Character Biography
Page 4 of 6

John Steed

Department: MI5½
Active duty: ca. 1943-?
Height: 6'-1"
Weight: 175 lbs.

John Wickham Gascoyne Berresford Steed was born in the mid-twenties to a noble British family. Educated at Eton, he joined the armed forces prior to World War II. Owing to the (understandable) classification and/or obfuscation of his records, virtually no hard details of his Ministry service are available.

It is likely that Steed was inducted into the Ministry sometime during the war, as he was stationed at the now-defunct RAF Camp 472 Hamelin, a known "agent launch point," during that time. It is also very likely that he spent the first ten or fifteen years of his career simply playing courier, transporting sensitive papers back and forth across the border.

By the early sixties the Ministry had begun tapping him for more challenging assignments, and while he answered to supervisors One-Ten, One-Twelve, One-Six and others, he operated autonomously. At one point he solicited the assistance of a physician, Dr. David Keel. They met when Steed helped Dr. Keel with a very personal case that the police could not solve—the murder of the Doctor's fiancée—and afterward they worked together for about a year.

Soon Steed had a small stable of part-time amateur partners of various skill and interest levels. There was Dr. Martin King, an irascible M.D. who was somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Keel. Venus Smith, a young jazz singer, helped Steed on occasion, though she rarely understood the whys or wherefores of what she was doing. And then there was Mrs. Catherine Gale...

Steed met Cathy at a museum where she worked as curator. As he was used to having his way, Cathy proved to be an irresistible challenge: She could not be manipulated, yet she was practically indispensable. Whereas he was cunning and ruthless, she was brilliant and principled, and despite occasional friction, they created a most effective team. It was around this time he began to acquire a taste for classic automobiles and fine clothing, and he gradually shed his enigmatic spy persona, assuming the permanent guise of Etonian man-about-town.

If there was one thing that Cathy taught Steed, it was how to treat women. This lesson played to his best advantage when, in 1965, he acquired a new partner by the name of Mrs. Emma Peel, a woman possessed of some of the qualities of both Steed and his former partner. While she was every bit as emancipated and independent as Mrs. Gale, she was also just the tiniest bit cunning and ruthless, a mix that suited Steed to a tee. Good thing, too, as the late sixties saw a bumper crop of particularly diabolical masterminds.

With the surprise discovery of Emma's presumed-dead husband in 1969, Steed was forced to break in yet another new partner, the first to be fully sanctioned—indeed provided—by the Ministry. Tara King was an altogether different person; fresh out of training, she was still rather moist behind the years, and Steed took great pleasure in personally completing her training in the field. There was nothing either of them wouldn't do for Queen and Country—even take a brief flight into space.

Befitting a consummate secret agent, Steed's abilities and areas of expertise were virtually boundless. Although he was quite adept at using a gun, he rarely carried one, relying instead on his 'brolly and steel-lined bowler. A skilled swordsman, Steed preferred the saber. But perhaps his most renowned and remarkable "weapon" was his palate: No one in Great Britain could better him at wine-tasting. And greater than his weakness for the fairer sex ("Always leave them laughing," he advised) was his love of champagne.

As the years passed, it was assumed that Steed would eventually trade his field assignment for the internal role of Mother or even Father. But that never happened. By the mid-seventies he had become part of a very active and potent triumvirate, wherein his invaluable brain was teamed with the formidable brawn of Mike Gambit and the exceptional sleuthing talent of Purdey.

And what of Steed today? Good question. Best to leave it at this: Old spies never die—they just disappear back into the woodwork whence they crept.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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