The Avengers: A Celebration book review

Cult series The Avengers gets a lavish tribute in Marcus Hearn’s celebratory book. Here’s Holger’s review…

For more than a decade now, Marcus Hearn has established himself as one of Hammer’s chief archivists. As editor of UK Marvel Comics, he set up the excellent and much lamented Hammer Horror Magazine. His Hammer Story is still one of the best and most lavishly illustrated overviews of Hammer Films that he recently followed up with his tomes on Hammer Glamour and The Art Of Hammer (all by Titan Books).

Though he is predominently known as a Hammer author, he has also written about a wide variety of other subjects such as Star Wars, Doctor Who, Gerry Anderson and The Beatles.

Add to this now The Avengers: A Celebration focusing on “50 Years of a Television Classic”.

To get this out of the way, yes, this is first and foremost an illustrated coffee table book and, as such, missing out on in-depth analysis of the cult show. For this it has been unfairly criticised, though it never set out to be an entire history of the series, but a beautiful pictorial accompaniment to the über-stylish 60s classic. And this goal it achieves rather well.

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Most episodes are represented by, at the very least, one photo, often more. Even some of the rarer and lost early episodes are featured amongst the plethora of images on display:  publicity shots of some of the episodes’ action sequences, behind-the-scenes pics, pre-season promotional material  and press releases, even images from fashion shows in Avengers-inspired haute couture.

I love the fact that even discarded ideas are prominently featured and am, indeed, wondering how the series would have looked with Elizabeth Shepherd as Emma Peel. And, yes, I had completely forgotten that in Season 2 Steed didn’t just have one, but two co-stars. Apart from Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale, we also had Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith in six episodes.

The quality of the photos are absolutely superb. It’s an indication of the show’s meticulous love for detail that even the on-set photographers were first class. At least in their later seasons, The Avengers can probably lay claim to being the very first TV series to be filmed just like a feature movie.

Patrick Macnee provides a foreword, and comments that some of the published photos are new even for him. Each season gets a special chapter with a short general overview of its production history. Each photo then also receives a descriptive comment, enabling the reader to get a better understanding about various aspects of the individual episodes shot.

What is missing in this otherwise superb book is anything to do with The Avengers outside of the original series. As a result, you won’t find anything about The New Avengers, the 90s remake or radio and stage shows. As indicated in the introduction, this was done on purpose, though I still believe there should have been some space, however small, dedicated to those incarnations.

As such, the book is a fun ride through the series’ classic phase, from dark black & white TV noir to the psychedelic lunacy of the last couple of seasons, The Avengers: A Celebration makes you longingly look at your Avengers DVD boxsets and ponder to take them for a little ride through the Avengers-verse yet again, a country so far removed from real life that the producers refused to even feature a football game in there for fear of it being too mundane an activity.

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This surreal approach to story telling, still unusual for current TV fare, but highly revolutionary for the 1960s, ensures that this show stood the test of times so very well and is still ferociously admired to this very day.

Oh, and as usual with Titan Books, you may find that the front and back cover images hidden behind the dust wrapper may be even more appealing than the regular main cover shot.

The Avengers: A Celebration: 50 Years Of A Television Classic is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

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5 out of 5