I was sad to hear that Dame Diana Rigg died today in London. She was 82 years old.
Like a lot of people, I’ll always first think of Diana Rigg as being Emma Peel. My dad loves the Avengers and I grew up watching reruns of the show with him. He taped every episode and, a few years ago, he transferred all of his old VHS tapes to DVD. I think we saw every episode of The Avengers (and The New Avengers, for that matter) that ever aired in the United States. (The first season, which featured Patrick Macnee working with Ian Hendry, was never aired in the U.S. and, with the exception of three episodes, is now believed to be lost.)
Even though both Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale and Linda Thorson’s Tara King both had their strengths, the show was at its best during those three seasons when Patrick Macnee (as John Steed) was partnered with Emma Peel. It wasn’t just that Diana Rigg was amazingly beautiful and sexy as Emma Peel, though that was definitely some of the appeal. It was also that she could take care of herself. As many people learned over the course of her time on the show, you underestimated Emma Peel at your own peril. She was as smart as Steed, she was as cunning as Steed, and she was as witty as Steed. Never a damsel in distress, she was John Steed’s equal in every way and they made for a great team. She could fight and she could deliver a one-liner with the best of them and, because she was played by Diana Rigg, she did it all with a very distinctive British classiness.
However, Diana Rigg was not just Emma Peel. Not only was she the best of the Bond girls in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (you could believe that James Bond would settle down and retire just for a chance to spend the rest of his life with her) but she also had a co-starring role in one of my favorite British thrillers, The Assassination Bureau. In the States, she played Portia in Charlton Heston’s production of Julius Caesar and then, in The Hospital, she proved she could handle Paddy Chayefsky’s dialogue with the same charm and skill as Shakespeare’s. In the 80s, she took over the job hosting Mystery! on PBS when Vincent Price retired from the job.
Of course, to a whole new generation of viewers, she’ll be best known for appearing on Game of Thrones and for bringing Olenna Tyrell to life. Rigg received three Emmy nominations for her performance as Olenna and her final scene, in which she voluntarily drank poison without a hint of fear or hesitation, was one of the strongest moments in the series.
I’m going to miss the talented and classy Dame Diana Rigg. I know I’m not alone.