Tags: honor blackman | goldfinger | pussy galore | the avengers

Honoring Honor Blackman: Cold War 'Avenger' With Class

the late actress honor blackman
The late actress Honor Blackman posing with an Aston Martin DB5 at a James Bond exhibition in 2002. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

By Tuesday, 07 April 2020 06:02 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The death Monday of British actress Honor Blackman immediately invoked the role for which she is best remembered: Pussy Galore, the judo-chopping rogue pilot in the epic 1964 James Bond film "Goldfinger."

"You can turn off the charm," Pussy icily tells the captive Bond (Sean Connery in his third film as the British Agent 007). "I'm immune."

She wasn't. After a few rough encounters with Bond — including a judo match in a barn — she finally falls for the suave spy and eventually helps him thwart multi-millionaire archvillain Auric Goldfinger's plot to contaminate the gold at Fort Knox with a nuclear bomb.

But Blackman, who was 94 at the time of her death, will also be remembered for another, more noble role. As the first female co-star of the storied TV series "The Avengers," Blackman and co-star Patrick Macnee played very British, very upper-class intelligence agents who dealt with evil-doers ranging from diabolical masterminds to international crime syndicates.

It would be Blackman's successor on the series, Diana Rigg, who would be seen by American audiences and best remembered internationally as the glamorous and sophisticated female Avenger, Mrs. Emma Peel.

But before Mrs. Peel put on her skin-tight outfits known as emma-peelers and dispatched enemies with karate, it was Mrs. Cathy Gale — played by Blackman — who donned black leather suits and subdued her foes with judo.

Most significantly, at the height of the Cold War, "The Avengers" fought the spies Russia sent in to undermine the United Kingdom.

Their timing could not have been better, given what was nothing short of an ordeal undergone by the Oxbridge class (graduates of the elite universities at Oxford and Cambridge) who dominated British intelligence in the 1960s.

In January 1963, diplomat Kim Philby, a product of Britain's elite Eton private school and Cambridge University, admitted he had been spying for the Soviet Union for two previous decades and fled to Moscow.

The revelation left the British people speechless, especially since it came eight years after a parliamentary inquiry cleared Philby of being the third man in a high-level spy ring that also included fellow diplomats Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess (also Cambridge graduates; both were exposed as double agents in 1951 and promptly defected to the Soviet Union).

"I have no reason to conclude that Mr. Philby has at any time betrayed the interests of his country, or to identify him with the so-called third man, if indeed, there was one," concluded then-Foreign Secretary Harold Macmillan.

These words proved, as Macmillan biographer D.R. Thorpe put it, "a hostage to fortune."

Philby's admission of treason and defection to Russia left major black eyes for Macmillan, by then the British prime minister, and the British foreign intelligence service MI6.

In the second "Avengers" season (1962-63), Macnee, as the Savile Row-clad, Eton-educated agent John Steed, found himself with a new partner.

There was no real precedent in British TV or anywhere else for the steely Mrs. Cathy Gale. She knew how to shoot, was a judo expert, and was rarely abducted or overpowered (in contrast to future Steed partners Emma Peel and Tara King, played by Linda Thorson).

Modeled after anthropologist Margaret Mead and photographer Margaret Bourke-White, Gale moved back to London from Africa after her husband was killed in the Mau Mau Rebellion. She then completed her doctorate in anthropology and became the curator of a museum. Obviously well-off, she was a fixture at society parties and was involved in charities.

With the somewhat devious Steed infuriating Gale by frequently "volunteering" her for missions (not to mention making not-so-infrequent passes at her), the duo took on homegrown criminals as well as Russian spies and the British double-agents who helped them.

In "Traitor in Zebra," they uncovered the undercover agents in their midst. In "Don't Look Behind You," Gale encounters Martin Goodman — thwarted by her and Steed in 1953 when he fleeced refugees from East Berlin for their savings with the promise of escape and instead betrayed them to the Stasi (East Germany's secret police).

Driving Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, mixing cocktails almost as soon as they met, and frequently smoking, Steed and Gale seemed unconcerned about money as they set out on their avenging.

Boasting of his generous expense account to the jealous Soviet KGB agent Keller in the episode "The Charmers," Steed says: "England expects and all that. You have to maintain certain standards, you know."

Steed and Gale outwitted Keller, who was so incensed at his superiors in Moscow for cutting his expense budget that he formed a "third force" to kill Russian and British agents. Double agents in the mold of Philby were no match for "The Avengers."

With high ratings, two hit records with Macnee (one entitled "Kinky Boots"), and an audience with the queen behind her, Blackman stunned her co-star and producers by announcing she was leaving the series to be a Bond girl.

Before she died, Blackman told The Guardian she regretted leaving "The Avengers" for "Goldfinger." In her words, "I walked away at the wrong moment. They were just going from black and white to color, they were starting to get real film money."

Honor Blackman, who worked on stage and TV almost right up to her death, will be primarily remembered for her "Goldfinger" role. But among her fellow countrymen, she will also be remembered as Cathy Gale. With John Steed, she gave them hope that no matter how dark the Cold War looked, they would emerge triumphant in the end — and do so with class.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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The death Monday of British actress Honor Blackman immediately invoked the role for which she is best remembered: Pussy Galore, the judo-chopping rogue pilot in the epic 1963 James Bond film "Goldfinger."
honor blackman, goldfinger, pussy galore, the avengers
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2020-02-07
Tuesday, 07 April 2020 06:02 AM
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