If I think of the actress Diana Rigg, I instantly bring to mind two of her standout roles during a distinguished career. Namely Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in the Bond film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ both, I think you’ll agree, iconic moments in the world of TV and film and both of which have stood the test of time.
She was born Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg in Doncaster in 1938. Dad was Louis, a railway construction engineer and mum Beryl a housewife. The family moved to India when she was aged 2, when her dad’s work took them out there. She lived there till the age of 8 and became fluent in Hindi.
Once of an age, she attended boarding school back in England and then joined RADA in 1955, along with other soon to be household names, Sian Phillips and Glenda Jackson. Her first name was jogged on quickly (well, Enid was never going to work was it?) and she made her stage debut as Diana Rigg in 1957, before joining the Royal Shakespeare company in 1959 where she remained till 1964.
‘Mrs Peel, we’re needed.’
She began her role as Emma Peel in the TV ‘The Avengers’ opposite Patrick Macnee playing bowler hatted John Steed in October 1965 stepping into the show when the previous first choice actress, Elizabeth Shepherd, stood down. In the part, Rigg displayed superb combat skills and an even keener fashion sense in a part that brought her instant celebrity and the status of a sex symbol, partly due to her trademark leather cat suit, which in truth she was very uncomfortable with.
The series was hugely successful and she stayed for a second series only after holding out for a pay rise, after falling into the then (and some would say still) prevalent gender pay gap. The final straw was learning she was on less money than some of the cameramen on the show. Due to the popularity of the show, especially in US, she got her money.
She appeared in 51 episodes in total, before leaving in 1967 before the sixth series with Rigg and Macnee remained lifelong friends
1969 saw her become James Bond’s wife in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ staring as the Contessa Teresa di Vincenzo, or Tracy to her friends, opposite George Lazenby as Bond, after he had replaced Sean Connery. It was the sixth film in the Bond series and based on the 1963 novel by Ian Fleming.
The genius of the soundtrack, John Barry composed the love song ‘We Have All the Time in the World’, with lyrics by Burt Bacharach’s regular lyricist Hal David and sung by Louis Armstrong.
In truth reviews were patchy, but the film performed well at the box office both here and in the US. However, many punters consider it as perhaps the best Bond film of all, as do many modern day film directors, such as Steven Soderbergh and Christopher Nolan.
Rigg’s career continued in film, TV and theatre, both here in the West End and on Broadway during the 70s and the 80s and she picked up a Best Television Actress Bafta in 1989 for her role as Helena Vesey in ‘Mother Love’ for the BBC, a Best Actress Tony award in 1994 for her role as ‘Medea’ on Broadway and an Emmy for her 1997 performance as Mrs Danvers inn an adaption of ‘Rebecca.’
Her later roles included an appearance in ‘Extras’ with Ricky Gervais and Doctor Who in 2013 and as Lady Olenna Tyrell in ‘Game of Thrones’ though she confessed she had never seen the show (that makes at least two of us then…)
When not performing, a favourite pastime is fly-fishing. She’s been married three times and has a daughter, Rachel Stirling also an actress, who is married the ‘Elbow’ front man Guy Garvey.
She became a CBE in 1988 and Dame Diana Rig in 1994.
The Mumper of SE5