R.I.P. Diana Rigg, Emma Peel of 'The Avengers' and James Bond's wife
The former Bond Girl and Dame of the British Empire was 82.
Image: The Everett Collection
The British Invasion stretched far beyond the Beatles, beyond the world of pop music, in fact. Television saw its fair share of English imports in the Sixties. The Prisoner, The Saint and Thunderbirds became immediate transatlantic hits. There were also more obscure gems such as The Baron and Journey to the Unknown.
And then, of course, we had The Avengers. The name today is more associated with Iron Man and Captain America, but to any Boomer, The Avengers conjures images of dapper, clever spy action. Not even the flop Uma Thurman reboot of 1998 can taint that.
ABC purchased The Avengers for broadcast in 1965, plopping down a massive $2 million for the rights to the sexy, sensational series. We Americans actually started on season four, which is why Emma Peel is the first heroine who comes to mind from the show.
The show centered around Patrick Macnee's secret agent John Steed. Over the course of six seasons, he worked with a few female sidekicks, beginning with the green Venus Smith (Julie Stevens) and the whipsmart, judo-kicking anthropologist Dr. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman).
Diana Rigg as Emma Peel was introduced in the fourth season, as the show upped its budget (as well as its "mod" factor) and took a lighter tone. The influence of James Bond undoubtedly loomed large. No coincidence that both Rigg (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) and Blackman (Goldfinger) both became iconic Bond Girls, as well. But only Rigg got to marry Bond.
Raised for part of her youth in India, Rigg studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and like so many other British thespians, began onstage with a healthy dose of Shakespeare. She was not the original choice to play Emma Peel. In fact, Elizabeth Shepherd played the character for a couple of episodes before leaving The Avengers.
The Avengers turned Rigg into a pop star. Her character Emma Peel could be found in pulp novels and comic books.
In 1973, NBC cast Rigg in a new light, giving the actress her own sitcom, simply titled Diana. Her character was a British fashion designer living in New York City, a sort of Anglophile spin on workplace comedy of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, right down to the similar hairstyles.
Though Diana lasted a mere season, Rigg continued to be a presence on American television well into the 21st century. Her wise and witty character Lady Olenna Tyrell became a fan-favorite on the fantasy epic Game of Thrones.
Speaking of thrones, in 1994, Riggs became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, earning the official title Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg, DBE.
On September 10, Rigg passed away at her home, according to the BBC. She was 82.