The sad news came through on September the 10th, that the actress Dame Diana Rigg had passed away that day from cancer. She was 82. My heart broke at the news. She has been a favourite of mine for many years now and I have grown up admiring so many of the strong and kickass characters she played, proving yet again that there were actually many great roles for women in the past, despite what some people today seem to think.
I also liked how Diana always came across as down to earth and didn’t take it all too seriously. She was made a CBE in 1988 and a Dame in 1994.In 1982 she wrote No Turn Unstoned, a book featuring a collection of the worst theatrical reviews in history.
Diana Rigg was born on the 20th of July, 1938, in Doncaster. Her dad Louis was a Railway Engineer, and from the age of two months until she was eight, Diana lived in Bikaner, India, where her dad was employed as a railway executive. Diana spoke fluent Hindi and it was her second language for some years. She was sent back to England to attend the Fulneck Girls School, in Pudsey, Yorkshire. Diana hated her time there, but she felt that her character was shaped more by her time in Yorkshire than it was in India.
Diana attended Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art from 1955 to 1957, and she made her professional acting debut in The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the York festival in 1957. She had a varied stage career during the 1950’s and 60’s, including time spent performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, it would be due to two performances on the screen that she would go on to become a household name.
In 1965, Diana auditioned for the role of the new partner of Patrick Macnee’s suave spy, John Steed, in the British hit TV series The Avengers. The character of Emma Peel was the replacement to Honor Blackman’s tough Cathy Gale. Honor Blackman, Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg would all go on to be involved with the James Bond series, with Diana and Honor playing two of the toughest and most beloved Bond girls.
Diana had never watched the series before she auditioned for the role. She replaced the actress Elizabeth Shepherd, who had originally been cast as Emma but had left the series after filming just two episodes. It’s hard to imagine this series now without Diana.Emma Peel is the role that most people remember Diana for. As much as I love the other seasons and the various partners, it is Steed and Peel who first spring to my mind whenever I think of this series. For me John Steed and Emma Peel are the heart and soul of The Avengers. They are without a doubt one of best screen partnerships.
Patrick and Diana had a magical chemistry on screen. There is such a warmth and playfulness between them, as well as a sexual tension which works wonderfully for the characters. This sexual tension created quite the talking point amongst fans, something which continues today, as to just what the exact nature of Steed and Peel’s relationship actually was.
Emma Peel is such a great character because she’s intelligent, independent, and strong, and she’s also highly skilled in martial arts and firearms. She can take care of herself and is every bit Steed’s equal. You wouldn’t want to mess with her. If this character has inspired me as a little girl growing up in the 1990’s and 2000’s, then I can’t begin to imagine how much of an impact she had on girls and women watching the series during the very male dominated society of the 1960’s.
Diana played Emma for three years between 1965 and 1967. While she and Patrick became good friends, she was however left unhappy with her treatment by the series producers, particularly around the issue of how little she was being paid in comparison with the rest of the cast and crew. She demanded and eventually received a pay rise. A ballsy move for the time,and one which showed she wasn’t content to be treated secondary to her male colleagues. All respect to her. Diana also felt uncomfortable that she had become a sex symbol because of the series.
In 1969, Diana would play the second character with whom she would forever afterwards be associated with. That character was Countess Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo in the sixth Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
In comparison with so many of the other women in Bond’s life, Tracy actually claims the heart of the tough spy and the pair genuinely fall in love, rather than just enjoying a brief fling and some fun. Tracy also has a very interesting character arc as she transitions from suicidal playgirl, to a happy woman with a newfound desire for living life; something which makes her characters shocking fate all the more tragic to witness.Diana is incredible in this role and brings a lot of depth to the character.
OHMSS saw George Lazenby taking over the role of 007 after Sean Connery’s departure from the role. Despite the unfair criticism he has received over the years for his performance, George does a very good job and is believable as the tough and calm under pressure spy. He’s very good in the fight sequences and very good in the tender and more poignant scenes between Bond and Tracy. He and Diana work very well together and have a lovely chemistry. There were rumours that the two actors didn’t get on, something which they both denied.
Outside of The Avengers and James Bond, Diana worked steadily in theatre, TV and film right up until her death.Her last role was as Mrs. Pumphrey in the new remake of the TV series All Creatures Great And Small, and that series is currently still in the middle of airing here in the UK.
Just two years after OHMSS, Diana was cast as Barbara Drummond in Arthur Hill’s 1971 satirical film, The Hospital. Diana delivers a performance here which sees her match the mighty George C. Scott. George was an actor who dominated every scene he appeared in, even if he wasn’t really doing anything, so I’ve always been impressed by what Diana managed to do in this one.
I love Diana in the short lived TV series The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries – almost a forerunner to the series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – playing Adela Bradley, a stylish upper class widow who isn’t content to be what society dictates, who rocks 1920’s flapper fashion, and solves crimes with the aid of her dishy friend(with the potential to be something more) and chauffer, George Moody(Neil Dudgeon). I think it’s a real shame this series didn’t last longer because it’s a lot of fun and she and Neil have a lovely chemistry.
Diana was chilling and unsettling as Mrs. Danvers in the 1997 TV adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca. Her co-stars in the series were Charles Dance as Maxim and Emilia Fox as the second Mrs. DeWinter. Charles and Diana were reunited just a few years ago, when the pair co-starred on the hit series, Game Of Thrones.
Diana gained a new generation of fans around the world thanks to her performance as the cunning and fearless, Queen Of Thorns, in the TV series Game Of Thrones. This characters mind and words are her swords and poison, and they are quite capable of bringing her enemies low. The Queen Of Thorns is just as badass as Emma Peel.
If I saw Diana’s name on the cast list of a film or series, then I would always watch it. She always impressed and I was always left wanting to see more from her. I will miss her presence on our screens, but I take comfort in the vast body of work she has left behind for us to enjoy. R.I.P, Diana. All sympathies to her family and friends. She is survived by her daughter Rachel Stirling, who has followed in her mum’s footsteps and become a great actress herself.
Thanks for all the great work and wonderful memories, Diana.