This is an appreciation, not an obituary, because Patrick Macnee (February 6, 1922- June 25, 2015) led a life worth living, a life full of light, one such as only being so near to death, as he was in World War 2, can give you.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the passing of the great Christopher Lee,who was friends with Macnee. They not only worked together, on Sherlock Holmes and The Avengers, but they actually went to school together. I said to family and friends when Lee died that Patrick Macnee would follow shortly (they were both 93), and so it came to pass.
Macnee made a great number of appearances on stage, television and screen [and may be known to metal fans due to his appearance in This Is Spinal Tap – Ed.], but it is of course his iconic role as John Steed on the long-running The Avengers TV series that ensured his immortality.
Macnee’s autobiography Blind In One Ear is essential reading. The book represents a gentleman’s code – it means you aren’t blunt or cruel (very much out of fashion, sadly, which is probably why few people have heard it), and Macnee was certainly everything you’d expect an English gentleman to be. Yet, he had a horrendous childhood. I often wonder what lay behind the charming exterior.
Macnee joined the Royal Navy in 1942 and served on torpedo boats with great distinction, narrowly escaping death on D-Day, and retiring as a lieutenant in 1946. Macnee did not like to carry a gun in The Avengers, and he is quoted as saying, “I’d just come out of a World War in which I’d seen most of my friends blown to bits.”
This is not some luvie actor’s self-serving hyperbole. I had a very dear Aunt named Mary who emigrated from Ireland to Grimsby in England many moons ago. On one occasion while visiting her she introduced me to an elderly friend of hers, who, like Macnee, had served on the torpedo boats in World War 2. I got him a few whiskies and he started telling me stories about his wartime experiences, many of them funny, but later, he told me he had exactly the experience as in Macnee’s tale above. This poor man had seen his best friend blown to pieces in front of him. He cried his eyes out as he told me. He had never spoken of it until now, and never will again (the elderly have much to teach us). But that was what made Macnee work – he had experienced life. There was steel behind the charm, and, moreover, he appreciated just how fleeting life is. As a result, he appeared rightly determined to enjoy it.
As well as This Is Spinal Tap, Macnee appeared with his great friend Roger Moore in The Sea Wolves. The pair also played Holmes and Watson in a 1970s TV movie (A friend of mine’s brother once met Roger Moore, and said he had exactly the charming manners you’d expect). And they worked together again on the James Bond film A View To A Kill.
But it is The Avengers that ensures Macnee’s immortality. Each week, Steed and his lovely companions, the leather catsuit wearing Cathy Gale or Emma Peel, would save the world in style, to the delight of millions. It was wild, fun, and above all, positive. The world is a much darker place now, and contemporary TV series boast about being dark. But without light, dark loses its impact, and we need more of the crazy creative eccentricity of The Avengers, and of actors like Macnee. The world has become more identikit and homogenised, individuality has been subsumed into a herd mentality, and Macnee was the antithesis of this. I take example from Patrick Macnee and his friend Christopher Lee. They may have died, but they lived first. How many of us will be able to say that?
Watch The Avengers in tribute of Patrick Macnee to see how it should be done, and raise a glass and smile!