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)
Major The Hon. John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed MC, OM 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 the late 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.
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), Venus Smith (1962-1963), Dr. Martin King (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). 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.
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 "The Frighteners", the 15th episode to be aired. Quite probably they made their debut even earlier—most of the first season episodes are lost, but Macnee hints so in his memoir. During the show's budget-strained first season, in fact 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, as well as his bowler and umbrella.
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 were 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 who used a wheelchair called "Mother" (and once from a blind woman named "Father").
In The New Avengers, Steed was once again shown working on his own, and it was suggested that he had moved up into a "Mother"-like role in British intelligence, although that didn't 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, sarcastic 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 (or Coke) 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 sword, though there were other versions, including one that featured a sound recorder and 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 was metal plated and very hard, it could stop bullets and knock down opponents. Although he was witty, highly sagacious, he is a suave, redoubted and ruthless spy. In combat, he is an excellent Swordsman. A bon vivant, he also seemed to be something of an oenophile, having an impeccable palate and a love for Champagne.
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 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 http://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)