How Honor Blackman became TV's most sadistic blonde
Graphic of Honor Blackman as Cathy  Gale

Secret Agent James Bond finally gets his just desserts in his latest movie, "Goldfinger."

The dessert is a hot tart named Pussy Galore, an expert at karate, judo and assorted mayhem.

In the "Goldfinger" novel by Ian Fleming, Pussy heads a gang of lesbian crooks that teams up with the Crime Syndicate to rob Fort Knox of its gold.  It becomes the duty of Secret Agent 007 to foil this dastardly plot.

In the James Bond role, as usual, is handsome Sean Connery.  His curvy co-star is an English Amazon known to millions of British televiewers as Honor Blackman.

The producers of the James Bond screen series searched long and hard for a beautiful battler to toss Agent 007 around in "Goldfinger."  But the pretty chicks they interviewed weren't rough enough.  And the rough ones weren't pretty.

Then they spotted Honor on TV and immediately realized they had found the perfect Pussy.

As co-star of "The Avengers," a thriller series that satirizes other private-eye shows, Miss Blackman is the hottest property on British TV - so hot, in fact, that she has been accused of blowing out picture tubes all over England.

In her TV role, she is Mrs. Catherine Gale, a widow, doctor of philosophy, linguist and judo expert. Flipping men around like flapjacks, she demolishes at least one husky villain per show.  Her fans call her Superwoman.

In real life, she is a luscious, long-stemmed, green-eyed blonde of 36.  She doesn't look a bit dangerous, though her video bouts have sent at least one "heavy" to a hospital and left several other muscle-men battered and bruised.

Her "fighting suit" - and TV trademark - consists of tight, curve-clinging, black leather breeches and jerkin, plus knee-high boots of the same supple, gleaming leather.  Commercially, these "Kinky Boots" have become a high-fashion item among British womanhood.

Thousands of teen-age girls, especially those who run with the Wild Ones of London's slums, have abandoned their cotton pants and wool sweaters for leather outfits that make them look somewhat like stranded skindivers.

Each Saturday between 10 and 11 P.M., more than 28 million viewers tune in their tellys to Honor's Fight of the Week, also known as the Battle of Britain.  Without ever losing one iota of her feminine allure, she slugs, kicks, gouges and finally over-powers her male opponents with a stunning display of judo, karate and wrestling tricks.

Her show has been panned by critics, who call it a "moral muck-heap."  It has been denounced by ministers in pulpits, educators in the classroom and Lords in Parliament.

Newspaper pundits have condemned its violence and moralists have picketed her studio with a vigor usually reserved for Ban-the-Bomb demonstrators.  Psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists have come up with a wide variety of theories to explain the program's nationwide popularity.

"The explanation doesn't have to be complicated," Honor replies to the searchers for reasons why.  "It's quite simple, really - one three-letter word - S-E-X.

"All the responses to the show are covered by that one word.  I'm sure the popularity of the series is based entirely on sex, on a battle of the sexes."

Women like the show, Honor believes, because it is the only place where a female - Cathy Gale - always wins the battle.

"When it comes to the fighting bit," the shapely star says, "the women think its marvelous.  Imagine them coming in from the kitchen after the Saturday night washing-up and watching me slug some brute of a man into unconsciousness.

"Some housewives write to me asking how I do a particular judo throw.  I don't tell them, because I might find myself named an accessory to murder or something, but I can understand why they write."

Of the thousands of letters Honor receives every week, however, 98 percent are from men - "and only about 1 percent of the male mail is concerned with my acting ability."

A few are proposals of marriage.  But most are proposals without mention of wedlock - one hold Honor hasn't tried so far.

"If I ever turned my letters over to Scotland Yard," she says, " a sizable proportion of the male population of England would be liable for arrest."

Among her viewing admirers are many queer characters who would like nothing better than to be beaten by a blonde glamazon in black leather boots.  This particular diversion, with or without the boots, is an old English custom that is almost as traditional as tea, crumpets and cricket.

Fifty years ago, psychologist Havelock Ellis (author of "Studies in the Psychology of Sex") reported that sexual flagellation among British adults "is the most frequent of all perversions."

Flagellation is not a crime in broad-minded Britain.  Children frequently are punished by whippings from their parents, governesses, teachers and headmasters.  This common childhood chastisement often becomes an adult vice.

When Honor - a good, clean, blonde English girl with a good, clean honest English name - bashes a bounder about and beats his bloody brains in, 20 million Britishers cheer as if she had just scored the winning goal at a championship cricket match.

"It's marvellous throwing men around," Honor says.

Just in case she should lose her sense of humor and tire of tossing heavies through plateglass windows and into open graves, her contract requires her to have at least one fight per show.  TV and movie contracts also require her to wear her black leather fighting suit, which she hates because "it creaks when I walk and smells terrible."

The suit is the invention of her video co-star, Patrick Macnee, "Honor's fighting suit outline her figure and show up the highlights in a way no other material can," Macnee insists.  "It is like an animal's skin.

"My theory is that man, as a hunter, wants to get at the meat underneath."

Almost every red-blooded Englishman, including Secret Agent James Bond, seems to want to get at Honor Blackman.

But the gents who flip for her can expect to get thrown for a loss.

From Whisper, USA, November 1964.

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