Sunday, March 27, 2011

Banned TV: THE AVENGERS "A Touch Of Brimstone" 1966


Back in 1966 one particular episode of THE AVENGERS created a little stir both in the U.S. and in the UK. "A Touch Of Brimstone" featured an evil club of pranksters who resurrected the infamous Hellfire Club. The Hellfire Club had roots in secret cult clubs in England and Ireland in the 18th century where men of some nobility would engage in evil pranks, wenching and heavy drinking. Although some of these clubs claimed that the Devil was their club leader, none of the clubs were actually used for Satan worship. They were simply private clubs were nobles would act with immorality much like some gentleman's clubs of today fulfill in perhaps more tame and legal ways. One of these original underground clubs came to an end in 1721 when King George I proclaimed a new law to stamp out immoral clubs.


THE AVENGERS episode involved about as much eroticism as was possible for TV at the time including a black bondage influenced costume with a spiked necklace for actress Diana Rigg as the "Queen Of Sin" with dark makeup and a later scene where she is assaulted with a bullwhip. The bullwhip scene had to slightly edited for British TV to satisfy the censors. However, American censors and ABC TV executives were much more unhappy about this heavily erotic episode of this very popular British TV program and refused to even air the episode in the U.S.


In many ways, the original episodes of CSI with William Peterson almost seem somewhat inspired by THE AVENGERS. William Peterson's intellectual patter and dryly funny wit almost seemed like a lift from the eccentric British elegance of THE AVENGERS. CSI also later introduced a reoccurring mistress character in the series. However, more than a few parent's groups and censorship organizations have been unhappy about any unusual and kinky sexual themes like this in the series as well. But, when THE AVENGERS tackled some of the same bizarre and strange sexual themes in the 60's, it was even more controversial.


However for 1966, the "A Touch Of Brimstone" episode of THE AVENGERS really pushed the envelope. It was not seen in the U.S. until years later on home video and DVD. Unfortunately, A&E which acquired THE AVENGERS series and distributed the episodes in the U.S. has decided to discontinue the DVD series in the U.S. in more recent years. However, many copies of this excellent 1960's British TV series remain in circulation on Ebay and Amazon.


While Diana Rigg was far and away the most popular female cast member of THE AVENGERS, several beautiful actresses played the sidekick of John Steed during the long 161 episode run of the series which actually originally ran from 1961-1969. Strangely, the last season featured a 20 year old Canadian Actress, Linda Thorson who was actually the girlfriend of one of the show's producers. They wanted her to be blond for series, however her hair was accidentally damaged in an attempt to color it that went horribly wrong, so she performed many of the episodes wearing wigs instead.


Many of the cast members of THE AVENGERS such as Patrick MacNee, Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman and others actually found their way into roles in the James Bond films as well. Today, Patrick Macnee is 89, Diana Rigg is 72, and Linda Thorson is 63. How time passes so quickly.


Interestingly, this Hellfire Club episode of THE AVENGERS actually inspired Marvel Comics own superhero series THE AVENGERS to run a TV episode that was greatly inspired by the British TV series.


If you get a chance, rent or buy an episode of this once banned TV episode. It comes on a fantastic box set along with THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, which is a real classic about a mechanical house that entraps Emma Peel with one perplexing turn after another.


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