British actor Patrick Macnee, who played secret agent John Steed on the 1960s spy series “The Avengers,” died Thursday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 93.
Macneee was best known by far for his role as Steed (and his array of completely awesome co-stars Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman),Tara King (Linda Thorson) and the almighty Emma Peel (Diana Rigg, who can be seen of late on “Game of Thrones”).
I always found him a welcome, professional but slightly off-kilter presence on-screen. In addition to Steed, he was also in the James Bond movie “A View to a Kill” (1985), though nobody remembers him because that was also the one with a) an imposing Grace Jones who looked like she could tear Roger Moore in half, b) an eye-poppingly weird Christopher Walken and c) a theme song by Duran Duran that was actually better than the movie.
He was also know for his role as Sir Denis Eton-Hogg, head of Polymer Records in “This is Spinal Tap.” He is show wishing band “great success” and tells them: “And so say all of us… Tap into America!”
But I also want to shout out two lesser-known Macnee roles.
He plays the young Jacob Marley in Brian Desmond-Hurst’s absolutely bulletproof “Scrooge” (also released under the name “A Christmas Carol”) (1951) starring Alastair Sim. He’s only in two scenes, but Macnee brings a cynical thoughtfulness to young Marley, playing a clerk who is a bit worldlier than young Scrooge, the latter of whom is slowly turning into the more bitter man he will become. Marley is a bit ahead of Scrooge in the cut-throat capitalist department.
Not only did Macnee provide the opening narration for the original 1978 “Battlestar: Galactica” (“There are those who believe…that life here began out there“) and played the voice of the Cylon’s Imperious Leader), he also played one of the show’s most memorable baddies in two of the show’s weirdest episodes.
Macnee played Count Iblis, who might be Satan. Yes, that Satan.
At first, Iblis seems to be the sole survivor of a crashed ship and is welcomed on-board Galactica. He can move things with his mind, he promised to show them to Earth and he really freaks out Baltar. Meanwhile, several Viper pilots have vanished after reporting a very strange “ship of light.”
Long, two-hour story very, very short: the ship of light seems to be some sort of angelic force, Iblis is the devil disguised as a miracle working savior, the ship of lights brings people back to life after Iblis kills them after being outed, Iblis pretty much vanishes in a puff of smoke. (This is also a good time to remind you about the Mormon theology and cosmology woven into the world-building on “Galactica”) Iblis is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the false prophet and Macnee is totally great.
R.I.P., man. You kept it interesting.