The French champagne commercial that briefly reunited the stars of The Avengers and paved the way for a new TV series.
In 1975, the final season of The Avengers – with Linda Thorson as John Steed’s assistant Tara King – was still proving popular on French TV. Thorson’s appearance in the final season of the series has never been appreciated, coming as she did in the shadow of Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg and being given a rather more ditzy, less leather-clad character than her predecessors, as well as joining the show just as it began to run out of steam (the final season was a notoriously troubled production, with firings and rehirings behind the scenes never really allowing her character to take off). But she was actually a lot of fun, and those episodes are still worth a look, even if none of them is likely to appear in anyone’s list of the best of the series.
But reruns of the show had helped solidify her character, particularly in France; it helped that most of the earlier seasons were shot in black and white, ensuring that broadcasters who insisted on colour only had a limited number of episodes to re-run (seasons five and six). But the show, in general, was still proving to be a ratings winner around the world, and in 1975, French champagne producers Laurent-Perrier brought Patrick Macnee and Thorson back together for a TV commercial. While their characters are unnamed in the commercial, no one had any doubts about just who they were supposed to be.
The success of the commercial proved that there was still life in the Avengers concept, and in 1976, The New Avengers went into production as a British-French-Canadian co-production. Despite her appearance in this commercial showing that she still had the action chops and the popularity of the ad being the catalyst for the revival, Thorson was not asked to return – quite a snub, especially as Diana Rigg was asked back (and predictably declined). Tara King was not a creation of producer Brian Clemens, having joined the show during a period when he was dismissed; still, such a slap in the face seems a bit mean-spirited. Instead, Steed was joined by Purdy (Joanna Lumley) and Mike Gambit (Gareth Hunt), the latter drafted in as the 53-year-old Macnee was seen as being too old for the action stuff. The New Avengers has dated rather badly, and Steed often seems a side character, Macnee barely able to disguise his contempt for some of the dialogue. I imagine that a reunion of Macnee and Thorson would have created rather more sparkle.
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Actually Linda Thorson was asked about returning as the French backers wanted Tara King, and Brian Clemens had warmed to her by the end of the last series. When she declined, he then got the idea of reinventing The Avengers for the 1970s. Personally I would have preferred it to have carried on with Tara King, but Linda did not want to get tied down with a long term contract. She had earlier turned down a contract with Hammer films for the same reason.
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