THE BOOTLEG FILES: THE AVENGERS LAURENT-PERRIER COMMERCIAL

BOOTLEG FILES 530: “The Avengers Laurent-Perrier Commercial” (1975 advertisement for French television starring Patrick Macnee and Linda Thorson).

LAST SEEN: The advertisement is on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A rare and unusual reunion of the stars of the popular British TV series.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.

One of the most beloved programs in the history of British television was “The Avengers,” which began in 1961 and ran through the remainder of the decade. However, the program’s initial popularity was mostly limited to Britain during its first three seasons, when the show was presented on videotape. (The British 405-line video format that was used for the first three seasons was not compatible for U.S. broadcast, although these episodes were shown in Canada.) For the fourth season, the show’s production format switched to 35mm film, which allowed for it to be shown on U.S. television and in major markets around the world.

A great deal of the show’s appeal was based on the chemistry between its stars. Patrick Macnee, as John Steed, offered a dapper secret agent that met espionage challenges with upper-class insouciance and a quick wit. Steed was actually a supporting character in the series’ first season, but that changed in the second season, where he became the keystone of the episodes.

Macnee was paired with three beautiful partners during the series’ run: Honor Blackman as the leather-clad Dr. Cathy Gale (for the second and third seasons), Diana Rigg as the catsuit-clad Mrs. Emma Peel for the fourth and fifth season and Canadian-born Linda Thorson as the mod-fashion-favoring Tara King for the sixth season. With each partner, Macnee’s Steed engaged in a playful, quasi-romantic relationship that made their espionage assignments feel like a romantic adventure.

“The Avengers” might have gone on well into the 1970s, except that ABC-TV (which broadcast the series in the U.S.) reacted stupidly when NBC placed “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” in competition opposite “The Avengers.” The British show fared poorly in the ratings as “Laugh-In” became a cultural phenomenon, and ABC cancelled its presentation of “The Avengers” rather than switch it to another time slot. Although the series was still very popular elsewhere in the world, the absence of a presence on U.S. television forced the show’s producers to pull the plug.

But even though “The Avengers” was no longer being produced, the program was still playing around the world; even the U.S. market remained viable thanks to syndicated reruns. As result, its stars would occasionally be called on for guest appearances based solely on the show’s popularity. Macnee and Thorson appeared in a parody of their celebrated roles on a German TV variety show in December 1970, while Macnee and Rigg were seated side-by-side in a 1973 episode of “The Hollywood Squares.” (When asked about the show, Rigg cheekily absented herself and referred to Macnee and Thorson as the stars of “The Avengers.”)

According to the website The Avengers Forever, the show’s co-producer Brian Clemens was contacted by 1975 by Rudolph Roffi, a French television executive. Roffi was coordinating a commercial for the Laurent-Perrier brand of champagne and was eager to have the lead characters from “The Avengers” in the advertisement. Clemens contacted Macnee and Thorson for the assignment; Roffie was a fan of Thorson’s Tara King, which is why she was tapped rather than Diana Rigg. And while the advertisement does not specifically refer to the actors by the names of their famous characters, it is obvious that their presence was meant to be an extension of the long-running show.

The advertisement opens in what appears to be an apartment that is very similar to Steed’s residence in “The Avengers.” A bowler hat (Steed’s trademark headgear) falls on a carpeted floor. Tara picks up the bowler and casually flings it to a hat rack, where it lands perfectly on a hook. Tara sits down a richly upholstered leather chair and offers a wry smile while Steed brings in a serving tray with a bottle of Laurent-Perrier champagne tilted in a silver ice bucket.

“As I was saying, my dear,” Steed says, “Laurent-Perrier is a champagne that…”

However, this private drinking party interrupted by three men that burst abruptly through the apartment door. Tara grabs Steed’s umbrella and gives all three a simultaneous whack while Steed, slowly uncorking the champagne, looks on admiringly.

“You were expecting someone?” Steed jokes before he begins to extol the champagne’s virtues. “Don’t be mad at me if I review the details of the party. As you see, my dear, Laurent-Perrier champagne must be drunk at the correct temperature, fresh but not frozen – in a way, frizzled. Served between seven and eight degrees…”

While Steed is speaking, Tara is fighting all three of the intruders at once, using a variety of martial arts moves and Steed’s umbrella to subdue the attackers. Steed is mostly an observer to the mayhem, offering assistance by tripping one assailant that stumbles past him and punching a second in the jaw when he comes too close. Tara slams the door on the head of the third attacker, who is flipped on the floor before Steed.

“…and especially in a strict, intimate setting,” Steed continues, serving himself and Tara. They clink champagne glasses and he quips, “I hope you’re not expecting anyone else tonight!”

All of this dialogue is delivered in French, with an actor that sounds nothing like Steed dubbing the dialogue; strangely, Tara is not given any dialogue in this commercial. (My thanks to The Avengers Forever website for offering the dialogue’s translation.) While the fighting unfurls, the soundtrack also includes a light instrumental music that is more appropriate for a sophisticated cocktail bar than a nasty brawl.

Nonetheless, this 60-second advertisement beautifully captures the eccentric spirit of “The Avengers,” with the unflappable lead characters easily disposing of ruffians with nary a champagne glass chipped or a hair forced out of place. The on-screen chemistry that Macnee and Thorson displayed in “The Avengers” is still strong here, as their characters gaze at each other over champagne glasses with an air of sophisticated charm that could easily be mistaken for mutual infatuation.

French producer Roffi was strongly impressed with this commercial and had it dubbed again for broadcast on Spanish television. (It was never shown in Britain or the U.S.) Popular reaction to the commercial convinced Roffi to produce a revival of “The Avengers” franchise, and he hired Macnee to reprise his Steed role. Oddly, Roffi did not want Thorson in “The New Avengers” (as the series was called) and instead hired Joanna Lumley to play a new character called Purdey. (This had nothing to do with age, as Lumley is a year older than Thorson.) “The New Avengers” also gave Steed a male partner named Gambit (played by Gareth Hunt), who handled the bulk of the show’s violent action. Alas for Roffi, lightning did not strike twice and “The New Avengers” limped through two undistinguished seasons.

As for the Laurent-Perrier commercial, this was mostly known for years by reputation until someone calling himself “avengersteed” in a Yahoo group devoted to “The Avengers” contacted executives at Laurent-Perrier for a copy. It took seven months, but an Super 8 film dupe was sent across the Atlantic by the champagne company. This was transferred to a digital format, which has since been uploaded by a number of people to YouTube. As one might expect from a Super 8 dupe, the visual and audio quality is less than pristine.

Nonetheless, it offers a wonderful post-script to the classic television program – and any bit of “The Avengers” (even an unauthorized posting of a Super 8 dupe of a dubbed French commercial) is reason to raise a champagne glass in celebration.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on May 2, 2014 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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