Most of you out there know the amazing actress Diana Rigg for her portrayal of Olenna Tyrell on HBO's mega-hit Game Of Thrones, but 50 years ago she sent hearts aflutter as the super sexy spy Emma Peel on the groundbreaking, bonkers British import The Avengers. And, no, it's not the #Marvel comics version: this was a madcap, kitschy mashup of a spy show with sci-fi elements, snarky humor, and sexually charged banter between Rigg's Emma Peel and the late, great Patrick Macnee's John Steed.
If you never saw the show, the opening will give you good idea of the fun vibe. Check it out:
Emma Peel was essentially the first kick-ass female action hero on TV, blazing the trail for all that followed. She preferred hand to hand combat, and was as smart as she was tough. And, oh, those outfits!
She was a true fashion icon; her multiple catsuits were both functional and very sexy. Notice in the above photo that her belly button is covered. Believe it or not, an exposed belly button was a HUGE deal back in the '60s, so her costume designers did all they could to make her sexy without showing the dreaded belly button. Oh, how times have changed.
The show was on for seven seasons, 161 episodes, with three partners to Steed: Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman, former Bond girl Pussy Galore), Emma Peel (Diana Rigg, also a former Bond girl), and Tara King (Linda Thorson). While the other ladies did a fine job, the Emma Peel years are widely considered the glory days of The Avengers. So much in fact that a special Emma Peel DVD megaset was released comprising of just the 51 episodes Rigg appeared in.
All the episodes are fantastic, but here are my Top 3 Emma Peel episodes.
3. 'You Have Just Been Murdered'
What happens? Millionaires are being extorted by creative means: their hypothetical murders are staged over and over until paranoia gets the better of them, at which point they willingly fork over a million pounds in cash to bad guy Nathaniel Needle to prevent their murder. The interplay between Steed and Peel in this episode is brilliant. Emma also takes most of the action in this one, fighting and defeating one bad guy after another.
This episode is also famous because it's the only color episode where Emma dons her famous black leather catsuit, which was clearly an inspiration for dozens of female superheroes to come.
2. 'The Winged Avenger'
What happens? Several businessmen have been killed, seemingly clawed to death by their murderer. The initial suspect is an author who not only owns a bird of prey but holds a grudge against one of the victims; however, the focus shifts when a copy of a comic called The Winged Avenger is found next to the body of the latest victim.
This episode is an inspired mashup of real time action and comics, predating shows like Legion and Heroes. The BAM!, SPLAT! visual effects, which are taken directly from the '60s Batman TV series, make it even more fun. And really, where else will you see an upside-down fight scene on a ceiling?
The imagination and creativity makes this one of the best, which leads us to the best episode:
1. 'Return Of The Cybernauts'
What happens? Paul Beresford — the brother of Clement Armstrong, creator of the Cybernauts — blames Steed and Peel for his brother's death at the hands of his Cybernauts. Aided by Armstrong's assistant Benson, he abducts several scientists who are blackmailed into producing a new army of Cybernauts. He is a perfect gentleman to Mrs. Peel and makes Steed more than a little jealous, but his endgame is to turn Mrs. Peel and Steed into human robots. Even though it's a sequel, the big reason this one is at the top of the list is the baddie, portrayed by the iconic Peter Cushing.
It doesn't get any better than Steed and Mrs. Peel battling the devious Peter Cushing. The Cybernauts, with their steel bodies, black coats, hats, and sunglasses are a quintessentially '60s hoot.
The quality of the banter between Steed and Mrs. Peel is off the charts. They are, to my mind, the best unmarried TV couple ever.
A True Feminist Icon
While the character of Emma Peel is often overlooked, she's truly an incredibly influential symbol of how a female character can be smart, tough, and intelligent, without surrendering her femininity; 50 years on and she still stands as a role model for all young women.
Tell me your thoughts about the amazing Emma Peel in the comments section!