Daniel Patrick Macnee died a natural death at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, at age 93, with his family at his bedside, according to his son, Rupert.
Macnee was best known for playing the internationally recognized, charmingly elegant, quintessentially English, and slightly mysterious character of John Steed in the 1960s’ British television series, The Avengers.
Patrick Macnee, along with co-stars Ian Hendry, Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, Linda Thorson, Joanna Lumley, and Gareth Hunt, created a unique identity that has reverberated for nearly half a century. The pioneering television series aired throughout the 1960s, and The Avengers became known for its progressive approach to feminism, the female stars being more than a match for Steed…and a plethora of “diabolical master minds.” The programme was also known for its creative team’s interest in stories about cutting-edge technology,
Patrick spent his early life in Lambourn, Berkshire, England, where his father, Daniel Macnee, was a racehorse trainer, and his mother, Dorothea Henry, was awarded a British Empire Medal for her work with military families.
He was educated at Summerfields Preparatory School, where he acted in Henry V at the age of 11, with Sir Christopher Lee as the Dauphin; followed by attending Eton College, where comedian and author Michael Bentine became a life-long friend. Patrick trained at London’s Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, where he met and married Barbara Douglas. Macnee served in the coastal forces of the Royal Navy during World War II.
When de-mobbed, he trudged the streets of London visiting the casting offices every day, and hung out near the entrances to London’s smarter restaurants and hotels in hope of “running into” a noted producer. There were a few near-misses. He got valuable experience onstage at The Windsor Repertory Theatre, in London’s West End, and on tours in Germany and the United States.
He also accepted some minor film roles, including that of Young Marley in Alastair Sim’s classic version of A Christmas Carol. But when the call came from David Greene, a director friend at CBC in Toronto, he left England within 48 hours and spent much of his adult life in Canada and the United States. He returned to the U.K. in the 1960s when production of The Avengers began in London.
As an actor, and as a production executive (The Valiant Years), Patrick Macnee was known for his unswerving professionalism, his loyalty, his intuitive creativity, his unaffected courtesy, and his understated humanity. His Avengers character, John Steed, was known for his dexterity with an umbrella – he never used a gun. Mr. Macnee became outspoken and, in later years, took every opportunity to express his disapproval of the proliferation of guns in private hands.
A frequent guest on television talk shows around the world, Macnee was an ambassador for the tradition of the British gentleman, with his special brand of congeniality, humour and intelligence, his remarkable physical agility, and his unfailing good manners, sense of decency, and fair play. His comments and responses to questions were laced with a tongue-in-cheek, somewhat subversive sense of irony, along with a lightning-fast wit.
Macnee described the world of The Avengers as “upside down.” As an actor, he could take the pulse of the moment, and then present the story in a more compelling fashion, from a different angle.
The Avengers television series was probably Britain’s greatest television export and is still broadcast around the world. It has been a perennial favourite in the home video market; and most recently, the series is available through on-line services including www.hulu.com.
Having wrapped production of The Avengers in 1969 (followed by The New Avengers in the latter 1970s) Macnee continued to be a tireless and principled champion for the series’ efficient and ethical distribution.
As the 130 episodes emerged from a decade of unchecked bootlegging in the 1980s and 1990s, he worked steadily to assure its success, creating a range of value-added materials, and refusing to approve final distribution contracts until he was assured that the show’s guest and supporting actors received a decent share of the profits.
After The Avengers, Mr. Macnee starred on Broadway in Anthony Shaffer’s “Sleuth,” and toured internationally with that play as well as several other successful theatrical productions. He appeared in features including A View to a Kill, with Roger Moore, The Howling and The Sea Wolves, also with Moore, Gregory Peck, and his old friend, David Niven.
He guest-starred and played continuing roles in numerous American, British and Australian television productions. He recorded numerous audio books, including thirteen Jack Higgins titles, and voice-over narrations for the four hour mini-series “America at War in Color” and many others. Macnee travelled the world promoting his co-written memoirs Blind in One Ear and The Avengers: The Inside Story.
Patrick Macnee was a popular figure in the television industry. He was at home wherever in the world he found himself. He had a knack for making friends, and keeping them. Wherever he went, he left behind a trove of memories and good wishes.
Macnee was pre-deceased by three wives: Barbara Helen Douglas Foulds, actor and devoted mother of his two children, a son, Rupert, and a daughter; Kate Woodville; and Baba Majos de Nagyzsenye. He has one grandson.
Patrick Macnee spent the last forty years of his life, and is remembered fondly, in California’s Coachella Valley, living in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.