The image was of Emma Peel, John Steed's old assistant on The Avengers in the 1960s. She was my first teenage crush and one that, given the colour of my face on that late-night settee, I've never really got over. She was played by Diana Rigg and for some reason as a lad I
always derived an extra frisson of erotic pleasure from the fact that she came from Doncaster. Somehow, I reasoned, in a different life, we might have met in the bus station as I went for the old 37 and she went for whatever bus future sex symbols caught. Our eyes might have met somewhere near the caf and we could have ended up sharing a glass of pop and a bun. I'd have fumbled for money and as my loose change hit the floor she'd have laughed a laugh that tinkled like a bell and our hands would have brushed together accidentally. Or was it an accident?
I always liked The Avengers as a kid; my dad preferred The Man From UNCLE because he said that the action was "more straightforward", whatever that meant, but although I was in The Man From UNCLE fanclub, The Avengers was my toppermost of the poppermost, as we said in those days. I initially liked the programme because of the odd and bizarre storylines; they seemed a bit like the DC Comics and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines I was reading at the time. I couldn't articulate it in those days, but there was a wonderfully English surrealism about Steed's bowler hat and his vintage car and the suburban settings where amazing things happened that presented you with a strangely off-centre view of the world.
Then one Saturday night in about 1968 or '69, something happened. A hormone or two woke up somewhere in my body. The hint of a shadow of facial hair started to sprinkle itself across my chubby chops. My previously piping voice began to slip almost imperceptibly down the scale. And I noticed that Emma Peel was wearing tight leather trousers.
I realise I'm talking about an everyday miracle here, that nothing was happening to young Ian that hadn't happened to everybody since before the dawn of recorded time when leather trousers were taken straight from the beast without washing, but it certainly felt pretty special to me. I daren't say anything to anybody about it because I thought I was going daft, but I cut a picture of Ms Peel out of the paper and stuck it up in my Auntie's shed.
I couldn't wait for Saturday to come round so that I could watch The Avengers. Ridiculously, I combed my normally unruly hair before the show and once I changed into a shirt and tie to watch it, prompting my mother to ask if the Church Youth Club had changed nights, a question that made me fly into a rage and go and get changed again into a different shirt and tie. It was as though I believed that Emma Peel could see me through the camera lens and that the rendezvous in the bus station caf might still happen somehow: the tinkling laugh, the brushing of hands.
I began, in a chubby-boy way, to worry about my obsession and my whisper of cheek-fluff. Was I turning into a werewolf? Was I becoming some kind of Jekyll and Hyde character ? I decided to tell my dad; in my head I thought we might we might have a man-to-man chat. It turned out somewhat differently.
I approached him early on a Saturday evening, well before The Avengers started. I wanted to explain my feelings, even though they were all jumbled up in my head: the bus station caf, the leather trousers, the picture on the wall of Auntie's shed, the leather trousers again. My dad was playing his accordion, his old squeeze-box that had circumnavigated the globe many times during his navy years. He was tootling his way around A Scottish Soldier, one of his favourite Andy Stewart songs and I went up to him and the words tumbled out in a torrent; basically, I fancied Emma Peel and I wanted to marry her or at least have a glass of pop with her in the bus station caf as long as she wore her leather trousers.
My dad's reaction was odd and instant. He simply played the squeezebox faster and louder, drowning out my squeaky voice. I tried to talk again and he played faster. He began to sing A Scottish Soldier far too quickly, missing one or two of the notes in his embarrassed haste.
And that was my man-to-man talk: more boy-to-accordion, if you ask me.