The elder of two sons, Macnee was
born in Paddington, London, to Daniel Macnee and Dorothea Mary Hastings. His
father was an alcoholic racehorse trainer who drank gin at breakfast. At one
point, he took off for India, where he landed a job at the Bombay racecourse.
Macnee's parents divorced after his unpredictable mother, a niece of the Earl
of Huntingdon, became pregnant by another man and then moved into a stately
Tudor mansion with her lesbian lover Evelyn, an heir to the Dewar's whiskey
fortune, who dressed like a man and had a pet monkey that would perch on her
As recounted in Macnee's 1988 book Blind
in One Ear: The Avenger Returns, the man-hating Evelyn forbade the seven-year-old
Patrick to wear trousers in her home and suggested that he would look better in
a dress. He ultimately was allowed to wear a kilt. But Macnee overheard "Uncle"
Evelyn, as he was required to call her, tell his mother, "Given time, we'll
make a good woman of him."
Evelyn paid his way to Eton, one of
the U.K.'s most prestigious boarding schools, where he developed his acting
skills before being expelled for bookmaking and selling erotic pictures to his schoolmates.
Macnee felt "that he had been socially and sexually confused by his
upbringing and schooling." He found America a less repressed environment
and, upon settling there, became an active member of a nudist colony in the
mid-1970s. He eventually settled in the Palm Springs area of California in the
1980s, and lived there until his death at the age of 93 on June 25, 2015.
Not long before his career-making
role in The Avengers, Macnee served as one of the London-based
producers for the classic documentary series The Valiant Years,
based on the Second World War memoirs of Winston Churchill. While working in
London on the Churchill series, Macnee was offered a part in The Avengers
(1961−69). The series was originally conceived as a vehicle for actor Ian
Hendry, who played the lead role of Dr. David Keel, while John Steed was his
assistant. Macnee, though, became the lead after Hendry's departure at the end
of the first season. During the course of the series, Macnee played opposite a
succession of glamorous female partners: Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, and Linda
Thorson. He insisted on, and was proud of, never carrying a gun in the original
series; when asked why, he explained, "I'd just come out of a World War in
which I'd seen most of my friends blown to bits."
Macnee played both Sherlock Holmes
and Dr. John Watson on several occasions. He appeared in Magnum, P.I.
(1984) as a retired but delusional British agent who believed he was Sherlock
Holmes, in an episode titled "Holmes Is Where the Heart Is," and
played Holmes in another TV film, The Hound of London (1993). He
played Watson three times: once alongside Roger Moore's Sherlock Holmes in a TV
film, Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976), and twice with
Christopher Lee, first in Incident at Victoria Falls (1991) and
then in Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1992). He is thus one
of only a very small number of actors to have portrayed both Sherlock Holmes
and Dr. Watson on screen.