Patrick Macnee does not wear a bowler and seldom carries an umbrella. Yet the memory of Jonathan Steed, the elegant, eloquent, impeccably English master spy of "The Avengers," accompanies him wherever he goes, much like that universally popular television series.

The sun, which once never set over the British Empire, now never sets over "The Avengers." It can be seen in syndication nearly everywhere there is television.

In Washington, "The Avengers" plays on two stations at the same time, weeknights at 11:30 on Channel 50 and Maryland Public Television.

During a stop in Washington to promote the summer release of the movie "Shadey," the 65-year-old star revealed himself as the source of John Steed's witty, delightful, gentlemanly charm.

"'Shadey' is a crazy, mad film," he smiled. "It's a black comedy about taboos, basically: incest, transsexualism, castration, mutilation. But it's very funny in a sort of pretty harsh way. Katherine Helmond {"Who's the Boss?"} plays my wife. She spends the whole of the thing eating coal, which of course a lot of people do. Oh, and I've forgotten incest. Did I mention incest?"

"Shadey" was directed by Phillip Saville, former boyfriend of of Macnees most famous screen partner, Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel on "The Avengers." It was he, Macnee said, who talked Rigg into early retirement from the show.

"It was entirely due to him that she left. She was already fed up by being produced by a lot of men who treated her not as she was on the screen -- feminist -- but as a sort of skivvy. And she was paid 90 pounds a week, which was less than the makeup man. They were perfectly bloody awful. In came Saville, who literally told her everyday, 'Oh, you don't want to do that cheap comic strip stuff.' So she didn't."

Unlike Rigg, the versatile, ubiquitous Macnee appreciates his long association with John Steed. He first played the role from 1960 to 1969. American audiences discoverd "The Avengers" in 1966, at the height of a TV spy craze that included "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," "The Wild, Wild West," "I Spy," "Mission: Impossible" and "Get Smart." The show's tongue-in-cheek blend of espionage, science-fiction and mystery, embodied by Macnee's stiff-upper-lip heroics and Rigg's man-wrestling in sexy leather leotards, made it an instant cult classic.

"It was a pretty perverse show," admitted Macnee. "It was always bizarre. Most often it was the girl who was tied up ...

"I was the only person who went the whole show. It was everyone go, come, and I had five leading ladies."

Macnee, in typical John Steed fashion, speaks gallantly of them. Honor Blackman, best known as Pussy Galore in the James Bond film "Goldfinger," preceded Rigg. Her episodes, never televised here, are in great demand among "Avengers" collectors.

"Occasionally, somebody hurt themselves over the fights ... " recalled Macnee. "But the Diana Rigg episodes were filmed with great care ... She's one of our finest actresses. Even before 'The Avengers,' she was playing Cordelia to Scofield's Lear. She just came in, pounced around this thing with me for a few years, enjoyed herself, gave it a sort of beautiful quality and left. Excited a few men in the meantime."

He also keeps in frequent touch with Rigg's successor, Linda Thorson, who played rookie spy Tara King.

"She's going to be a big star, you know. Now she's doing 26 episodes of a new situation comedy, and she's the equivalent of Gracie Allen. She's really very funny ... I love her very much."

Macnee resurrected Steed 10 years ago in "The New Avengers." Its success established the trend of first-run, late-night network programming in the action-adventure genre. Gareth Hunt joined Macnee and new partner Joanna Lumley (as agent Purdey), playing rugged secret agent Mike Gambit.

"I very nearly didn't do it," said Macnee. "I thought, 'Oh my God, that old show, really.' But we didn't quite bring it off, I don't think. I would love to do that threesome idea better. If you could do it now in the computer age with three people in complete tune, we'd have a marvelous concept."

His partners may come and go, but Jonathan Steed, like Sherlock Holmes and England, endures. Macnee is preparing once more to don his bowler for a new two-hour "Avengers" film.

"It seems to me that Ray {"Perry Mason"} Burr has set the standard for this sort of thing, the classy comeback. He's got it right. When they said, 'Do it again,' he said, 'I'll do it again, as long as ... ' That's what I've got to do. I have to say ahead of time, 'It'll work, if you do so and so and so and so and so and so.'"