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The Avengers

by Andrew Vaughan

 

“Everything is done up, everything is ready to be undone, and the body is tightly encased while the hair hangs free and flops across the face at opportune moments.”

(From The Avengers. p.50 by Toby Miller)

Today a seven-year old child sits in front of the television set transfixed as the Cartoon Network plays away. In 1965 this seven-year old sat in front of the television set transfixed and in love. The object of my desires then was a certain Mrs Emma Peel (played by Diana Rigg) on 'The Avengers'

 

In late 1964, the producers of 'The Avengers' discovered a young actress from the Royal Shakespeare Company. She had not been the first choice for the part but her abilities as an actress had shone through and a whole new world was to open both for her and television as we know it. The programme was already very successful, but the lead-female Honor Blackman (who played the part of Cathy Gale) was leaving to film her (now infamous) role as Pussy Galore in 'Goldfinger'. Blackman had paved the way. A beautiful woman that wore knee high boots, tailored leather suits and a trench coat at a time when such outfits were only seen in porn and fetish magazines and nothing of it's type had been seen on British television before. After Diana joined it became even more popular. It became the first British show bought by the American market and was the first worldwide successful British export. Emma Peel was only in the programme from 1964-67 and was just one of six actors who assisted John Steed (Patrick MacNee), yet the Emma Peel era on the show was defining and arguably the most popular.

From her very first appearance in leather Catsuit and fencing mask she became on one hand an icon of fetish, perversion, domination, sexuality and physical beauty. While on the other hand she has become a feminist icon. And to some she simply embodies Sixties cool. To me she was tough, sexy, dominant and a conundrum of contradictions. She was cleverer than Steed and he acknowledged this. Yet she did all his dirty work, battered the baddies and yet still spent half the episodes tied in a chair or on a railway line. From the op-art clothes of the black and white series to the pop-art of the new-colour era, from leather "fightin'" jumpsuits to "swingin'" mod mini skirts her wardrobe would greatly affect many a young man's life.

Her name was taken from the phrase "man-appeal" - shortened to "M - Appeal" and hence Emma Peel. There is no doubting that her wardrobe was influential but it wasn't enough on it's own. If that is the case, then the 1998 film featuring Uma Thurman in the role of Peel would have been a success rather than the disaster that it is. Diana Rigg brought so much more to the role. For every bit of kinkiness there is one more humourous moment. For every ludicrous storyline there is a scene of perfect acting. Steed and Emma's relationship is platonic and he refers to her as Mrs Peel in every episode bar her final one (when her husband, Peter Peel, a flyboy who had mysteriously disappeared in South America reappears to take her away). That isn't to say there is no sexual attraction between the two of them and the tension can be found in all the episodes. Yet that tension was always swathed in humour as yet another "diabolical mastermind" was brought to justice. And at the end of every show I remember (even as a young lad) there was something left in the air. As a youngster I was convinced they were "an item" - now I'm not so certain but couldn't say for definite.

Emma Peel was replaced by Tara King (played by Linda Thorson) and Steed and her relationship was obviously a sexual one yet there was no sexiness and the show was cancelled a year later. For the years that Diana Rigg played Emma Peel the show was a joy - and it still is when you re-visit them. Here's this educated lady in her late 20's, unbelievably gorgeous looking, clad in leather; high-kicking, karate-chopping, judo-throwing and shooting her way to justice. What more could a seven-year old boy (or for that matter a 47-year old man) want of a sex goddess?

Emma Peel I still love you

 

Additional Info from 'The Avengers' book by Toby Miller and various websites. A special mention to Swinginchicks.com and Peom.co.uk for helping me to find some glorious 60's chicks  

The Avengers is currently running (for 26 weeks) on BBC4. Thursdays @ 19.10 and repeated the next day @ 23.30

 

 

 

 

 
   
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