Patrick Macnee, who wielded a lethal umbrella and sharp repartee as the dapper secret agent John Steed on the 1960s television series “The Avengers,” died on Thursday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 93.
His son, Rupert, confirmed his death.
Mr. Macnee faced off against an assortment of evildoers, armed with understated wit and a traditionalist British fashion sense that made him look less like a spy in the Bond mold than “a junior cabinet minister,” as he once put it, although his tightly rolled umbrella concealed a sword and other crime-fighting gadgets, and his bowler hat, lined with a steel plate, could stop bullets and, when thrown, fell an opponent.
He was paired with a comely female sidekick, initially Honor Blackman (who left the series to play Pussy Galore in the James Bond film “Goldfinger”) but most famously Diana Rigg, stylish in a leather cat suit and every bit his equal in the wit and hand-to-hand-combat departments.
In many scenes he was content to observe, an eyebrow cocked, as Emma — whom he always referred to as Mrs. Peel — unleashed her martial arts expertise on a hapless foe. He would often summon her to action with the words “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed.” Steed carried no gun. Aplomb and sang-froid were his weapons. In one episode, his back to the wall and facing a firing squad, he was asked if he had a last request. “Would you cancel my milk?” he said.
Daniel Patrick Macnee was born on Feb. 6, 1922, in London and grew up in Lambourn. At Summer Fields preparatory school, he acted in a production of “Henry V,” with his classmate Christopher Lee, who died this month, playing the Dauphin.
Mr. Macnee’s father, Daniel, known as Shrimp, was a horse trainer, and he claimed that his mother, the former Dorothea Hastings, was a direct descendant of Robin Hood. After Dorothea divorced Mr. Macnee’s father for another woman, Patrick moved in with the two women. “Uncle Evelyn,” as Macnee referred to his mother’s lover in his memoir, “Blind in One Ear,” helped pay for his schooling.
After being expelled from Eton College for running a sports book and selling pornography, he attended the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, where he met his first wife, Barbara Douglas. He appeared in a few London stage productions and films before joining the coastal forces of the Royal Navy in 1941. He was commissioned as a lieutenant and would ultimately receive the Atlantic Star.
He then spent the next 15 years bouncing between England and Canada, appearing in various plays and films — he was the young Marley in the Alastair Sim version of “A Christmas Carol” in 1951 — before settling in the United States, where he became an American citizen in 1959.
In the first season of “The Avengers,” broadcast in 1961 in Britain, Steed was a bare-knuckled, trench-coat-wearing subordinate to David Keel, a doctor played by Ian Hendry. In the first two episodes, the men set about avenging the murder of Keel’s fiancée, hence the title of the series. They went on to tackle various criminal cases, with Steed’s character looming larger with each episode. Katherine Woodville, who played the fiancée, later became Mr. Macnee’s second wife.
Mr. Macnee’s first two marriages ended in divorce. His third wife, Baba Majos de Nagyzsenye, died in 2007. In addition to his son, from his first marriage, he is survived by a daughter, Jenny, also from his first marriage, and a grandson.
When Mr. Hendry left after the first season to pursue a film career, Steed was elevated to the primary role. The creators then experimented with a flurry of actors before settling on the formula of juxtaposing the newly buttoned-down Steed with a series of assertive and alluring women.
The formula was hugely successful. “The Avengers” ran for 161 episodes before winding up in 1969. It made its debut on American television in 1966, with Ms. Rigg firmly installed as Mr. Macnee’s partner.
In all its time on the air, it was never entirely clear whom Steed worked for.
Mr. Macnee returned to the role of John Steed in 1976 with the British series “The New Avengers,” with Steed occupying a more supervisory role in British intelligence. The show, which made its way to American television in 1978, was not nearly as successful as the original.
Mr. Macnee appeared with the familiar suit and umbrella (but no bowler) in a video for the Oasis song “Don’t Look Back in Anger” in 1996 and contributed an off-screen voice in the poorly received 1998 film of “The Avengers,” in which Ralph Fiennes played Steed and Uma Thurman played Mrs. Peel.
Mr. Macnee ultimately joined forces with his peer in dapper British espionage: He played a fellow Secret Service agent in “A View to a Kill,” starring Roger Moore as James Bond, and narrated more than a dozen making-of documentaries about the Bond films.
He and Mr. Moore also appeared together as British crime-fighters of an earlier vintage: Mr. Macnee played Dr. Watson to Mr. Moore’s Sherlock Holmes in a TV movie before eventually moving up to the main role himself in the 1993 TV movie “The Hound of London.”
His stage credits include several West End productions and a long-running stint in “Sleuth” on Broadway, a role he would revisit on several American tours. He appeared in such cult films as “This Is Spinal Tap” (as the British entrepreneur Sir Denis Eton-Hogg) and “The Howling,” and narrated a number of audiobooks by the likes of Peter Mayle and Jack Higgins.
In addition to his memoir, he wrote an insider’s account, “The Avengers and Me.”
“I’m not surprised ‘The Avengers’ has such enduring popularity, because it was a groundbreaking series that changed television,” he told The Daily Express in 2010. “It was the first show that put its leading man and leading lady on an equal footing, and showed a woman fighting and kicking and throwing men around. That was a radical departure in its time.”