Major The Hon. John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed usually known as John Steed, is a fictional character and the central protagonist on the popular 1960s British spy series The Avengers and its 1970s sequel The New Avengers, played by Patrick Macnee in both; by Donald Monat in the South-African radio series adaptation of The Avengers; by Ralph Fiennes in the 1998 film of the same name and by Julian Wadham in the new Big Finish audio series The Avengers – The Lost Episodes.
John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed
|The Avengers character|
Macnee as John Steed with Linda Thorson, 1968
|First appearance||"Hot Snow", The Avengers episode 1|
|Last appearance||"Emily", The New Avengers episode 26 |
The Avengers (1998 film)
|Created by||Sydney Newman (character)|
Brian Clemens (background details)
|Portrayed by||Patrick Macnee (series)|
Donald Monat (radio)
Simon Oates (play)
Ralph Fiennes (film)
Julian Wadham (audio)
Steed is a secret agent working for an unnamed branch of British intelligence. He was teamed with a variety of partners, including Dr. David Keel (1961), Dr. Martin King (1962), Venus Smith (1962–1963), Cathy Gale (1962–1964), Emma Peel (1965–1968), Tara King (1968–1969), Lady Diana Forbes-Blakeney (1969), Purdey, and Mike Gambit (both 1976–1977).
Steed was born John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed sometime between 1922 and 1925 (the actor who played him, Patrick Macnee, was born 1922). A scion of a noble family, Steed attended Eton (like Macnee), where he once got into a fight with the school bully, James Bond, and was eventually expelled (like Macnee). Steed's best friend was Mark Crayford who later followed him into British Intelligence. However Crayford was always secretly jealous of Steed and later defected to the Soviet Union and attempted to destroy Steed and his legacy He was a distinguished veteran of World War II (like Macnee—but here their bios begin to diverge), training with the Coldstream Guards and then transferring to the Intelligence Corps. He spent the early part of his war service posted at RAF Camp 472 Hamelin, which was a jumping-off point for British spies on the continent. He received the Military Cross for single-handedly taking a German machine-gun post. Before leaving the British Army to join "The Ministry" in 1945, Steed achieved the rank of Major.
He maintained a modest mews flat in London during the 1960s (first at 5 Westminster Mews, later at 3 Stable Mews) and drove a variety of elaborate, old-fashioned cars, including a Rolls Royce and several different models of Bentley, one of which he calls Fido. In one episode also a Vauxhall 30/98 can be seen.
There are no further details regarding his family, although he does refer to an Aunt Penelope (who sends him weighty rock cakes by post) in "Dead Man's Treasure" and a 13-year-old nephew in "Legacy of Death".
By The New Avengers, Steed had moved out to the country, to a manor house known as "Steed's Stud", and was no longer driving vintage cars, but contemporary Jaguars instead.
During the first season Steed's character was a more rough-and-tumble operative than the suave, sophisticated gentleman he became during the Gale and Peel eras. His most common style of dress as Dr. Keel's sidekick was a trenchcoat and suit, though the famous bowler hat and umbrella appeared as early as "The Frighteners", the 15th episode to be aired. Most of the first-season episodes are lost, but Macnee hints in his memoir that they initially appeared earlier. During the show's budget-strained first season, Macnee supplemented his on-screen wardrobe with numerous items from his own wardrobe, including the bowler and umbrella. By the second season, Steed had dispensed with the trenchcoat and was found wearing the familiar three-piece suits with which he is afterward identified.
He was initially shown answering to several different superiors such as "One-Ten" and "Charles". During most of the Gale-Peel era the source of his orders was left a mystery. For the final season of the original series (the Tara King era) Steed was shown taking his orders from an obese man called "Mother" who used a wheelchair (and once from a blind woman named "Father").
In The New Avengers, Steed was shown working on his own, and it was suggested that he had moved into an administrative role in British intelligence, although that did not stop him from directly participating in missions.
Out of all his partners, he was closest to Mrs Peel; while their interaction was often laced with dry, sardonic wit on both sides, he respected her as an equal, and owed her his life on more than a few occasions. Regarding the question of whether they had a sexual relationship at any time, Macnee thought they went to bed on a very regular basis (just not in view of the camera), Rigg thought they were engaged in a very enjoyable extended flirtation that ultimately went nowhere, and Brian Clemens said he wrote them with the idea they'd had an affair before Emma's first appearance in the series.
One of Steed's trademarks was his impeccable dress, often consisting of a three-piece suit with bowler hat and ever-present umbrella. His bowler and umbrella were in fact his favourite weapons. Steed's umbrella, with its distinctive whangee handle, was known for containing a concealed sword, though he seldom actually drew the blade, more frequently using the umbrella itself as a striking and hooking weapon. Other specially-equipped umbrellas included one that featured a sound recorder, one with a tip that could emit knock out gas, one with a camera hidden under the handle for covert photography ("The Cybernauts"), and one that contained measures of whisky. (The swordstick featured in the title sequence was made by venerable English umbrella maker James Smith & Sons.) The bowler had a metal plate concealed in its lining and was very hard, it could stop bullets and knock down opponents. Although he was witty and highly sagacious, he was also a suave and ruthless spy. In combat, he is an excellent swordsman and adept at unarmed combat. A bon vivant, he also seemed to be something of an oenophile, having an impeccable palate and a love for champagne. When meeting Tara King, Emma Peel informed her that Steed liked his tea stirred anti-clockwise.
The professional footballer, Steed Malbranque is widely reported to have been named after John Steed on account of his parents having seen their child as the epitome of Britishness.
Fans of John Steed sometimes call themselves "Steedophiles".
Other versions of Steed
- In the 1971 stage play of The Avengers, Steed was played by Simon Oates.
- In the South African radio version of The Avengers which ran from 1971 to 1973, Steed was played by Donald Monat.
- In the 1998 film, Steed was played by Ralph Fiennes. As this film was set in the 1990s and Steed seemed younger than before, this represented a reimagining of the character.
- In 1991's Doctor Who Monthly #173, Gary Russell and artists Mike Collins and Steve Pini show Captain Britain about to hit Steed when Emma Peel shows up behind him.
- John Steed and Emma Peel are spotted in the crowd in KINGDOME COME#2 (1996) by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, where they are both in a bar scene.
- John Steed and Emma Peel appeared in Superman#13 (1988), where John Byrne and Karl Kesel give us the crime-fight duo – unnamed, of course.
- In the new Big Finish audio series The Avengers – The Lost Episodes (2014–present), Steed is played by Julian Wadham.
- Smith, David K. (26 March 2002). "John Steed (Biography)". The Avengers Forever. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
- In the New Avengers episode "Hostage", Gambit asks Steed about the medal, "What did you get that for? Ruthlessness in the field?" Steed: "Dedication to duty." Gambit: "Hmmmm, same thing." (See https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0659317/quotes.) The extremely distinctive medal Steed is wearing with his White Tie is the Order of Merit, recognisable by the shape of its rounded cross, its bright colours, and the large words "FOR MERIT" which appear on it.
- Tim Heald, John Steed: An Authorized Biography: Volume I: Jealous in Honour
- The Avengers episode The Murder Market has the following dialogue:
Lovejoy:"You were commissioned, of course?"
Steed: "Of course."
Lovejoy: "Which regiment?"
Steed: "Guards, of course."
Lovejoy: "Of course. Ah, which Guards?"
Steed: "The Guards, of course."
Lovejoy: "Of course."
- The Avengers episode "The Hour That Never Was" contains numerous details of his time at RAF Hamelin.
- Patrick Macnee: The Avenger Returns: Blind in One Ear (1989)