23 November 1969: Herald Examiner

Rigg: Typical English, Always Direct

Diana Rigg was drinking champagne. It was some time between 10 and 11 on a perfectly ordinary morning.

Aware that she was tall, nevertheless I was surprised by the amount of good-looking girl which unfolded itself as she got to her feet. No fuss and nonsense about her.

Her quaintly striking face with its strangely set eyes and oddly tilted nose were framed by red hair to which nothing in particular had been done. She wore a sensible brown dress with a white squiggle down it, or maybe it was a sensible white dress with a brown squiggle down it.

The press agent with her looked unusually content. Later he was to describe her as being a girl-woman-lady-human-being, not an actress, and to reveal that he had a satisfactory opportunity to express admiration for her to the head of her fan club, who had phoned from San Francisco to find out if she was really as nice as she seems.

Yes, she is.

Most widely known for her television appearances as Emma Peel, friendly girl wonder, in the "Avengers," Diana can now be seen on the big screen as the girl who actually gets to marry James Bond in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," the latest saga of 007, which is currently playing in town.

She was not exactly bubbling with things to say about the movie, though publicity for it was in fact her reason for being in America. I asked what she thought of George Lazenby, the new James Bond.

"Well, he's tall, dark and handsome," she said succinctly.

Not contented, I repeated the question.

"He's tall, dark and handsome," she repeated with a slightly terser inflection. "That covers a lot of things."

Diana is in many ways a typical English, upper-middle class girl. Born in Yorkshire, she spent the early part of her life in India, where her father was in government service. She was sent back to England to be educated at a private girls' boarding school.

Graduating from RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), she went north again to Yorkshire and the inevitable sojourn in a repertory company.

"ASM (assistant stage manager) mainly," she explained, "and ingenue roles when no one else was available. I was too big to be automatically considered for the little blonde thing, but occasionally this huge girl would be given the chance to stride on in one or other of the situation comedy or murder mystery plays we always did.

"Actually it was surprising how steady our audiences were. They were really still interested in going to live theater up there.

"I lived in digs (room and board under a landlady's beady eye). People don't realize how bad some of the social conditions are in England. The landlady would fill a tin bath for me in front of the fire in the kitchen. I can remember her son going to school with his breakfast in hand - a slab of lard on a slice of bread."

In 1959 Diana was signed for a five-year contract with the Royal Shakespeare Company and went to Stratfod-on-Avon. She progressed in the way actors do at that institution, slowly from minor roles to major.

"I enjoyed it enormously, but after we returned from the tours of Moscow and America, I just didn't feel I wanted to sign another five-year contract. So I left and went to London. I got a role in a television play and from that I got offered the "Avengers."

The film version of the RSC's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," in which she played Helena, one of the confused young lovers, was, apart from something called "The Assassination Bureau," the only film she had made, prior to the Bond epic.

"Oh awful," she said, recalling the Shakespeare production. "I was so embarrassed and upset by the thought of it going out round the world, and people in America thinking this is how they get rave notices for playing Shakespeare. Originally it had been a marvellous stage production, but it had gone on and on, growing more self-indulgent and deteriorating in every way. Then on top of that there is an enormous difference in projecting broadly for the stage and acting in miniature and underplaying for the screen. We didn't adapt the stage acting enough."

While she ate a belated breakfast of three quarters of a waffle before leaving for another interview, Diana explained that she didn't have any definite future plans, except for the Christmas holiday. But don't worry when you see her die in that Bond movie. She'll be back. Nice girls like that are rare birds and not to be wasted.

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