Patrick Macnee

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Patrick Macnee
Macnee in an episode of Columbo, 1975
Daniel Patrick Macnee

(1922-02-06)6 February 1922
Paddington, London, England
Died25 June 2015(2015-06-25) (aged 93)
  • United Kingdom
  • United States (from 1959)
EducationEton College
Years active1938–2005
Known forJohn Steed in The Avengers
  • Barbara Douglas
    (m. 1942; div. 1956)
  • (m. 1965; div. 1969)
  • Baba Majos de Nagyzsenye
    (m. 1988; died 2007)

Daniel Patrick Macnee (6 February 1922 – 25 June 2015) was a British-American actor, best known for his breakthrough role as secret agent John Steed in the television series The Avengers (1961–1969). Starting out as the assistant to David Keel (Ian Hendry), he became the lead when Hendry left after the first series, and was subsequently partnered with a succession of female assistants. He later reprised the role in The New Avengers (1976–1977).

Born in London as the eldest son of socialite Dorothea Macnee, he served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War before starting his career as an actor in Canadian television. He appeared in numerous television series up until 2001, including the Twilight Zone episode "Judgement Night" (1959); Columbo; Magnum, P.I.; Hart to Hart; Murder, She Wrote; The Love Boat; and Frasier. In 1984, he was the subject of the British television series This Is Your Life.

Macnee also appeared in Oasis's music video for "Don't Look Back in Anger" (1996). He and Avengers co-star Honor Blackman had a UK Top 10 hit in 1990 when their 1964 song "Kinky Boots" received renewed interest from being played on BBC Radio One.

Notable film roles included Young Jacob Marley in Scrooge (1951), Sir Denis Eton-Hogg in This Is Spinal Tap (1984), and Sir Godfrey Tibbett in A View to a Kill (1985). He is one of the few actors to have played both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in different productions.

Macnee was married three times and had two children. He became a US citizen in 1959, and from the mid-1970s, he lived at Rancho Mirage, California, where he died in 2015 at the age of 93.

Early life and career[edit]

The elder of two sons, Macnee was born in Paddington, London, England, on 6 February 1922;[1] to Daniel Macnee (1878–1952) and British socialite Dorothea Mabel Macnee (née Henry) (1896–1984). His father, who was a grandson of the Scottish artist Sir Daniel Macnee, trained race horses in Lambourn, and was known for his dress sense;[1][2] he had served as an officer in the Yorkshire Dragoons in the First World War.[3] His maternal grandmother was Frances Alice Hastings (1870–1945), who was the daughter of Vice-Admiral George Fowler Hastings and granddaughter of The 12th Earl of Huntingdon. His younger brother James, known as Jimmy, was born five years later.[4] Macnee saw himself as a Scot.[5]

Macnee's parents separated after his mother came out as a lesbian. His father later moved to India, and his mother began to live with her wealthy partner, Evelyn Spottiswoode, whose money came from the Dewar's whisky business.[6] Macnee referred to her in his autobiography as "Uncle Evelyn", and she helped pay for his schooling. He was educated at Summer Fields School and Eton College, where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps and was one of the guard of honour for King George V at St George's Chapel in 1936. He was later expelled from Eton for selling pornography and being a bookmaker for his fellow students.[2]

Macnee studied acting at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, but shortly before he was to perform in his first West End leading role, which would have had him acting alongside Vivien Leigh, he was called up for the Royal Navy.[2] He joined as an ordinary seaman in October 1942[2] and was commissioned a sub-lieutenant in June 1943, becoming a navigator on Motor Torpedo Boats in the English Channel and North Sea.[3] Reassigned as first lieutenant on a second MTB, Macnee caught bronchitis just before D-Day; while he was recuperating in hospital, his boat and crew were lost in action. Two of the crew received the Distinguished Service Medal.[2] He left the Royal Navy in 1946 as a lieutenant.[2][3]

Macnee nurtured his acting career in Canada early on, but he also appeared as an uncredited extra in the British films Pygmalion (1938), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), as well as some live TV dramas for the BBC, before graduating to credited roles in such films as Scrooge (US: A Christmas Carol, 1951), as young Jacob Marley; the Gene Kelly vehicle Les Girls (1957), as an Old Bailey barrister; and the war film The Battle of the River Plate (1956). Between these occasional movie roles, Macnee spent the better part of the 1950s working in dozens of small roles in American and Canadian television and theatre, including an appearance in an episode of One Step Beyond ("Night of April 14th") and The Twilight Zone ("Judgment Night") in 1959. Disappointed in his limited career development, in the late 1950s Macnee was daily smoking 80 cigarettes and drinking a bottle of whisky.[7]

In the early 1960's before his career-making role in The Avengers, Macnee took a break from acting and served as one of the London-based producers for the classic documentary series The Valiant Years, based on the Second World War memoirs of Winston Churchill.[8][9]

The Avengers[edit]

While working in London on the Churchill series, Macnee was offered the role in The Avengers (1961–69), (originally intended to be known as Jonathan Steed), for which he became best known. The series was conceived as a vehicle for Ian Hendry,[10] who played the lead role of Dr. David Keel in a sequel to an earlier series, Police Surgeon (1960), while John Steed was his assistant. Macnee, though, became the lead after Hendry's departure at the end of the first series.[11] Macnee played opposite a succession of glamorous female partners: Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. Of the 161 completed episodes, Macnee appeared in all but two, both from the first series.

Although Macnee evolved in the role as the series progressed, the key elements of Steed's persona and appearance were present from the beginning: the slightly mysterious demeanour and, increasingly, the light, suave, flirting tone with ladies (and always with his female partners). Finally, from the episodes with Blackman onwards, the trademark bowler hat and umbrella completed the image. Although it was traditionally associated with London "city gents", the ensemble of suit, umbrella and bowler had developed in the post-war years as mufti for ex-servicemen attending Armistice Day ceremonies. Steed's sartorial style may also have been drawn from Macnee's father.[2][6] Macnee, alongside designer Pierre Cardin, adapted the look into a style all his own, and he went on to design several outfits himself for Steed based on the same basic theme. Steed was also the central character of The New Avengers (1976–77), in which he was teamed with agents named Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and Mike Gambit (Gareth Hunt).

Macnee insisted on, and was proud of, almost never carrying a gun in the original series; when asked why, he explained, "I'd just come out of a World War in which I'd seen most of my friends blown to bits."[12] Lumley later said she did all the gun-slinging in The New Avengers for the same reason.[13]

When asked in June 1982 which Avengers female lead was his favourite, Macnee declined to give a specific answer. "Well, I'd rather not say. To do so would invite trouble," he told TV Week magazine. Macnee did provide his evaluation of the female leads. Of Honor Blackman he said, "She was wonderful, presenting the concept of a strong-willed, independent and liberated woman just as that sort of woman was beginning to emerge in society." Diana Rigg was "One of the world's great actresses. A superb comedienne. I'm convinced that one day she'll be Dame Diana" (his prediction came true in 1994). Linda Thorson was "one of the sexiest women alive" while Joanna Lumley was "superb in the role of Purdey. An actress who is only now realising her immense potential."[14]

Macnee co-wrote two original novels based upon The Avengers during the 1960s, titled Dead Duck and Deadline. He hosted the documentary The Avengers: The Journey Back (1998), directed by Clyde Lucas.[15]

For the critically lambasted film version of The Avengers (1998), he lent his voice in a cameo as Invisible Jones. The character John Steed was taken over by Ralph Fiennes.

Later roles[edit]

Macnee in 1998

Macnee's other significant roles included playing Sir Godfrey Tibbett opposite Roger Moore in the James Bond film A View to a Kill (1985); as Major Crossley in The Sea Wolves (again with Moore); guest roles in Encounter; Alias Smith and Jones (for Glen A. Larson); Magnum, P.I.; Hart to Hart; Murder, She Wrote and The Love Boat. Although his best known role was heroic, many of his television appearances were as villains; among them were his roles of both the demonic Count Iblis and his provision of the character voice of the Cylons' Imperious Leader in Battlestar Galactica, also for Glen A. Larson, for which he also supplied the show's introductory voiceover. He also presented the American paranormal series Mysteries, Magic and Miracles. Macnee appeared on Broadway as the star of Anthony Shaffer's mystery Sleuth in 1972–73.[16] He subsequently headlined the national tour of that play.[citation needed]

Macnee reunited with Diana Rigg in her short-lived sitcom Diana (1973) in a single episode. Other television appearances include a guest appearance on Columbo in the episode "Troubled Waters" (1975); and playing Major Vickers in For the Term of his Natural Life (1983). He had recurring roles in the crime series Gavilan with Robert Urich and in the short-lived satire on big business, Empire (1984), as Dr. Calvin Cromwell. Macnee was known for narrating various James Bond Documentaries on Special Edition DVD. He also narrated the documentary Ian Fleming: 007's Creator (2000).[17]

Macnee featured prominently in two editions of the long-running British television series This Is Your Life: in 1978, when he and host Eamonn Andrews, both dressed as Steed, surprised Ian Hendry, and in 1984 when he was the edition's unsuspecting subject.

He also appeared in several cult films: in The Howling (1981), as Dr. George Waggner (named whimsically after the director of The Wolf Man, 1941) and as Sir Denis Eton-Hogg in the rockumentary comedy This Is Spinal Tap (1984). He played Dr. Stark in The Creature Wasn't Nice (1981), also called Spaceship and Naked Space. Macnee played the role of actor David Mathews in the television movie Rehearsal for Murder (1982), which starred Robert Preston and Lynn Redgrave. The movie was from a script written by Columbo co-creators Richard Levinson and William Link. He replaced Leo G. Carroll's character as the head of U.N.C.L.E. as Sir John Raleigh in Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen-Years-Later Affair (1983), produced by Michael Sloan. He was featured in the science fiction television movie Super Force (1990) as E. B. Hungerford (the subsequent series featured Macnee's voiceover as part of a computer simulation of his character), as a supporting character in the parody film Lobster Man from Mars (1989) as Professor Plocostomos and in the television film The Return of Sam McCloud (1989) as Tom Jamison. He made an appearance in Frasier (2001),[18] and several episodes of the American sci-fi series Nightman as Dr. Walton, a psychiatrist who advised the main character. Macnee appeared in two episodes of the series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (1993–94) and was a retired agent in a handful of instalments of Spy Game (1997–98).

Macnee made numerous TV commercials including one around 1990 for Swiss Chalet, the Canadian restaurant chain, and a year or so before, a commercial for the Sterling Motor Car Company. Over the James Bond theme, the car duels with a motorcycle assailant at high speed through mountainous territory, ultimately eludes the foe, and reaches its destination. Macnee steps out of the car and greets viewers with a smile, saying "I suppose you were expecting someone else". Macnee was the narrator for several "behind-the-scenes" featurettes for the James Bond series of DVDs and recorded numerous audio books, including the releases of many novels by Jack Higgins. He also recorded the children's books The Musical Life of Gustav Mole and its sequel, The Lost Music (Gustav Mole's War on Noise), both written by Michael Twinn.

Macnee featured in two pop videos: as Steed in original Avengers footage in The Pretenders' video for their song "Don't Get Me Wrong" (1986) and in the promotion for Oasis' video "Don't Look Back in Anger" (1996), as the band's driver, a role similar to that which he played in the James Bond film A View to a Kill (1985). In 1990, his recording with his Avengers co-star Honor Blackman, called "Kinky Boots" (1964), reached the UK Singles Chart after being played on Simon Mayo's BBC Radio One breakfast show.

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson[edit]

Macnee appeared in Magnum, P.I. (1984) as a retired British agent who suffered from the delusion that he was Sherlock Holmes, in a season four episode titled Holmes Is Where the Heart Is. He played both Holmes and Dr. Watson on several occasions. He played Watson three times: once alongside Roger Moore's Sherlock Holmes in the television film Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976), and twice with Christopher Lee, first in Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991), and then in Incident at Victoria Falls (1992). He played Holmes in another television film The Hound of London (1993), along with the Canadian television film Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Temporal Nexus (1996).[19] He is thus one of only a small number of actors to have portrayed both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on screen.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Macnee married his first wife Barbara Douglas (1921–2012) in 1942. They had two children, Rupert and Jenny, and a grandson, Christopher ("Kit"). After they were divorced in 1956, his second marriage (1965–1969) was to actress Katherine Woodville. From 1973 to 1991, Macnee owned a home in the Deep Well neighborhood of Palm Springs, California.[21] His third marriage was to Baba Majos de Nagyzsenye, daughter of opera singer Ella Némethy. It lasted from 1988 until her death in 2007.[22] Macnee became a United States citizen in 1959.[23][24] He dictated his autobiography, which he titled Blind in One Ear: The Avenger Returns (1988), to Marie Cameron.[25] Later in life, Macnee was an enthusiastic naturist.[26]


On 25 June 2015, Macnee died at Rancho Mirage, California, his home for the previous four decades, at the age of 93.[27][28]


For credit listings reference[29]


Year Title Role Notes ref
1938 Pygmalion Extra Uncredited
1943 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp Extra Uncredited
1948 The Fatal Night Tony
Hamlet Extra Uncredited
1949 The Small Back Room Man at Committee Meeting Uncredited
All Over the Town Mr. Vince
1950 The Girl Is Mine Hugh Hurcombe
Seven Days to Noon Bit Part Uncredited
Dick Barton at Bay Phillips Credited as Patrick McNee [30]
The Elusive Pimpernel Honorable John Bristow Released in the United States as The Fighting Pimpernel [31]
1951 Flesh and Blood Sutherland Uncredited
Scrooge Young Jacob Marley Released in the United States as A Christmas Carol
1955 Three Cases of Murder Guard Subaltern Uncredited [32]
1956 The Battle of the River Plate Lieutenant Commander Ralph Medley [33]
1957 Les Girls Sir Percy Also known as Cole Porter's Les Girls [34]
Until They Sail Private Duff (scenes deleted)
1970 Incense for the Damned Derek Longbow Also released as Bloodsuckers, Freedom Seeker and Doctors Wear Scarlet [35]
1970 Mister Jerico Dudley Jerico
1978 Battlestar Galactica Imperious Leader/Narrator Voice; Uncredited
1979 The Billion Dollar Threat Horatio Black
King Solomon's Treasure Captain John Good R.N. Macnee replaced Terry-Thomas.
1980 The Sea Wolves Major 'Yogi' Crossley
1981 The Howling Dr. George Waggner [36][37]
The Hot Touch Vincent Reyblack [38][39]
1982 Young Doctors in Love Jacobs
1983 Sweet Sixteen Dr. John Morgan
The Creature Wasn't Nice Dr. Stark Also known as Naked Space and Spaceship
1984 This Is Spinal Tap Sir Denis Eton-Hogg
1985 A View to a Kill Sir Godfrey Tibbett
Shadey Sir Cyril Landau [40]
1988 Waxwork Sir Wilfred [41]
Transformations Father Christopher
1989 Chill Factor Carl Lawton
Lobster Man from Mars Professor Plocostomos
Masque of the Red Death Machiavel [42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49]
Eye of the Widow Andrew Marcus
1992 Waxwork II: Lost in Time Sir Wilfred
1993 King B: A Life in the Movies Himself
1998 The Avengers Invisible Jones, a Ministry Agent Voice only. Adaptation of the 1960s TV series Macnee had starred in [50][51][52]
2002 Puckoon RUC Officer Non speaking cameo appearance
2003 The Low Budget Time Machine Dr. Ballard


Year Title Role Notes ref
1948 Wuthering Heights Edgar Linton BBC adaptation of the novel in single play format
1953 Tales of Adventure Roger Sudden
1955 On Camera Guest star Recurring character
1957 Matinee Theater Edward Rochester An hour-long color adaptation of Jane Eyre with Joan Elan as the female lead
1958 The Veil Constable Hawton Episode: "Vision of Crime"
1959 The Twilight Zone First Officer Episode: "Judgment Night"
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Sergeant John Theron Season 5 Episode 1: "Arthur"
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Professor Kersley Season 5 Episode 2: "The Crystal Trench"
Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond Fiancé
1959–60 The Swamp Fox British Captain Main cast
1961–1969 The Avengers John Steed Main cast
1964 The Importance of Being Earnest Algernon Moncrieff Television adaptation for Armchair Theatre
1970 The Virginian Connor Episode: "A Kings Ransom"
1971 Alias Smith and Jones Norman Alexander 1 episode
1975 Columbo Captain Gibbon Episode: "Troubled Waters"
1976 Sherlock Holmes in New York Dr. Watson Television film
1976–77 The New Avengers John Steed Main cast
1977 Dead of Night Dr. Gheria Television film
1978 Evening in Byzantium Ian Waldeigh Television film
The Hardy Boys "S" (ostensibly John Steed) Guest Starred in Season 3 Episode: "Assault on the Tower" which was an unofficial crossover with The Avengers [53]
Battlestar Galactica Imperious Leader/Narrator / Count Iblis
  • Voice for episodes: 1–12 (*uncredited) Count Iblis: "War of The Gods" episodes: 15 & 16 (credited)
1979 $weepstake$ Rodney Episode: "Vince, Pete and Patsy, Jessica and Rodney" (S 1:Ep 3)
1980 The Littlest Hobo Elmer Episode: "Diamonds Are a Dog's Best Friend" (S 1:Ep 18)
1982 Rehearsal for Murder David Mathews Television film
1982–83 Gavilan Milo Bentley Main cast
1983 Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. Sir John Raleigh A reunion telefilm subtitled The Fifteen Years Later Affair was broadcast on CBS in the US on 5 April 1983, with Vaughn and McCallum reprising their roles, and Macnee replacing Leo G. Carroll as the head of U.N.C.L.E. A framed picture of Carroll appeared on his desk.
For the Term of his Natural Life Major Vickers Miniseries [54][55]
1984 Empire Calvin Cromwell Main cast
1984 Magnum, P.I. David Worth Episode: "Holmes Is Where the Heart Is" (S 4:Ep 18, airing 8 March 1984): In which Higgins is writing his memoirs about a former Sandhurst classmate who now thinks he is Sherlock Holmes.
1984 Hart to Hart Matthew Grade Episode: "Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch" (S 5:Ep 22, airing 22 May 1984). This was the final ever episode made of Hart to Hart. Patrick Macnee played the role of a jewel thief.
1985 Lime Street Sir Geoffrey Rimbatten Main cast
1986 Blacke's Magic Nigel Beechum Episode 11: "It's a Jungle Out There"
1989 War of the Worlds Valery Kedrov Episode: "Epiphany"
Around the World in 80 Days Ralph Gautier Miniseries
Dick Francis: Blood Sport Geoffrey Keeble
Dick Francis: In the Frame Geoffrey Keeble
Dick Francis: Twice Shy Geoffrey Keeble
The Return of Sam McCloud Tom Jamison Television movie of the series
1990–92 Super Force Voice of E.B. Hungerford
1991 Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady Dr. Watson Television film
The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw Sir Colin Miniseries
1992 Incident at Victoria Falls Dr. Watson Television film
1993 The Hound of London Sherlock Holmes Television film
1994 Thunder in Paradise Edward Whitaker Main cast
1996 The Case of the Temporal Nexus Sherlock Holmes Television film
1997–98 Night Man Dr. Walton Recurring
1997 Spy Game Mr. Black Episode: "Why Spy?" (S 1:Ep 1 −Pilot)
Light Lunch Himself Episode: "The Avengers... Still Kinky After All These Years" (S 1:Ep 42)
Diagnosis: Murder Bernard Garrison Episode: "Discards" (S 5:Ep 10)
1999 Nancherrow Lord Peter Awliscombe Television film
Through the Keyhole House Owner Episode: "29 March 1999" (S 3:Ep 1)
2000 Family Law Sir Thomas Matthews Episode: "Second Chance" (S 1:Ep 21)
2001 Frasier Cecil Headley Episode: "The Show Must Go Off" (S 8:Ep 12)
2003 That Was the Week We Watched Himself Episode: "11–17 April 1970" (S 1:Ep 2)
2005 After They Were Famous Himself Episode: "Crimefighters" (S 4:Ep 7)


  • Real Ghost Stories: The Dead and the Restless (1997)[a]
  • Real Ghost Stories: The Wild West of the Dead (1997)[a]
  • Real Ghost Stories: Spirits, Graveyards & Ghostbusters (1997)[a]
  • Real Ghost Stories: The Poltergeists (1997)[a]
  • Real Ghost Stories: The London Underworld & Beyond (1997)[a]
  • Unexplained Mysteries: Nostradamus (1999 Front Row Entertainment, Inc.)
  • Unexplained Mysteries: Out of Body Experience (1999 Front Row Entertainment, Inc.)
  • Unexplained Mysteries: Haunted Historic Sites (1999 Front Row Entertainment, Inc.)
  • Unexplained Mysteries: Miracle Healings (2000 Front Row Entertainment, Inc.)
  • Unexplained Mysteries: World of Satanism (2000 Front Row Entertainment, Inc.)
  • Unexplained Mysteries: Jack The Ripper (2001 Front Row Entertainment, Inc.)
  • Unexplained Mysteries: Cryonics (2001 Front Row Entertainment, Inc.)
  • Ian Fleming: 007's Creator (2000)[a]
  • The Spirit of Diana (2003)[a]
  • Unlocking DaVinci's Code (2004)[a]
  • The Witnessing of Angels (2010)[a]
  • Real Ghost Stories: Hollywood Ghosts (2010)[a]
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j All of the documentaries are narrated by voice only.

Music videos[edit]


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  30. ^ Bruce G. Hallenbeck, British Cult Cinema: Hammer Fantasy and Sci-Fi, Hemlock Books 2011 p. 46
  31. ^ "The Elusive Pimpernel aka The Fighting Pimpernel". TCM. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  32. ^ "Three Cases Of Murder" Film Short Stories The Times 16 May 1955.
  33. ^ "The Powell & Pressburger Pages: Captain Ralph Medley obituary". Retrieved 25 June 2015.
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  45. ^ "Masque of the Red Death, The 2. US movie (1989). Concorde". Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997). Roger Corman has made two movies with this title. 1. UK/US movie (1964). Anglo Amalgamated. Pr George Willoughby. Exec pr Nat Cohen, Stuart Levy. Dir Corman. 2. US movie (1989). Concorde. Pr Corman. Dir Larry Brand. Screenplay Brand, Daryl Haney.[permanent dead link]
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External links[edit]