20 March 1977: Telegraph Sunday Magazine

Funny Girl

Everyone in the BBC Television Centre's Studio Six was very surprised when Diana Rigg slung a left hook at a piece of scenery representing a livingroom wall.

They were surprised because the wall should have collapsed in a neatly organised heap of dust and rubble. But it didn't. It stayed obstinately put. That was one of many piquant moments in the filming of Miss Rigg's current Tuesday night comedy series Three Piece Suite which did not appear in the final version.

Putting these programmes together was something of a nightmare for producer Michael Mills (whose comic talents were previously concentrated on Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em). "In a normal comedy series you must have six scripts," he explains. "But in the space of two months we have filmed 18 scripts, with 18 sets, 18 lots of costumes and 18 different groups of supporting actors for Diana to play to." That offers a lot of scope for disaster.

The idea for centring a comedy series round the talent of Diana Rigg came from James Gilbert, the BBC's head of comedy. It was Diana herself who said that she wanted plenty of variety.

She learned all anuot the perils of being branded by a television role when she was the Avengers girl. As a National Theatre actress of considerable virtuosity she was not going to let that happen again.

An invitation for scripts tailored to her talents was sent to all the writers on the BBC's comedy lsit. "What do you think we got back," says Miss Rigg. "Of the first dozen, six had me in bed and six had me playing a whore."

As it turns out, a whore is one of the few female stereotypes she is not offering during the six week run. The menu (some past, some still to come) includes a Balham housewife, something she calls "a snotty lady from Esher", a Celia Johnson, an Elizabeth Taylor, a middle class slut, a dreary spinster and a Bionic Woman.

No one is going to try typecasting her again.

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