Diana Rigg

Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg

Diana Rigg in 2006
Born 20 July 1938 (1938-07-20) (age 73)
Doncaster, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Spouse Menachem Gueffen
(1973–76, divorced)
Archibald Stirling (1982–90, divorced)
Children Rachael Stirling

Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg, DBE (born 20 July 1938) is an English actress. She is probably best known for her portrayals of Emma Peel in The Avengers and Countess Teresa di Vicenzo in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service.



Early life

Rigg was born in Doncaster, South Yorkshire[1] to Louis Rigg and Beryl Hilda Helliwell (1908–1981); her father was a railway engineer who had been born in Yorkshire. Between the ages of two months and eight years Rigg lived in Bikaner, India, where her father was employed as a railway executive.[1] Rigg speaks fluent Hindi. She was then sent to a boarding school, the Moravian school in Fulneck, near Pudsey. She disliked her boarding school, where she felt like a fish out of water, but she believes that Yorkshire played a greater part in shaping her character than India did. She trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.[2]


Rigg is particularly known for her role in the British 1960s television series The Avengers, where she played the secret agent Mrs. Emma Peel for 51 episodes between 1965 and 1967. Rigg tried out for the role of Emma Peel on a whim, without ever having seen the programme. Her career in film, television and the theatre has been wide-ranging, including roles in the Royal Shakespeare Company between 1959 and 1964. Her professional debut was in The Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1955, aged 17.

Although she was hugely successful in the role of Emma Peel, she did not like the lack of privacy that television brought. She also did not like the way that she was treated by ABC Weekend TV. After a dozen episodes she discovered that she was being paid less than a cameraman.

For the second series she held out for a raise in pay from £150 a week to £450,[3] but there was still no question of her staying for a third year. Patrick Macnee, her co-star in the series, noted that Rigg had later told him that she considered Macnee and her driver to be her only friends on the set.[4] After leaving The Avengers she appeared as the title character in the telemovie The Marquise, which was based on a play by Noël Coward.

She also returned to the stage, including playing two Tom Stoppard leads, Ruth Carson in Night and Day and Dorothy Moore in Jumpers. A nude scene with Keith Michell in Abelard and Heloise led to a notorious description of her as 'built like a brick basilica with insufficient flying buttresses', by the acerbic critic John Simon.[citation needed] (Simon's line is often rendered incorrectly, with "mausoleum" in place of "basilica.")

In 1982, she appeared in a musical called Colette, based on the life of the French writer and created by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, but it closed during an American tour en route to Broadway. In 1986, she took a leading role in the West End production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies.

On the big screen she became a Bond girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), playing Tracy Bond, James Bond's only wife. She said she took the role with the hope that she would become well known in America.[5] Throughout the filming of the movie, there were rumours that the experience was not a happy one, owing to a personality clash with Bond actor George Lazenby. The rumors may have arisen from a reporter witnessing her say "I'm having garlic for lunch George [Lazenby] I hope you are!" before a love scene between the two. However, both Rigg and Lazenby have denied the claims, and both wrote off the garlic comment as a joke. Her other films include The Assassination Bureau (1969), The Hospital (1971), Theatre of Blood (1973), In This House of Brede (1975) (based on the book by Rumer Godden) and A Little Night Music (1977). She also appeared as Lady Holiday in the 1981 film The Great Muppet Caper.

In the 1980s, after reading stinging reviews of a stage performance she had given, Rigg was inspired to compile the worst theatrical reviews she could find into a tongue-in-cheek (and best-selling) compilation, entitled No Turn Unstoned. In 1981 she appeared in a Yorkshire Television production of Hedda Gabler in the title role. In 1982, she received acclaim for her performance as Arlena Stuart Marshall in the film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun. In 1983, she appeared in a Granada Television production of King Lear, starring Laurence Olivier in the title role, as Regan, the king's treacherous second daughter. In 1985, she costarred with Denholm Elliot in a BBC production of Bleak House, a novel by Charles Dickens. In 1988, she played the Wicked Queen in the Cannon adaptation of Snow White. In 1989, she played Helena Vesey in Mother Love for the BBC; her portrayal of an obsessive mother who was prepared to do anything, even murder, to keep control of her son won Rigg the 1989 BAFTA for best actress. Also in 1989, Rigg appeared in the BBC adaptation of Alice Thomas Ellis' Unexplained Laughter, alongside Elaine Paige.

In 1986, she presented the Scottish Television series Held in Trust, which focused on the work of the National Trust for Scotland and some of its most famous treasures.

In the 1990s, she had triumphs with roles at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, including Medea in 1993 (for which she received the Best Actress Tony Award), Mother Courage in 1995 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1996. On television she has appeared as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca (winning an Emmy Award in the process), as well as the mother-in-law in the PBS production Moll Flanders, and as the amateur detective Mrs. Bradley in The Mrs Bradley Mysteries. In 1992, she also played Mme. Colbert Chief Vendeuse to the fashion house of Dior in Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris.

In this series, first aired in 2000, she played Gladys Mitchell's detective, Dame Beatrice Adela Le Strange Bradley, an eccentric old woman who worked for Scotland Yard as a pathologist. The series was not a critical success and did not return for a second season.

From 1989 until 2003, she hosted the PBS television series Mystery!, taking over from Vincent Price, her co-star from Theatre of Blood. Her TV career in America has been varied; anomalously she starred in her own sitcom Diana in 1973, but it was not successful.

Rigg has continued to perform on stage; in 2004, she appeared as Violet Venable in Sheffield Theatres' production of Tennessee Williams's play Suddenly Last Summer. This enjoyed a successful national tour. In 2006, she appeared at Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End in a drama entitled Honour which had a limited but successful run. In 2007, she appeared as Huma Rojo in the Old Vic's production of All About My Mother, adapted by Samuel Adamson and based on the film of the same title directed by Pedro Almodóvar. She appeared in 2008 in The Cherry Orchard at the Chichester Festival Theatre, returning there in 2009 to star in Noël Coward's Hay Fever.

Although she does not consider herself a singer, her performances in A Little Night Music, Follies and other stage musicals have been well received by audiences and critics alike. She made a highly memorable appearance on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show in 1975, in which she played Nell Gwynne in a musical pastiche, joining Eric and Ernie to sing “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life?”.

She also appeared in the second season of Ricky Gervais' hit comedy, Extras, alongside Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, and in the 2006 film, The Painted Veil.

Personal life

Rigg lived with Philip Saville.[when?] Her marriage to Menachem Gueffen, an Israeli painter, lasted from 1973 until they divorced in 1976. She was married to Archibald Stirling, a theatrical producer and former officer in the Scots Guards, from 1982 until they divorced in 1990. The marriage broke up when Stirling had an affair with actress Joely Richardson.[2] With Stirling, Rigg has a daughter, actress Rachael Stirling, who was born in 1977.[6]

Rigg was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1988 and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1994.

Rigg is a Patron of International Care & Relief and was for many years the public face of the charity's child sponsorship scheme. She was also Chancellor of the University of Stirling,[2] being succeeded by James Naughtie when her ten year term of office ended on 31 July 2008.


Year Title Role Notes
1963 Sentimental Agent, TheThe Sentimental Agent Francy Episode: "A Very Desirable Plot"
1964 Festival Adriana Episode: "The Comedy of Errors"
1964 Armchair Theatre Anita Fender Episode: "The Hothouse"
1965 ITV Play of the Week Bianca Episode: "Women Beware Women"
1965–1968 Avengers, TheThe Avengers Emma Peel 51 episodes
1968 A Midsummer Night's Dream Helena
1969 Mini-Killers Short film
1969 Assassination Bureau, TheThe Assassination Bureau Sonya Winter
1969 On Her Majesty's Secret Service Tracy Di Vicenzo
1970 ITV Saturday Night Theatre Liz Jardine Episode: "Married Alive"
1970 Julius Caesar Portia
1971 Hospital, TheThe Hospital Barbara
1973 Theatre of Blood Edwina Lionheart
1973–1974 Diana Diana Smythe 15 episodes
1974 Affairs of the Heart Grace Gracedew Episode: "Grace"
1975 In This House of Brede Dame Philippa TV movie
1977 Three Piece Suite Various 6 episodes
1977 A Little Night Music Charlotte Mittelheim
1979 Oresteia Eloise TV movie
1980 Marquise, TheThe Marquise Eloise TV movie
1981 Hedda Gabler Hedda Gabler TV drama
1981 Great Muppet Caper, TheThe Great Muppet Caper Lady Holiday
1982 Evil Under the Sun Arlena Marshall
1982 BBC Play of the Month Rita Allmers Episode: "Little Eyolf"
1982 Hallmark Hall of Fame Christine Vole Episode: "Witness for the Prosecution"
1983 King Lear Regan TV drama
1985 Bleak House Lady Honoria Dedlock 7 episodes
1986 Worst Witch, TheThe Worst Witch Miss Constance Hardbroom
1987 Snow White Evil Queen
1987 A Hazard of Hearts Lady Harriet Vulcan TV movie
1989 Play on One, TheThe Play on One Lydia Episode: "Unexplained Laughter"
1989 Mother Love Helena Vesey TV mini-series
1989–2004 Mystery! Host TV series
1992 Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris Mme. Colbert TV movie
1993 Road to Avonlea Lady Blackwell Episode: "The Disappearance"
1993 Running Delilah Judith TV movie
1993 Screen Two Baroness Frieda von Stangel Episode: "Genghis Cohn"
1994 A Good Man in Africa Chloe Fanshawe
1995 Zoya Evgenia TV movie
1995 Haunting of Helen Walker, TheThe Haunting of Helen Walker Mrs. Grose TV movie
1996 Moll Flanders Mrs. Golightly TV movie
1996 Samson and Delilah Mara TV movie
1997 Rebecca Mrs. Danvers TV miniseries
1998 American, TheThe American Madame de Bellegarde TV movie
1999 Parting Shots Lisa
1998–1999 The Mrs Bradley Mysteries Mrs. Adela Bradley 5 episodes
2000 In the Beginning Mature Rebeccah
2001 Victoria & Albert Baroness Louise Lehzen TV movie
2003 Murder in Mind Jill Craig Episode: "Suicide"
2003 Last King, TheThe Last King Queen Henrietta Maria Episode: "1.1"
Episode: "1.3"
2005 Heidi Grandmamma
2006 Painted Veil, TheThe Painted Veil Mother Superior


  1. ^ a b Meet... Dame Diana Rigg, BBC South Yorkshire. accessed on 14 July 2006.
  2. ^ a b c Nigel Farndale (17 August 2008). "Diana Rigg: her story". Daily Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/3555923/Diana-Rigg-her-story.html. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 
  3. ^ The Complete Avengers by Dave Rogers, page 169 (Boxtree Ltd., in Great Britain, 1989; St. Martin's Press, in America, 1989)
  4. ^ J.G. Lane, "Diana Rigg Biography", accessed 3 December 2010
  5. ^ Bond's Beauties - James Bond, Diamonds Are Forever, Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Man With the G...
  6. ^ Groskop, Viv (17 February 2010), Rachael Stirling is a rising stage star – and she's in love with her ass, London Evening Standard, http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/theatre/article-23806855-rachael-stirling-is-a-rising-stage-star-and-shes-in-love-with-her-ass.do, retrieved 12 June 2011 .

External links

Preceded by
Mie Hama
Bond girl
Succeeded by
Jill St. John

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