Avengers and The Prisoner: Episode 2, Take 2

Introduction

This is a composite article.

It is part book review but also a strong complementary reinforcement and extension of previous A&R articles on the Avengers and The Prisoner.

In this article we integrate two very diverse books that are united in their focus of cult TV and the automobile. One is populist the other dedicatedly academic [but extremely useful, readable and graphic] – see quotations below.

The two books are:-

  • TV Cars by Giles Chapman
  • The Cult TV Book edited by Stacey Abbott

The editors also emphasize the aspect of mass audience and connectivity with marque mystique and directly sales.

Subscribers might like to see related A&R articles:-

  • The Prisoner and Portmerion
  • The Lotus Elan and Carnaby Street
  • Lotus Design Decades:1960’s
  • Product placement
  • Chapman’s Catalogue: Lotus Advertising and Brochures
  • Lotus on Track/Track Records [LP jackets etc.]
  • Pop Art

This article will be of interest not only to Lotus enthusiasts but to a wider audience with interests in automobile design and styling, creative media, writing/ script writing, props, marketing, branding and fashion.

Subscribers will of course suggest that the E Type Jaguar and Mini were possibly more famous but there will little doubt  the Seven and Elan captured the hearts, minds, emotions, desires and intelligence of the public throughout the world where they were presented through TV broadcast.

The mystique and enduring myth of Chapman and Lotus will not be fully appreciated just by study of competition results. Much of the reputation and marketing opportunity was created in the cult TV programmes we highlight and analyze.

Lotus, Cult TV, Media and the Public Psyche

TV and film are extremely important art forms. They inspire, entertain often enrich, share experience of common humanity. In the cult genre they often enter the public psyche where they remain indelible.

The actual production and ownership of the cult cars referred to will be limited but through TV and media they are shared by billions on the world stage.

Although not formal advertising often the appearance of a marque in a cult classic will both generate demand out of all proportion and extend down the generations in its reverence and impact.

Lotus has achieved this on the following occasions:-

Lotus Elan & Europa                       The Avengers

The Lotus Seven                             The Prisoner

The Lotus Esprit                               James Bond and Pretty Woman

“The Cult TV Book is the companion reference to this TV phenomenon whose shows push the boundaries and offer biting commentaries on society to-day…..

Cult TV is also changing; whereas being cult used to mean being marginal with a small, loyal fan base, cult TV is now key to the television industry .Fandom is global and online.

Cult status for a show is fostered by the networks; and cult series are noted for their spectacular special effects and sumptuous visual style………so what is cult TV today? Leading scholars, writers and journalists redefine our understanding of cult TV with new approaches to case studies.

Cult TV is a work of 279 pages approximately and extremely well written. A measure of its thoroughness and inclusion is the extensive Works Sited [bibliography] and TV & Film Guide along with index.

It comprises 4 parts:-

Part 1              Define Cult TV: History, Aesthetic, Discourses

Part 2              Reading Cult TV: Texts and Context

Part 3              Constructing Cult TV: The Broadcast Industry & Cult Television

Part 4              The Cult in Cult TV: Audiences Fans Fandom

Chapman does not offer a detailed critique of cult TV rather concentrating on the cars but he does make some useful observations of the various programmes included:-

“What they have in common is car star whose performance was as vivid, in its own way, as that of the cast”

We will develop this but essentially the cars are complementary, symbolic expressions of the characters and plots being developed and articulated.

Although not perhaps articulating the same depth of analysis Chapman has a cultivated appreciation and of Maigret commented:-

“Apart from the extremely well-crafted feel of the show its success was down to the near perfect casting of British actor Rupert Davies as the man himself. From the moment Maigret struck a match on wall to light his pipe in the opening credits accompanied by Ron Grainer’s splendid accordion theme music, you knew you were in for compelling entertainment”

Chapman’s work comprises a study of 50 major TV series starring cars and a further 25 lesser examples. The editors favorites with Lotus highlighted are as follows:-

Programme Marque Model Series Marque Model Marque Model
Adam Adamant Lives Austin Mini Cooper S
Bergerac Triumph 1800 Roadster
Captain Scarlet Cheetah
Charlie's Angels Ford Mustang II Pinto
Columbo Peugeot 403 Cabriolet
Dr.Who Whomobile
Dukes of Hazard Dodge Charger
Inspector Morse Jaguar Mk.II
Life on Mars Ford Cortina Mk.II
Magnum PI Ferrari 308 GTS
Maigret Citroen 15-Six Tracton A
Miami Vice Ferrari Daytona Ferrari Testarosa
Minder Jaguar XJ6 Damiler D-Six Ford Capri
Only Fools and Horses Reliant Regal Ford Capri
Starsky & Hutch Ford Torino
Supercar Supercar
The A -Team GMCG Van Chevrolet Corvette
The Avengers/New Avengers Lotus Elan Lotus Europa Bentley 3L
The Baron Jensen CV8
The Persuaders Ferrari Dino 246 GTS Aston M' DBS
The Prisoner Lotus Seven Mini Moke
The Professionals Ford Capri Ford Escort Ford Granada
The Protectors Jensen Intercep' Citroen SM
The Saint Volvo P1800 Jaguar XJ-S
The Sweeney Ford Consul Ford Granada Jaguar S Type
The Trouble Shooters Morgan
Z Cars Ford Zephyr Mk.III
1of 25 secondary
Dr.Finlay's Casebook Austin 8

The Prisoner

Seven

Figure 1.This photograph was taken from the net. It is captioned Pictorial Press. Giles Chapman also uses this image on page 6 of his book, and his photograph credits suggests it’s also part of his library.

Chapman comments:-

“In the titles, Number Six drives a Lotus Seven series II, a green car with yellow nose cone and registered KAR 120C .It speeds straight towards the camera under gathering skies before Number Six drives to, and from his resignation confrontation. The Seven’s allusion to motoring freedom  suited the central character of the Prisoner but Number Six also divulges an interesting snippet in the episode Many Happy Returns .”I know every nut and bolt and cog” he growls.” I built it with my own hands! “Our man it seems constructed his own Lotus kit….

McGoohan knew the value of “casting” the right car. Possibly inspired by The Avengers, in 1965 he asked Lotus to loan an Elan for the show, but while visiting the Cheshunt factory, he noticed the Seven and reckoned it had a more rebellious aura. Lotus happily obliged”

Cult TV [Sergio Angelini] observers:-

“The richness of the text has ensured that this allegory masquerading as an adventure series with SF trappings has been the subject of dozens of books and led to the creation of one of the first organized cult appreciation societies, “Six of One”

Subverting genre conventions from within involves at a basic level a fundamental betrayal of audience expectations, the laying down of a challenge to accepted norms of television appreciation as mass media. For devotees of cult television, part of the appeal can come in finding shows such as The Prisoner that bring something genuinely new to ones appreciation of genre and the syntax of television, even questioning the orthodox of programming itself”

The Avengers

Avengers

Figure 2. Image from the net. Emma Peel [Diana Rigg] and Lotus Elan

 Chapman comments:-

“The glory days for the show, however, dawned in 1966 after Brian Clements came on board to add polish and genuine charm. As part of the creative overhaul, the cars began to be chosen to reflect the character traits of the roles. Emma Peel’s Elan is the shining example. “Lotus were pretty pleased with the result”, Clements remembers. “They told me the publicity was worth £5 million to them, a helluva lot of money then”

“Previously cars had not featured highly for Steed’s female companion…….Now Emma peel was provided with a groovy, yet elfin, car to suit her image- a Lotus Elan”

In relation to our chosen image from the net. Chapman observes:-

“When the Avengers shifted into colour  … The car changed hue too. Lotus provided the latest Elan S3 in a light , powdery blue registered “SJH 499D”.It gained far more  screen time , popping up in 19 shows, and the massive popularity of The Avengers ensured the Elan and Diana Rigg became intemperately linked in the viewing public’s mind”

Cult TV [Paul Sutton] observes

“Commentators have suggested that these women were amongst televisions first “feminist female lead[s] [Andrea, 1996, p115].”The Avengers”, it is argued “refunctioned the patriarchal discourse of the spy genre, transforming woman from an object of male desire into a subject who possessed “masculine” power and independence. For the first time on television a woman fought back rather than being merely a passive victim” [Andrae,1996:116]……………..As the director of numerous episodes from the Emma Peel era, Roy Baker recalls that the series was among the first in the world to feature mini –skirts and was instrumental in promoting this fashion statement[2000:122]

As “extensions of their personalities” [Murray,1998:47] the vehicles driven by Steed and Emma are important elements in the series appeal…………just as the clothes worn…………. are central to the look of “The Avengers”, so are the vehicles they ride ……..and contrast with the sporty and modern but equally iconic Lotus Elans and Europa’s………..cars that were signifiers of technological originality and innovative design of the 1960’s but which today signify the decade itself.”

Simply expressed television heroines such as Cathy Gale [played Honor Blackman] and Emma Peel [Diana Rigg] of the Avengers were independent, educated, cultivated, liberated, technologically aware, poised, athletic but also sexy, sophisticated and strong.

The cars they drove in “character” perfectly reflected these ideals.

Exhibitions, Education and Commercial Opportunities

I the possible museum context the editors believes that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.

For these reasons our recommendations includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we suggest a prospect for merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. There is the possibility for a catalogue for on line purchasing.

In particular it’s important to understand the role and consequence of Lotus cars in cult TV and cinema.

The Swinging Sixties produced many icons of fashion. “The link between media, music and fashion was central to pop culture in the 1960’s .The Bond films and TV shows such as the Avengers and The Man from UNCLE provided role models for both sexes.

In order to celebrate and analyses this it might be possible to stage:-

  • Exhibition with possible themes of “Cars, Stars, Fashion and Feminism”
  • Workshops
  • Photoshoots
  • Educational exercises and opportunities
  • Exploit the connectivity with London and particularly TV and Carnaby Street.

Conclusion

Humanity has evolved with an empathy and intelligence based around visual understanding, comparison, association, identification, categorization. These are often based on forms of extrapolation .They have contributed to safety and survival in a dangerous environment. Also they become engrained in learning discerning and comprehension. Humanity has required that faculty of essentially being able to determine visually form and function.

As society became more sophisticated the faculties of recognition became part of language, communication and acceptance. With degrees of certainty objects might be assigned values , performance function and in turn this were worked into signs, symbols emblem, flag, logo, badge, crest image, totem and token and visual expression for the purpose of transferring complex multi layered concepts.

We now associate the terminology as:

  • Analogy
  • Simile
  • Allegory
  • Emblematic
  • Metaphorical
  • Symbolic
  • Correlative

In the cult programmes these reached high degrees of refinement, sophistication and graphic iconography. They were extremely “British” honouring and upholding the virtues of liberty and free expression. The assisted and contributed directly and indirectly, subtly, consciously and subconsciously to the definition of the cast they supported. They relied on a strong sense of personal identity and self-expression even projection.

The editors understand Colin Chapman to be educated, cultured and cultivated man with enormous reserves of conceptualization which is directly related to imagination [and in Chapman case harnessed with an engineer’s realism and objectivity].Not overlooking he was very successful entrepreneur.

It is very likely he lent his cars to these cult TV programmes in the full knowledge they pushed the envelope. Chapmans car designs have always been extremely powerful totems. They possessed a clear radiant, uncompromised self-evident beauty reflecting true form and function. They were easily read, comprehended and understood. They were light elegant and diametrically opposed to bruteism. Their design so evidently self-articulating and honest required no interpreters to decode their symbolism or message.They sold.

Chapman’s designs have readily identified with a noble human spirit with its desire for liberty, freedom, expression and mobility. This is evident in the Seven’s selection for the The Prisoner where McGoohan identifies the engineer with the ability to construct and self -determine his existence. Association and identification were particularly important with regard to Emma Peel and the Elan. Here a bridge is constructed between feminism and technology. Not that of a brute, violent destructive force but rather a subtle, holistic intelligent application of technology within a beautiful sculptural totality.

The message was not missed. Few manufacturers have succeeded in creating a folk lore, handed down the generations like Chapman and Lotus. The myth of Lotus is deeper, sublime and more subtle than is imagined.

It’s for these reasons amongst others it’s considered a museum is beneficial in order that these important cultural dimensions are articulated, disseminated and preserved for posterity.

Reference:

The Cult TV Book.Ed.by S.Abbott.I.B.Tauris.2010.

ISBN: 9781848850262

TV Cars. Giles Chapman.Haynes.2006.

ISBN: 1844253920

Andrae, Thomas [1996]”Televisions First Feminist. The Avengers and female spectatorship”

Discourse 18:3,112-136

Swinging Britain. Fashion in the 1960’s.Armstrong.Shire.2014.

ISBN: 9780747812487

The A-Z of the 1960’s.A&I Morrison.Breedon.1989.

ISBN: 0907969607

20th Century Fashion: The 1960’s.K.Powe-Temperley.Heinmann.1999.

ISBN: 0431095515

Costume in Context: The 1960’s and 70’s.Ruby.Batsford.1989.

ISBN: 0713460741

Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.

*Items in italics non A&R library books.