Dame Diana Rigg: Bond girl, Avenger and distinguished stage actress

Dame Diana Rigg shot to fame as Emma Peel in Sixties TV series The Avengers and then as a Bond girl.

But she also notched up many Shakespearean roles and enjoyed a long career, appearing recently as powerful matriarch Olenna Tyrell in Game Of Thrones.

Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg was born in Doncaster on July 20 1938.

Diana Rigg death
Patrick Macnee as John Steed and Dame Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in the 1960s hit series The Avengers (PA)

She trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1959.

The actress quickly made her mark there with important roles in productions of The Taming Of The Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and King Lear.

After that, she was hugely successful in her role as Emma Peel, the secret service agent in The Avengers, co-starring Patrick Macnee.

But Dame Diana was unhappy about the intrusion into privacy that came with being on TV, and she was also critical of the way she was treated by TV bosses.

She also discovered that she was being paid less than a cameraman.

“It was very, very intrusive in those days, because I was instantly recognisable,” the actress later told Variety.

“I was grateful to be a success, but there was a price to pay.”

George Lazenby – James Bond Photocall – London
George Lazenby (PA)

In 1969, she played Bond girl Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, opposite Bond actor George Lazenby, with whom she had a difficult relationship.

It was in the 1970s that she joined the National Theatre, where she played major roles in Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers, The Misanthrope, Pygmalion, Antony And Cleopatra and Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.

In a nude scene she played in Abelard And Heloise, she was described by one critic as being “built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses”.

As a result, she produced a book of the worst-ever theatrical reviews, entitled No Turn Unstoned. It was a best-seller.

Dame Diana’s many film credits included The Hospital, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Little Night Music, Evil Under The Sun and A Good Man In Africa.

In 1994, she won a Tony Award for her Broadway performance in the title role of Medea.

And in 2008, as she approached 70, she was appearing in The Cherry Orchard at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Dame Diana Rigg after she was presented with an honorary degree from the South Bank University at Southwark Cathedral in London
Dame Diana Rigg after she was presented with an honorary degree from the South Bank University at Southwark Cathedral in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Her many TV credits included roles in Hedda Gabler, Witness For The Prosecution, Bleak House and Mother Love. It was for her superb portrayal in that BBC production of an obsessive mother who was prepared to do anything, even commit murder, to keep control of her son which won her the 1989 Bafta for best actress.

Dame Diana was married to the Israeli painter Menachem Gueffen from 1973 to 1976, and was later married to Archibald Stirling, a theatrical producer and former officer in the Scots Guards. She had a daughter by Stirling, the actress Rachael Stirling.

She also played the Duchess of Buccleuch in ITV royal drama Victoria, the young queen’s mistress of the robes, who is “renowned for speaking her mind”.

In 2015, Dame Diana told Radio Times: “A black Bond would be lovely. I wouldn’t like to see a female Bond, because we wouldn’t want to lose the Bond girls. But we could have a lesbian Bond, why not?”

In 2019, she revealed that she suffered a Me Too moment early in her career at the hands of a “powerful” film director.

Dame Diana said she welcomed the emergence of the Me Too movement as a means for women to speak out following her experience as a young actress.

She also urged women put in a similar position by men to pour their “scorn” on would-be abusers.

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