Straight Male Spies, Queer Camp Vistas: The Evolution of Non-Normative Masculinities in The Avengers (1961-69) and 1960s British Spy-Fi TV

Douglas McNaughton, Craig Haslop

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


This chapter surveys developing representations of masculinity in the British ‘spy-fi’ television series of the 1960s. Sketching the historical and social context, the chapter establishes normative forms of masculinity in the postwar era, and explores the emergence of ‘pop camp’ as a challenge to dominant masculinity. The chapter examines how Danger Man, The Prisoner, The Avengers, and Department S use camp in their articulation of shifting discourses of masculinity in the 1960s. These series subvert hegemonic masculinity in different ways, from the central protagonist’s misogynistic disinterest in women in Danger Man and The Prisoner, through the dandyism of Steed in The Avengers, to the macho camp of Department S. Inserting The Prisoner’s intense Number Six character into the architectural bricolage of Portmeirion created a friction between the character’s masculinity and his kitsch surroundings which resulted in progressive forms of camp. Across the decade, Steed’s persona in The Avengers shifted from hard-boiled, trenchcoat-wearing noir detective to effete dandy, sipping champagne and wearing Pierre Cardin suits. Conversely, his female associates became ever more capable at physical combat as the Steed character became more camp. The process reaches an apotheosis with the flamboyant Jason King of Department S, a sybaritic, womanizing novelist who glides through unlikely crime-fighting adventures in a range of flamboyantly trendy outfits. The chapter uses Murray Healey’s concept of ‘macho drag’ to argue that the King character draws attention to the constructedness of hegemonic masculinity. The chapter concludes by arguing that the camp aspects of these spy-fi shows influenced later industrialized models of cult television.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCamp TV of the 1960s
Subtitle of host publicationReassessing the Vast Wasteland
EditorsIsabel C. Pinedo, Wyatt D. Phillips
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press (OUP)
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780197650776
ISBN (Print)9780197650752, 9780197650745
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2023


  • Masculinity
  • camp
  • spy-fi
  • espionage
  • 1960s
  • television


Dive into the research topics of 'Straight Male Spies, Queer Camp Vistas: The Evolution of Non-Normative Masculinities in The Avengers (1961-69) and 1960s British Spy-Fi TV'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this