SOCIAL HISTORY SERIES.
LOTUS CARS, POPULAR CULTURE AND PRODUCT PLACEMENT.
Introduction and comparison with The Prisoner
The Avengers is the second TV programme in our series that looks at popular culture and product placement.
On this occasion the Avengers. This series was not quite as iconic as The Prisoner but shared many of the underling issues of society not least the use and abuse of technology.
Perhaps its greatest contribution was the role given to Diana Rigg and the direct immediate relevance to women’s liberation and emancipation movement of the 1960’s.
In this role Rigg was assigned the use of the Lotus Elan and like the Prisoner this was inspired casting and association. In fact this dimension was possible accentuated and polarised by Steed and his Bentley.
During the 1960’s a genre had evolved focusing on secret agents, and science fiction fantasy. Also a contemporary theme was mad scientists out of control. Such programmes included:
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Significantly the programme was shown on American prime time.
The first partner to Steed was Cathy Gale played by Honor Blackman.1962-1964.
Her character was very feisty for the era. She was portrayed as being an anthropologist and judo practitioner. She wore tight black leather fighting suits or clothes. She is high heeled and high kicking
The portrayal was unlike any female character ever seen before on British television.
“The Avengers is one of the all time great TV shows, hugely influential and spawning many imitators but never matched since.” In fact like the Prisoner there was one attempt at remake but this failed at gain any critical acclaim.
The Avengers is considered one of the slickest adventure series on British TV. It portrayed secret agents in 1960’s Britain .The series was made by ABC Weekend Television and ran c 1961- 1969. It was in the spi-fi/ espionage genre with an element of offbeat fantasy and humour. Like the Prisoner it too had a surreal edge. It made allusions to historical events and parodied these like Napoleon, dictators, tyrants and mad scientists and the plain delusioned. A modern and technological take on Jekyll and Hyde and out of control robots, cyber men and impostors. etc. Frequent locations were security centres or secret research laboratories; But also the exotic and British vernacular. The ancient and modern meet often through quintessential British institutions
It has quite a cult following.
The programme had input from Brian Clemens, James Hill, Albert Fennell and Julian White.
Opening and Closing Sequence
The opening and close down sequence and in black and white subsequently colour.
The title is emblazoned across the screen in alternating mono-colour and accompanied by a music score written by Laurie Johnson
There is the carnation scene where Diana Rigg places the flower in Macnee’s buttonhole. Rigg wearing tight clinging leather one piece. She gestures fight manoeuvres. The hero/ heroine is seen in silhouette and focused half face.
Some of the closing clips featured the hat stand followed by Steed and Mrs.Peel leaving in the Bentley.
The colour editions featured Rigg shooting the cork off a champagne bottle.
The Murder Market
Mission … Highly Improbable
Honey for the Prince
Never, Never Say Die
Emma Peel [Diana Rigg]. 1965-1968
Diana Rigg was given an extremely important role. Ultra modern representing the times but also braking with tradition and precedent.
In the editors mind she carries the role to perfection and represents the very best of what feminism might achieve whilst being a foil and complementary to Patrick Macnee.
Diana Rigg portrays a young woman in her twenties or early thirties. She is slim with toned arms and has the figure of a ballerina or athlete but retains an extraordinary femininity at all times. She projects youthful fresh innocence whilst being evidently confident, modern and charming. She has a most disarming smile and quizzical eyes.
Mrs.Rigg is self-assured but not over confidant or domineering. She wears little jewellery and has dark auburn hair.
She retains an air of mystery. On occasions it was felt that Rigg played the role as well as silent screen heroine. For the author she was the embodiment of the poem “She was a vision of delight”
Rigg is allowed to be modern, forward looking in ideas and dress of the utmost contemporary fashion. It is believed that John Sutcliffe or possibly john Bates might have designed some of her outfits. The avant-garde fashion had bold accents, high contrasts and geometrical patterns. All of which expressing her personality of youthful contemporary Britain.
It might be said that Mrs.Peel was intelligent, strong, capable, cool, sophisticated liberated and sexy.
Some of her outfits may have been influenced by Pierre Cardin and the most modern emerging man made fabrics. Mrs Peel was renown for her jump suits.
In some episodes Mrs Peel was permitted to push boundaries for the era and took on fetish overtones and that of a dominatrix. [In a tasteful manner but very, very effective!!]
Female casting had previously reinforced social stereotypes and women’s inferior role.
In the Avengers this was reversed. In education, occupation, physical prowess, resourcefulness Mrs.Peel was cast as an equal. Further more this was achieved and demonstrated, not reluctantly or patronisingly granted. Throughout Steed is not seen intentionally or otherwise to assert superior authority or status or call upon tradition or experience to defend a status quo.
The Avengers was quite remarkable and very advanced in this respect. It was if the hero and heroine did not have to manufacture this equality of relationship on screen it seemed a natural and unforced principle.
John Steed [Patrick Maenee]
Steed is played as the quintessential Englishman [perhaps even a little stereotypical] about town of a slightly early era. Some might say Edwardian I.e. ultra traditional. He wares Saville Row suits, cravat, bowler hat, frequently a crombie coat, tie pin and carries an umbrella. He is clean-shaven.
Macnee carries the part with thoroughness and this is carried through in his accent, manner of speech and social etiquette. His is an easy charm, culture, old world sophistication, man of the world, impeccable manners and suave. Typically immediately after a fight scene he straightens his regimental tie.
He also drives a classic Bentley.
Hero /Heroine Chemistry
There have few partnerships in real life or in the cinema or TV that produced the perceived chemistry and pairing between the hero and heroine as in the Avengers.
There seemed to be a real spark, nothing false, mutual respect, shared wavelength and an extraordinary bonding that imparted a considerable dynamic to the programme.
The telepathy between Steed and Mrs. Peel provided a considerable sexual tension. This imparts a momentum and unspoken agenda. It’s also done with a light comic touch.
In an era of increasing liberalism and emancipation the chemistry like the polarised personalities was modern yet traditional and perhaps allowed both roles to develop to their fullest potential? It provides leverage leaving the viewer uncertain how far it good go. This was achieved in good taste and in a convincing believable manner, the ambiguity was alluring and borderline platonic friendship. The age gap, class backgrounds was not an impediment. All seemed to hinge on mutual respect, trust and liking.
It is believed that Rigg and McNee were allowed to explore and develops their natural unforced magnetism and as “actors invented the characters”
The Lotus Elan
The Elan was a particularly appropriate choice both for the character of Emma Peel and the series. It caught the modernity and perhaps the gender issues and feminism of the time. It placed Lotus in the vanguard and provided or contributed a related role model.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the official sales brochure featured a model not dissimilar to Diana Rigg wearing a contemporary dress standing in the cockpit, hands on windscreen looking over the bonnet. It emphasised the low build of the car but also addressed a new market, sense of equality and gender discerning owner.
For ten years Colin Chapman and Lotus had been at the forefront of chassis design and racing. However times were changing and so was the company and they finances needed to continue the FI programme. The Elite although theoretically correct was a commercial disappointment.
Chapman learnt lessons quickly and moved on.
The Elan was a success and achievement across the spectrum of requirements and appealed to a more discerning audience and possibly to women hence the importance of the Avengers connection.
The Elan with its backbone chassis and two-piece FG ticked all the boxes. It is believed that Ron Hickman made contributions to the body design.
A brief aesthetic analysis reveals its fundamental qualities:
- Sleek smooth overall aerodynamic body shape without external interruptions.
Particularly attractive nose with low set radiator. Straight though wing line and squared of tail.
- Retractable headlamps
- Well designed hood functional in use
- Ingenious foam filled bumpers integrated with body. Conventional type would have been too heavy and expensive.
- Full width screen that moulded and integrated with body shape and windows
- Disc wheels 13” with chrome hub caps
- Wide opening doors, comfortable adjustable seats
- Generous boot.
Overall it was an extremely competent design package that we know has stood the test of time. Performance was not compromised it was even perhaps enhanced and accentuated in the move away from the enthusiasts and male orientated Spartan sports racers. Immediately the Elan was revered for its performance, ultra responsive balanced handling and speed.
In 1962 it was offered at £1495 approximately.
Many of the greatest car designers either own or sight the Elan as inspiration and its acknowledged that the Mazda was an advanced reworking of the Élan. No mean feat 40 years after the original.
This brief analysis helps grasp the significance of the product placement. It appeared in a programme reaching an international young consumer audience in a time of social revolution of women .It did so in a way that promoted women’s achievements and provided equality and freedom. There can be few more powerful or appropriate allegories. than the allegiances and reinforcement of car, owner and plot as developed in the Avengers.
There was also the further impact and accentuation of modernity and gender by the counterpoise of Mrs.Peels Elan against Steed’s Bentley. Words and descriptions sometimes fail to express the visual impact and totality of inferences and implied deduction, symbolism and extrapolation this provided.
Other Support Vehicles.
Bentley [“ Signature” several] 1964 Lotus Elan S2 [HNK 999C] White
Ac Greyhound 1966 Lotus Elan S3 [SJH 499D]
Landrover [VX 697]
In a later series it is believed that Tara King may have driven a Europa.
In two articles we have examined The Prisoner and Avenger series. We have noted their success and impact on a mass and increasingly cosmopolitan world audience. Within each of these programmes Lotus cars were to have their own distinct and supportive role.
We have looked at the idea of Product Placement and its subtle role additional to marketing.
Its perhaps impossible to quantify how many cars were sold as result of viewing the programmes but its probable that it might have been embedded and a contributory motive. Perhaps of greater significance was the dissemination of the brand name, reputation and perception. For this might have been adopted by those who were unable or to young to buy. Furthermore the imagery and conceptualisation becomes part of the collective brand identity, history and even mystique. These are not exaggerations because after fifty years the programmes and cars can be recalled with vivid recollection.
The A&R assessment of Lotus is neither one neither sided nor disconnected. It views the marque in its collective achievement and these were drawn from different perspectives. The A&R believes that Colin Chapman and subsequent Lotus design has not been properly or fairly evaluated and that its contribution to Britain and industrial design underrated possibly for political motives. In product placement there is an element that the product ought have some reputation or recognition to start with. This is then glorified or magnified but none the less justified. This is certainly true of Lotus.
In future articles we will look at Lotus in the James Bond films and the overarching link of sponsorship and merchandising and how to this touches product placement.
We welcome suggestions for inclusion.
ITV Books 1983
The Complete Avengers
The Avengers Dossier
Virgin Books 1998
The M.Appeal Collection
Mission 1-6 with introductions by Patrick Macnee
Mrs. Peel drove several vehicles, but she is usually associated with a Lotus Elan. Two Lotus automobiles were used. For the black & white episodes (1966), it was a Lotus Elan S2 with the registration HNK999C, and for the color episodes (1967), she drove a Powder Blue Lotus Elan S3, registration SJH499D.
Photos and words courtesy of LOTUSELAN.NET