"We're constantly kinky," says an associate producer of Britain's "The Avengers." "If there's a choice between Emma Peel fighting in a wet dress or a dry one, we choose wet." In swinging England, kinkiness is the label for any offbeat dress or behavior, especially involving sex. Kinkiness has made "The Avengers" one of Britain's top TV shows since 1961, and beginning this week the show replaces "Ben Casey" on ABC (Monday, 10-11 p.m. EST).
The kinkiest thing about "Avengers" is its female lead, 27-year-old Diana Rigg, who built a solid reputation playing Shakespeare: Cordelia in "King Lear," Adriana in "A Comedy of Errors." The auburn-haired, statuesque (5 feet 8 1/2 inches) Miss Rigg portrays Emma Peel, "internationally educated daughter of a wealthy shipowner and youthful widow of a famous test pilot."
"The widow part shoes that she knows what it's all about," she says. In addition to "it," Emma knows judo and often takes on six men at once. She likes to wear leather clothing on camera - "It's such an obvious symbol." In one show - considered too kinky for American audiences - Miss Rigg played a sin queen dressed in a whalebone corset, high, laced boots and a spiked dog collar. Parts of the show even offended the normally permissive British TV officials, and a 38-second sequence in which Miss Rigg was whipped by the villain was cut.
The plots revolve around Miss Rigg and her partner, Patrick Macnee, who plays John Steed, "a modern Scarlet Pimpernel." They are free-lance undercover agents who find missing scientists and solve weird murders. In one show, they uncover a plot to poison England's soil, and Emma Peel is chased by a whip-weilding gamekeeper names Mellors. In another, she is buried alive in a satin-lined coffin by the agents of "Togetherness, Inc."
Miss Rigg joined "Avengers" in 1964 when Honor Blackman quit to play an even wilder role, Pussy Galore in "Goldfinger." "I never think of myself as sexy," Miss Rigg says. "I identify with the new woman in our society who is evolving. Emma is totally equal to Steed. The fightint is the most obvious quality. I always win my fights, and, personally, I enjoy it - the idea of taking on six men when you know you're going to win."
At the moment, ABC owns only 22 episodes of "The Avengers," enough for a full summer season. But if the show swings with enough Americans it will undoubtedly continue through the fall. If English critical reaction is any guide, it stands a good chance with the press as well as the public. The proper Times of London hailed "the wonderfully good-chap sexuality of it all," and Jonathan Miller, the doctor-actor-social critic, loves it. "Absolute unreality, violence, sybolism, magic, masques, sex, change - everything that excites the imagination and senses," he says. "Any show that has all this is unique."