John Steed: The Man Two Girls Left For Bond

Avengers John Steed Grey Suit

Before James Bond came to the screen in 1962, a few secret agents had already been established on camera. Patrick MacNee may be best known to Bond fans for his role as Sir Godfrey Tibbett in A View to a Kill. Years earlier in 1961 he first starred as John Steed in The Avengers with future Bond girls Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg, and by 1962 he had established himself as one of the dandiest spies known for his bowler and umbrella. His suits were English and had an Edwardian flair, just as Roger Moore’s suits in colour episodes of The Saint have. But rather than having narrow lapels, shorter jackets lengths and drainpipe trousers, MacNee’s suits are classically proportioned in all ways. MacNee chose to set his suits apart with unique details such as velvet collars and cloth-covered buttons.

For the first four season MacNee wore English-tailored suits. The clothes in the fifth series are credited to Pierre Cardin, though later in that series MacNee again starts wearing some of his own English-tailored suits from the forth series and earlier, like the suit pictured here that dates back to the first series. Patrick MacNee was even credited for designing his own suits in the sixth series of the show, which very much resemble the suits from the fourth series and earlier with the single-button front and velvet collar. He was not credited for his wardrobe before the sixth series, but they were most likely created at his direction.

Avengers John Steed Grey Suit Cuff

This mid grey three-piece suit pictured in this article has a timeless cut that is undeniably the Savile Row cut, with a straight shoulder on the natural shoulder line, a fairly clean chest, closely-fitted waist and flared skirt. The jacket buttons one and has double vents, slanted flap pockets with a ticket pocket and a flap breast pocket. The jacket’s flared cuffs have a vent but neither a button nor an overlap. It’s a far more elegant option to not have buttons on the cuffs than it is to leave one open, as many choose to do these days. It also does a great job at framing the shirt’s double cuffs. Roger Moore later wore this style cuff on his adventurous double-breasted suit in The Man Who Haunted Himself. The waistcoat buttons six with very wide notch lapels and a straight bottom. All buttons on the jacket and waistcoat are covered in the suit’s grey cloth. The trousers have a flat front with cross pockets and plain bottoms.

MacNee wears a light blue shirt with a cutaway collar—a traditional cutaway that’s not as extreme and today’s fashionable variations can be—and double cuffs. The tie is mid grey with white polka dots, and it’s tied in a Windsor knot. MacNee often wore black ankle boots with elastic gussets with this type of suit, and a grey suede variation on occasion.

Avengers John Steed Grey Suit

The images of this suit come from one of it’s few appearances in colour, in the fifth series episode “You Have Just Been Murdered.” Though we’re seeing this suit in 1967, it was quite an adventurous style for when it was tailored in 1961. This appearance of the suit lacks Steed’s trademark bowler and umbrella, but we’ll see that and more the next time I write about The Avengers.

See the book Reading between Designs by Piers D. Britton and Simon J. Barker for a comprehensive overview of John Steed’s wardrobe.

19 thoughts on “John Steed: The Man Two Girls Left For Bond

  1. Matt, you forgot about Joanna Lumley- Ohmss- but I think she started in Bond and then went to the New Avengers in a starring role alongside MacNee

  2. Not to mention Diana Rigg, who lights up these photos and just about everything else she appeared in! Well said in this commentary, Matt!!!

  3. Lovely suit. I’d wear it today.

    I was always an admirer of McNee’s suits. In the early nineties, when it seemed virtually impossible to buy anything other than double-breasted Kent fasson style suits, this was really the sort of suit I craved.

  4. Before any accusations of affectation roll in, it’s probably worth noting explicitly that Steed’s clothing was MEANT to be foppish — and in fact the suit considered in this post is the most understated of his outfits from the middle and latter sixties. In a series where there was even less of a baseline in “realism” (whatever that means) than the Bond franchise, Steed was very deliberately set up as a larger-than-life figure, and his apparent effeteness served in the stories to mask–or, from the audience’s point of view, complement–his ruthlessness. Some of the outfits with which Macnee most strongly identified are also the most idiosyncratic and playful, notably those in which the collar is, as in a Chesterfield, covert coat or hunting coat, made of velvet, to which Matt briefly alludes (and on which I hope he’ll say more). The evocation of equestrian styles was important, partly because of Macnee’s background with and prowess in riding (which we get to see in one of the 1965 episodes with Diana Rigg), and partly, of course, because of the equine associations of his character’s name.

    The “Designed by Himself” in the closing titles was a bit of a stretch, as Macnee has admitted in more recent years. He clearly did have input into his costuming, and has consistently said that he wanted overtones of Regency dress (perhaps most notably the flared or revered cuffs, braiding, and the straight-cut “post-boy” waistcoat which enjoyed a modest vogue in Britain in the mid sixties, partly due to the massive popularity of The Avengers). However, it was really Audrey Liddle, costume designer during the series’ early years, and Ambren Garland, head of Wardrobe at ABC, who cemented the Steed look, in consort with his tailors, Bailey and Weatherill of Regent Street. It’s my understanding that B&W continued to make Macnee’s wardrobe even when it was being designed by Cardin, and it was possible to order a “Steed suit” from them during the programme’s heyday.

    Having said all that, the “Designed by Himself” is important in that it signals clearly a break with Cardin, whose costumes for Macnee represented a jolting shift (in my view a very unfortunate one) away from what had by then crystallized as “Steed style.” I will add that–again, in my view–Macnee knew what suited his physique, and Cardin clearly had less interest in making the star look good than in promulgating his own mid-sixties menswear styles. The long line of the button one jacket flattered Macnee (and drew the eye from his somewhat thickened girth in the latter part of the ’66-’67 series): the high-fastening, button three jackets designed by Cardin did not.

    If I had to pick a favourite three-piece suit from The Avengers (which for me basically means from all television), this would be it. Thanks, Matt, for including it.

    • Thank you for your comment. Maybe you can answer this for me. Is the navy peak-lapel suit from the fifth series opening title (and many episodes in that series) from Cardin? I like that suit, especially for the high 2-button style where Steed usually only fastened the bottom. Otherwise the Cardin suits don’t do much for me. Next time I write about The Avengers it will be a velvet-collared suit.

    • I’m afraid I can’t definitively answer that, and have often wondered myself, as I also like that suit. Steed’s wardrobe around the beginning of the first colour season is something of a grey area. In the first couple of episodes recorded, Macnee is clearly wearing clothes made for prior series plus some new outfits that do not seem to fit the Cardin profile but do reflect Steed’s established look (e.g. a chalk-stripe suit that is, as far as I can tell, new but clearly modelled after one he had worn before). Evidently the Cardin suits had not yet been delivered when shooting began – or else the agreement had not been finalized.

      It has generally been claimed that Cardin introduced (welted) breast pockets into Steed’s suits, as well as new styling such as the higher fastening jackets and ‘pencil-line’ trousers. Since the navy suit has a breast pocket, we might assume on those grounds alone that it’s a Cardin. However, as so often when couturiers get involved in film and television projects, I think some details got distorted or elided in the sweeping statements made in press releases, interviews and other publicity. Very little about this suit suggests the Cardin Steed collection to me – and I’d point out in particular that the jacket cuffs are identical with those on the grey suit you’ve just been describing; that’s certainly not a Cardin innovation, nor anything that we see again in the jackets designed by Cardin. So my inference is that this is not Cardin, but a Macnee/Bailey & Weatherill creation.

    • First, I must say I’m delighted to see that you’re delving into The Avengers territory Mr. Spaiser, and PDGB’s reply presents very valuable insight into questions I’ve been trying to answer for some time.

      Personally I’ve always assumed that the navy peak-lapel suit was a Cardin design, based solely on the fact that it differs a lot from earlier Steed suits. But as is pointed out, it doesn’t quite resemble other confirmed Cardin designs either. The most intriguing part is that there appears to be two of them, one with buttoned cuffs and one without. The peak-lapel design is first seen in ‘Escape in Time’ (production order), without cuff buttons, resembling the grey suit. In all other appearances (if I’m not mistaken) the suit features cufflink-style buttons. I thought the buttons were just added later, until i found the ‘Escape in Time’ suit at an auction site. I’d be happy to post the link, but wasn’t sure if this would be tolerated by WordPress or considered a spam risk.

      The site only mentions the appearance in ‘Escape in Time’, thus suggesting two suits. But most importantly, it provides a photo of the tailor’s label, namely Hammond & Boyle Ltd. of 22 New Quebec St, W1. The label is dated 20th of August ’66. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to find more information about Hammond & Boyle.

      Apart from this I haven’t been able to find any information about Patrick Macnees tailor(s), so the mentioning of Bailey & Weatherill is greatly appreciated. Would this by any chance be the same as recently relaunched Bernard Weatherill, specialising in hunting- and country-tailoring?

    • Very intriguing!

      As regards Bailey & Weatherill (a Google search for whom will actually yield quite a few interesting results), various publications mention Macnee’s patronage of them. I don’t have my Avengers notes to hand, so I’m working from memory, but you can certainly find information both in Dave Rogers’ books on The Avengers and in Macnee’s memoir, Blind in One Ear. (For exact citations, see the book I co-wrote with Simon Barker, “Reading Between Designs.”) I’ve also had verbal testimony from wardrobe personnel and staff at Berman’s & Angel’s that Bailey & Weatherill were used throughout the series — though bear in mind I was getting this information in the mid-to-late nineties: memories do cheat, and tales do improve with the telling. As to Bernard Weatherill: there may be no connection, but the spelling of the name is sufficiently distinctive that it does seem a little bit of a coincidence …

      There may well have been more than one dark blue suit; in fact, it’s pretty much certain there were at least two made (given the number of stunts involved in The Avengers, and the speed of production) and probably more. Having said that, I’m 90% sure that “The Correct Way to Kill” the suit jacket again has the flared cuffs with no overlap; it certainly does in “You Have Just Been Murdered” (where I seem to think you can see link buttons like those on Roger Moore’s jackets from LALD and TMWTGG). At some point when I have more time, I’ll check some of the other episodes (if someone posting else here doesn’t beat me to the punch.) Even so, it’s conceivable that not all the duplicates were precisely identical.

      Given the date on the label for the auctioned suit, it seems likely that this was the original, not a duplicate of an original made by a “lesser” tailor, though absent any further data there’s no clear way of proving this now. It would be good to know more about Hammond & Boyle.

    • Since I first posted this article I had amended it with a line to refer to your excellent book for more on Steed’s wardrobe. I am currently cataloguing the suits of the two colour series, before going back to previous series to see exactly what was made earlier.

  5. Is this suit from Pierre Cardin? i didnt imagine a brand as cheap as cardin could make a suit look so luxurious…

    • This one is not from Cardin, but as I mentioned it’s English tailored. However, Steed’s Cardin suits were not the cheap department store suits that you know from today. He was a respected fashion designer.

  6. I look forward to more occasional dips into Macnee’s Avengers suits, Matt, and in the light of this I have to qualify a comment I made regarding Windsor Knots never being worn by a truly well dressed man on foot of a post a while back; while I still don’t especiallly care for them, Patrick Macnee is an innately elegant man and his ties, Windsor knots or not, complemented his unique suits (unique at least for the original 1960’s series) beautifully.

    I read that Macnee modelled the character and clothing of Steed on a character he saw in a 1939 movie called “Q Planes”, played, I think, by the actor Ralph Richardson. The film I’m certain about anyway.

    Also, an interesting aside from Macnee which he related about the time he was filming some awfully put together episodes of the “New Avengers” in Canada. Meeting the actor Peter O’Toole in a lift (elevator) of a Toronto hotel, O’Toole asked the perenially dapper Macnee why was he in town and what role he was playing. “Steed”, he replied. To which O’Toole replied “but Patrick, you’re always playing Steed”!

    • I will admit that my admiration for Steed style is part of what makes me bristle over blanket negative criticism of the Windsor knot — and part of the reason, too, why I periodically use such a knot with a spread-collar shirt like Macnee’s.

      As to influences, the Richardson character from Q Planes, Hammond, is probably less a sartorial inspiration, ironically, than Leslie Howard’s Sir Percy Blakeney in the 1934 Scarlet Pimpernel (though the influence there is obviously not direct). Major Hammond is a snappy dresser, but also thoroughly modern for the date of Q Planes, whereas Steed’s dress knowingly riffs on (and exaggerates) the so-called neo-Edwardian styles of the post war, ex-military smart set, and so is much more deliberately rooted in tradition and ultra-conservatism. Before the bowler hat became a permanent fixture, Macnee did sometimes wear a jaunty trilby that more closely evoked Major Hammond. Overall, it was Richardson’s mixture of insouciance and lethalness in the role (which, of course, Howard also projected as the Pimpernel) which seems mostly to have inspired Macnee, according to various interviews and memoirs. Macnee’s use of the brolly as a prop does, however, quite clearly derive, in part at least, from Richardson’s performance.

    • Regarding the peak-lapel suit, where I was not given the alternative of posting further comments;

      Thank you for the recommended literature, I currently only have ‘The Avengers: A Celebration’ at my disposal, and sadly it doesn’t focus all that much on the tailoring, except for the Cardin collaboration and mentioning of the Hardy Amies-designed Hepworths sports jackets. I will definitely look further into Bailey & Weatherill, as well as picking up your own book on the subject. Do you also happen to know whether Sir Hardy provided more designs during the series early years? I seem to recall a photograph of a pre-Cardin Avengers fashion show featuring Hardy Amies, but I have mislaid the source for this.

      I can confirm that ‘The Correct Way To Kill’ also features the link buttons, since I double-checked this very episode before making my previous reply. I am fairly certain that it is just the intro sequence and ‘Escape in Time’ that features this design without link buttons.

    • The resemblance is striking, at least in the few pictures I’ve seen, but I have no idea if this is intentional. They do seem to share a penchant for umbrellas, velvet collars, tie pins and jackets with a pronounced waist, and both had bowlers made by Herbert Johnson & Sons. There is one coat in particular that always makes me think of Bunny Rogers, the grey double breasted with a shearling (?) collar, worn by Steed in ‘The Thirteenth Hole’ and ‘Quick-Quick Slow Death’.

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