Figure 1 – Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel

Last week I talked about the death of actor Chadwick Boseman; this week it’s my sad duty again to talk about another icon of stage and screen, Dame Diana Rigg. Figure 1 shows how most of us who were young men in the sixties would remember seeing her first: as Mrs. Emma Peel, partner of John Steed (Patrick Macnee) in the British series The Avengers, a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the then-hot concept of spies and secret agents. The series had previously had other actresses; according to Toronto fan and artist Taral Wayne, “Carol Wilson was first, then nightclub singer Venus Smith. Only then did Honor Blackman step into the role of Steed’s regular partner,” as Cathy Gayle. I remember watching a few Avengers with Cathy Gayle, but the series didn’t really take off until Ms. Rigg stepped in and became the mod feminine counterpart to Macnee’s bowler-hatted and brollied Steed in a much more light-hearted version of the show. (Even her name was tongue-in-cheek: “Ema Peel is “man-appeal.”)

Figure 2 – John Steed (Macnee) and Emma Peel (Rigg) in The Avengers

The series really found its footing when she joined and the whole thing went “mod.” Steed became the dry masculine foil for Mrs. Peel’s judo-throwing, often leather-clad character. The series also verged on the SF, often mixing in mad scientists and the like. But although Rigg’s pretty face and slim form was attractive to the male sex, they never pushed the idea that Steed and Peel had a “thing going on,” as singer Billy Paul might have put it. But Mrs. Peel also had her own dry wit, and the viewer was sometimes left with the impression that perhaps she was the leader of the band rather than Steed. There were depths there. She played the role for three years, then branched out into film.

Figure 3 – Rigg and Lazenby as James and Theresa “Tracy” Bond

In the 1969 Bond film based on Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, she played Tracy, daughter of the leader of the Union Corse—a quasi-criminal group—and marries Bond, played by male model George Lazenby in one of the few Bond movies that is fairly faithful to the original book. Alas, the marriage didn’t last long, as Tracy is killed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his cohort Irma Bunt.
Rigg, previous to her television career, had been a stage actor, and had joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959. She continued acting on stage and screen, making her Broadway debut in Abelard and Heloise in 1971. She won numerous awards, including a Tony for Medea, and a BAFTA and Emmy for her TV work. She appeared on Doctor Who in 2013, and capped her career with her final appearances as Lady Oleana Tyrell on the TV adaptation, Game of Thrones, of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.

Figure 4 – Rigg as Lady Tyrell in Game of Thrones

Numerous of my friends were able to see her on stage, but I never did. Firesign Theatre’s Philip Proctor said “A sweet, funny, sexy lady. I did a pilot with her in the 70s, and for our first live taping, she gave me a prehistoric petrified clam. Enough said. We last talked years ago in London at a performance of G. B. Shaw’s “Pygmalion” playing Rupert Everett’s Mother. Loved her.”

She will definitely be missed by me and many others.

Comments? Sure! You can comment here, or on Facebook page, or by email: stevefah at hotmail dot com. All comments are welcome! (Just keep it polite, okay?) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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  1. Yeah,Diana Rigg was Mrs.Emma Peel!I think I saw The Avenger”s in re-runs,on Saturday afternoon”s.It was a great ? show!But,being a child in the late 1960”s,I got my “cartoon views” in,too!They have a French address for the music ? to The Avenger”s.That is,an address in which to get the music from the film!Some day,I’ll have to see The Avenger”s again!I was also sad one year,when another Star Trek actor(Leonard Nimoy)passed away in 2009,I think it was.From:Betty Lou

  2. She was magnificent, every moment she was on the screen was dominated by her authority (and no, the leather doesn’t enter into the conversation unless you own a bowler … or 3 … and are 60+ y.o.) I recall an Avengers episode where Steed and Mrs. Peel (interesting how respectful we felt about this chaste, married, knockout leather-clad warrior!) had their minds switched with a couple of dowdy middle-aged Brits and Mrs. Peel, understanding that her temporary body isn’t trained for duty like this but her mental agility is still hers … She and Steed (a grey-haired postal clerk’s body?) are handcuffed around a 4″x4″ post, back-to-back, and the actress playing Emma Peel studied Dame Diana’s mannerisms and vocalizations as she prepared for close-ups prior to kicking the post out with her heel …

    Skiffy-leaning, adolescence, a dangerous beautiful woman, of COURSE I adore Lady Diana! And miss her sorely. I’m glad her last performance(s) as Lady Tyrell allowed her to play in George’s parallel world the magnificent woman she was in ours: a fearless leader for all the right ..check, all the CORRECT causes.

    “Mrs. Peel … You are needed!”

    Jeez, Steve, is it just me, or does it look like all the important people are dying off?

    “What a difference a day makes:
    “24 little hours!”
    x 364.25 days x 15 years

    I miss youse guys.

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