Remembering Dame Diana Rigg, from The Avengers to Shakespeare

Dame Diana Rigg, who has died at the age of 82, enjoyed a long and distinguished acting career on stage, in film and on television. She is probably best remembered as action girl Emma Peel from The Avengers, but the range of her work spanned everything from Shakespeare and James Bond to camp comedy.

Born Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg near Doncaster in 1938, she was brought up in India where her father worked as a railway engineer. She returned to England after the Second World War and lived in Yorkshire.

Diana Rigg

On leaving school in 1955 she entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made her professional debut in a production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle in the 1957 York Festival.

See also: Top 10 Celebrity Hidden Talents, From Knife-Throwing to Banjo-playing

As a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company she was praised for her portrayal of Cordelia in King Lear.

See also: Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces’ Sweetheart, Dies at 103

Emma Peel

Most famously, she got the part of Emma Peel in hit TV series The Avengers in 1965. Following the action-girl pattern set by predecessor Honor Blackman, she won legions of admirers for her gutsy performance, trademark catsuits, and easy sensuality. She attributed her sex appeal to a husky voice, the result of a 20-a-day smoking habit.

See also: Our Top 10 Favourite Celebrity Biopics

She spent only two years on The Avengers, apparently unhappy with the way fame affected her privacy, and returned to the stage to work with Laurence Olivier and others. When Hollywood beckoned, she appeared as Teresa opposite George Lazenby on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Emma Peel

Other movies she appeared in included Theatre of Blood with Vincent Price, but her true love seemed to be the stage, and she was acclaimed for her performance in Abelard and Heloise, though one critic described her in a nude scene as “built like a brick basilica with insufficient flying buttresses” – a quote she happily included in her collection of bad reviews, No Turn Unstoned.

See also: What Are The Top Ten Celebrity Reality Shows Of All Time?

Appearing with the Old Vic and in BBC drama Mother Love she continued to perform to acclaim, and in 1994 was created Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

See also: 10 Celebrities and Their Amazing Pets

Fantasy epic

In 2013 her role as evil Mrs Gillyflower in Doctor Who was played using her native Yorkshire accent alongside her daughter, Rachael Stirling, and in her 70s she had a part in fantasy epic Game of Thrones. She continued working until shortly before her death, appearing in the new remake of All Creatures Great And Small.

Diana Rigg Game of Thrones

She was married twice, to Israeli artist Menachem Gueffen from 1973 to 1976, and to Archie Stirling who she divorced in 1990.

See also: Instagram’s Top Ten Most Followed Accounts

She always refused to autograph photos from The Avengers, though she said of her co-star Patrick Macnee, “Patrick was a very dear man and I owe him a great deal.”

See also: Who Are The World’s 10 Fittest Celebrities?

You might also like

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and get
• FREE Competitions
• FREE Digital Magazines
• HOME and FAMILY News
And much more…

You have Successfully Subscribed!