Quotulatiousness

October 29, 2017

QotD: Mencken’s revised view of Coolidge

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In what manner he would have performed himself if the holy angels had shoved the Depression forward a couple of years — this we can only guess, and one man’s hazard is as good as another’s. My own is that he would have responded to bad times precisely as he responded to good ones — that is, by pulling down the blinds, stretching his legs upon his desk, and snoozing away the lazy afternoons…. He slept more than any other President, whether by day or by night. Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored…. Counting out Harding as a cipher only, Dr. Coolidge was preceded by one World Saver and followed by two more. What enlightened American, having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would hesitate for an instant? There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.

H.L. Mencken, The American Mercury, 1933-04.

September 14, 2017

The art of leadership and other secrets

Filed under: Humour, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Taki’s Magazine, Steve Sailer remembers the late Jerry Pournelle, including a helpful leadership tip he once shared:

I didn’t meet Jerry until 1999, but I’d known his son Alex in high school. The Pournelle family asked me to go with them to Kansas City in August 1976 to the science-fiction convention at which Heinlein, the central American sci-fi writer of the 20th century, received his lifetime achievement award. (But I had to be at college that week.)

But Jerry, one of the great Southern California Cold Warriors, had a remarkable number of careers, starting as a teenage artillery officer during the Korean War, which deafened him in one ear. (At the lunch table, he’d choose his seat carefully to position his one remaining good ear next to his guest.)

He once recalled a question from the Army Officer Candidate School test:

    Q. You are in charge of a detail of 11 men and a sergeant. There is a 25-foot flagpole lying on the sandy, brush-covered ground. You are to erect the pole. What is your first order?

The right answer is:

    A. “Sergeant, erect that flagpole.”?

In other words, if the sergeant knows how to do it, then there’s no need for you to risk your dignity as an officer and a gentleman by issuing some potentially ludicrous order about how to erect the flagpole. And if the sergeant doesn’t know either, well, he’ll probably order a corporal to do it, and so forth down the chain of command. But by the time the problem comes back up to you, it will be well established that nobody else has any more idea than you do.

He also quotes Dave Barry’s breakdown of Pournelle’s monthly columns for Byte magazine:

In 1977 Jerry paid $12,000 to have a state-of-the-art personal computer assembled for him, supposedly to boost his productivity. By 1980 that led to his long-running “Chaos Manor” column in Byte magazine in which he would document his troubles on the bleeding edge of PC technology. As fellow word-processing aficionado Dave Barry explained jealously, Jerry got paid to mess around with his computers when he should be writing:

    Every month, his column has basically the same plot, which is:

    1. Jerry tries to make some seemingly simple change to one of his computers, such as connect it to a new printer.

    2. Everything goes hideously wrong…. Sometimes there are massive power outages all over the West Coast. Poor Jerry spends days trying to get everything straightened out.

    3. Finally…Jerry gets his computer working again approximately the way it used to, and he writes several thousand words about it for ‘Byte.’

    I swear it’s virtually the same plot, month after month, and yet it’s a popular column in a magazine that appeals primarily to knowledgeable computer people.

I like to imagine Steve Jobs circulating “Chaos Manor” columns to his executives with scribbled annotations suggesting that some people would pay good money to not have to go through all this.

September 9, 2017

Dr. Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:14

I saw this brief notice at Instapundit last night and shared it with my Facebook friends:

ALEX POURNELLE TEXTS:

    Hi
    I’m afraid that Jerry passed away
    We had a great time at DragonCon
    He did not suffer. Please feel free to post this news.

Rest in peace, Jerry. You will be missed.

I met Dr. Pournelle at SF conventions a couple of times, but you can’t say you knew someone on the basis of fleeting contacts like that. We did have a few minutes of discussion at one convention on the topic of why Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Indiana Jones was/was not a faithful characterization of how most people viewed archaeologists … which was highly entertaining. Although I enjoyed his SF writing, I actually thought of him more as a computer journalist, as I was a huge fan of his Chaos Manor columns in Byte magazine. As with George Orwell’s “As I please” columns, Pournelle didn’t let himself be limited to just bits and bytes and the range of topics was sometimes far outside the normal range for the magazine.

Here is his Wikipedia page.

May 29, 2017

Mark Steyn on the career of Roger Moore

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

On the weekend, Mark Steyn posted an article discussing the late Sir Roger’s pre-Bond roles:

Roger Moore played 007 in seven Bond films – although it seemed like more at the time. He was a rare Englishman in a role more often played by Celts and colonials – Connery (Scots), Lazenby (Aussie), Dalton (Welsh), Brosnan (Irish)… Any Canadians? Yes. Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). For some Ian Fleming fans, Moore was a little too English for a role that benefits from a certain chippiness toward his metropolitan masters. Yet he bestrode the era like a colossus whose legs wee almost as unfeasibly long as they are on the Octopussy poster and whose trouser flares were almost as terrifyingly wide as on the Man With The Golden Gun poster.

[…]

But The Saint, for six years in the Sixties, was a hit of an entirely different scale, and made Moore the first UK TV star to become a millionaire (hence, in the Seventies, the tax exile). Leslie Charteris had created the Saint in the Twenties, and the books are very much of their day. But Moore’s version planted Simon Templar firmly in the Swingin’ Sixties with a lot of Continental dolly birds to give it some Euro-cool. Lew Grade, bored by running a local telly franchise in Birmingham, had his eye on the global market and gave The Saint a rare style for the British TV of its day. It started with the stylized graphics and theme tune, and then, upon the initial reference to Simon Templar’s name, the animated halo appearing over the character’s head, at which Roger Moore would glance amusedly upwards – perhaps the first conscious, and most iconic, deployment of his famous eyebrows.

True, if you paid close attention from week to week, the passenger terminal helpfully labeled “Nice” or “Monte Carlo” or “Geneva” looked remarkably like East Midlands Airport, but Moore’s tuxedoed aplomb held it all together. He was almost too dishy in those days – his beauty spot, for one, seems far more prominent in monochrome – and he sensed that he didn’t have to do too much but stand there looking suave. Everything he would do as Bond he did as Simon Templar: the quips, the birds, the sports cars. But he did it, more or less, for real. He co-owned the series, which eventually made over a third of a billion pounds (which back then, pre-devaluation, wasn’t that far shy of a billion dollars), and he took it seriously enough to serve as producer and director – although, on the one occasion I met him, he characteristically pooh-poohed the idea that he had any talents in either field. The series became less of a mystery-solver and more of a spy caper as it progressed, and indeed in one episode Simon Templar is actually mistaken for James Bond. Sean Connery had been whinging about his Bond burdens since at least Thunderball in 1965, and Roger Moore fully expected to get the call.

[…]

Moore belonged to the last generation of British thespians for whom it was assumed that acting meant presenting as posher than one’s origins. Unlike Lord Brett, young Roger didn’t go to Harrow but to Battersea Grammar School. He dad was a policeman who went to investigate a robbery at the home of Brian Desmond Hurst, a prolific director whose films include the all-time great, Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. Constable Moore mentioned that his boy Roger quite fancied being an actor, and Hurst hired him as an extra for Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) and then paid for him to go to RADA. That’s where he met a young actress called Lois Hooker from Kitchener, Ontario, who changed her name to Lois Maxwell and became the defining Miss Moneypenny. Young Lois and young Roger both poshed up at RADA – although, as snootier critics with more finely calibrated class consciousness were wont to observe, from his Saint days to Lord Brett to Bond he was Lew Grade’s and Cubby Broccoli’s idea of an English gentleman rather than the real thing.

December 8, 2016

Greg Lake, RIP

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:44

The BBC reported that Greg Lake has died:

Greg Lake, who fronted both King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, has died aged 69.

One of the founding fathers of progressive rock, the British musician is known for songs including “In the Court of the Crimson King” and his solo hit “I Believe in Father Christmas”.

He died on Wednesday after “a long and stubborn battle with cancer”, said his manager.

The news comes nine months after Lake’s band-mate Keith Emerson died.

Keyboardist Emerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, coroners in the US said.

Lake’s manager Stewart Young wrote on Facebook: “Yesterday, December 7th, I lost my best friend to a long and stubborn battle with cancer.

“Greg Lake will stay in my heart forever, as he has always been.”

Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett paid tribute on Twitter, writing: “Music bows its head to acknowledge the passing of a great musician and singer, Greg Lake.”

“Another sad loss with the passing of Greg Lake,” wrote Rick Wakeman, keyboardist in pro rock band Yes.

“You left some great music with us my friend & so like Keith, you will live on.”

November 29, 2016

Justin Trudeau’s 15 minutes of internet fame

Filed under: Americas, Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In his statement on the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went unexpectedly viral and his phrasing was turned into a hilarious Twitter hashtag: #TrudeauEuologies. In the National Post, Colby Cosh sums up the responses:

The Prime Minister has received a thousand-bomber raid’s worth of invective for his formal statement on the death of Fidel Castro, the communist dictator of Cuba who was an old friend of the Trudeau family. You probably need no reminding of the first sentence of the press release, already lampooned worldwide as a triumph of putrid euphemism: “While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante’.”

Habitual readers will know that when I see a thousand people gathering stones to throw at one, I try to see things from the side of the one. So my first impulse was to search for even a half-satisfactory justification of the PM’s statement. Alas, nothing came to hand. Just more rocks.

There is the “diplomacy is the art of lying about terrible things” defence: the idea that the interests of Canada might demand that Justin Trudeau use the opportunity presented by Fidel’s demise to suck up to his family and inner circle. This seems to me like an upside-down understanding of diplomacy. The Canadian government may sometimes be obliged to take, and even defend, morally ambiguous actions in the name of state interests. Merely telling sweet-sounding falsehoods about individuals is rarely involved. Like Trudeau’s acknowledgment that Castro was a “Comandante” — a pompous sadist who turned a beautiful country into a giant barracks — the diplomacy defence tacitly confesses the truth: Cuban government is lawless personal rule — as of now, the rule of a restless ghost who must be placated.

The statement might even be taken as a cryptic critique of the Castro regime, but there is no evidence the Prime Minister’s friendship with Castro was anything but genuine. When Trudeau writes “I know my father was very proud to call (Castro) a friend” he is stating fact. If the younger Trudeau does not believe that Castro was just a superhuman social reformer, and he really sees Cuba’s generations of exiles and political prisoners as more than hazy abstractions, then his family’s sucking up to Castro is fully conscious, fairy-tale evil, rather than the aftertaste of Fidel’s long-standing glamour cult among halfwit intellectuals.

Update: In Maclean’s, Terry Glavin twists the knife:

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Ever since his election as Canada’s Prime Minister last October, Justin Trudeau has revelled in global tributes, raves and swoons. He’s the Disney prince with the trippy dance moves, the groovy Haida tattoo and the gender-balanced cabinet. He’s the last best hope for globalization, the star attraction at the Pride parades, the hero of the Paris Climate Summit, the guy everyone wants a selfie with.

Trudeau made himself synonymous with Canada. He made Canada cool again. It was fun while it lasted.

By the early hours of Saturday morning, Havana time, Trudeau was an international laughingstock. Canada’s “brand,” so carefully constructed in Vogue photo essays and Economist magazine cover features, seemed to suddenly implode into a bonspiel of the vanities, with humiliating headlines streaming from the Washington Post to the Guardian, and from Huffington Post to USA Today.

It was Trudeau’s maudlin panegyric on the death of Fidel Castro that kicked it off, and there is a strangely operatic quality to the sequence of events that brings us to this juncture. When Trudeau made his public debut in fashionable society 16 years ago, with his “Je t’aime, papa!” encomium at the gala funeral of his father in Montreal, Fidel Castro himself was there among the celebrities, as an honorary pallbearer, lending a kind of radical frisson to the event. Now it’s all come full circle.

July 27, 2016

QotD: Why Mencken wrote

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Having lived all my life in a country swarming with messiahs, I have been mistaken, perhaps quite naturally, for one myself, especially by the others. It would be hard to imagine anything more preposterous. I am, in fact, the complete anti-Messiah, and detest converts almost as much as I detest missionaries. My writings, such as they are, have had only one purpose: to attain for H. L. Mencken that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk. Further than that, I have had no interest in the matter whatsoever. It has never given me any satisfaction to encounter one who said my notions had pleased him. My preference has always been for people with notions of their own. I have believed all my life in free thought and free speech — up to and including the utmost limits of the endurable.

H.L. Mencken, “For the Defense Written for the Associated Press, for use in my obituary”, 1940-11-20.

July 23, 2016

Former Vikings head coach Denny Green, RIP

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:33

Yesterday’s grand opening of the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium in Minneapolis was unfortunately also when the news came in that former head coach Dennis Green had passed away that morning.

Former Vikings head coach Dennis Green (photo from the team website)

Former Vikings head coach Dennis Green (photo from the team website)

Many former players, including Randy Moss, Hall of Fame Head Coach Bud Grant and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer shared their respects for Green.

Green became the third African-American head coach in NFL history and the second in the modern era when he was hired by the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 10, 1992. A decade earlier, Green became the second African-American head coach in NCAA Division I-A at Northwestern in 1981.

When Vikings.com interviewed Green for the “Celebrate Perseverance” Black History Month content series that launched in February 2015, he spoke about the appreciation he had for being “born at the right time.” He said he witnessed a period of substantial change that allowed him greater opportunities than generations before him were able to enjoy. He wanted to do well so that others would be extended opportunities.

“My generation laid a certain foundation,” Green said, “It’s up to the next generation to be able to recognize that really, it’s all about equal access and equal opportunity and all of us operating on the same and playing on the same earth.”

July 13, 2016

QotD: William Jennings Bryan

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is the national custom to sentimentalize the dead, as it is to sentimentalize men about to be hanged. Perhaps I fall into that weakness here. The Bryan I shall remember is the Bryan of his last weeks on earth — broken, furious, and infinitely pathetic. It was impossible to meet his hatred with hatred to match it. He was winning a battle that would make him forever infamous wherever enlightened men remembered it and him. Even his old enemy, Darrow, was gentle with him at the end. That cross-examination might have been ten times as devastating. It was plain to everyone that the old Berserker Bryan was gone — that all that remained of him was a pair of glaring and horrible eyes.

But what of his life? Did he accomplish any useful thing? Was he, in his day, of any dignity as a man, and of any value to his fellow-men? I doubt it. Bryan, at his best, was simply a magnificent job-seeker. The issues that he bawled about usually meant nothing to him. He was ready to abandon them whenever he could make votes by doing so, and to take up new ones at a moment’s notice. For years he evaded Prohibition as dangerous; then he embraced it as profitable. At the Democratic National Convention last year he was on both sides, and distrusted by both. In his last great battle there was only a baleful and ridiculous malignancy. If he was pathetic, he was also disgusting.

Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.

H.L. Mencken, “Bryan”, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1925-07-27.

July 8, 2016

Leonard G. Lee, 1938-2016

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:21

Leonard Lee obituaryClick to read full obituary at the Lee Valley website

March 12, 2016

Keith Emerson, RIP

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I was saddened to hear that Keith Emerson died yesterday:

Keith Emerson, one of the founding members of progressive rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer, has died.

The keyboardist died at the age of 71 at his home in California on Thursday night, the band confirmed.

Bandmate Carl Palmer said he is “deeply saddened” and paid tribute to his “brother-in-music”.

“Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come,” he said in a statement online.

“He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz. “I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship, and dedication to his musical craft.

January 12, 2016

David Bowie, RIP

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh on the career(s) of David Bowie:

When we look at the enduring core of what we still awkwardly refer to as “rock music,” what we find is bizarre: a group of people born between about 1940 and 1948, mostly on one island. This cluster of neighbours took black American folk music and electric instruments and used them to hammer out a musical language whose vocabulary and power eventually rivalled that of the old Western orchestral tradition.

Somehow the seeds of war fell on England and sowed giants. It can’t just have been the bombs, even if Bowie did use the V-2 as a metaphor on the Heroes LP. (Has any single person, in retrospect, done so much to make Germany cool? They need to give Bowie a monument the size of the Hermannsdenkmal.)

[…]

The awful news of Bowie’s demise on Sunday reveals that he was not quite the same kind of star as notional equals like Ray Davies, Pete Townshend or even Mick Jagger. He was a songwriter of the first rank, an omnivore and a multi-instrumentalist whose taste in collaborators is a legend unto itself — yet his involvement in music seems almost circumstantial. It was the thing one happened to do, born where and when he was.

He gave so many excellent cinema and television performances that one suspects pop stardom’s gain might have been acting’s loss. What might Bowie have achieved if circumstances had steered him into the Royal Shakespeare Company instead of blues clubs? Is there an alternate reality in which people are reminiscing about Sir David Jones’s Richard III and regretting that he never got around to Lear?

One is tempted to add that Bowie could have been a great fashion designer or conceptual artist — but, then, he was both those things, when he wasn’t, ho-hum, dashing off “Life on Mars” or “Sound and Vision.” He was not of the fashion world as such, but slip out on any night, in any city of size from Tokyo to Toronto, and you’ll see homages to Bowie. Any ambitious, expensive pop concert still follows the Bowie idiom. His imprint on world culture is rivalled by few other pop stars, and perhaps none has its breadth. One is tempted to invoke Elvis or Dylan.

November 13, 2015

Helmut Schmidt, RIP

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Warren remembers the former German chancellor:

Helmut Schmidt was a highly unusual politician: “intelligent, honest, candid, decent,” as described by old colleagues in Germany; and a smoker, as everyone noticed. This last was important. He smoked everywhere, paying no attention to Nicht Rauchen signs, right up to the day before yesterday. (Literally.) It was part of his charm, a way to signal that he did not care for anyone’s opinion. It was not the occasional cigarette; witnesses, including television audiences, calculated that he lit another every seven minutes.

[…]

The Germans are notoriously a disciplined, rule-bound people. But they hate themselves for it, and they loved Helmut Schmidt. There were polls to show, right up to his death, that he remained the country’s most popular politician, even if few wanted him back in office again. They always wanted to hear, however, what he had to say. And to watch the way he said it: like a captain. He could enchant foreign audiences, too, but especially German ones, by being so un-German. But of course he was from Hamburg, the ancient Free and Hanseatic City, which is full of un-German types.

His manner was commendable. People would come to him with some policy matter they thought he must urgently address, and he would say, “That doesn’t interest me.” Then change the subject to something more amenable.

From what I gather, he was miscast as the equivalent of a prime minister. He would have been entirely acceptable as a kind of “constitutional” Holy Roman Emperor; powerless, but constantly telling the merely departmental figures what’s what. It is unfortunate that the office has lapsed; I think Schmidt would have enjoyed it.

The next best thing was writing for Die Zeit. This wonderful post-war German institution is a fat, weekly broadsheet. When displaced from federal office he bought a stake in it, and held court from there as one of the co-editors. Since adolescence, when I could almost read German, I have been trying to follow it. The articles are long, both serious and light, and the attitude is like Schmidt’s: Social Democrat, technically, but against almost everything the Left stands for. And a shameless bastion of pro-Americanism.

[…]

A “progressive,” I suppose, but according to the tenets of another generation; the German equivalent of my father, in some ways, who was a “liberal” in the 1950s sense, which is to say, free markets and total opposition to Communism. Who wanted a “social safety net” for the hard cases, but hardly a Kafkaesque welfare state for all. Too, a form of “open-minded” tolerance for what the kids get up to; but nothing like what we tolerate today.

August 9, 2015

Robert Conquest’s historical vindication

Filed under: Books, History, Politics, Quotations, Russia — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren on the late Robert Conquest:

[Robert Conquest’s] grand works of historical investigation — The Great Terror (1968), documenting the incredible extent of Stalin’s purges; and, The Harvest of Sorrow (1986), surveying the catastrophic effects of his collectivization — were books of remarkable ambition; of bold conception and real consequence. Other writers had (often at the cost of their careers) reported upon Soviet failings. But they had done so in ways modest enough to be ignored, or dismissed by the fashionable Left as “biased.” The broad, massive, systematic nature of Conquest’s researches was something new. It cracked even the faith of many diehard Communists. The history he told fit together; it was all meticulously sourced; it was overwhelming. There was, as it rose on the horizon, too much to deny.

Yet others could still simply block it out. For people believe what they want to believe, and may resolutely look away from what they do not want to see, or even chute the cocksure laugh, in the face of the mounting tsunami of evidence that finally washes them away.

Conquest was also a light or minor poet, and verse translator, of skill, talent, and integrity. He moved, privately, more in literary than in political circles. His closest friends were such as Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin; another was Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

He was no ideologue, and judging by the way he burned through wives, not a moralist either. Outwardly, in the tiny glimpse I had of him, he was not passionate or irascible. Inwardly, he was surely “driven.” But I would count him as a detached artist, working in a rather unusual modern genre: the author of elaborately proven epics of debunkment.

It was not Conquest, incidentally, but Amis who proposed that the revision of The Great Terror, published after the Berlin Wall fell, should be re-entitled, I Told You So, You Fucking Fools. But Conquest was content with, A Reassessment. He presented his facts emotionlessly. This magnified his impact, as historian. When he had a provocation to offer, that he was entirely unable to resist, he would put it safely into verse form, so that it wouldn’t be noticed.

July 1, 2015

Remembering Patrick Macnee … I mean, of course, John Steed

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Steyn on the (not-technically) original Avengers star:

But for a while Americans liked The Avengers, and it lingered in the memory so warmly that, three decades later, Hollywood opted to do a big-screen, big-budget remake. Patrick Macnee, the original John Steed, sportingly agreed to do the usual cameo — in this case, as a ministry bureaucrat rendered invisible in some research mishap and now consigned to a cramped office in a Whitehall basement. As I say, he was invisible, so we heard Macnee’s affable drawl (he had a smile in his voice, even when beating up the bad guys), but the audience never saw him, which was probably just as well — because, if they did, they’d remember the sheer affability of Macnee’s Steed. He was never a conventionally handsome leading man — he had a bit of a dumplingy face — but he brought a bonhomous ease to the role of the unflappable secret agent: the bowler, the brollies, the buttonholes and the Bollinger seemed like natural extensions of his charm; you can understand why groovy birds like Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson would dig such an ostensibly squaresville cat.

He wasn’t supposed to be the star. The Avengers began in 1961 with Ian Hendry as a mystery-solving doctor David Keel. Macnee returned to England from an indifferent theatrical career in Canada to play the role of Dr Keel’s assistant “John Steed”. But then the star departed, and Steed found himself carrying the show with a succession of glamorous gal sidekicks — Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, Linda Thorson as Tara King. They were very literal sidekicks in that they kicked to the side, being masters — or mistresses — of martial arts, doing most of the heavy lifting while Steed occasionally boinked someone over the head with his bowler. Many years ago, Dame Diana told me “Emma Peel” came from “M Appeal”, as in “Man Appeal”. But Steed always called her “Mrs Peel”, just as he called her predecessor “Mrs Gale”, because he was a gentleman. And the ladies always called him “Steed” because they were one of the boys, as in that English public-school thing whereby grown-up chaps who know each other well address each other by their surnames (“I say, Holmes!” “Yes, Watson…”).

The Avengers was created by Sydney Newman, the greatest of all Canadian TV producers (he also inaugurated Dr Who), but hit its high-water mark under Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell. In the early days, they didn’t have a lot of money, but they spent it wisely. The difference between the two principals was defined in what they wore and what they drove: Steed favored a vintage Rolls or Bentley, the ladies the latest convertible sports car. After seeing Mrs Peel drive one, my dad bought a Lotus Elan — a beautiful ride with a fiberglass body that crumpled to dust when a truck brushed us ever so lightly on the Route National 7 in France. The ladies wore fab gear from Carnaby Street, while Macnee, ditching the trenchcoats he’d worn in the first series, opted for a slightly heightened version of an English gent’s get-up that he designed with help from Pierre Cardin. Laurie Johnson wrote one of the best telly-spy theme-tunes and the opening titles are pure style: Mrs Peel shooting the cork off the champagne bottle, Steed’s unsheathed sword-stick swiping a carnation and sending it flying through the air for Mrs Peel to put in his buttonhole.

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