These were the words that I heard: "Hello, Diana Rigg here." Such a pleasantly exhilarating salutation it was, an English rose turned into words that stroked the ear with the grace and delicacy of a Mozart sonata -- words spoken in tones that would bestir any columnist to mix his metaphors, which I seem to have done.
It was, of course, the Diana Rigg, and she was at home in London, on the other end of the trans-Atlantic line.
This was the very same British actress who, for all her training in Shakespeare, for all the acclaim in her native land as a trouper in the classics, made her first smashing imprint on our shores as Emma Peel, the unforgettable, in that cherished mod-adventure series, "The Avengers."
And now she will be seen this season introducing the stories on PBS' weekly "Mystery!" series (tonight at 9 on KPBS-TV). She succeeds Vincent Price in that capacity.
But first a word about "The Avengers."
I told her that co-star Patrick Macnee was recently on holiday in La Jolla and that he said: "The reason for the success of `The Avengers' may be summed up in two words: `Diana Rigg.' "
Hearing this, she replied, as follows: "Rubbish."
Or something like that. And then: "But it is nonetheless very sweet of dear Patrick to say so."
When last I spoke with Diana Rigg, she had just played a Benedictine nun in the TV adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel, "In This House of Brede." Some of the filming was in Ireland, near Killarney.
There was one night, in Killarney, that she remembered most vividly. On that night a band of Cork and Kerry men, hired to help the production crew, escorted her out on the town.
"We clubbed together," Diana said. "Splashing our way through the muddy streets, we walked down a narrow, dark alleyway to the most fascinating `singing pub.' There we ate and drank, and they serenaded me with grand and glorious Irish rebel songs."
"Were you and your mates overserved?" I inquired.
"Possibly," she said. "We began with white wine and champagne, and then we moved to the specialty of the house, a marvelous, magical concoction called pocheen."
"How do you spell it?" I asked.
"After one glass of it, you can't spell anything," she said. "It's called pocheen -- p-o-c-h-e-e-n -- and it's brewed, I rather suspect, on the bottom of old Guinness bottles. One thinks of lighter fluid but pocheen quite possibly strikes with a harder wallop. One could safely say that all of us, in short order, were joyously stewed."
I asked Diana when she would heed the muse and put out another book. "Perhaps one day," said the author-editor of "No Turn Unstoned," a title stemming from a line once delivered by George Bernard Shaw, to wit: "A critic is a man who leaves no turn unstoned."
Once, after being lambasted by a critic, Diana conceived the notion of asking other players to recall their worst notices. And soon she had her book which came out in 1983 and gave substance to a line by Jean Sibelius, the composer, who stated: "Pay no attention to what the critics say; no statue has ever been put up to honor a critic."
Specifically, the roasting that Diana received came from John Simon, a New York critic, who witnessed her on the Broadway stage in a nude scene in "Abelard and Heloise" and wrote:
"Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses."
Be that as it may, Diana's introduction to "No Turn Unstoned" was beautifully written, by the way, and I would bet Buckingham Palace, and two draft choices to be named later, that she penned every word herself, with no assistance from ghost or publicist.
Which is one of the differences between British performers, who are invariably literate, and our own. We assume that American performers couldn't write home for money, and that's usually true.
Anyway, one of her favorites in the book was by Dorothy Parker -- five words of critical sniping about an actor named Guido Natzo.
It went like this: "Guido Natzo is natzo guido."