead he was the clandestine mentor to a doctor who was a novice in the field of espionage.  But once he moved on to work with talented amateurs Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, and Tara King, and later with Purdey and Mike Gambit, John Steed became the epitome of the British spy in Toobworld.  Even in embracing all the cliches of the standard bearer for the English gentleman, Steed carried himself with aplomb and kept the role from becoming a joke.

Steed appeared in over 150 episodes of the original series and in about 21 episodes of 'The New Avengers'.  And that would be impressive enough as it is, but it doesn't satisfy the basic tenet of the TVXOHOF - there must be three different TV series/movies/specials/commercials in which the character appeared.  

With the Christmas honors list, some flexibility is allowed.  And so with John Steed, we have to look elsewhere for him, in a TV production in which he was not known as John Steed.

This would not be such an outlandish idea when dealing with a spy; secret agent men always used false identities.  John Steed could have been in some other TV under an alias.

Only... it's my contention that it was the name "John Steed" which was the false identity for all of those years.

Think about it.  "John Steed" seems almost too perfect for the name of an operative.  And it's likely that his real name had too much baggage for him to use openly in his work.  But eventually I think Steed was elevated to a position in the shadowy world of espionage in which it was incumbent that he be known by his true name.

Sir John Raleigh
Head of UNCLE

I'm not the first one to make this connection.  If I'm not mistaken, there are some academics in the world of Wold Newton research who have made the same claim.  And it's an easy claim to find a splainin - to keep things simple, he kept his original first name; common enough, perhaps the most common first name, so that its re-use wouldn't arouse suspicions.

As for "Raleigh", he may have come from a noble family well-established in Burke's Peerage.  It may even have been a Toobworld family that could trace its lineage back to the televersion of historical explorer Sir Walter Raleigh.  Sir John's standing in society and the protection of his family would have been ample reason for him to go by a "Nom d'espionnage".

And to be chosen to lead the United Network Command for Law Enforcement would have been the perfect "job opportunity" for a top professional like "Steed" after his faithful service in MI-5.  (Sir John Raleigh would have been at least the fourth to helm UNCLE since its inception.  Alexander Waverly was with the organization from the beginning, rising to the role of Number One of Section One, before becoming the head of UNCLE until his death.  Who was in charge between Waverly and Sir John is unknown at this time.  (By me, anyway.  Perhaps one of my Wold Newton friends have theorized that there's a character to be found in pulp literature might have taken on the job.  As for the Toobworld Dynamic, I'm sure we could find a TV character to take the position.)

And so there it stands for "John Steed":
  • 'The Avengers'
  • 'The New Avengers'
  • "The Return Of The Man From UNCLE: The Fifteen Years Later Affair"



Hugh said...

When Spy Game ran, Macnee was seen playing golf in an early episode. Was that character ever identified by name?

Toby O'B said...

I remember that. He was playing golf with Peter Lupus I think? By the end of the pilot, Robert Culp was on the Statue of Liberty with a bomb. It could be assumed all of them were playing their iconic spy roles. (Although with Culp it could have gone in three different directions at least.)

However, Macnee later returned to the series in an episode as "Mr. Black". That could have been another alias for Steed, or his character from that 'Diagnosis Murder' episode with another alias. Or his character from a couple of those modern day 'Kung Fu' episodes.

At any rate, by that point I had fallen off the show and never saw how "Mr. Black" played out. But however it went, I insist he also had to be the same character from the pilot. Saves on splainins.