Diana Rigg: The Biography

Diana Rigg: The Biography was written by Kathleen Tracy and published in 2004. This is a so-so trawl through the life and times of the famous actress that suffers somewhat from often feeling like it was compiled from old interviews. Rigg is best known for her turn as Emma Peel in the classic sixties television series The Avengers and for portraying Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I probably suffered slightly here from the fact that these are really the two salient reasons why I'm interested in Rigg.
She was in Theatre of Blood though and, lest we forget, The Great Muppet Caper. A bit more on the muppets would have been nice but, strangely, Dame Diana has never gone on the record at great length about this. Did she she get on with Kermit? What is Gonzo like offscreen? We surely deserve to know. Anyway, away from her two most iconic and famous roles (which she never seems especially fond of talking about herself), Rigg is best known as a stage actress and perhaps has a slight reputation for being a rather aloof luvvie. Reading this book and the many quotes from the woman herself you get the impression that this is unfair and that Rigg is more self-deprecating and 'normal' than you would have guessed. She's just someone who likes some privacy when she wants it and prefers to keep interviews to a minimum.
This seems to be confirmed by the sections here relating to her stint on The Avengers - a show which the book tells us Rigg had never actually seen but auditioned for on a whim. She hated the fact that it made her really famous and ducked out of it as soon as was feasible (to go and do stage work again). Wages were a factor too though. Rigg was not impressed when she found out there were members of the floor crew being payed more than her.
Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg CBE was born in Yorkshire in 1938 but spent part of her childhood in India where her father was a railway engineer. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959 and stayed for several years. Although television made her famous it's clear reading this that the stage is where Rigg is most at home and fulfilled and her rather spotty film career has never really done her justice in the same way - especially when she was young in the sixties and one of the coolest actresses in the country. "They do say that the profession gets increasingly difficult, but my career seems to have been inside out. I'm playing the biggest parts now that I'm older. That's probably right, because I wasn't ready for them before."
Rigg's karate chopping catsuit clad Emma Peel only came into being when Elizabeth Shepherd - the actress originally cast to replace Honor Blackman - was let go after it was decided she didn't have sufficient chemistry with Patrick Macnee in what footage they had shot together. Rigg however got on famously with Macnee and their chemistry was plain for all to see, the Steed/Peel double act becoming one of the most famous and iconic in television history. I already have a couple of books on The Avengers and I'm not sure there is much more to know about Rigg's time there (it won't come as a huge shock to learn that Rigg had nothing to do with this book and doesn't attend Avengers conventions to talk about the series in tremendous detail) but what material there is does confirm that the actress was never entirely comfortable with the way the show suddenly plunged her into national fame and made her a sex symbol.
"The leather catsuit I wore in The Avengers was a total nightmare; it took a good 45 minutes to get unzipped to go to the loo," Rigg is quoted. "It was like struggling in and out of a wet-suit. Once I got into the jersey catsuits they were very easy to wear but you had to watch for baggy knees; there is nothing worse. I got a lot of very odd fan mail while I was in that show, but my mum used to enjoy replying to it."
diana rigg catsuit avengers
Rigg was never happy with the money she received for high kicking villains and sipping champagne each week as she bantered bons mots with Steed and was soon frustrated by the grind of television. She wanted new challenges and left to make way for Linda Thorson. While Rigg had enabled the series to survive the loss of Blackman, Rigg's departure was really the death knell. There were not too many Diana Riggs knocking around in the 1960s.
Rigg did more stage work and appeared in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Assassination Bureau before the Bond producers called. Rigg says in quotes that she did On Her Majesty's Secret Service because she thought the film would make her better known in the United States and enable her to pick up more work there. She thought it would be fun too to be part of a really huge production for a change. The film (of course) introduced 29 year old George Lazenby as Bond. Lazenby was an Australian model whose main acting experience came from being the 'Big Fry' chocolate man in a series of television adverts. He was a complete novice and so Rigg, with her extensive stage work, was seen as someone who could 'look after' him onscreen.
It generally worked although the film was underrated for many years (no Connery for the first time) and Lazenby is sometimes a bit out of sync with his relaxed co-star. There is a brief bit here about the story that Rigg hated Lazenby so much she ate garlic before a love scene. It was of course complete balderdash. Rigg made a comment about eating garlic to Lazenby in the canteen during lunch as a joke and a reporter overheard it and got the wrong end of the stick. To digress for a moment, Lazenby has confessed in recent years that he and Rigg had a fling in real life around this time so they so obviously didn't dislike each other at all. "I didn't like my Bond Girl outfits," says Rigg in some of the quotes here. "The designer was a friend of the directors and I thought they were too boring and middle-aged for my character. The right costumes are essential for getting into a part; I've witnessed many costume parades with grumpy or even weeping actors because they`ve been put into the wrong thing."
As she got older and her looks faded Rigg settled into more Grand Dame roles, often playing the stern governess type in period pieces on film and television while her theatre career continued. She is a decent singer too apparently although I would have no idea myself. What else do you learn? She's been married a couple of times, has a daughter named Rachael who is also an actress (Tipping the Velvet), has done a lot of work for international and children's charities, and was Chancellor of the University of Stirling until 2008.
The quotes here are generally fun and enjoyable, especially relating to areas of Rigg's career that you might be personally interested in, but, as a biography, this is no great shakes. It's readable with some good stuff but probably could have been better. Nice cover art though.

- Jake

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