AS one of the most iconic actresses of her era, Honor Blackman leant The Avengers some leather-clad cool that set many a pulse racing.
So it was little wonder fans from across the world are here to see her and fellow cast members of the classic 1960’s British spy series reunite for a celebration at Chichester University marking its 50th anniversary.
In an exclusive interview with the Observer, the former Bond girl spoke of her time on the gritty show and her fondness for Sussex where she has previously tread the boards at the Festival Theatre.
Taking a well earned break from a signing session, she relaxes with a cup of tea in the VIP room of the event and beckons me to sit alongside her. At 85, she still cuts a glamorous figure and appears to be genuinely enjoying the moment of nostalgia. Organised by the university’s media department, Its mix of memorabilia, screenings and meets with her approval.
“It’s been exhausting but very good indeed. I can’t say I’ve been sitting around waiting for this particular anniversary as I went on to do so many other things than the Avengers, but I can understand why it has meant a lot to people.
I’m very fond of it, I had a fantastic time and it was a very good series as it was extremely well written. I think we only ever had one commercial in it, so we couldn’t stop filming- if someone died in the script then you just had to step over them and get on with it,” says the 85 year-old star whose no-nonsense bike-riding character Dr Cathy Gale was famously bestowed with leather gear after her trousers split in an early section of filming.
This was to prove something of a happy accident as viewers couldn’t get enough of her hard-edged no-nonsense style, especially the action sequences for which she had to learn Judo that lead to her writing a self-defence book.
“There are lots of memories I have from it all, but it’s always the disasters that you remember the most. There was one episode in which I kicked Jackie Pallo (a famous wrestler of the day) in the face during a fight scene by accident. He then fell into a grave and was unconscious,” admits the actress, who reveals there were of course plenty of fun moments. Not least of these was starring alongside Patrick McNee as the true English gent with bowler hat and umbrella.
“Patrick was so lovely, he still is. I haven’t seen him in a long time as he now lives out in Palm Springs and I don’t think he’ll be coming back over here.” She says of her former leading man. Her fondness for him is all too apparent as master of ceremonies for the event, Paul O’Grady chats breezily with her and shows her footage of them receiving a best drama screen award back in 1963. Touchingly, it leaves her on the verge of tears.
The ITV chat host clearly enjoys her presence. He says: “It’s a treat for me to be here.
I have loved it from day one from the very first time I saw it. I did judo because of the show and broke my collar bone after four lessons- mother said no more fighting for you! My flat in London is like Tara King’s apartment and It still influences me very much,” says the presenter who reveals his frustration at ITV’s reluctance to film a 50th anniversary documentary.
Though Honor clearly has many fine memories of the Avengers, how did it compare to her most famous role which she went on to gain, as Pussy Galore alongside Sean Connery in Goldfinger?
“Pussy Galore was far more glamorous, something that you couldn’t say of the Avengers which was not supposed to be. I have to say Sean Connery is the sexiest man I’ve ever met and I have been very luck with the leading men that I’ve worked with,” says the veteran actress who equally enjoyed occasional stage appearances including School For Scandal at Chichester ’s Festival Theatre.
“I remember coming to Chichester well and I love Sussex , it’s a very beautiful county,” adds Honor before rejoining her fellow cast and crew members for a welcome trip down memory lane.
Ensuring the tone, pace and unique quirky humour of the series was largely the role of producer and co-script writer Brian Clemens.
He was clearly enjoying the event, which saw the campus transform itself with an appearance from a 60s Routemaster bus plus a wealth of quirky touches including Steed-inspired umbrellas dotted around the site.
Mr Clemens says: “The show was the happiest thing that I’ve ever worked on. My over-riding memory of it is just laughing so much, I met so many great people with it. The show just started out as a few scripts, but when one of the characters left it paved the way for us bringing a woman in which really changed it. Because we created our own world with it, it’s something that doesn’t really date.
I’d been invited for a Q and A here at the university by the media department which led to this event and we had a fun evening with everyone at the Old Cross in Chichester which was great.”
Memorabilia mad Avengers fan John Buss kindly put on a display at the university over the weekend event.
Visitors marvelled at his array of items, which ranged from original chiffon dresses worn in the series to games, toys and photos from the cult series.
John, from Hailsham, near Eastbourne, said: “It’s such an eccentric show and sums up 60s Britain that everyone wishes exists rather than the reality. I got into watching it through repeats in the 1980s and kept going with my collection ever since.
I’m a big Diana Rigg fan and one of my prize pieces of memorabilia is a doll of her Avengers character Mrs Peel. I’ve got several hundred pieces here but it’s probably only about five percent of my total collection and have things from all the spy series from the 60s.”