We’ll light another round of birthday candles, these for English actress Diana Rigg, born today on July 20th, and perhaps best known for playing Emma Peel in the 1965-1968 BBC series The Avengers with Patrick MacNee, a role she didn’t particularly like, with sudden celebrity status (and unexpected publicity as a sex symbol) she didn’t particularly welcome. Rigg auditioned on a whim after the original actress was dropped after only two episodes, and was shocked to discover by the first season’s end that while she was a co-star with (and frankly, much more popular than) Patrick MacNee, she was being paid less than some crew members and had a real fight on her hands to gain equal pay, eventually tripling her season one salary. But for U.S. audiences, Rigg’s Mrs. Peel was British Invasion Mod-Chic personified, gun and judo flips always ready for the bad guys, and always managed in sleek black catsuits and wild op-art mini-dresses. ABC broadcast The Avengers in the U.S. to replace the groundbreaking series Honey West with Anne Francis (‘G.G. Fickling’s 1950’s-60’s PBO ‘stiletto gumshoe’), once the network execs learned they could buy the British spy-flavored show for less than it cost to produce Honey West.
The Avengers may be what Diana Rigg is most known for, but only a small part of her long acting resume, which is heavy on UK stage drama along with British and American television and film roles. She was also the host of the PBS Mystery series from 1989 through 2003 and even had a recurring role in Game Of Thrones. Rigg was made a Commander Of The Order Of The British Empire (CBE) in 1988 and a Dame Commander Of The Order Of The British Empire (DCBE) in 1994, and thankfully, is still with us.