December 1967: Movieland and TV Time

The Private Life of Diana Rigg

In the studio where once the loveliest woman of London posed in the altogether for artist Augustus John, stands Emma Peel - M appeal - The 'M' standing for man.

"A name," says Diana Rigg, who plays her in The Avengers, "that's quite disgusting in its notion."

I had been pre-warned about Miss Rigg. They, that's the publicity people, had told me that shecompared interviews with being "raped in public," and that her combination of Yorkshire reticence and classical theatre training made her something of a tempermental misfit in the you-belong-to-us atmosphere of television land.

Then there was the judo bit, and the awful caution that, unless one got on her wavelength amd struck up an immediate rapport, she would, like a true Cancer-sign lady, retire into her shell.

We shake hands and she comes out fighting.

"If it's mainly The Avengers we are going to discuss, can we sart at the end and correct all this talk of me signing a seven year contract for Columbia at $900,000?

"I have not signed a film contract. I am not going to sign a contract, and I am leaving The Avengers because I must move on to something else. I don't want to be caged. I need my freedom."

She strides out of the room and leaves me tuned into limbo.

"Augustus John used to paint here, then," I shouted out. There was no reply.

"And Thomas Hood lived here. Great poet..."

She comes back gaily balancing a bottle of champagne and two glasses, pops the cork expertly, charges the glasses without spilling a drop, and says: "Well, what do you think?"

Somehow I am tuned in, and her tip-up superior nose wrinkles with good humor as she knows that I know, perfectly well, that she is asking my opinion of her St. John's Wood flat, rather than her obvious charms.

Her hair is a gorgeous mane of shiny chestnut. Her face is scrubbed naked of make-up, and her legs are long, long and beautifully balanced on schoolboy hips.

It is obvious, and I say it, that the black-and-white camera flatters her not. And in America, where she is seen in color, it is obvious why she was nominated for an Emmy - the top TV Award - for her sparkling part in The Avengers.

How does she see herself?

"You mean, do I see myself as the 'Avenger' lady? No, no. Not at all. SHE is sexually a plastic lady. I firmly and humbly disclaim any resemblance.

"Old Steed, Patrick Macnee, sometimes gives me a pat, as if I were a hunter who has just cleared a three-bar gate in style. None of us, least of all the producers, has bothered to work out our relationship.

"It's certainly passion Anglaise which seems to be universally accepted as an English kinky way of life, a bit like the sex life of Batman. But I owe a lot to Emma Peel as an actress.

"She's given me a confidence, particularly with directors, and she's taught me the economy of style needed for the screen as opposed to being a so-called Serious Shakespearean actress."

I tell her that the critics have long thought her one of the sexiest actresses at Stratford, and she's delighted that they're in the habit of discussing her as a hot dish over their cold supper plates.

"Emma, let's face it, is a one-dimensional role. I found success but I had to make sure of myself by going back to Stratford last summer to do Viola in Twelfth Night."

When did she first go to Stratford?

"Oh, ages ago. I did my two years at RADA with Albert Finney and then, when I went home to Leeds, I had to take a job as a fashion model."

She adds: "I actually went to the Royal Shakespeare Company on a five-year contract in '59. I was 21. Don't bother... I was born in 1938."

That makes you?

"Twenty-nine on July 20, and I'm a bachelor girl."

She turns on the record player. Downstairs a nightclub is throbbing and the Underground trains rumble.

"I love the noises of London. I adore this place. My attitude is leisurely. I read a lot. I sleep a lot when I'm working. And I like cooking."

For yourself? "Not particularly." For someone in particular? "If you insist." She smiles, "I don't like contracts, even marriage contracts, but I'm faithful to the concept of marriage."

The private life of Diana Rigg is, as she says herself, as secret as the in-between adventure life of Emma Peel.

So who is Emma? Her biography says she is the internationally-educated daughter of a wealthy ship owner and the youthful widow of a famous test pilot.

She lives in a streamlined London penthouse, wears avantgarde clothes specially designed for her by Alun Huges, drives a high-speed Lotus Elan and fights fast, free and furious by every known technique from judo and karate to her own brand of balletic feinting.

"She wouldn't last two seconds with Mick McManus," says Diana, who smokes Spanish cigarettes, drives a mini, lives in Augustus John's old studio and owns a poodle called "Poopy the Ghost."

But apart from being the widow of a test pilot, her own biography reads very close to that of Emma's.

She, too, is the internationally-educated daughter of a high-up British official in the Indian Government service. She spent the early part of her life at Jodhpur in Rajputana and was sent to boarding schools before RADA. She wears Alun Huges gear as she swings about London.

"Emma's style is, of course, say 60 percent me. Not the fighting lady, but the way she moves and enters a room and hitches up her pants.

"But what she's avenging with old Steed is as big a mystery to me as it is to the public - and nobody could care less.

"Which brings you, don't tell me, to the question of..."

Who is Diana Rigg when she is...

"Not playing Emma Peel? Well, thanks to Emma, she is completely independent, primarily a serious actress inclined to comedy and very much a one-man woman.

"No, I'm not saying who the man is..."

"As I've said before, I'm no great one for contracts. I'm a better actress without a contract and I don't need a marriage license to parcel up my love for one man in wholly unholy red tape.

"One needs no more than love. It's completely binding. If it shatters, then nobody is shackled to the debris."

You mean it is easier to run?

"Yes, and why not? I don't need that kind of security and it makes the bond all the stronger.

"As I've said, I'm very much a one-man woman. I'm not promiscuous and I'm not religious enough to regard marriage as a necessary sacrament to cement a relationship."

What about babies?

"I'm not going to have any, at the moment anyway. And I'm talking about the present. I may get married to have children. I don't know.

"The way things are I'm hurting nobody. But I'm very much aware that the wrong birth certificate can hurt children."

Tell me something about the man you love?


"Isn't it quite extraordinary? In thirty minutes I tell you more than most people tell each other in thirty years. I hope you're going to show discretion.

"I know you will. I trust you, but it's very difficult to explain one's self by question and answer. Don't you think?"

I agree. The sadness, the certain loneliness, the dreams and the spoken contradictions of one's thoughts. It takes thirty years to find out such things and then one really doesn't know. Let's take the physical aspect of you.

"We're back on the questions, but how do you mean?"

Say, for instance, are you sloppy?

"Oh, I see what you mean. I read that, too. The rather immaculate writing lady who confessed to being a slob about the house!

"I'm not. I've no excuse to slop about because I'm an acting lady, and if I can't look good who the hell can? I've got the time and, thanks to Emma, I've got the money.

"No, I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you there. I'm organized. It's part of the training. i'll dress carelessly, say for the pub, but it will flatter me."

And this aloofness that sometimes makes people back off?

"It's a bit deliberate, theatrical. A defense if you like.

When you suddenly become a very public person, like Emma has made me, you need to hide behind something in the street. I think that's why a lot of actors wear glasses."

And now that you've dropped Emma, what are your plans?

She then turned serious. "I have really no idea about what I'm going to do now that I'm finished with Emma. It's been an interesting and really fascinating experience, but I want to do other things. I want to expand, to experiment in films.

"Not Emma roles, I've already turned those kind down. Theatre! Yes. And television. Why not? I'm an actress but I don't want to sit on a contract for security."

About her ability.

Peter Brook, that Svengali of Stratford, who has seen many of his young Shakespeare stars like Vanessa Redgrave and David Warner take wing in pop mediums, says:

"If she does not waste herself on silly films she could become something good. She is like Scofield and Moreau - a medium soaking up a part so that it speaks through her.

"She is that rare theatrical animal who has the capacity to develop a part throughout the run of the play. She is good on the first night and marvelous on the last, and if she allows herself to develop slowly over the next few years her career will follow the same pattern."

Is Diana Rigg, the actress, happy?

"Yes I am. And because I consider myself a serious actress I'm seriously given consideration to the fact that I'm happy.

"I'm in love. I'm happy here in this flat despite the noise: (The Metropolitan Railway sounds as if it runs through the bathroom and a club downstairs contributes a nightly cacophony of early Beatles and late Stones) and I adore cooking and have lots of friends around.

"I love the city - nightclubs, dancing, pubs - and I adore the country and all the smells and everything, and I'm gone about my parents. What more can I say?"

What more can I say, Miss Rigg, other than "thank you very much."

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