03 July 2007: Western Morning News

Dame Diana Sets The Stage For Fine Series

Dame Diana Rigg offered a fascinating insight into the days of the Raj in the 60th anniversary year since the granting of Indian independence. A new Channel 4 series examines how the dismantling and legacy of the Empire have impacted on modern Britain and shaped our national identity.

Diana was born in India, but remembers very little of her life there - which made her journey with the cameras all the more interesting.

In a more wide-ranging concept than the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? this new series will look at the experience of empire of six different personalities, including politician David Steel, actor Adrian Lester and comedian Jenny Eclair.

Diana Rigg was the daughter of a very humble railway worker from Doncaster, Louis Rigg. Although he didn't have a public school education, he was such a good railway engineer that he was allowed to take up a post in India.

He was not part of the exclusive British Raj which controlled the fate of millions of Indians; instead he was that rare breed of Englishman who went to work for an Indian boss, a Maharajah.

He was so dedicated to the task that he learned Hindi in order to communicate with his workers.

His kindness was reflected by the affection his old staff still have for his memory, some 60 years later. One railway worker read to Diana the poem he wrote when her father left his post.

In fact, she couldn't find anyone to say a bad word about him, which must have been tremendously encouraging, as not all the British treated their staff or workers as kindly as Louis Rigg did.

After two years working in India, Louis returned home with the mission of finding himself a wife in just three months. He met Beryl Helliwell, daughter of the manager of the menswear department at the Co-op, when she was 21. It took him two years to persuade her to join him in India.

They lived a privileged life, and Diana went to some of the places the family went.

Their home, which had a retinue of half a dozen servants; a prince's palace where they went to lavish balls and dinners - now a luxury hotel - and the Maharajah's palace where Diana met a close friend of her parents, the daughter of the Maharajah.

But it wasn't all hunting with the Maharajah and his guests. As India moved towards independence, Beryl, Diana (now nine) and her older brother Hugh returned home to England to avoid the unrest.

When Louis returned the following year to a struggling post-war England where rationing was still in force, it was to a very different life to the one he had known. Now 45, finding work would be difficult for the man who once controlled 3,000 staff and presided over 100 locomotives.

An interesting start to what looks like a great series - national and personal history all rolled into one.

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