You cannot be a cool and groovy 60s secret agent or crime-fighter without a raft of gadgets, a sexy little car, a nifty wardrobe, and occasionally some mystical super powers. And you definitely need a snappy little acronym or title to stamp on your psychedelic-hued calling card.
1.The Avengers – MOTHER – John Steed (Patrick Macnee) was initially a trench coat wearing supporting character when the show debuted in 1961. The star of The Avengers was originally Ian Hendry who left for the movies before work began on the second series. At that point Steed underwent a transformation to the umbrella-carrying, bowler hat wearing, Savile Row suited hero we know and love.
Accompanied by a series of three dynamic and very modern women – Cathy Gale (played by Honor Blackman from 1962 to 1964), Emma Peel (played by Diana Rigg from 1965 to 1968), and Tara King (played by Linda Thorson from 1968 to 1969) Steed was an often hinted at but never explicitly stated British government agent who fought a series of increasingly bizarre and surreal villains.
And while not an actual acronym as such The Avengers took their orders from Mother, a Government official in a wheelchair (played by Patrick Newell) who has a new base every week (variously a stately home, a double decker bus, and somewhere under water, amongst others) which he shares with two elderly maiden aunts.
The Avengers was ripe for fetish with everything from the skin tight leather catsuit worn by Emma Peel to the decidedly kinky boots of Cathy Gale and the ever-more-outrageous plot lines involving a modern day Hell Fire Club and more, so it’s no surprise that public school educated, confirmed bachelor Steed would do exactly as Mother told him every episode.
2. Mission: Impossible – I.M.F. – At first glance you might think that Mission: Impossible centred around a group of rogue accountants who fought the good fight against unbalanced budgets and petty cash fraud given that they worked under the banner of the I.M.F.
But rather than the good folks at the International Monetary Foundation Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris et al were super secret agents in the guise of the Impossible Missions Force, pursuing covert missions against crime lords, dictators, and other ne’er do wells.
They were so very secret in fact that their orders came via a cassette tape which immediately self-destructed after playing, and it wasn’t until series three that we discovered that their command was something called “Division Seven”. (We never learned what the other six divisions did, and how big the Government budget must have been to run to all those tape cassette machines.)
Greg Morris (electronics expert Barney Collier) reportedly hated the Tom Cruise movie version of the show so much that he walked out of the cinema.
3. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – U.N.C.L.E. – Over the course of the 1960s via the twin mediums of television and film (and occasionally via books if we were swatty types) we learned that secret agents do a number of things very well:
- wear cool Italian-cut suits
- sport impressive sunglasses which they occasionally peer over
- drive superb cars that you’ll never be able to afford
- have copious amounts of saucy time with international starlets
- build extensions to their groovy bachelor pads to house all their gadgets
- look at wrist watches every five seconds
- prance about various jet set locations
- drink cocktails
- gamble some more
But they’d never win at a spelling bee.
American agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) fought side by side with Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) for the equal opportunities intelligence agency U.N.C.F.L.A.E. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Unckflay. Print that t-shirt now!
Acronyms are cool. The correct spelling is not. The United Network Command (for) Law (and) Enforcement has no time for your nit-picking – there’s barely enough time in between all that gambling and sunglass wearing to skulk about in the shadows and defeat the bad guys. Be gone with your superfluous linking words!
4. Derek Flint – Z.O.W.I.E. – Derek Flint first graced our movie screens in 1966’s Our Man Flint as a private secret agent called upon by Z.O.W.I.E. to defeat the forces of evil.
The Zonal Organisation (for) World Intelligence (and) Espionage follows the non-spelling abilities of Messers Solo and Kuryakin and adds a little twist of its very own through the use of the word zonal.
It simply wasn’t enough that Flint took the above list of secret agent duties and added his own raft of:
- black belt Judo champion
- five time Olympian
- holder of 17 different degrees
- world-reknowned artist
- fluent linguist with 45 languages and dialects
- inventor of the sonic amplifier
- ballet instructor
- and so much more
When did he sleep??
No, they also had to throw the word zonal into the mix, which means pretty much nothing in the general scheme of spies because zowie has such a good ring to it and there aren’t that many Z words that you can use in an acronym.
Zombies? Zoroastrians? Zulus? Throw zonal in there – they’ll never notice.
5. The Champions – NEMESIS – ITV’s The Champions only lasted for one series through 1968 to 1969 but as a small and impressionable toddler who wanted nothing more than to be a spy, I watched every single episode.
Craig Sterling (Stuart Damon), Sharron Macready (Alexandra Bastedo), and Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) work out of Geneva for the United Nations for NEMESIS as, in order, a pilot, a doctor/scientist, and a code breaker. In and of itself that’s pretty cool, but their plane crashes in the Himalayas and Tibetan monks not only restore them back to life but turn them into freaking superheroes.
Now blessed with telepathy, precognition, superhuman strength, speed, sight, hearing, and general perception, they were essentially proto-bionic only without all the expensive hardware. I loved this show so much that it fuelled a childhood mission to become bionic when Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner turned up on the TV screens in the 70s.
Yes, I spent most of my childhood either in casualty, covered in Band-Aids, or staring at the walls of the doctor’s office. No, I never became bionic. I also never found out why the good guys were called NEMESIS. I still don’t know.
- Matt Helm – I.C.E.
- Get Smart – CONTROL
- James Bond – MI5