Gareth Hunt passed away two weeks ago. He was 65.
As action hero Mike Gambit, in The New Avengers, he stepped into a very difficult role and made it his own - the third member of The Avengers. He succeeded in breaking the traditional mould of 'John Steed plus a female sidekick', and making the famous duo into a trio.
Because TV repeats were rare in the seventies, I had hardly seen any of The Avengers. The New Avengers made far more of an impression on me as a teenager - particularly with the advertising ballyhoo and the midweek primetime TV slots. Their foes included plenty of genre fodder, with a giant rat, bloodthirsty birds, sleeper agents, and even a killer cybernaut. Car chases and convincing stuntwork were complemented by offbeat camerawork, witty direction and sharp editing. Sights now very rare on British TV. Laurie Johnson's atmospheric score was the icing on the cake.
As the strong arm of the team, Gambit was a tougher and deadlier breed of Avenger, carrying a gun, which Steed (Patrick Macnee) tried to avoid. But more than being an action man, Gareth had a great comic touch. His timing was perfect and the interplay between him and Joanna Lumley, as Purdey, was hugely enjoyable. Lumley is often regarded as a late developer as a comedian, when she surprised many with her outrageous comic turn as the ageing trendy Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. But her comedy talents were on show decades earlier, in the role of Purdey.
The New Avengers only ran for 26 one-hour episodes. The first 13 are the classic ones I'd really recommend. They are often looked down upon by fans of The Avengers, which is a hugely difficult act to follow. But in its own right, The New Avengers is head and shoulders above most other British action series from any decade.
The series is poorly represented on DVD - it has yet to be remastered properly the way The Avengers has, but at least it's available.
I don't think that Gareth had as big a success in his career after The New Avengers. The British film industry was in a poor state at the time, and had very little work to offer him, let alone memorable roles.
He kept working steadily in theatre though, and I saw him in Deathtrap (adapted as a film in 1982 - Gareth played the Christopher Reeve role). It was a success in London's West End and on a national tour.
But I was later surprised to see him back on TV in Night and Day, a long-running soap opera that ran for two years on ITV from 2001. He played pub landlord Charlie Doyle, brother to Lysette Anthony's unlucky mother. I was probably one of the few people who watched the soap from beginning to end. Its offbeat Twin Peaks take on the genre, with a central ghostly character, adult-themed late-night versions and madly ambitious mystery story arc, made it the only soap opera I've bothered with in recent years. But even an unreleased theme tune by Kylie Minogue failed to boost its popularity. Hunt's character was occasionally mysterious but again, like The New Avengers, usually humourous. I had no idea that he'd be leaving us so soon after that series.
I just wanted to say that I think he was hugely undervalued.
Do you want to know more?
A great site for The New Avengers is here, which includes an episode guide, info and images.
An old, but interesting site, including a battered mp3 of the Kylie theme tune, for Night and Day is here.