The first of The Avengers episode broadcast in the second series introduced the partner who would change the show into the format for which it is most remembered. Honor Blackman played Dr Cathy Gale, a self-assured, quick-witted anthropologist skilled in judo and passionate about leather clothes. Widowed during the Mau Mau rebellion years in Kenya, she was the “talented amateur” who saw her aid to Steed’s cases as a service to her nation. She was said to have been born on 5 October 1930 at midnight and was reared in Africa. Gale was in her early-to-mid 30s during her tenure, unlike female characters in similar series which tended to be younger.
Gale was unlike any female character seen before on British TV and became a household name. Reportedly, part of her charm was because her earliest appearances were episodes in which dialogue written for Keel was transferred to her. Series scriptwriter Dennis Spooner described this detail:
“There’s the famous story of how Honor Blackman played Ian Hendry’s part, which is why they stuck her in leather and such—it was so much cheaper than changing the lines!”
In “Conspiracy of Silence”, she holds her own in a vociferous tactical disagreement with her partner.
Venus Smith did not return for the third series, and Cathy Gale became Steed’s only regular partner. The series established sexual tension between Steed and Gale, but the writers were not allowed to go beyond flirting and innuendo. Despite this, the relationship between Steed and Gale was progressive from 1962–63. In “The Golden Eggs”, it is revealed that Gale lived in Steed’s flat; according to Steed, her rent was to keep the refrigerator well-stocked and to cook for him (she appears to do neither). However, this was considered a temporary arrangement while Gale looked for a new home and Steed was sleeping at a hotel.
During the first series, there were hints Steed worked for a branch of British Intelligence, which was expanded in the second series. Steed initially received orders from different superiors, including someone referred to as “Charles” and “One-Ten” (Douglas Muir). By the third series, the delivery of Steed’s orders was not depicted on screen or explained. The secret organisation Steed belongs to is shown in “The Nutshell”, and it is Gale’s first visit to their headquarters.
Small references to Steed’s background were occasionally made. In the Series 3 episode “Death of a Batman”, it was said that Steed was with I Corps in the Second World War and in Munich in 1945. In the Series 4 episode “The Hour That Never Was”, Steed attends a reunion of his RAF squadron. Since the ties he wears are either cavalry or old school, it is apparent that he has attended a number of leading public schools.
A theatrical film version of the series was in its initial planning stages by late 1963, after Series 3 was completed. An early story proposal paired Steed and Gale with a male and female duo of American agents to make the movie appeal to the American market. Before the project could gain momentum, Blackman was cast opposite Sean Connery in Goldfinger, requiring her to leave the series.
During the Gale era, Steed was transformed from a rugged trenchcoat-wearing agent into the stereotypical English gentleman, complete with a Savile Row suit, bowler hat and umbrella, with clothes later designed by Pierre Cardin. (Steed had first donned a bowler and carried his distinctive umbrella during the first series, as “The Frighteners” depicts.) The bowler and umbrella were soon revealed to be full of tricks, including a sword hidden within the umbrella handle and a steel plate concealed in the hat. These items were referred to in the French, German and Polish titles of the series, Chapeau melon et bottes de cuir (“Bowler hat and leather boots”), Mit Schirm, Charme und Melone (“With Umbrella, Charm and Bowler Hat”) and Rewolwer i melonik (“A Revolver and a Bowler Hat”), respectively. With his impeccable manners, old-world sophistication and vintage car, Steed came to represent the traditional Englishman of an earlier era.
By contrast, Steed’s partners were youthful, forward-looking and always attired in the latest mod fashions. Gale’s innovative leather outfits suited her many athletic fight scenes. Honor Blackman became a star in Britain with her black leather outfits and boots (nicknamed “kinky boots”) and her judo-based fighting style. Macnee and Blackman even released a novelty song called “Kinky Boots”. Blackman also carried a pistol in “Killer Whale”. Some of the clothes seen in The Avengers were designed at the studio of John Sutcliffe, who published the AtomAge fetish magazine.
Series scriptwriter Dennis Spooner said that the series would frequently feature Steed visiting busy public places, such as the main airport in London, without anyone else present in the scene:
“‘Can’t you afford extras?’, they’d ask. Well, it wasn’t like that. It’s just that Steed had to be alone to be accepted. Put him in a crowd, and he sticks out like a sore thumb! Let’s face it, with normal people, he’s weird. The trick to making him acceptable is never to show him in a normal world, just fighting villains who are odder than he is!”
Honor Blackman (22 August 1925 – 5 April 2020) was an English actress, known for the roles of Cathy Gale in The Avengers (1962–1964), Bond girl Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), Julia Daggett in Shalako (1968), and Hera in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). She is also known for her role as Laura West in the ITV sitcom The Upper Hand (1990–1996).
More information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor_Blackman#James_Bond