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Top 10 Secret Agent Series From The Sixties

Randall . . . Comments

This list contains a competition – further details at the bottom of the list. Everybody knows Ian Fleming’s master spy, James Bond. The suave and handsome secret agent with a license to kill, Bond became the new face of cinematic spies after the release of Dr. No, the very first Bond film, in 1962. Before Bond, spies were often portrayed as paunchy, unattractive, cowardly, even elderly—much of which may have been more accurate, in reality—but the Cold War-ridden 1960s was more interested in fantasy and escape than cinema verite. And so, instead of the seedy and miserable nobody of Joseph Conrad’s “Secret Agent,” spies became good-looking ladies’ men with charm and toughness to spare.

Ian Fleming probably didn’t realize what a seed he was planting when he created James Bond. Almost immediately after his big screen debut, Bond had a whole generation of imitators following him on TV and film. There were suddenly spies everywhere—some surreal and campy, others sophisticated and witty, some hip and groovy. There was even a wedding of the spy with the western. By 1970, the anti-establishment sentiments of the hippies had fully taken hold in pop culture, and the spy craze was suddenly no more. Only James Bond was left, last as he was first, to carry on.

PLEASE NOTE: This list excludes Bond—this is, of course, about the OTHER spy series of the day. Bond, naturally, is the biggest and best known. The point is, he wasn’t alone.


Mission: Impossible

One of the iconic bits of Sixties spy shtick was the weekly-repeated, unforgettable speech of the unseen, unknown voice on the tape recorder: Good morning, Mr. Phelps. Your mission, should you decide to accept it… as though Phelps ever would have refused. The dirty secret of spies, of course, is that they aren’t allowed to refuse. If you refuse, John Drake (of “Danger Man,” etc.) could tell us, they kill you—or worse, they send you somewhere. And their “somewheres” are never pleasant; Villages and gulags of all sorts, and it doesn’t matter whose side you’re on—in the end they’re all the same place.

To punctuate this truth, there was that ominous caveat spoken near the end of each of Mission: Impossible’s mission tapes: if you or any of your IM Force are caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions. In other words, you’re on your own, pal, and nice knowin’ ya. And to further emphasize the idea that there would be no witnesses, no paper trail, no trace of a chain of command should Phelps and his team fail: this tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Perhaps Phelps could count on vanishing just as quickly if he decided sometime to say, “no, I’m not takin’ this one.”

But of course he never did—Peter Graves was far too reliable, and, yes, wooden, for such dramatic disobedience. So every week he and the faces of his ever-changing group of IMF spies and professionals would take on another corrupt dictator or spirit another willing defector out of the hands of the commies.

Cast changes were part and parcel of Mission: Impossible, and the faces changed more than the improbable and occasionally formulaic plots. The original “team leader,” Dan Briggs, (played by Steven Hill) left after the first season and was replaced by the aforementioned Graves. Then, later, master of disguise Rollin Hand and resident hottie Cinnamon Carter (played by Martin Landau and his wife of the time, Barbara Bain) left, to be replaced by Leonard Nimoy, in his first post-Spock role as “The Great Paris”, and Linda Day George, among a slew of others. Stolid strongman Peter Lupus remained throughout the show’s run, as did Greg Morris. But none of these characters, nor the actors who played them, made the cut of the successful films based on the series (starring the annoying and detestable master scientologist himself, Tom Cruise) though there was a brief TV revival in the Eighties.

Interesting tidbit: Mission: Impossible was the “sister show” of the original Star Trek – the two series were filmed back to back and side by side at the same Desilu Studios by the same production team, though their creative teams were totally different. Star Trek, on its slim budget, would often “borrow” props from Mission: Impossible, paint them weird and garish colors, and pass them off as alien sculpture and whatnot for visual ambience.


Matt Helm

The Silencers Poster

Introduced in a series of novels by Donald Hamilton, the Matt Helm character was originally a somewhat out-of-shape, aging spy, gnarled and grizzled, somewhat in keeping with the spies of old. When, however, Matt finally reached the silver screen, he had morphed into a parody James Bond, a slick lounge lizard with a bevy of spy babes around him, part comic Bond and partly a reflection of the persona of the man who played him in four films, Dean Martin.

Martin’s Matt Helm was one of the chief inspirations for Mike Myers’ Austin Powers… amongst other similarities, the “secret identity” of each character was the same: fashion photographer.


Get Smart

The idiot as spy, as it were, Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart was the creation of the keen and deadpan wit of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, late of the writing staff of That Was the Week that Was and future host (ten times over) of Saturday Night Live, and eternal straight man to John Belushi’s rotating Samurai character. Maxwell Smart labored for the ever-suffering Chief against the sinister machinations of KAOS, usually facing peril at the hands of Bernie Kopel (later to be granted a floating medical degree on The Love Boat) and his Silly Eastern European Accent. Max had at his disposal, of course, all the tools of the trade for fighting the pesky adversaries out for world domination: shoe-phone, cones of silence (their use, naturally, meant that you couldn’t hear what the other guy was saying, but what the hell), robots (Hymie, played by slick Dick Gautier, perennial game show celeb), and best of all, a beautiful female partner—one of the best of her league—the nameless but gorgeous Agent 99, played cutely and smartly by the cute and smart Barbara Feldon, object of this writer’s affections when he was but a tadpole.

Yes, spies could be funny. Why not? The trappings of Sixties Spydom were so ludicrous as it was—not just in fiction, but in fact. Why not Maxwell Smart and his “sorry about that Chief,” or, “missed it by that much,” when our own CIA was trying to snuff Castro with poisoned mustache wax, or the British MI6 was being sold down the river by turncoat double agents named Kim? Now that’s funny.


Wild Wild West

Unless you’re just too young to know this—or don’t ever bother to watch TV Land—or you spent the bulk of your life living under a large block of sandstone—you know that the western was the most successful and most popular genre of TV series in the 50s and 60s, with its only serious contender being the cop drama. Well police shows are still with us, but the western is long gone, and not just from our TV screens but largely from our movie theaters as well. Oh, every so often there’s talk of a resurgence of the western in films, and there’s been quite a few good ones in the last twenty years. But it’s never really come back, and certainly not to television. Perhaps we’re too sophisticated and jaded and gritty urban, these days, for hicks on horses.

But once upon a time the western was the big thing. And there were some great ones in the 60s – Bonanza being the best, arguably, along with Gunsmoke and The Big Valley, Bat Masterson, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman… well, you get the idea. But the 60s were also the decade for Pure TV Escapism and Swinging Fun, the decade of Star Trek, Batman, Hullabaloo… of Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea… and it was also the decade of the subject of this list… the decade of Swingin’ Spies. So what would be more natural than combining the western with the spy? Thus, the heroes of Wild Wild West—agents of the United States Secret Service waging war on the 19th century frontier against such villains as the diminutive mad genius, Miguelito Loveless.

Occasionally surreal (what else could it be?) with its bizarre villains and their bizarre schemes, the show’s strength was its buddy relationship between handsome tough guy Robert Conrad’s Jim West and Ross Martin’s urbane master of disguise Artemus Gordon. Remade as an unmemorable film in the 90s, starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline.


Derek Flint
Our Man Flint, In Like Flint

Derek Flint, suave genius as spy, was the first parody secret agent in film. James Coburn played him fairly straight (unlike Dean Martin’s campy Matt Helm or Don Adams’ bumbling Maxwell Smart) but still, Flint was thoroughly over the top: the ultra-cool spy who was a master of everything—martial arts, science, electronics, food, languages… and of course a master with the ladies. Flint even had a bevy of multi-national babes who lived with him (so it seemed) and catered to his every needs. Sexist? You bet. Absurd? Oh yeah. But what fun, and who could take any of it seriously? Flint’s superhuman expertise was such that he could identify the boulliabase from a specific French restaurant by taste alone, dance a perfect Swan Lake with a Russian agent, go into rigid, impossible yoga trances at will, and any number of other impossible things.


Man / Girl From UNCLE

Ian Fleming helped create this series—one of the first spy shows on American television—and lent to the hero the name of one of his characters: Napoleon Solo, one of the mobsters in Fleming’s Goldfinger who dies at the hands of the eponymous character. Originally called simply Solo, the series incorporated a Russian partner, Illya Kuryakin (played by David McCallum) into the mix, to work alongside the lead character (Solo was played by the semi-redoubtable Robert Vaughn—I always thought of him as less an imposing figure than other secret agents). McCallum became a huge hit with teenage fans.

UNCLE, of course, stood for United Network Command for Law Enforcement; acronyms were part and parcel of sixties spy-dom, which can be traced back to the line in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”: “FBI, CIA, OSI… we’re all part of the same alphabet soup” and as Bond had had supervillainous SPECTRE to look after, UNCLE had THRUSH — Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity. Naturally all this silliness got out of hand after a while. There was Derek Flint’s ZOWIE, Get Smart’s CONTROL (and villainous KAOS) and after a while one wonders why, instead of Al Qaeda, we didn’t get something more inventive for our first world-wide terrorist organization. MAD ARAB anyone?

At any rate, the show became popular enough to spawn a spin-off in The Girl From UNCLE, which was the ever-engaging Stefanie Powers playing another Ian Fleming-created character, April Dancer. Her partner in the series was Mark Slate, though she shared Solo’s boss, Mr. Waverly (the tarantula-swelling and Gregory-Peck-framing Leo G. Carroll, who delivered the aforementioned famous alphabet soup line in North by Northwest). Sadly not as successful as the parent series, Stefanie Powers was at least nicer to look at, in this writer’s humble opinion. And she swung with the best of the sixties swinging babes, let’s face it.


I Spy

I Spy

Another successful Sixties TV show later resurrected as a bad movie, I Spy, I always felt, had a certain edge to it. Oh, not a gritty, reality sort of edge… this was still the Sixties, when reality on television was not wanted, thank you. But there was something. Part of it had to do with Bill Cosby’s role as spy-in-training Alexander Scott—one of the first times in American television that a black man played in a starring role. He and fellow star Robert Culp (playing tennis pro-turned-tennis-bum Kelly Robinson, a fake ne’er-do-well who was actually a secret agent) had a buddy relationship which captured the affection of viewers, with their rapid-fire, hip banter and suave, smooth personalities. Also, the series was innovative in the way it went location-hunting, filming several episodes in Europe (Greece, Spain, etc.) and the far east. It never descended into camp territory, and like the British Danger Man, emphasized the somewhat harder-edged, tough side of the spy business.


Harry Palmer
The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, Billion Dollar Brain

Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer (played on the screen by Michael Caine in his first starring role) was meant to be a counterpoint to the ultra-sophisticated, upper-class James Bond. Palmer was working class, wore glasses, and lived in seedy surroundings. His sole “upper” quirks were that he was a gourmet cook and preferred to listen to classical music.

Palmer’s insubordinate, vaguely criminal side was played up in the series—in fact, the story was that he had been an army sergeant arrested for some unexplained bit of illegality committed while he was stationed in Germany. Offered the chance to remain in the stockade or work for British Intelligence, Palmer wisely chose the latter—but he never found the compromise to be a comfortable one. Hating stiff-lipped bureaucracy and ever in fear that his stuffy, harsh boss (Colonel Ross) would send him back to prison—or worse—Palmer went through each mission with the omnipresent sense of having to look over his shoulder at all times.

The Ipcress File is surely one of the best spy movies ever made (it has only one clunker of a moment: the line “that was the most delicious meal.”) and is particularly fun for not only Sydney Furie’s odd-camera-angle-direction and for John Barry’s influential and later highly-sampled soundtrack (bits of it, or riffs very similar to it, turn up in various trip-hop compositions from Portishead to Mono) but also for the remarkable insight into the tough and by no means glamorous day-to-day life of an agent for the government. Palmer is as close to a real human being as any secret agent gets—expressing his hope that, with a slight pay rise, he can buy that “new infrared grill,” or having to cope with the impending threat from an American agent (whose partner Palmer has accidentally killed) that he plans to “tail” Palmer until he’s satisfied that Palmer’s “clean, and if you’re not clean… I’m gonna kill you.” Not to mention the cold indifference of his superiors, who remark that, if the Americans do find anything suspicious about Palmer, they’ll take care of him, and save the Brits a lot of trouble.

Not the happy life of women, fast cars, fun gadgets and martinis shaken-not-stirred that James Bond leads… for sure.


Danger Man/Secret Agent/The Prisoner

Lots of people have heard of the iconic and cult-fave series The Prisoner, but fewer people today know that Patrick McGoohan played the character (well, sort of) before, in a successful (and longer-lived) series called Danger Man. Of course, Americans knew the series by a different name: Secret Agent, and we knew very well its eponymous signature song by Johnny Rivers—a monster hit in 1966. (In the UK the signature tune was instrumental music very similar to that of the later series, The Prisoner).

Danger Man had a long if bumpy run, going on the air in the UK originally in 1960 (thus predating the first James Bond film, Dr. No, by two years) and hanging on until 1968. McGoohan was cool and dispassionate agent John Drake, another “true-to-life” type almost as different from James Bond as Harry Palmer was, although Drake was clearly not working class. Drake was, however, a character increasingly displeased with his superiors’ sometimes unethical and cold-blooded tactics, and as the series wore on he was clearly becoming more insubordinate and more unhappy, as nearly every mission he was sent upon involved some kind of moral ambiguity or nasty compromise of principles that he was forced to endure.

This, interestingly, set things up for McGoohan’s next series, the allegorical and Kafka-esque The Prisoner. McGoohan played “number six,” a British secret agent who had resigned because of some unknown disagreement with his superiors. As the opening credits and signature tune rolled and played for each episode, we were treated to a quick pastiche of what happened to the character: he resigns, angrily… he drives off, while, in a cavernous hall full of filing cabinets, his ID card is transported mechanically to a file, marked “RESIGNED.” He returns home and begins to pack… followed by a sinister character in funeral attire. Too late, he realizes his apartment is filling with gas. He faints… and then awakens in a room similar to his own… but not the same. Looking out a window, he sees he’s no longer in London… but in some bizarre spa-like Village. Then follows the now-famous bit of dialogue everyone knows:

Where am I?”
“In the Village.”
“What do you want?”
“Whose side are you on?”
“That would be telling…. We want information. Information! INFORMATION!”
“You won’t get it.”
“By hook or by crook, we will.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Number Two.”
“Who is Number One?”
“You are Number Six.”
“I am not a number — I am a free man!”

Each episode then involves a new plot by a different Number Two to try to break the will of Number Six. And each episode he wins… sort of. He escapes only twice: in an episode where he ends up spirited back to the village by a treacherous pilot, and in the final, surreal episode where… well… we’re not sure what really happens. Except that it appears “number six” has really been Number One all along. All in all, the entire series was an allegory for the struggle of modern man to maintain his freedom and independence in a world increasingly massified and totalitarian. Number Six is the ultimate individual who never gives in.

But is he John Drake, McGoohan’s previous incarnation from Danger Man? Well legally, no… McGoohan didn’t own the rights to the earlier character he’d played. But surely, in every other sense, he was. Drake was the same kind of obstinate rebel, and he’d seen too many decent people suffer unfair consequences due to his own actions—because he was forced to follow orders. As Danger Man wore on he became more and more bitter—and there’s little doubt that the man who resigns, at the start of each episode of The Prisoner, is the same John Drake who had to do terrible things in the name of his government. Whatever the finale of The Prisoner meant—it was definitely John Drake’s ultimate triumph. He drove off, alone—and free.


The Avengers

Saving the best for last, we have The Avengers, the longest-lived of the Sixties spy series (1961 – 1969, with a revival series in the mid 70s). In its heyday, from 1965 – 1969, it was one of the most influential and most popular shows on British and American television, and its imagery become iconic overnight: umbrellas with tape recorders built into them, and bowler hats lined with steel; natty fashions straight of Swinging London—tight leather bodysuits and other figure-hugging outfits; champagne and liquor running freely (there hadn’t been as much imbibing by a couple since The Thin Man series); sports cars, Bentleys, and antique automobiles; cybernauts, electric men, invisible men, diabolical geniuses and deadly nannies… sometimes surreal and science-fictional, and always teeming with clever banter and double entendres.

The constant was John Steed (the ever-graceful and ever-gentlemanly Patrick Macnee): originally a shady character who worked somewhat in the background, he first appeared in the life of Dr. David Keel, a surgeon whose wife had been murdered by a drug ring. Steed appeared to work for some unnamed, unknown official agency, though this was by no means made clear until later in the series. He and Keel spent their time tracking down crooks and other evil-doers to bring about their downfall… hence “the avengers,” bringing vengeance to those who otherwise would not be punished for their crimes.

After Keel, John Steed was paired with Cathy Gale, a judo expert and another in the long line of “talented amateurs” that Steed worked with. It was now clear that Steed was a secret agent of some kind, and he was becoming less of the shady anti-hero and more of the trim sophisticate. But the true innovation was Gale. Played by the desirable Honor Blackman—who would leave the series to play “Pussy Galore” in Goldfinger—Cathy Gale was a kind of woman not seen before on television—tough, smart, strong-willed… a Sixties Sarah Connor. She was Steed’s match in the wit-and-banter department, and the sexual tension between them fueled the show’s popularity. Gale’s exit from the series came just as it was sold to American television… and Steed was on his own again.

And then came… Mrs. Peel.

We know Nick and Nora (the Thin Man and wife), Mulder and Scully, David and Maddie (Moonlighting)… but for many, there are none better than Steed and Mrs. Peel. In a way she was Cathy Gale with the edges smoothed a bit, but she was more. Honor Blackman had a rough desirability; but Diana Rigg had a more intellectual sexuality. She played Emma Peel (the name chosen because the producers had penned a note saying that Cathy Gale’s replacement had to have “M. Appeal”—“man appeal”) as a devastatingly intelligent, quick-witted expert-of-all-trades who also just happened to know martial arts and was a deadly shot. Indeed, Mrs. Peel killed more people than Steed had ever done (in fact, he offed very few in the series run) and where his photograph was marked by Russian agents with a notation that said “Very Dangerous,” hers simply read on the back, “Most Dangerous of All – AVOID.”

The series went downhill somewhat after Rigg left, and Steed’s younger partner Tara King came on. After all, following up on that kind of chemistry was frankly impossible. The shows were highlighted with inventive and amazing plots, smart dialogue, fun and interesting characters, wild and weird villains, and set in an imaginary Britain where it was always summer and always sunny, and was ever Swinging Carnaby Street. But what made it the most enjoyable were Steed and Mrs. Peel—like being able to hang with the smartest, quickest and most fun couple imaginable—AND get to watch them best the villainous criminal, megalomaniac or foreign agent of the week. From maniacal geniuses out for revenge, to repugnant blackmailers who mark their targets with cards that read “You Have Just Been Murdered,” to homicidal androids and escaped lunatics, killer “robot houses” and madmen powered by “broadcast energy,” Steed and Mrs. Peel handled them all with nonchalant panache and confident detachment.

Mrs. Peel… we’re needed.


The Saint

Simon Templar (hero of a series of books by Leslie Charteris) or “the Saint” was an ambiguous rake of a character, brought to life by such distinguished actors as George Sanders, Ian Ogilvy, and Vincent Price (along with a latter day Saint portrayed by Val Kilmer). His best-remembered incarnation, however, was played by a pre-James Bond Roger Moore. (And in fact it’s Moore’s stint as the Saint that helped land him the role of Bond when Sean Connery walked away from it).

The Saint was never actually established as a spy or secret agent per se; rather he is something of a criminal (but of the Robin Hood variety… occasionally anyway) and sometimes an amateur detective… but often he worked as a sort of free-lance agent of various police/government agencies, qualifying him as a member of the exclusive club of swingin’ sixties spies. After all, the Saint (particularly when played by Moore) had the whole image down pat. Suave, sophisticated, rakish, intelligent… a hit with the chicks and able to hold his own against the villains. His skills and talents were beyond the average man, and even his anti-hero status is in keeping with the overall idea of the best sixties spies—a sort of cheeky, smart rebel who does what has to be done.

Bonus 2


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If this list reaches 300 comments, one commenter will be selected at random to win the super-cool Wild Planet Agent Action Briefcase (pictured above) valued at $19.99 – to help them get started in a career in spying! The winner must be a registered user. As usual, comments must be related to the list and not designed just to increase the count or your chances of winning. Every comment is counted – so you can comment more than once. You have to be in to win! Amazon describes the prize thus:

The removable motion alarm stops thieves and intruders
Case shoots darts (4 included) to “stun” enemy spies
Removable flashlight spots hidden spies
Special spy scope lets you spy from far away
Case has a secret compartment and gear storage for more spy gear

Contributor: Randall

  • 46. Randall
    David McCallum? What happened to him?
    He is, or was 3 years ago, living in a quite sub-middle class apartment house in Glendale, CA., driving an old, rusty, dented car.

    • beffers65

      david is doing just splendid, working on the #1 tv show NCIS..

  • Matt Howard

    Great list! Even though I’m too young to appreciate most of these series, secret spies have always been one of my favorite movie genres:) Oh, and my Dad is crazy about Captain Scarlet, does he/the puppet count as a spy?

  • Spinner

    I always wanted hair like 99s…. and I thought kaos was the right spelling of that word until a nun threw chalk at me. Thank you Get Smart for traumatising me early. Great list, bought back lots of memories although I’m not sure all these series made it to my shores. The cold war was good for something!

  • Maheahlaurus

    I have not seen most of these, but I loved Get Smart!

  • ajezajezajez

    another great list =)

  • Radley

    I’m too young as well but I always used to watch the Man from Uncle, didn’t know there was a Girl from Uncle. if captain Scarlet counts then do does that cheesy guy from Stingray.

  • I used to steal in to my brother’s room every Saturday morning and wake him from a hangover – just so I could watch get smart with him. It is one of my fondest memories of childhood. Incidentally – it was re-runs – I wasn’t alive in the 60s :)

  • radley – I loved stingray! Also in re-run. Timeless classics :) remember captain scarlet and lady penelope? I bought someone a lady Penelope book for their birthday :)

    Btw, thanks for the memories Randall :)

  • TampaGeek

    Oh, this list brings back wonderful memories. One little bit of Flint lives on… the ring of Austin Power’s video phone is the hotline ring from Flint played backwards. I used to have the Flint version as the ringtone on my cell phone!

  • Spinner

    jf… was tv in NZ in the 60s anyway?

  • TampaGeek

    Oh, forgot to mention, but there was an animated spy spoof in the UK in the early 80’s called “Danger Mouse”, an obvious play off of the McGoohan TV show. Nickelodeon (US cable channel) used to show it in the mid 80’s… I used to be able to do a fairly spot on imitation of Penfold, the daft hamster sidekick.

  • jajdude

    Crikey I can’t believe I’m old enough to remember to these – kill me now lol

  • Spinner: any more of that and you will be excluded from the competition! Just kidding… or am I? :)

    TampaGeek: I loved Danger Mouse – though penfold was annoying.

  • TDavis

    I recall when “The Prisoner” was originally broadcast in the U.S. My grade school buddies and I would dissect each episode for “clues”. One day my pal Dean made a rather prescient observation:
    “Listen to the opening dialogue.
    Instead of:
    Who is Number One?
    You are Number Six.

    Just use one comma:
    Who is Number One?
    You are, Number Six.”

    After that (about Episode 5) we were all convinced that Number Six was really running things, somehow.
    Not bad for a bunch of 5th graders!

  • Spinner

    HAHA I am just old enough to remember a time when there was no telly! Invercargill didnt get television until the 70s. No, I’m not trying to increase my comments to have more of a chance of winning. Oh no sirree…. last comment!

  • spinner: seriously? I was born in the 70s but didn’t have a functional memory until the 80s – I definitely don’t remember a lack of TV. I do remember Goodnight Kiwi though – what a shame that is now lost :(

    for those who are not from NZ, here is goodnight kiwi – it was the final thing shown on public TV for many years in NZ.

  • TDavis: I am not sure if it ever played here, but I don’t remember the prisoner at all. But after this list I am kinda curious – I might see if I can buy it at Amazon. Hopefully you didn’t give anything too important away in your last comment!

  • dr. Hannibal Lecter

    Hah, the famous dialogue:

    “You are Number Six.”
    “I am not a number — I am a free man!”

    is also featured on “The Prisoner” by Iron Maiden.

    Obviously the whole song is inspired by the series. :)

  • cowboy

    it has to be said, even before reading the list’s contents, that the intro to this list was very well written! engaging stuff.

    *goes to read the list now*

  • Sgt. Batguano

    You can tell this is a great list by the number of early comments. I would move Mission: Impossible to the top of the list. I couldn’t get enough of that show.

    The original “team leader,” Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill, left the series for religious reasons. He didn’t want to film on the Sabbath. He later went on to play the cranky DA, Adam Shiff on Law and Order for the first ten or eleven seasons.

    Greg Morris and Peter Lupus were there for the entire series, but their cumulative dialogue was still less than anyone else’s. I believe Peter was TV’s original “mimbo”.

    After several seasons, the show took an interesting turn that reflected current times. As the Vietnam War dragged on and became extremely unpopular they became concerned about their international espionage story lines. More and more stories were about fighting organized crime.

    I did not know that it was the “sister” show to Star Trek TOS, but it certainly fits. Like TOS, MI may have had similar, better produced successors/imitators, but it always stood in a class by itself.

  • Brendan

    Wicky Wicky Wild Wild West.

  • Ghidoran


  • warrrreagl

    Mission: Impossibe taught me to never get in the first taxicab in line, and never take the top newspaper out of the newsrack. Always get in a cab near the middle of the pack and take the newspaper out of the middle of the stack.

    But of course, the IMF knew you were going to do that….

  • Tim

    “Agency to Prevent Evil” (A.P.E), and the “Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan” (C.H.I.M.P) from Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp.

  • kiwiboi

    Invercargill didnt get television until the 70s.

    Spinner – I heard that you didn’t have electricity or indoor toilets until the 1980’s :)

  • Roneyr

    Mission Impossible one of the best and my favourities, so glad to be in the list of Top 10 secret agents

  • astraya

    My family didn’t get a television until the mid-70s, and when we did we weren’t allowed to watch shows like these, but later we got into “The new avengers” and “The professionals”, so maybe there was hope for us.

    Randall – in your introduction you said “Before Bond, spies were often portrayed as paunchy, unattractive, cowardly, even elderly”. Have you ever read Graham Greene’s “Our man in Havana”? (It’s the only Greene I’ve read.)

    Did you watch these in the 1960s? (I know approx how old you are.)

  • burningskittles

    great list! I’ve seen all of these

  • miki

    another cool list..the saint should be number one!

  • Randall


    Nope, never read “Our Man in Havana,” though I’ve read some of Greene’s other works (titles escape me at the moment) and Greene, of course, was responsible for one of my favorite films ever, “The Third Man.”

    I DID watch a lot of TV in the late 60s/early 70s, when I was a little kid, and I certainly watched some of these shows. The Avengers above all. It started out on ABC but then also quickly went into syndication (it was a VERY popular show) and while I have vague memories of seeing it at night in its regular run, I most clearly recall those late Sunday afternoons after the horror movies had run their course (my other big love of the day) when The Avengers came on (often followed by Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and Chuck Connor’s “The Thrillseekers” or “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” Anyway–I, even at that tender age, had a DEEP crush on Diana Rigg. But who wouldn’t? And the science-fiction-y aspects of the show were fun too.

    Man From Uncle and Mission Impossible were both big favorites of mine, too, when I was a kid, along with Get Smart. I don’t recall seeing “Wild Wild West” until it was in syndication in the early 70s, though… and the same for I Spy, which I think was almost too hip and adult for a little kid to really get.

  • Caroline

    YAY!! I’m only 21 but two of my favorite shows growing up were The Avengers and Wild Wild West. (my parents had them on VHS, now DVD) A+ for making The Avengers #1. I always wanted to be just like Mrs. Emma Peel but I don’t quite have the karate skills or body suits to pull it off. :)

  • islanderbst

    Nice list Randall. I like lists like this that offer more info than just a line or two.
    I’ve only seen bits and pieces of each of these, but what I thought of right off, is how many gawd-awful Hollywood movies came out of these: I Spy with Eddie Murphy, Avengers with Sean Connery, and Wild Wild West with Will Smith.
    I here they are making a new Prisoner series with Ian McKellan so that should be good.

  • mregan

    Anyone notice how cool most of these TV theme songs were? The MI theme is great, so were I Spy, Man from UNCLE, Secret Agent Man, even Get Smart. All tremendously memorable. At the time, I couldn’t figure out what was so neat about the MI theme (by Lalo Schifrin, I think). When I learned a bit more about music, I figured that it was because it was in 5/4 time when hardly anything else is.

  • TobbyToy

    Holy cow! I thought I knew most of the good spy series before I read this list. I had never heard of Matt Helm. I love Dean Martin too! Great list.

  • xKaylax

    I feel.. young.
    I don’t know any of them!

  • Mom424

    Randall; I had only begun the first paragraph when I just had to scroll down and confirm the author. Great job as always!

    Many of these shows became family time at our house. God forbid if supper wasn’t finished by 5:30 when Get Smart came on. A veritable stampede from the dinner table. I have always had a fondness for Our Man Flint but Mom’s favorite was Roger Moore in The Saint. ‘Tis a good thing they weren’t on at the same time.

    Emma Peel from the Avengers was one of the first female leads to be stronger than her male counterpart. I could never figure out why he was the boss. She was so kick-ass and he was almost effeminate. A great female role model.

    I have never seen Wild, Wild, West. I am assuming that it didn’t air wherever we were living at the time. I am disappointed, I didn’t even know that the movie was a TV show remake. I’m thinking I missed something.

    Did you know Barbara Feldon guest starred in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. before she became Agent 99?

  • Callie

    I LOVE Man From Uncle…I used to watch the reruns with my mom on Sunday mornings when I was a wee one.

    It’s kind of sad how many of these good shows were made into awful movies. The Avengers and Wild Wild West were just..terrible. Get Smart I giggled at a bit, but it was nowhere near the caliber of the show.

  • Randall


    Good call on the themes. Another list I’ve been working on is “Greatest TV Theme Music,” but it got too bogged down so I considered (seriously) cutting it back to simply “Greatest Sixties TV Theme Music.” Which actually makes sense, since that was the decade, really, of GREAT TV theme music. Just about every show in the Sixties had memorable theme music (just think of the opening fanfare, known the world over, for “Star Trek” or the chunky surf signature tune to “Batman”).

    Lalo Schifrin was fantastic. The English trip-hop duo Portishead was my biggest fave in the 90s, and they sampled Schifrin in some of their songs–best known of course being “Sour Times.”

  • Randall


    I now have the Avengers series on DVD of course, but a few years ago, before I had bought it, I saw it for the first time at a local video store… the episode, “You Have Just Been Murdered”:

    So, I tell my daughters–who were about 9 and 5 years old at the time–that this was daddy’s favorite show when he was a kid, and it has a really cool woman secret agent…

    Well, I popped the thing in, and they were riveted. Mrs. Peel became their role model. ;-) They even used to act out every single one of her movements and mannerisms from the opening credits.

    I can’t agree on Steed being “almost effeminate.” But then again, no, he was no James Bond. Steed was much more the gentleman (though the character didn’t start out that way).

  • pLeCx

    hmm… Matt Helm’s, i think im going to look for this one. i find it intriguing. great list. i love spy movies.

  • MT

    Wild,wild west was one of my favorite TV shows. It’s a shame the movie sucked.

  • Randall


    Thanks much.

  • Kreachure

    Geez, I didn’t know there were enough secret agents in the sixties to make a list! There are some pretty obscure names up there, so I guess you do know your sixties… you people are sooooo old! :D

  • dino martin peters

    Hey pallie, glads to see our Dino made the list…but likes I woulda put our great man and the Matt Helm Dinoquartet at numero uno….never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool….oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth….goes to

  • logar

    Like jfrater, I enjoyed many of these via rerun. Get Smart was my absolute favorite. Favorite spy show involving humans that is.

    Enter Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp. Although it was aired starting in 1970, I think this show fits in with the theme of the list.

    What’s not to love? Talking chimps dressed as humans, fighting bad guy chimps. Living, loving, eating body lice- just like humans. Love it!

  • AndiQ

    I love the Prisoner. I haven’t seen it in years though. They did a great spoof on ReBoot back when it was on Cartoon Network here in the states.

  • Randall, I got through three of the descriptions before I said “Randall wrote this list, so The Avengers is #1”.
    Right on both counts.
    Excellent list, Randall! The best, most well researched, well written, and, to me anyway, most interesting, list in a long, long time.
    I was a fan of almost all of these shows, and a few that didn’t make the list (because they were too American parochial, so didn’t belong), and particularly The Avengers, not just because I resemble Diana Rigg, but because I found it, always, a combination of sophistication and deadly action.
    I was a spy show junky.
    Sadly, I know where David McCallum now lives, after all that fame, and earning all that money on Man from U.N.C.L.E.
    Life in Hollywood is cruel.

  • Randall


    David McCallum? What happened to him? I thought he was still working from time to time? He was great….

    My favorite episode (and I think by far the best of the series) of the original “Outer Limits” was “The Sixth Finger” with McCallum as the Welsh miner who gets artificially evolved into a “future human” with the giant head and whatnot…. really touching, well done, beautiful episode… and I liked McCallum in Man From Uncle and his show in the 70s, “The Invisible Man.” I’ll be sad to hear that he’s down on his luck in any way….

    But thank you for all the nice things you said about the list… obviously I also was a spy show junky. ;-)

  • Cedestra

    42. Kreachure: That’s the first thing I thought! (And there was someone in my dream last night, wearing a jersey with the name “Kreachure” on it- hmmm…)

    My second thought was that the order of this list probably didn’t coincide with the populus’ notion, which I liked. Then, I said, “Damn- these entries are loooonng!”. And, of course, I read the author and laughed. Of course this is a Randall list!

    I am definately not old enough to have seen any of these shows as aired, but I did fall in love with Wild Wild West reruns when I was in high school. I still haven’t watched the movie- I think I would cry.
    Great list, Randall! Thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • jake ryder

    I lover The Prisoner and knew nothing about the history that preceeded it. Thanks.

  • Randall


    “Then, I said, “Damn- these entries are loooonng!”. And, of course, I read the author and laughed. Of course this is a Randall list!”

    Hey—I’m here to offer information, entertain, and educate. ;-) Sometimes quality takes more time and space. ;-)

  • Randall, I was also addicted to the sci-fi series, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Science Fiction Theater…I wouldn’t dream of missing them. I still know all the episodes by heart, including the “The Sixth Finger”.
    The father of a school friend of mine was Charles Beaumont, one of the best of the sci-fi/fantasy writers of that time.
    Unfortunately, he died very young of a rare brain disease.
    The story of how his children, who had already lost their mother, pulled together to fool the authorities and remain together, was the truth behind “Table for Five” (I think that was the name of it).

  • henry o

    Good list Randall — cheers.

    Still catch the occasional old Avengers episode on BBC3 nowadays. Yeah, as you say, almost surreal, & arch to the point of being camp. Linda Thorson was underrated, I’d contend. But who could follow Diana Rigg?

    The Bond of the books is very different from the Bond of the films. Fleming’s Bond was a tough, cruel, even sadistic man. It’s the suave, urbane Bond of the silver screen who has spawned so many imitators.

  • xtopherp

    Great list! I’m familiar with almost all, but oddly enough, none of the Harry Palmer stuff. I’ll be rectifying that soon. They sound great.

    I remember a funny scene in either a Matt Helm, or “Our Man Flynt” movie….(been a long time). The main character was driving, hit a “secret” button, and the dash of the car became a handy-dandy bar. Not for the passengers mind you, for the DRIVER. Even then I knew how wrong that was, and still laughed my arse off.

  • bigski

    Unlike you young bucks and laddies i grew up watching most of these series when i was a kid.Although Get Smart was camp and dumb i still loved it even today.

  • scrumpy

    Ha! My real name is Jon Steed. I still get people asking where my umbrella or my bowler hat is!

    Great list. I love The Ipcress File theme

  • Randall


    Charles Beaumont was fantastic, a great talent… “Party of Five” was it? Anyway, again—it’s a cool life to lead, knowing such people.

    We DO have a connection there though… as Rod Serling was something of a family friend. (I never met him or knew him of course… sadly… but I’ve been to his grave).

    You also bring up the topic of another list I was working on… “Sci-fi/suspense Anthology Series”… TZ, Outer Limits, Science Fiction Theater, One Step Beyond, Tales of Tomorrow, Suspense, Inner Sanctum, Lights Out!…. etc.

  • bdeans

    Great list! This site is quite an education!

  • Blogball

    Really cool list Randall. Unfortunately I’m old enough to know and have watched every one of these shows. My favorite was Man From Uncle. Kids in my class said I looked like Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) Sometimes when I was dressed up in a suit and tie I would pretend I was being chased by THRUSH agents and jump off walls and other stuff. I even had the TRUSH Buster. Can you believe this is going for 275.00 plus on e-bay.

  • Randall

    henry o:

    Good point about Bond of the books, yes… I read all the Ian Fleming novels one summer (you can do it, they’re quick reads) and was struck by the similarities and differences with the film Bond.

    And yet, also by the contradictions Fleming created himself; as you know, he wrote Bond as this cruel, detached man (almost sadistic, as you say) who kills for vengeance as often as he kills on orders… and yet, the word is that Fleming wanted, originally, for David Niven to play Bond. Not that Niven couldn’t have pulled it off, probably… but he’s not the first actor I think of when I think “cruel, nearly sadistic.”

  • A

    Wait! What?! You mean there was more to the 60s than just peace and Beatles’ songs?

  • copperdragon

    Excellent list!!

    I had heard of 8 of 10 of these (missed Helm and Palmer), but never consciously made the connection that 1) they were all “spy” movies; 2) they were all done in the same decade!

    Thanks for the memories. Get Smart was my favorite. Of the remade movies, I liked The Saint with Val Kilmer.

  • Jono


    Great list! Next list should be top ten spy movie / series theme songs!

  • Randall

    For anyone interested, here’s a youtube link to the first few minutes of a Danger Man episode, with Patrick McGoohan… you get to hear the original British theme, which grows on you in time, even if it’s not as “swingin’ sixties” as the Johnny Rivers song:

    And of course, this wouldn’t be complete without Rivers’ song:

    Dig those ultra-white kids dancin’ and swingin’ in the background, cats.

  • Cubone

    Very well written list! I used to love staying up late and watching Get Smart and Mission Impossible re-runs. I’m wondering if anyone knows of any Sci-Fi-Spy series . . .

  • Brickhouse

    Ooh, I like this list. :) But, alas! I was not alive in the 60s and my knowledge of these series comes mostly from the movies based on them. Also, I supposed I understand why Bond was omitted, but a clip of “Dr. No” would’ve been quite nice… So I’m stepping up and linking one >The theatrical trailer – Enjoy! :D

  • Carrie

    Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman recorded a funny little song called “Kinky Boots” You can see the lyrics and hear the song at

  • Rod

    Coolest job on Earth. Sort of.

    I’d have add Jean Bruce’s OSS117 though, with Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath. Gosh, those are great novels, better than the SAS.

    Nice list, as usual.

  • steve d

    Wild Wild West was one of my favorites, as was Get Smart. And both shows are still a kick to watch today, unlike some that become outdated or just don’t live up to the fond memory. And as someone mentioned earlier, it’s funny how many of them were made into movies, all of which sucked. Even the annoying Mission Impossible films were just over the top and lost all of the charm of the original source material.

  • luismenort

    I got to watch some episodes of The Avengers.. They were really cool for their time. Then The Avengers, the movie came along and the charm was killed, what a horrendous movie it was … damn!! By the way nice list… as usual…

  • smurff

    i used to like the intro theme to The Saint – complete with the stick man and halo.

    Excellent list as always

  • Blogball

    I really liked The Wild Wild West too steve d. Does anybody remember this great character actor that had a reoccurring part in the show?
    His name is Michael Dunn.

  • Saint Splattergut

    I grew up with Hong Kong movies, so I have to admit I scrolled through most of these. The Saint caught my attention though, wiht the stickman and the halo. Maybe I can check that out… Campy or not, it can’t get worse with Hong Kong spy parodies… I remember one with the “Tricker” companies. Both companies had bosses who tried to out-trick each other with clever gadgets, but in the end the victor tricked the other with a girl, with love. Hit the soft spot.

  • Haven’t seen any of these… Beyond Bond and Austin Powers my spy genre knowledge is very limited. The dialogue quoted for #2 is used in the intro to ‘The Prisoner’, by Iron Maiden, so good to know where that came from I suppose.

    Oh looks like the Maiden song has already been mentioned… Oh well, doesn’t harm to have it again I suppose…

  • Saint Splattergut

    *worse than


  • Randall


    Of course! The great Michael Dunn, who played Miguelito Loveless AND Alexander on the classic Star Trek episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren.”

    (Yes, Randall confesses to being a Trekkie in his youth… though only for the original series… I thought the follow-up series were uniformly lame).

  • Randall


    Thanks for the link… and check out some of the original series here… they’re great fun, trust me.


    A sci-fi spy series? Believe it or not, The Avengers and Wild Wild West were the MOST sci-fi of all of these, depending on the episode.

  • Randall

    BY THE WAY….

    Let’s all have a moment’s silence for the GREAT actor, Paul Newman, who departed this world yesterday at age 83.

    And he too was in a spy thriller, by the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock: “Torn Curtain,” which he co-starred in with, of all people, Julie Andrews.

  • Cheeshygirl

    Like Jamie, I was born in the 70s and was blessed with seeing several of these shows in syndication. Loved Get Smart! I wasn’t as big a fan of the more serious shows. And, although I know my boyfriend would beat me for this, I never really got into Bond. Great list, Randall. Exactly what I expect from you. Glad to see you contributing again. More please. :)

  • D

    Gawd, those Matt Helm movies are hideous…in my opinion. I, in some way, prefer the original Casino Royale- with Sellers and Woody, as Bond parody. It wasn’t great, but better over Helm. With the Helm movies, it seems like it was with the times of cranking out shit for profit. A low budget that shows (in some ways helps..but not really) Overt Mantan Martin, pudgy and just not his swaying crooner sloshiness. He becomes his own farse, as the -wink wink, you get it?- doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s sad. You can almost see the thinly clad dolls clinch up in disgust, when he touches them.
    Hell, I prefer Chase in Fletch
    But, yeh. I suppose a list like this does need a playboy.

  • derekouyang

    was the spider robot from the will smith version of wild wild west from the original tv show?

  • Randall


    Not to my knowledge.

  • Blogball

    I just heard An earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hit Kermadec Islands in New Zealand just a couple of hours ago.

  • RXL

    I was really hoping the prisoner was going to be number one.but i ended up agreeing with the author when i saw the avengers.what a great series that was.

  • smurff

    Paul Newman was a great actor and in a spy thriller ( as Randall mentioned ) but he could adapt to any role, westerns – racing driver, biker, or just play the part of a gentlemen.

    Sorry guys I went of the beaten track a wee bit, but Randalls comments about Paul Newman were very good.

    The older generation will have fond memories of him.

  • mregan

    re: 46/50. Hasn’t David McCallum been on NCIS for the last five seasons playing the pathologist?

  • Ren

    These all look pretty good. I saw the Steve Carrel remake of Get Smart and really liked it. When I was reading about the proisoner I was thinking that it seems like a good story then you ruined the ending for me. Thanks a lot.

  • Randall


    By god, you’re right. (I’ve never seen the show). Segue must have been mistaken then (?) Either that, or he’s just trying to keep a low profile. A really low profile. ;-)

  • Randall


    Sorry, Ren, but you know, the ending of the Prisoner series really doesn’t matter. A) the fun is in watching the episodes… there’s only about 17 of ’em… and B) the ending doesn’t make a whole lotta sense ANYWAY. Trust me. It’s a surreal mess. It was the Sixties you know.

    So go out and catch the Prisoner however you can, and you won’t care, believe me, about that final episode.

    Oh, and by the way, in The Fugitive—the one-armed man DID do it. And Kimball catches him in the end on top of a tower…. and Barry Morse, the cop, shoots the one-armed man.

    What else can I spoil for you, kid?

  • Cubone

    Thanks Randall

  • Jenova4

    Man, now I can’t wait to watch all of these. I am a huge fan of the spy genre and I love the bond films. I had never heard of danger man, sounds awesome.

  • DK

    I should have known by the loooong descriptions that this was a Randall list!
    I used to watch reruns of Get Smart on Nikelodean, but I don’t think I’ve watched any of the others listed.

  • Maggot

    Fun list Randall.

    By the way, shouldn’t Harry Palmer be on the “Fantastically Named People” list? lol

  • Speaking of David McCallum – let us not forget his excellent steely acting in Sapphire and Steel :) I absolutely loved that show – it scared me. It was, of course from 1979 and they were detectives – not spies, but I felt I ought to mention it anyway :)

  • kris

    nice list

    I have to be 18 to be a spy! oh!!! then I can get the gadget and that means I am not eligible to be in this competition either :(

  • kiwiboi

    Randall – cool list!

    As for the Wild, Wild West; you’re so right about that show occasionally being surreal. I remember one episode with a dwarf getting off the stagecoach carrying a carpetbag (don’t ask me why…)

    As a kid, Saturday nights for me were High Chaparral followed by the Wild, Wild West.

    Thanks for the memory :)

  • Erwin

    I remember most of these shows from Saturday early afternoon reruns on German televison.
    My parents always watched them and I was even then a huge fan of gadgeteering.
    I think the British series Department S fits in this criteria as the one with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis (it was called “Die Zwei” – The Two in German) by the same producers.

  • Randall


    That dwarf you remember was Dr. Miguelito Loveless, one of the recurring evil genius villains of the show….

    And I remember High Chaparral… and The Big Valley, too…

  • islanderbst

    re: David McCallum
    found this on imdb, says he lives in Cal. while filming, so maybe hes just slumming a bit?

    “Where Are They Now

    (December 2006) Official residence is Manhattan. Lives part time in California while filming NCIS”

  • Blogball

    kiwiboi, that must have been Micahael Dunn see post 71.

  • Randall


    Yes, Department S! I considered that for the list, but for two problems:

    1) only the Brits and Europeans would know it…
    2) I had only ever seen it a couple times, myself
    3) I was trying to keep the list to a nice round number.

    Still… good suggestion.

    I don’t know the other series… I had no idea Roger Moore was ever in anything with Tony Curtis (blecch…. one of the worst actors ever, though seemingly a nice guy).

  • Gecko

    I’d never heard of any of those before. But some of them do sound kinda interesting.

  • Erwin

    I found it:
    It´s a fun series, Moore plays a British aristocrat and Curtis an oil millionair from Texas who are recruited by some dude to solve crimes and wathnot.
    I remember it dearly for the banter etc.

  • Erwin

    The series was called The Persuaders:
    I only saw the German version, so a lot of the humor was brought in through the dubbing.

  • kiwiboi

    kiwiboi, that must have been Micahael Dunn

    Blogball – haha, yep. That’s him.

  • Gravy

    when i was a kid, i was obsessed with spies. i like collected spy crap and stuff.

    james bond of course was my favorite. i also had an affinity for the pink panther, whose theme song i had recorded and made into my alarm clock tone, so i would roll out of bed and start the day off spying (mind you, i was like ten).

  • Kreachure

    Is it fair to say that, with the exception of Mission: Impossible, all remakes done from these series are absolutely atrocious? (Even more atrocious is the fact that many of these I’ve heard of only from the remakes themeselves! :P)

    The atrociousness of the remake of the Prisoner (with James Caviezel as Number 6 and Sir Ian McKellen as Number 2) remains to be seen… *gulp*!

  • Spinner

    kiwiboi : come come now….. My parents shifted north in the 70s so I was safe.
    jf: I recall when telly started at 6 pm, in black and white, and Dr Who was insanely scary. ( I used to visit the toilet 5x an episode so my evil brothers couldnt see how scared I was) Yes the toilet was inside.
    Oh look you made me comment again.
    Speaking of brothers, they were all exceptionally impressed by Mrs Peel. She was one of snazziest thing on telly in the 70s, even in black and white.

  • flippy

    i`ve been reading these list for like a moonth and there are some really good ones

  • j_teether

    Wow! I’m too young to remember most of these, but I love spy shows. I’ll definitely have to look into finding some of these episodes.

  • Nukedoom

    I am not really all that into Spy shows but interesting to know if I ever have a question on this for my AP exam.

  • Randall


    A few years ago, my oldest daughter (who was about 10 years old at the time) was home with me feeling somewhat sick. I had rented a few episodes of the Tom Baker Doctor Who series to show her. So she said “okay, pop one in,” and I did… and she believes it was “Talons of Weng Chiang.” She dozed in and out of it.

    After that she loved Doctor Who (the current one is her favorite) BUT… she now tells me that it gave her all kind of nightmares and freaked her out (all in a good way)… all, she said, from the very MOMENT the theme music came on… that moment, during the music, when it suddenly goes WAY up in pitch… that really chilled her. Then of course, the episode was like a weird, horrific dream that she drifted in and out of.

    But… as with me when I was her age, she loves the eerie, horrific scares, and she still loves Doctor Who. :-)

  • Leinad

    i’d never guess there’d be enough spy series to even make a top 5 list, let along 10. wow.

  • k1w1taxi

    Scarily enough I remember all but three of these from their first runs in NZ (TV came to Hamilton in the early 60’s). Never saw Helm, Palmer or the Danger Man series.

    Of those I did watch Flint always struck me as better than Bond. Perhaps because when I saw the movies on TV Flint seemed slightly more tongue in cheek than he was played or perhaps even intended. Though by no means as OTT as Roger Moore’s Bond who started out silly and just got worse with each successive movie

    The Prisoner screened at least twice in NZ, I saw the second run, it screened much too late on first run for a young nipper like me. It was indeed very different from just about everything else on TV at the time, with one exception and Randall has nailed that. The BEST EVER were, and are still, Mrs Peel and John Steed.


  • SeeBlind

    there are a lot more spies thna i thought there were

  • ramrunner1

    I loved the inclusion of Maxwell Smart. The remake(which i recently saw), though rather humorous, was not nearly as funny as the old version.

  • babygirl2882

    So I saw Get Smart and didn’t know it was a show. Now I wish I would have seen it! I’m really too young for these but they still look good :)

  • jhoyce07

    i liked Get Smart.. where’s Charlie’s Angels?? boohoo.. ilove ’em//

  • astraya

    Randall’s introduction: “Before Bond, spies were often portrayed as paunchy, unattractive, cowardly, even elderly”

    Way back, I mentioned Graham Greene’s “Our man in Havana”. From memory, he wasn’t all of those things, but was decidedly ordinary and made up his dispatches to HQ in London.

  • Avi

    When was Bond’s first movie?

  • Blade

    And in the 80’s we get McGuiver

  • emmstein

    most of these were recently made into movies. and they all sucked. except maybe for mission impossible. despite the presence of tom cruise

  • Mandie

    Inspector Gadget.

    Go! Gadget! GO!

  • von

    I’ve only seen a few of these shows, but good list.

  • Randall


    Dr. No, the first Bond film, premiered in 1962.

    HOWEVER, there was a Bond telefilm before that. In the 1950s a TV movie was made of “Casino Royale.” Starred an actor whose face you’d know, probably… and now his name escapes me. Barry something.

  • Ernmas

    In response to #17 – Dr. Hannibal Lecter

    The entire opening to The Prisoner is in the Iron Maiden song. That was the first thing I thought of when I read those words.

    Sad thing is I’m not old enough to have seen these series when they were out. I really enjoyed the list and will have to check some of them out.

  • Ryon

    I’m in my early 30’s. As a kid I always wondered how my mom could have known the guy who played opposite the greatest american hero. Now I know.

  • stlouisrams81

    I am sad to say, I have not seen any of these

  • dr. Hannibal Lecter


    Yes, indeed it is.

    The other most fantastic reference to a movie by Iron Maiden is “Man on the edge”, actually describes one of my favorite movies: “Falling down” with Michael Douglas.

    The movie was – and still is – absolutely astounding. Every time I see it I keep thinking about it for days.
    The song is not bad either :-)

  • flamiejamie

    I used to always watch number one!
    What a great list! Thanks for the memories!

  • 57. Randall…Charles Beaumont was fantastic, a great talent…
    One day, when talking with Ray Bradbury, I asked what he remembered about Charles Beaumont. He told me he remember Charlie well, a kid who was always following him around with a manila envelop full of stories under his arm, begging Ray to read them.
    Ray finally gave in, took Charles into his living room, and read the stories. He was amazed. They were astonishingly good.
    Charles asked, “What can I do to get better?”
    “Write every day”, Ray replied, “every day, no matter what. One page.”
    Every day, for the next year or so, (Charles was still in high school), a page or more would be on Ray’s door step when he got up.
    He got Charles to begin submitting, and he sold for the get-go.
    I still have entire stories of his early works burned into my brain.
    …it’s a cool life to lead, knowing such people.
    I never really thought about it that way, it being the way thing were, but yes, I guess it was. OTOH, there was no hesitation at all, not a heartbeat of hesitation, when I fell in love and was asked to marry and move away from all that.
    I’d known everyone, my husband’s kids are astonished when they ask me “Did you work with so-and-so?” and I casually say “Yes” or “No, but I had dinner with him” or “I was working with such-and-such and so-and-so came by the set to hang around”.
    They also see all the pix of me with all the stars and big-time authors, and are awed that I’d give up that to marry their dad!

  • Ernmas


    Dang, how do I follow that? I love reading and prefer it to watching TV series and such. It is something I can do at any point in time.

    I am going to have to talk to my father about these shows. He is a huge fan of spy books and shows and this would be an applicable time-frame for him.

  • #125. Randall
    In the 1950s a TV movie was made of “Casino Royale.” Barry something.

  • Blacknimbus

    Loved The Prisoner. Confused the heck out of me at the time, but it was never boring and it made you think.

    Totally dig the politics of the series as well. “I am not a number…I am a free man!”

    That’s right up there with TANSTAAFL.

  • JORC709

    I never enjoyed any of the early spy shows. I did however like the saint.

  • Bloodknok

    Great to see Harry Palmer up there on the list. If anyone reading the list is curious to find out more about Len Deighton’s greatest character, they can always visit my new website, the Deighton Dossier ( for more information. There’s also a new fansite on it where fans of the film can discuss it to their hearts’ content.

  • danger

    Great! Now I have that annoying “Secret Agent Man” song stuck in my head. Thanks a lot Randall!

  • gezzanater

    Good list, I remember as a kid having the Dinky toy car of The Man Fom UNCLE, wish I had kept the box, would have been worth more money.
    I’ve stil got the car, you push a leverl on the roof and it makes a clicking noise while the driver and passenger pretend to fir their guns. Very funney,

  • NMS

    Immensely pleased to see the Avengers at number 1, I was hoping it would feature the moment I saw the list title. Steed and Peel forever win at life.

  • whitewolf

    I’ve never seen any of these (probaly because they are before my time:D ) but they all look prety fun to watch. And since I like the new Get Smart movie I’m gonne watch the series now
    Thanks for the list

  • BishopWhiteT

    That case is way cool. I want to send one back in time to my 10-year-old self. Along with my han solo blaster, I would’ve been unstoppable.

  • Anon


    As promised over at the other topic, a few thoughts which may or may not be of some interest or amusement.

    To begin with, I must be one of the few, if not the only one commenting, who can claim to be too OLD to have known these. Hahaha! I claim that TIC (tongue in cheek) as my authority for what follows.

    Ian Fleming wrote his first Bond novel, ‘Casino Royale’, in 1953, and continued until ‘Octopussy and the Living Daylights’, 1966. He had been involved in naval intelligence during WW2, including planning commando intelligence gathering raids. This formed a basis for his fiction. He was living outside Britain when he wrote.

    In 1946, the first daily radio serial was served up by the BBC. It was called ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent’ (see Wikipedia). It occupied a 15 minute peak slot between 6.45-7.00 p.m. in the evening (winter evenings, it ran for 6 months each year, as I recall). Kids like myself would kill to get back home or indeed to anywhere with a radio in time for each episode. The only consolation for missing any was the wonderful omnibus edition each weekend. It ran until 1951 (note that date). At its height it attracted 15 million British listeners! The adventurous Barton became as much a national hero as Churchill in the dull, austere post-war days.

    Remember the timing too, 1946-1951. My grandparents had one of the relatively few original pre-war black-and-white TV sets, but service was discontinued until several years after the war. Radio remained the family medium until the key moment of the coronation of the present Queen in June 1953. Huge numbers, including my parents, bought sets for the event, and TV became the leading medium from that moment in the U.K. (dependent on reception, however). Of course, the cinema was strong, but attempts to cash in and film ‘Dick Barton’ for kids’ Saturday morning flicks were a total disaster (tatty, half-baked visual action to replace vivid, thrilling imagination).

    Now Dick Barton was a clean-cut WW2 ex-commando officer who took on cases and frequently (always?) investigated evil villains (get the pattern?). He had as his assistants Jock (a Scot), and ‘Snowy’ White, a cockney Londoner. They had been part of his wartime team. For a short while he had a charming girlfriend called Jean. Alas, the prurient British social attitude of the time soon meant she had to be written out of the series, even though not the slightest hanky-panky took place between them. Vicars wrote in wanting to have the entire series stopped for its ‘amorality’!!

    Anita is calling that dinner is served. I’ll post this and come back later with Part 2.

  • Anon

    Part 2.

    It’s really quite astonishing to realise the abruptness of the change-around in British social attitudes in the 60s. What Bond could get up to with women compared with what Barton couldn’t in any way a mere decade or so earlier (no sex, please, we’re British). The BBC had a rule book listing religious, social and p.c. taboos that mustn’t even be hinted at, and censors to approve everything braodcast. For a laugh, two of our finest comedy writers came up over pub beers with one short sentence that broke the lot, it went something along the lines of, “Christ,” exclaimed the vicar, “That fucking one-legged (racial insult) has just ripped the bra off her sodding bastard (another reacial insult) lover’s tits.” So Barton was limited to responding in a rather impersonal and gentlemanly way to occasional cases involving damsels in distress.

    Nevertheless, the series was tightly and excitingly written. It had a wonderfully tense and memorable signature tune called ‘The Devil’s Galop’. Once heard, never forgotten. Each episode would end as a cliffhanger with one or more of our heroes or their friends in some often nailbitingly perilous situation, but it never seemed to be repetitive. The tension was then racked up further by an announcer who, with quick-fire urgency ended, “Dick, Jock and Snowy are trapped in a small underground cell with no window or exit. (Mr Evil) is flooding it with water. It’s up to their necks already. Will they escape? Can they escape? Listen to the next episode of (pause) ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent’ (cue, ‘The Devil’s Galop’). How tame the following seven o’clock news always seemed!

    My contemporaries recall it with great affection to this day as a significant element in their lives, and may bark, “Look out, Barton, behind you!” for an appropriate situation. A bit of us all died when the series finally ended.

    It must be obvious enough by now that even though he lived abroad, I cannot for one minute believe Ian Fleming didn’t know all about ‘Dick Barton’ and its astonishing success. He couldn’t have avoided it. Both set-ups were as British as the bowler hat (O.K., I live in South America, I know Bolivian women wear them!). Fleming may never have admitted so, but I’m just as convinced Bond owed as much to Barton as later agents did to Bond.

    Earlier models? Might John Buchan’s Richard Hannay perhaps be the daddy of them all? There is a general and continuing thread of private or police investigating (Shelock Holmes, Inspector Clouseau) and adventuring (Professor Challenger, Indiana Jones) running parallel to the agents, and at times the lines become blurred. But it seems to me that WW1 perhaps set the seed for the agent genre. ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, written when WW1 paranoia was beginning to come up to the boil, was surely the founder literature. It greatly influenced Buchan and others.

    The difference that set in with Barton and flowered with Bond and his hyper-technology was the suspension of any attempt at a real-life situation. Continuous gripping excitement at any cost was, I contend, probably born with Barton.

    I’m certainly prepared to bow to any historic alternatives from the States I don’t know about though.

  • koekaine

    Get smart was and still is in the top 5 of my favourite shows, it was just really enthralling to watch i just loved it

  • koekaine

    jfrater wasn’t the James Bond series also created sometime in the 60’s? please correct me if i am wrong, becasue surely England’s greatest spy deserves a spot on this list

  • koekaine: read the introductory paragraph to this list and all will become clear :)

  • Randall


    Wonderful exposition on the heyday of British radio (and television), thank you! And… I’d heard of Dick Barton! (I think ;-) ) But then I used to be quite the anglophile, and also, I was a weird kid, somewhat out of my time, when I was younger… into all this pulpy old stuff that was already past its day even when *I* was born (1965).

    There is really no American counterpart that I know of for the “roots” secret agent… Unless one considers such characters as The Shadow, G8 and his Battle Aces, Doc Savage, and so on… but these fit more into the superhero/pulp hero vein, and I think we can safely award to Britain the credit for the creation of the mythological “secret agent” character.

    Even the private detective, so much an American character, has of course its antecedent in Sherlock Holmes (even if, before there was Holmes, there was Poe’s ratiocinating C. August Dupin). But America did take the detective in a different direction, with characters like Mike Hammer, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Ellery Queen, Nick and Nora Charles, and so on. To SOME extent these surely had some influence on the later secret agent genre, and in a way the latter was simply a continuation of the former when detective fiction became tired and out of date.

  • SarahJ

    Sadly I didnt watch enough tele growing up – but it was obviously on or JFrater wouldnt have seen the shows above.

    Kiwiboi back in those days was it schnitzel and chips night? or was that later on?

  • Anon


    Yes, it’s quite curious how the U.K. never really followed up on Sherlock Holmes. I suspect perhaps because it had and has no real-life tradition of private investigation, no emblematic Pinkerton Agency, for example. Where ours were known of at all, it was as rather contemptible, low-profile evidence-gathers for seedy matrimonial cases. For that reason our prime series were always the cops: ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ (from ‘The Blue Lamp’), ‘Z Cars’, ‘The (splendid) Sweeny’, and so on. Sellers as Inspector Clouseau put a Briton who was everything else French into the international limelight for the first time.

    However, now you’ve reminded me of the delightful Nick and Nora (never to forget the wire-haired fox terrier star, Asta). Which in turn brought to mind a parochial British blooming of the genre, clearly influenced by them, and serialised at various periods on the same BBC between 1938 and the present. It certainly ran contemporaneously with Dick Barton. It is Francis Durbridge’s eponymous private detective Paul Temple and his wife, Steve, a pair of mystery and murder solvers, often up to their necks in restrained sub-Bartonish plots. It also had splendid and appropriately more genteel signature music in a piece called ‘Coronation Scot’.

    The emblematic BBC Children’s Hour (radio) also gave us boy detectives Norman and Henry Bones, a pair of what would currently be known as geeks, and who would certainly nowadays also be computer geeks into the bargain, solving crimes of cyberspace (paedophiliea? Hahaha!). They may perhaps be founders of that limited genre. Sound radio allowed wonderful play for the imagination that writers were also able to build on.

    I forgot to note that all but three of yours above have clocked up more or fewer hours in my dissipated couch potato career. For those three I was not around at the hour or the years of broadcast. Many, many fond memories, but above all of ‘The Avengers’.

    You may be interested to know (if you don’t already) of a recent appearance by the irresisitible Diana Rigg (viz. your earlier eulogy at another topic!). There was a programme casting the famous adrift on a *desert island* for a set period with very limited resources and filming how they made out. Diana, sexy as ever, *made out*. And how. Mrs Peel lives!

    Which reminds me that *one* of the Dick Bartons, actor Duncan Carse, was a real-life explorer and adventurer. He decided to live for a year (I think) alone on just such a remote, resourceless island. The very day he had been dropped off on the beach with all his many needs for the period, and the boat was hours and hours away, a huge overnight local storm swept the island, nearly killed him, and destroyed almost everything he needed to survive. But survive he did until his boat eventually came back on schedule. Look to your laurels, Daniel Defoe.

    Anita’s great remembered favourite is ‘Get Smart’, which she has introduced me to (from time to time) over at the cable TV *golden oldies* reruns at her mum’s. Of course, we only get the voices in dubbed Spanish.

  • Sarah

    Didn’t they do a new Get Smart with the Al Bundy guy in it? I LOVED it, and was so disappointed when it was cancelled.

  • I was, and am, addicted to the Nick and Nora movies.
    Oh! How I adore the quick witted banter, Nora usually one upping Nick with nothing more than a tilt of the chin. They had what was, for the time, a remarkably equal marriage, an equal relationship; she was not a shrinking violet, nor a shrieking harpy but a partner in both love and danger.
    Nora was who I wanted to grow up to be.

  • Anon


    Steve, played by the beautifully-voiced Majorie Westbury, was pretty much in the same relationship with Paul Temple. They too had their verbal tennis volleys, if rather more co-operative and softer, rather than the sharper witty fun of the Charleses (plural of Charles?). At least, that’s the way my long-distance memory recalls it!

  • I’d go with Charleses.
    But that reminds me of a couple I once knew, I may have shared this on another list, most couples are spoken about by their last names, as in the the Smiths, or the Andersons.
    I worked with a woman whose Christian name was Kim. Just Kim. Not short for Kimberly, just plain Kim.
    She married a man whose Christian name was Kim.
    For the sake of the story, lets say their surname was Cooper (it wasn’t, but it had a similar sound).
    I always referred to them as the Kims Cooper.

  • Anon


    Nice one. Like The Brothers Karamazov, and so on!

    It reminds me of a gem I picked out of a book on soccer fan-crowd culture. A well-favoured player whose name fits the scansion may be sung to ‘Guantanamera’ as (e.g.), “One Bobby Charlton, there’s only one Bobby Charlton.”

    However, an interesting variant arose when, in 1986, England fielded two defenders with the same name, causing the crowd to sing, “Two Gary Stevens, there’s only two Gary Stevens.”

  • Anon

    And now there’s the commentors segue. Hahaha.

    Unintended slip of the typo, honest!!!

  • LOL!
    I love fraidian slips.

  • tee hee

  • Sheldon Roy

    so really, not many movies are orriginal nowadays.

  • randominspector

    “I spy” and “Derek Flint” are great! But haven’t lived long enough for see all the others. I dont like the old bond that much :O

  • Willie

    Peel – Sexiest woman on TV – All time

  • Patrick,

    We appreciated your diligence and understanding of the game we live by. ‘No. 6’ is what most of us grew up on, and Danger Man was our model. A man who lived by wits, training, style, etc., but not gunpowder, unless necessary. Still the standard of excellence. KAR120C should also be retired as a plate. You knew the Truth, hope it set you free…

    Being seeing you, No. 6. – Regards, all of us.

    HAL //2501//

  • Benjdragon

    I remember many of these shows. Being American, I grew up watching I Spy, Mission Impossible, The Wild, Wild West, The Avengers, Get Smart and The Man/Girl From UNCLE. Emma Peel was my first love. She was smart, witty and just plain gorgeous. Great list!

  • Trekkerette

    300 eh? I lapped up the Star Trek trivia.

  • Doug

    You left out the Lance Link Secret Chimp.If you missed it- all characters were chimpanzees. I liked it when Lance would ask his boss (Darwin) “What’s your theory, Darwin?”

  • Jake

    I miss gunsmoke.

  • deanosantino

    i would have loved to have been there to see these first time round, according to my parents they seamed really high concept at first, but now they look very cheap.

    still a brilliant era of television

  • Mike

    Another funny story regarding the “sister shows of Mission:Impossible & Star Trek”is the prop designer.When the gentleman was offered either show to design/build the hand props for he thought he wisely chose M:I instead of ST.His reasoning being(and who could blame him at the time)was that Trek being a science-fiction series set centuries from the present day would require new & elaborate props for each episode.A spy show such as M:I would not have the same needs,so he picked M:I.Little did he know that one of the hallmarks of M:I would be the different & complex espionage gadgets that the IMForce would utilize each week.

  • Will Trame

    “The Prisoner” was an excellent series and perhaps should have come in at number one on this list. The program had so many interpretations: a religious allegory, a voyage of initiation, a critique on modern day existence (as applicable in 2010 as it was in 1967), the ultimate struggle between good and evil, and total nonsense. Patrick McGoohan wanted people to think about what they were watching, a rarity in 1960s TV. No one could actually tell what the hell McG was trying to say with this series, and that was what gave it its cult classic status and undying appeal. We are all numbers after all in the long run. Be seeing you….

  • saintigel

    Am I the only one who actually like Kilmer’s The Saint? I feel that I am and as such the world is against me. It was cheesy, sure, but really, who cares? Sadly my copy was never returned to me (along with Hunt for Red October).

  • aragorn2k

    RIP Peter Graves – Mission Impossible.

  • Mcllisa

    I may be late to the party, but I picked up a few seasons of M:I and I still have a crush on Barney. Nice to look at and makes cool gadgets. Sigh.

  • samir

    i loved to watch all of these.. including Peter gunn, although he was more of a private eye.

  • Just got "Wild, Wild West" season 1 on DVD. Man, what a great show. I want to be Robert Conrad when I grow up. But can we all agree that Will Smith stank up the joint in the movie remake? What was Kevin Kline thinking?

  • Toby1k

    i have honestly never seen many of these shows so i wouldnt know if theyre great

  • marco73

    Patrick McGoohan pretty much stole the character from himself to play the British spy in the movie Ice Station Zebra, one of the best cold war movies.

  • willyhassertt

    i’ve yet to see any of these, but they do sound good.

  • krazybig

    Cool list,wanna get the priza

  • Muccanera

    I have to put Danger Man/Secret Agent at number one… and Wild Wild West in the top three for originality…

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  • dakota1022

    If you hadn’t included “The Saint”, I would’ve been really disappointed. I had Roger Moore pegged as a replacement for Sean Connery way before it was cool to do so.

  • Thomas Clarke

    I cannot believe that you left off Honey West with Anne Francis as well as Mike Connors in Mannix. Terrible. You can do so much beter.

  • Hendra009

    not 300 comments yet?

  • paul presti

    I’m 56 years old and looking back on the old series of shows has me numb.They were so cool and to the point.Knowing that these actors are still alive is pleasing.I feel as if I and them are a part of a time machine that kept us alive and that acting back then was a read script,utilize what was available to complete the scene.They are all my idols,iconic inspirations. Like Dianna Riggs how some have insulted her……GOD BLESS these fine people in acting…….your the best.

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