6/1968: Jasmin

Emma Peel and her life with Philip Saville

It’s 6.30 sharp. Two phones ring on each floor of the house on Finchley Road 28 in London, but only one is being answered by the sleepy voice of a man called Philip Saville.

The operator asks if the other wake-up call still needs to be placed.

“No”, replies the man, “I’ll take care of that myself.” He hangs up, turns around and kisses Diana Rigg’s shoulder. Downstairs the other phone stops ringing.

That’s how the popular Englishwoman’s day usually begins. I have never been there at this hour, but I’ve been told a lot. She’s been living together with the same man for 5 years now, and it’s the happiest life I’ve ever seen, complicated, but successful. Of course, they have two bathrooms in their house on Finchley Road but, just like the telephone, they only use one. Diana Rigg, 28, and Philip Saville, who’s 10 years older don’t like to spend time apart, not even for a short period of time but, to prove their independence to each other, they live like two seperate renters. They pay their own rents, have seperate water and electricity meters, and cover their own living costs - same goes for the cars. She drives a Mini Moke Jeep, he drives a Lotus Elan. There’s only one kitchen, though. Philip Saville could do without one, as Diana - a passionate cook - dominates it, anyway.

Who is that Diana Rigg? In Germany people had to read a lot of superficial things in the last 17 months. What it’s like to be Diana Rigg, you can see for yourself. The Avengers airs until May 21st, every second Tuesday. Diana Rigg plays Emma Peel, but she also is Emma Peel: the bouncy walk, her cool, derisive reactions. Except for the karate and judo movements, of course.

As for Philip Saville and what his relationship with Diana Rigg is really like – it seems that nobody, not even their circle of friends in London, know a lot about it. I don’t know of any TV or movie stars that have managed to “hide” their partners for 5 years. She never mentioned the name Philip Saville to her friends. In the many interviews she has given in the last 3 years she always avoided answering questions about her current love life. Reporters tried to follow her whenever she left the Elsetree Film Studios in the evening. Back then she was still living in her old flat, the Embridge Mews House 13-14, in London’s West End, where she obviously occupied 3 rooms of a stable that had been converted into a flat. Nobody had any idea that the firewall between her apartment and the neighboring house - where Philip Saville lived - had been knocked down.

Once I went to the Club Alvaro on Kings Road, where every 2-week affair is a topic of conversation, and saw that Philip Saville was being treated like some guest of Diana’s instead of the man who had been sleeping under the same roof as her for over 1000 nights.

“We didn’t want anyone to know that we were living together”, both of them say. “We didn’t want to feel obliged to the public”. What they want to say is that people would gossip if Diana went out with another man, and that every girl flirting with Philip Saville would wonder if he broke up with Diana, which in turn would make them feel constricted in their ‘no strings attached’ type of relationship.

For us, this might sound a little over the top, but for mavericks like them, this is the only basis for a long-lasting, successful realtionship. Whoever has seen them flirting all day long, as if they had just kissed each other for the first time, will come to realize that their ‘cohabitation’ isn’t just a typical English eccentricity.

Philip Saville is of Russian descent. A six feet tall, dark-haired man, who - at first sight - appears to be very kind. His voice is pleasantly deep and has a hypnotizing effect on women. The way he moves is surprising - almost dance-like - no matter if he’s getting out of a cab, or writing a check. His marble-blue eyes are tender as long as Diana is with him; when he’s alone they are almost frighteningly dark - Philip Saville is a director. “Five years ago, I was friends with a man, who introduced me to Philip one day”, says Diana Rigg. From this moment on, everything was decided. “The connection between the two of us is stronger than marriage. It’s an emotional bond without obligations. There is nothing…absolutely nothing…to keep me apart from my emotional alliance to this man.” Philip Saville was married to an actress with whom he has 2 sons. Sebastian, 14, and Dominic, 9. The oldest attends boarding school, the younger one lives with his mother. Once in a while they visit their father and they seem to love Diana just as much as he does. His first marriage strengthened his conviction to never get married again.

In December 1963, when he was already living with Diana Rigg, he gave an interview to the Irish author Edna O’Brien. He explained his realtionship with women to her: “I love everything about women, but I fear their dependence. I'm fantasizing about an extraordinary woman. A beautiful mistress. Big brown eyes, long legs, long hair, but she should also be able to carry on a brilliant conversation. However, in certain situations, she should be passive and able to sit still. I don't think actresses are terribly special, but being a director, I tend to fall in love with them over and over again. That doesn't have anything to do with the fact that I loathe women who are housewives only. I also detest romantics. I wouldn't want to hold hands and I don't give flowers to women. Not even to Diana. I like watching flowers grow, but cut flowers are grave decorations. Unfortunately, over time, women tend to get boring and weepy. It's terrible. A woman should be like a mysterious fairy tale. You should never be able to see through her and you should never own her completely."

The words sound even better when they are being spoken. Especially when he’s using his suggestive tone of voice and addressing an intelligent woman like Diana Rigg. It seems like her unflappable opinion on marriage comes from him. “That’s not my opinion because it’s modern”, she defends herself - whenever she has to answer this question she’s unfailingly aggressive - “but I’d always prefer giving myself up to men without thinking about the outcome. That’s exactly what I’m doing now. I do it because that’s what I want - not because I’m married and have to do it.” Diana will never be ‘boring’ or ‘weepy’ like the women Philip Saville is scared of. She won’t be dependent on him, either.

One day when I arrived at their house, they served Diana’s favorite champagne, ‘Krug 54’. When it was getting late I asked Philip Saville if we could all go out for dinner. I had asked him because Diana was talking on the phone. He thought it was a good idea, but nobody got ready to go out. I had forgotten to ask the independent Diana. Of course she wouldn’t have stayed at home, but she almost held it against me, that I only asked her ‘cohabitee’. Once, I saw her holding a letter - she was breathless with rage because it was addressed to ‘Miss Diana Rigg, c/o Philip Saville’. “What an idiot! Does he think I’m living at Philip Saville’s house?”

At the beginning Philip Saville was nothing but an exceptionally successful TV director. He made the best and craziest advertising films - but that was the branch’s secret. Unlike Diana, he wasn’t famous. She could have helped him, introduced him to the right people or expressed the wish to star in a movie directed by him. As she was courted by the biggest Hollywood companies, it would have been easy, but she didn’t even think of doing it. Actually she did the exact opposite. She tried to downplay her own popularity; made it seem insignificant. Diana Rigg, daughter of an enginner, came to London to study at the prestigious “Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts”. Together with the “Royal Shakespeare Company” she performed the whole repertoire of classical plays in Stratford-on-Avon. There - at the English Theatre - was no room for improvement.

"I only took the part of Emma Peel because I wanted to gain experience as an actress. I was never happy with it. I also wasn’t a big fan of the so-called popularity. The thousands and thousands of letters – I hated them and I never read them. My mother took care of that. It’s a shame, I know, but I hate the fact that all these people identify me with that character and then write personal letters to me.

"Whenever I was being approached on the street, I ran. One time I had to attend the opening of the Earls Court Motor Show. It took a while until I realized that people were more interested in me than in the new car models. There was such a huge crowd around me that I locked myself into the ladies’ room until the event was over.“ Back when Philip Saville wasn’t famous, she didn’t like the attention she attracted. She didn’t want to be more successful than her partner.

Philip Saville never tried to have an influence on her decisions. He knows she’d refuse to tolerate that. He knows a lot about women. When he was 17 and getting ready to start studying electronic engineering, he met his wife who was twice his age. “She was rich - not beautiful - but very erotic. When the affair ended I was a very experienced lover - and I was only 18.” Back then, a man approached Philip in some hotel lounge and told him, he simply had to become an actor - immediately. 8 days later he played a typical gangster in the movie “Love Me, Stranger”: A cigar dangling from the corner of his mouth; an emotionless face. It seems like even today, the severity of the youthful killer is what hits the mark with all women who get to meet Philip Saville. Diana Rigg knows that. “It would be dangerous if we had to spend more than 10 days apart. They give each other the freedom to do what they want to do, but they would never make use of it. “However, after 10 days, I’m not so sure, anymore“, says Diana.

In the Fall 1967, they were seperated for 18 days when Philip had to go to Greece to shoot his first feature film - “Oedipus the King” starring Orson Welles and Lilli Palmer. Philip and his tendency to fall in love with older women!- His tendency to flirt with the leading ladies. Diana Rigg was anxious. Without asking the production company of “The Avengers” for permission, she took a plane from London to Athens on a Saturday morning. She had to wait at the small airport for 5 hours until a shaky little plane which flies up into the mountains delivered her there. She rented a car and drove for another 3 hours, only to spend 12 hours sleeping next to Philip Saville. She sighs, “I had to go all the way back on Sunday morning to catch the last plane from Athens to London.”

Philip says he would have come to Hollywood with Diana if she had signed one of the many American contracts she had been offered after finishing “The Avengers”. “Fortunately she’s starring in a movie that’s being made in London.” “The Assassination Bureau“, a massive spectacle produced by Paramount Studios. Diana’s role is similar to that of Emma Peel, though it is more witty and she has to wear period costumes and - for the first time - we get to see a series of hot love scenes with Oliver Reed. Curd Juergens is one of her acting partners, too. After 172 television films, Philip Saville made his breakthrough. He’s shooting an erotic comedy for Carlo Ponti and MGM. “’The Best House in London’ - a brothel, of course.”

Every day, when Diana Rigg gets out of the bathtub at around 7 am to have a glass of orange juice with Philip - in silence, I might add - two limousines are already waiting downstairs, one sent by Paramount, and one by MGM Studios.

Trying to hide her face using the collar of her trech coat and wearing big sunglasses, Diana goes downstairs, still half asleep, and borrows her driver’s ‘Daily Mail’. “I don’t like the ‘Daily Mail’, but I like John commenting the headlines.” Whenever Philip comes rushing downstairs - “I get up before him, but he never manages to get ready in time” - they hug as though they have to say goodbye forever. The drivers discreetly look the other way.

The spark is still there, even after 5 years. Once I talked to Philip about his movie and noticed that he wasn’t listening anymore. Diana had taken his hand under the table. The man looked like he had touched a live wire. Or when they had company and were strolling down Kings Road and suddenly they kissed each other.

It happened a couple of times that the both of them found themselves in the wrong car after their ’parting ritual’. They are unhappy that the film studios - Pinewood and Shepperton - are 64 kilometers apart, which makes it impossible for them to meet up in their lunch breaks.

Diana comes home at 6.45 pm, loaded with grocery bags because she prefers reading cookbooks to scripts. “We always eat at home. I put together the menu when I’m sitting under the hood dryer and John, my driver, does all the shopping in the afternoons.”

“Sometimes we invite one or two good friends. I designed my own kitchen. It’s not very special. Philip and my guests have a drink in the studio while I’m cooking for them. When I call them they sit down at the big table in front of the sideboard.”

All the kitchen surfaces are made of Welsh shale. It’s a greyish, red purple shale and Diana uses milk to polish it. The walls in the kitchen are white and the wooden parts are made of ash wood. It looks very nice.

“I grow my own herbs, too. One kind of herb in each pot. Rosemary, basil and sorrel; thyme and sage. If you want to cook nice food, you need fresh herbs. That’s why I grow them myself - bay too. Bay leaves and fish - tastes fabulous!” In one of her window boxes she has a little bay tree that she bought outside of London at a herb farm.

On a Sunday morning she got up very early and drove there. Philip who was still in bed asked: “Where are you going? You’re crazy!” She had always wanted to grow her own herbs - something a man can’t possibly understand.

“A little old lady took me around, muttering under her breath. She shook her head and said they would never grow in the London smoke. “I told her I wanted to try anyway,” says Diana. “She put all these herbs in little pots and by the time I arrived at home they were all looking sad and sick. I got up every night to water them and sometimes I didn’t eat at the studio, so that I was able to drive home - in my Emma Peel costume - to water them in my lunch break. They started to grow again! It was a miracle. Nobody believes me, but they actually do grow here.”

Apparently she has strong maternal instincts. As for children, she says she has never been confronted with that problem. “When this time comes, I have to find a way to raise my children out of wedlock without feeling too guilty about it - or I’d have to get married, but then, just saying that, I feel how wrong it is to get married only because I want to have children.” She’s infuritated when she talks about this subject. Philip says, “I don’t really know what to do with a baby. I’ve already been through that - but children are wonderful. I worship my children.”

We have to find someone to make out the hated little document - preferably while they are asleep. Then, everything would be fine.

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