Dame Diana Rigg was best known as Emma Peel, a fashionable, feminist, fictional spy in the British 1960’s adventure television series the Avengers. She was born Emma Knight, the daughter of an industrialist, Sir John Knight. She was born on July 20, 1938 in Doncaster (now South Yorkshire). As a small child she resided in India were her father was employed as a railway executive. Hindi was her second language in those days.
As a lady spy adventurer and expert in martial arts, she became a feminist role model around the world and continues to be today! Regardless of her feminist role model status, she was highly remembered for the leather catsuit she wore in the first series and was regarded as a 1960’s fashion icon and sex kitten. She played in the Avengers from 1965-1968 opposite of her dashing older co-star, Patrick McNee as John Steed. Interestingly enough, she was a last minute replacement on the show, replacing Elizabeth Shepherd when Shepherd was dropped from the show after only two episodes.
Before television, however, Dame Rigg was in the theatre. She made her stage debut in 1957 and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959, leaving in 1964. She has had an extensive career in the the theatre, including London and New York and she won the 1994 tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. Her first Broadway debut was in 1971. She was made a CBE in 1988 and a Dame in 1994 for services to drama.
Later screen appearances include being a Bond girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), playing Tracy Bond, James Bond’s only wife. She was in a number of smaller movie parts and television shows and in the 1990’s she appeared on television as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, winning an Emmy. From 1989 until 2003, she hosted the PBS television series Mystery shown in the US, taking over from Vincent Price. Most recently she has been featured in the popular series Game of Thrones, a Lady Olenna Tyrell, a witty and sarcastic political mastermind popularly known as the Queen of Thorns. Her character was killed off in the seventh season, with her final performance receiving critical acclaim.
Dame Rigg in the 1960’s lived for eight years with director Philip Saville gaining attention in the tabloids when she disclaimed interest in marrying the older, already-married man, saying she had NO desire to “be respectable”. She was later married twice and has a one daughter, also an actress, Rachael Stirling, born in 1977.
We salute Dame Rigg as she has long been an outspoken critic of feminism, saying in 1969: “Women are in a much stronger position than men”.
Not only is Dame Rigg a fashion icon for many women who grew up watching her, or seeing reruns of her being a bad-ass chick who could handle a gun, drive a car like a bat out of hell, take down a thug, and all without a hair out of place in a leather catsuit nonetheless!!! Her eyeliner was what we all aspired to achieve!!! But, she also gave us young girls a strong sense of empowerment and was a fierce advocate for women (she claims feminism to her is all about equal pay — nothing else). And, even though her karate-chopping days may be over, she still refuses to be a pushover and realizes that even today some men find powerful women threatening. But, underneath her presumed tough-nut shell is something extraordinary, an actor in her eighth decade and still loving it.
I hope there’s a tinge of disgrace about me. Hopefully, there’s one good scandal left in me yet.
by Cheryl aka Sassy Morris
Sassy packed up and left the gray gloomy skies of the Pacific Northwest along with her ungratifying, soul-sucking corporate job and moved to the sunshine and desert breezes in beautiful Southern California. Canadian Ex-Patriate, Wife, Mother, Fur-Baby Mother and Entrepreneur, Sassy now sells Vintage for a living after a life-long love and passion for rescuing old things. Sassy, sometimes serious, always honest and usually outrageous, she is embracing the “silver” years with a sense of humor, adventure, and seeking that path to enlightenment along the way. Visit her Etsy shop!