Decked out in suit, a steel-edged bowler hat and lethal umbrella, Mr. Macnee's Jonathan Steed was one of the most recognizable figures on ‘60s television. Though, as a secret agent, he was ostensible an operative for the establishment (which establishment was never overtly stated), and he dressed like a banker, Steed nonetheless simultaneously functioned as a stylish, witty embodiment swinging '60s London, solving crimes with dash and banter and flirting with his various sexy female colleagues, played, over the years, by Honor Blackman, Linda Thorson and, most famously, the leather catsuit-wearing Diana Rigg.
Mr. Macnee played a supporting role when the program debuted in 1961, but quickly assumed a leading part. The series ran until 1969. He also starred as the same character in "The New Avengers," which ran from 1976 to 1977.
Daniel Patrick Macnee was born Feb. 6, 1922, in London. He had a peculiar childhood. He was born to Daniel Macnee, a horse trainer known as "Shrimp," and Dorothea Hastings. But his parents soon divorced and he was raised by his mother and her wealthy lesbian partner, whom he was instructed to called "Uncle Evelyn." He was educated at Eton, but proved a rascal. He was expelled for selling pornography and being a bookie. He turned to acting, taking classes at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. He served during World War II in the Royal Navy. A case of bronchitis just before D-Day saved him from certain death; his company was lost in the fighting.
His film career began in the late '30s with small parts. He was an extra in Laurence Oliver’s film version of "Hamlet" in 1948 and played young Jacob Marley and the noted 1950 Alistair Sim film "Scrooge," an adaptation of "A Christmas Carol." He also played stage roles both in England and Canada, where he spent several years.
One of his most prominent later film roles was in "A View to a Kill," opposite Roger Moore’s James Bond––a character who shared a great deal with Jonathan Steed. He played a fellow secret service agent. On stage, he played the manipulative Andrew Wyke in the thriller Sleuth in the early ‘70s. He also played the role on tour through America. He was married three times. He is survived by two children he had with his first wife, Barbara Douglas: Rupert and Jenny.
If John Steed was the role of his career, and seemed to fit his talents like a glove, there was a reason for it. "I know the part of Steed was created for me, and it was developed from my own background and personality," he said. "I suppose, though, that you could describe me as an unashamed romantic. I really think I'd have enjoyed the life of a Regency buck."