Friday 11 September 2020

So farewell then, Diana Rigg


Diana Rigg, I was in love with you when I was four. Now you are dead aged 82. 

Dead I accept, but 82?

Timothy Stanley, much too young to remember The Avengers when it was first broadcast, said this.

By sad coincidence, I happen to be watching Diana Rigg’s colour season of the Avengers, and what a delight it is! It seems to be set not in the 1960s but the 1930s - vintage cars, no tower blocks - although Mrs Peel’s furnishings have that wonderful “everything will be plastic and orange in the future” feel. I love the future as seen in the Sixties because it was so hopeful and vivid; it’s turned out to be quite ugly.
Observations: the show's all about class. Like Doctor Who, Steed and Emma are Edwardian adventurers. In one episode they have the chance to meet Harold Wilson and turn it down: “Did you vote for him? No. Neither did I.” That said, it’s joked several times that Steed has no title. Nor does he have a proper job; the bowler hat is a sign of being demobbed, not a city banker. Thus they fall into the camp of upper-middle rather than aristocratic. The filming is crisp - England never looked lovelier - the guest stars are brilliant, the dialogue witty. It can be dark one minute (Murdersville), high camp the next (Epic). I’d say watch Hidden Tiger and the Superlative Seven, the latter is a smashing pastiche of Agatha Christie and looks really quite expensive. One downside is that The Joker isn’t as good as the Cathy Gale episode it was a remake of. Gale was far cold.

If the Avengers is all about class it's only because England still was in the 1960s, even though most people thought class had ceased to matter. I wonder how much has changed.

I almost never watch videos and instead waste my time reading about politics, but I just watched in memoriam an episode of The Avengers, called The Joker - a great example of the old haunted house genre. I was enthralled and scared.

Another seminal figure from the 1960s, Enoch Powell, said the life of nations, like the life of man, is lived in the imagination. Diana Rigg played a big part in creating mine and that of every boy who watched the programme. 

Perhaps she gave me my penchant for upper and upper middle class brunettes with plummy voices but she formed our ideas about women generally. I always took it for granted that women should be courageous, combative tomboys and very feminine too.

Back when I was 4 or 5 the world I was growing up in seemed awful, dreary and utterly without romance, very unlike the world of old films, but watching The Avengers I see the old traditional, hierarchical, stylish England was still there. And so it still is, despite progressive reforms.

I didn't know the word meretricious when I was five, but I understood the idea and knew it applied to the world I saw on television: the world of Harold Wilson, Juke Box Jury and Simon Dee, once the most famous man in the country, then remembered only for having been forgotten. 

Elizabeth Hurley later said that Austin Powers was based on 'a man called Simon Dee', but she herself was based on Diana Rigg. 

But that, I see now, was only part of the story. The tradition of English fantasy and stories about Edwardian adventurers were still thriving while The Avengers was a huge hit. The tradition of the English comic novel was continuing in Dad's Army, Please Sir and many other television comedies. The English tradition of surrealism avant la lettre that produced William Blake, Samuel Palmer and Lewis Carroll gave us the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band.

Apart from The Avengers, I only saw Diana Rigg in Bleak House in 1985, just before I went out to work and even then she looked old (but she was made up to look old). 

She was a distinguished Shakespearean actress who left The Avengers to avoid being type cast. She enjoyed great critical success, became Dame Diana Rigg, but was always remembered as Mrs. Peel. 

This is how it should be. Other enchanting women we know only from biographies and memoirs but Mrs Peel will live forever, barring a nuclear cataclysm. 

Whatever people do in their maturity they (especially women) flower in their late twenties and early thirties.

Diana Rigg was interviewed over and over again by Michael Parkinson, doyen of interviewers and ne plus ultra of naff, who gave her name, without missing a beat, when asked who was the most glamorous woman he had ever met. 

But her interviews and her life story are not interesting. What is timelessly interesting is her artistic achievement and mostly the combination of Steed and Mrs. Peel in The Avengers

Diana Rigg and her co-star, Patrick Macnee, could fairly claim like the poet Horace

exegi monumentum aere perennius
regalique situ pyramidum altius,
quod non imber edax, non Aquilo inpotens
possit diruere…
(Odes III: XXX, lines 1-4, published 23BC) 

I have built a monument more lasting than bronze,
higher than the Pyramids’ regal structures,
that no consuming rain, nor wild north wind
can destroy…


  1. Absolutely - I agree with every word.

  2. Young Americans were enthralled by The Avengers without any inkling of the interesting subtext. One of the great titles in 60s television.

    1. Yes. I am not sure there was any subtext. I also think structuralism dangerous bosh.

  3. "One gets large impressions in boyhood, sometimes, which he has to fight against all his life."

    "Innocents Abroad," 1869

  4. That youth's sweet scented manuscript should close!

    1. 'Mrs Peel will live forever'

      Just like a plastic bag.

  5. 'crimplene'

    According to Macnee in his book The Avengers and Me, Rigg disliked wearing leather and insisted on a new line of fabric athletic wear for the fifth series. 

    Eight tight-fitting jumpsuits, in a variety of bright colours, were created using the stretch fabric crimplene.
    I googled it, so you don't have to:
    Astronlon-C, a polyamide yarn, and Astralene-C, a polyester yarn, were irritating to the skin when made into clothing.

    By boiling them for various periods in a domestic pressure cooker at home, Dennis Hibbert, chief textile engineer at Cheslene and Crepes Sutton Mills, Macclesfield, believed he had found the answer. Along with the chief engineer at Scraggs Ltd, Macclesfield, they designed a machine to replicate his findings.

    The name "Crimplene" was chosen for two reasons. The first was that ICI had their headquarters in Harrogate; specifically nearby Crimple Valley. The word "crimp" also means to fold and intertwine. After successful trials, Dennis's wife Margaret had the first Crimplene dress, and the patent rights were sold to ICI. 
    In 1960 an article appeared in the industries journal The Hosiery Times that caused a sensation, and Crimplene clothing was launched at high society fashion shows in London, Paris, New York and Milan.

    Amazing 60s!

  6. When Diana Rigg appeared in The Avengers, 1965-1968, I was in my early teens. I loved watching the adventures of Steed and Mrs Peel and still do whenever I get the opportunity.
    Mrs Peel was the epitome of elegance and style; an attractive, intelligent and if necessary, deadly woman.
    Incidentally, the series when shown on French TV (I watched a few episodes while living in Bucharest, Summer 2002) was called "Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir".

    1. There only seem to be 2 episodes on YouTube but I might buy some DVDs. I have a DVD player which I don't know how to use.