Diana Rigg, 1938 – 2020

Dame Diana Rigg enjoyed a long and distinguished acting career on stage, in film and on television. The range of her roles was enormous, from serious drama to high camp.

Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg was born near Doncaster on 20 July 1938. On leaving school in 1955, she trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she played a number of roles, receiving much praise for her portrayal of Cordelia in a touring production of King Lear.

In 1965, she screen-tested for the part of John Steed’s female companion in the TV series The Avengers after the departure of Honor Blackman to play Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.

In fact, the role had already been given to another actress, Elizabeth Shepherd. But Brian Clemens, the programme’s producer, was not happy with her performance.

“She’s not a bad actress,” he later recalled. “But she just didn’t have a sense of humour at all – that was essential in The Avengers. So we scrapped what we’d shot and got rid of her and then tested, and out of the tests came Diana Rigg, who was head and shoulders above everybody else.”

Her performance as the cat-suited Emma Peel brought her international fame. The surreal psychedelia of The Avengers made it as much a symbol of the Swinging 60s as the Mini and the Beatles.

Sexy, resourceful and self-assured – with a deadly knowledge of self-defence – Rigg’s character became an icon for the growing feminist movement. Her action-girl allure, coupled with her husky voice – the result of a 20-a-day cigarette habit – also brought her plenty of male admirers.

Like Blackman, Rigg moved from The Avengers to 007, starring in Her Majesty’s Secret Service opposite George Lazenby. Rigg became the only Bond girl to get the secret agent to the altar, although the marriage was abruptly cut short when her character was shot dead soon after the wedding.


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