First we visit The Avengers, the slightly camp, always entertaining British espionage series which ran from 1961 to 1969.
I had forgotten, if ever I knew, that this franchise started out as a 1960 ITV series called Police Surgeon, starring Ian Hendry as Geoffrey Brent.
The following year in Hot Snow, episode 1 of The Avengers, Hendry played another surgeon, Dr David Keel, whose surgery receptionist and fiancée Peggy is murdered by a drug gang. A stranger, John Steed, who is also looking into the killers, arrives on the scene and together Keel and Steed set out to avenge Peggy’s death. Hendry received top billing over Macnee, who did not appear in every episode, but left at the end of the series to pursue a film career.
Series two saw the arrival of Honor Blackman as Steed’s sidekick Cathy Gale, a confident, brilliant anthropologist with a liking for judo and black leather clothes. She was a sensation. Television drama had never seen a character like her. By the end of series three she was a household name and a movie version was planned but before it could get off the ground Blackman had departed after being cast as Pussy Galore in the 1964 Bond movie Goldfinger.
Enter Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. Her character was slightly jokier than Cathy Gale, exchanging banter with Steed, but sexier still in her trademark leather catsuit, not to mention diaphanous nighties. Rigg threatened to quit the show after finding that she was paid less than the cameraman and earned a substantial rise. She, too, jilted Steed for James Bond, appearing as 007’s bride in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. She was succeeded by the Canadian actress Linda Thorson.
Several readers waxed lyrical about the British star Angela Douglas. Here she is in Carry On Cowboy.
Ava Gardner, from North Carolina, was visiting her sister in New York City when a photographer offered to take her portrait as a gift for her mother. He put the snap in his shop window, it was seen by a talent spotter and this led to an audition for MGM Pictures. The 18-year-old Ava was told to walk towards the camera, then away, then arrange some flowers in a vase. She was not asked to speak because the movie executive involved could not understand her broad Southern accent. When the head of MGM, Louis B Mayer, saw the screen test he declared: ‘She can’t sing. She can’t act. She can’t talk. She’s terrific!’ Here she is with another screen icon, Grace Kelly, in the 1953 movie Mogambo.
The most glamorous actress of the 1940s, the American Rita Hayworth, was the No 1 pin-up for GIs during World War II and was referred to as the Love Goddess. Here’s why.
In a 1933 Czech film, Ecstasy, the Austro-Hungarian Hedy Lamarr appeared nude at the age of 18. She went on to enjoy an illustrious Hollywood career, being promoted as ‘the world’s most beautiful woman’ by Louis B Mayer, who knew one when he saw one.
Another star not averse to getting her kit off was Britain’s Helen Mirren. One reader doubted whether I could find a clip of her clothed, but here she is interviewed by Michael Parkinson.
The Canadian Kate Nelligan received several mentions. This is a trailer for her 1981 film Eye of the Needle.
Isabella Rossellini is the daughter of my all-time favourite Ingrid Bergman and was lucky to inherit her mum’s looks. This is a lengthy pictorial profile from babyhood to the age of 66.
Jane Russell made a sensational debut in the 1943 Howard Hughes movie The Outlaw, with lingering shots of her ample decolletage failing to impress the censors. She went on to form a successful double act with Bob Hope in The Paleface and Son of Paleface. Hope introduced her on one occasion as ‘the two and only Jane Russell’, while Hughes opined: ‘There are two good reasons why men go to see her. Those are enough.’
Here is another American, Susan Sarandon, in a trailer for the 1981 film Atlantic City, which won her a first Oscar nomination.
Her elfin compatriot Jean Seberg became a heroine of the French New Wave thanks to her performance in the 1960 Jean-Luc Godard film Breathless.
At 17, Britain’s Jean Simmons shot to fame in 1946 as the young Estella in David Lean’s Great Expectations. Here she is alongside Richard Burton in The Robe.
Speaking of Burton brings me to Elizabeth Taylor, so beautiful that he married her twice. Here she is aged 26 at the end of the 1958 film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
And finally, back to One Million Years BC with Raquel Welch and a bevy of comely lasses in remarkably well-tailored animal-skin bikinis. Those were the days, eh?
Old jokes’ home
Most of my relatives are police marksmen, apart from my grandfather, who was a bank robber. He died recently, surrounded by his family.
A PS from PG
I mean to say, when a girl, offered a good man’s heart, laughs like a bursting paper bag and tells him not to be a silly ass, the good man is entitled, I think, to assume that the whole thing is off.
PG Wodehouse: Jeeves in the Offing