Diana Rigg

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Dame Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg Diana 1973 crop.JPG
Rigg in the 1973 TV series Diana
BornEnid Diana Elizabeth Rigg
(1938-07-20) 20 July 1938 (age 76)
Doncaster, Yorkshire, England
Spouse(s)Menachem Gueffen
(1973–76, divorced)
Archibald Stirling (1982–90, divorced); 1 child
ChildrenRachael Stirling
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Dame Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg Diana 1973 crop.JPG
Rigg in the 1973 TV series Diana
BornEnid Diana Elizabeth Rigg
(1938-07-20) 20 July 1938 (age 76)
Doncaster, Yorkshire, England
Spouse(s)Menachem Gueffen
(1973–76, divorced)
Archibald Stirling (1982–90, divorced); 1 child
ChildrenRachael Stirling

Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg, DBE (born 20 July 1938) is an English actress. She is perhaps best known for the role of Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers, which she appeared in from 1965 to 1968. She has also had an extensive career in the theatre both in Britain and America.

Rigg made her professional stage debut in 1957 in The Caucasian Chalk Circle and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959. In 1971, she made her Broadway debut in Abelard & Heloise. She played Medea in 1992 at the Almeida and Wyndham's in London and again in New York, where she won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.

On television, she starred in the 1989 BBC miniseries Mother Love, for which she won a BAFTA Award for Best Actress and the 1997 adaptation of Rebecca, which won her an Emmy Award. Her film roles include, Helena, in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968), Countess Teresa di Vicenzo in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Lady Holiday in The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and Arlene Marshall in Evil Under the Sun (1982).

Rigg was made a CBE in 1988 and a Dame (DBE) in 1994. She is considered a sex symbol and an icon of 1960s feminism.[1][2]


Early life and education[edit]

Rigg was born in Doncaster, then in the West Riding of Yorkshire, now in South Yorkshire[3] to Louis Rigg (1903–1968) and Beryl Hilda (née 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.[3]

Hindi was her second language in those young years (and she still today enjoys using a smattering of words and phrases when ordering Indian food). 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 from 1955-57.[4]

Theatre career[edit]

Rigg's 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 RADA production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the York Festival in 1957. Her role was Natasha Abashwilli.[5]

A return to the stage and a nude scene with Keith Michell in the Ronald Millar play Abelard and Heloise in 1970 led to a notorious description of her as 'built like a brick basilica with insufficient flying buttresses', by the acerbic critic John Simon.[6] (Simon's line is often rendered incorrectly, with "mausoleum" in place of "basilica."). Following its success in London, she made her Broadway debut with the play in 1971, earning the first of three Tony Award nominations for Best Actress in a Play. She received her second nomination in 1975, for The Misanthrope. A member of the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic from 1972 to 1975, Rigg took leading roles in premiere productions of two Tom Stoppard plays, Dorothy Moore in Jumpers (National Theatre, 1972) and Ruth Carson in Night and Day (Phoenix Theatre, 1978).

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 1987 she took a leading role in the West End production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies. In the 1990s, she had triumphs with roles at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, including Medea in 1992 (which transferred to the Wyndham's Theatre in 1993 and then Broadway in 1994, for which she received the Tony Award for Best Actress), Mother Courage at the National Theatre in 1995 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Almeida Theatre in 1996 (which transferred to the Aldwych Theatre in 1997).

In 2004, she appeared as Violet Venable in Sheffield Theatres' production of Tennessee Williams's play Suddenly Last Summer, which transferred to the Albery Theatre. In 2006, she appeared at the 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. In 2011 she played Mrs Higgins in Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre, opposite Rupert Everett and Kara Tointon, having played Eliza Doolittle 37 years earlier at the Albery Theatre.

Film and television career[edit]

Rigg appeared in the cult British 1960s television series The Avengers (1965–67) playing the secret agent Mrs Emma Peel in 51 episodes, replacing Elizabeth Shepherd at very short notice when Shepherd was dropped from the role after filming two episodes. Rigg auditioned for the role of Emma Peel on a whim, without ever having seen the programme. Although she was hugely successful in the series, she disliked the lack of privacy that it brought. She also did not like the way that she was treated by the Associated British Corporation (ABC). After a dozen episodes she discovered that she was being paid less than a cameraman. For her second season she held out for a pay rise from £150 a week to £450,[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] 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 rumours may have arisen from a reporter witnessing her say "I'm having garlic for lunch, George, 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 from this period include The Assassination Bureau (1969), Julius Caesar (1970), 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 appeared as the title character in The Marquise (1980), a television adaptation of play by Noël Coward. In 1981 she appeared in a Yorkshire Television production of Hedda Gabler in the title role, and as Lady Holiday in the film The Great Muppet Caper (1981). The following year she received acclaim for her performance as Arlena Marshall in the film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun, sharing barbs with her character's old rival, played by Maggie Smith.

She appeared as Regan, the king's treacherous second daughter, in a Granada Television production of King Lear (1983), which starred Laurence Olivier in the title role. She costarred with Denholm Elliot in a television version of Dickens' Bleak House (BBC, 1985), and played the Wicked Queen in the Cannon adaptation of Snow White (1987). 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 Television Actress.

In the 1990s she appeared on television as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca (winning an Emmy Award in the process), as well as the PBS production Moll Flanders, and as the amateur detective Mrs. Bradley in The Mrs Bradley Mysteries. In this BBC 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. She starred in her own sitcom Diana in 1973, but it was not successful.

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

In 2013 she appeared in an episode of Doctor Who in a Victorian-era based story called The Crimson Horror alongside her daughter Rachael Stirling, Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman. The episode had been specially written for her and her daughter by Mark Gatiss and aired as part of series 7.[10] It was not the first time mother and daughter had appeared in the same production – that was in the 2000 NBC film In the Beginning — but the first time she had worked with her daughter and also the first time in her career her roots were accessed to find a Doncaster, Yorkshire, accent.

The same year, Rigg secured a recurring role in the third season of the HBO series Game of Thrones, portraying Lady Olenna Tyrell, a witty and sarcastic political mastermind popularly known as the Queen of Thorns, the grandmother of regular character Margaery Tyrell.[11] Her performance was well received by critics and audiences alike, and earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards in 2013.[12] She reprised her role in season four of Game of Thrones, and in July 2014 received another Guest Actress Emmy nomination.[13][14]

Personal life[edit]

In the mid-1960s, Rigg lived for eight years with actor/director Philip Saville,[15] causing some degree of scandal in the tabloids when she disclaimed interest in marrying the older, already-married Saville, by saying she had no desire "to be respectable".[16] Her marriage to Menachem Gueffen, an Israeli painter, lasted from 1973 until their divorce in 1976,[17] at which time Saville gave her moral support by phoning every day, while telling the press "when a woman has been in your life a long time, she never really leaves it. I hope to be seeing her often, but I have no plans to marry her."[17]

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.[4] With Stirling, Rigg has a daughter, actress Rachael Stirling, who was born in 1977.[18]

Rigg has long been an outspoken critic of feminism,[19] saying in 1969, "women are in a much stronger position than men."[20]

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,[4] being succeeded by James Naughtie when her ten-year term of office ended on 31 July 2008.

Michael Parkinson, who first interviewed Rigg in 1972, described her as the most desirable woman he ever met, who "radiated a lustrous beauty".[1] A smoker from the age of 18, Rigg was still smoking 20 cigarettes a day in 2009[21] but in 2011 she said she had given up smoking because "she had to".[22]

Rigg received honorary degrees from the University of Stirling in 1988 and the University of Leeds in 1992.[23]



1968Midsummer Night's Dream, AA Midsummer Night's DreamHelena
1969Mini-KillersShort film
1969Assassination Bureau, TheThe Assassination BureauSonya Winter
1969On Her Majesty's Secret ServiceContessa Teresa (Tracy) di Vicenzo/Mrs James Bond
1970Julius CaesarPortia
1971Hospital, TheThe HospitalBarbara Drummond
1973Theatre of BloodEdwina Lionheart
1977Little Night Music, AA Little Night MusicCountess Charlotte Mittelheim
1981Great Muppet Caper, TheThe Great Muppet CaperLady Holiday
1982Evil Under the SunArlena Marshall
1987Snow WhiteThe Evil Queen, Snow White's evil stepmother
1994Good Man in Africa, AA Good Man in AfricaChloe Fanshawe
1999Parting ShotsLisa
2006Painted Veil, TheThe Painted VeilMother Superior


1959Midsummer Night's Dream, AA Midsummer Night's DreamBit partTV film
1963Sentimental Agent, TheThe Sentimental AgentFrancy WildeEpisode: "A Very Desirable Plot"
1964FestivalAdrianaEpisode: "The Comedy of Errors"
1964Armchair TheatreAnita FenderEpisode: "The Hothouse"
1965ITV Play of the WeekBiancaEpisode: "Women Beware Women"
1965–1968Avengers, TheThe AvengersEmma PeelMain role (51 episodes)
1970ITV Saturday Night TheatreLiz JardineEpisode: "Married Alive"
1973–1974DianaDiana SmytheMain role (15 episodes)
1974Affairs of the HeartGrace GracedewEpisode: "Grace"
1975In This House of BredePhilippaTV film
1975The Morecambe & Wise ShowNell GwynneSketch in Christmas Show
1977Three Piece SuiteVariousRegular role (6 episodes)
1979OresteiaClytemnestraTV miniseries
1980Marquise, TheThe MarquiseEloiseTV film
1981Hedda GablerHedda GablerTV film
1982Play of the Month (BBC)Rita AllmersEpisode: Little Eyolf
1982Witness for the ProsecutionChristine VoleTV film
1983King LearReganTV film
1985Bleak HouseLady Honoria DedlockTV miniseries
1986Worst Witch, TheThe Worst WitchMiss Constance HardbroomTV film
1987Hazard of Hearts, AA Hazard of HeartsLady Harriet VulcanTV film
1989Play on One, TheThe Play on OneLydiaEpisode: "Unexplained Laughter"
1989Mother LoveHelena VeseyTV miniseries
British Academy Television Award for Best Actress
Broadcast Press Guild Award for Best Actress
1992Mrs. 'Arris Goes to ParisMme. ColbertTV film
1993Road to AvonleaLady BlackwellEpisode: "The Disappearance"
1993Running DelilahJudithTV film
1993Screen TwoBaroness Frieda von StangelEpisode: "Genghis Cohn"
Nominated – CableACE Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
1995ZoyaEvgeniaTV film
1995Haunting of Helen Walker, TheThe Haunting of Helen WalkerMrs. GroseTV film
1996Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, TheThe Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll FlandersMrs. GolightlyTV film
1996Samson and DelilahMaraTV film
1997RebeccaMrs. DanversTV miniseries
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1998American, TheThe AmericanMadame de BellegardeTV film
1998–2000Mrs Bradley Mysteries, TheThe Mrs Bradley MysteriesMrs. Adela BradleyMain role
2000In the BeginningMature RebeccahTV film
2001Victoria & AlbertBaroness LehzenTV miniseries
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
2003Murder in MindJill CraigEpisode: "Suicide"
2003Charles II: The Power and The PassionQueen Henrietta MariaTV miniseries
2006ExtrasHerselfEpisode: Daniel Radcliffe
2013-Game of ThronesLady Olenna TyrellSeasons 3 and 4
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Nominated – Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series (2013)
Nominated – Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series (2014)
Pending - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
2013Doctor WhoMrs. Winifred GillyflowerEpisode: The Crimson Horror


List of selected theatre credits
1957The Caucasian Chalk CircleNatella AbashwiliTheatre Royal, York Festival
1964King LearCordeliaRoyal Shakespeare Company (European/US Tour)
1966Twelfth NightViolaRoyal Shakespeare Company
1970Abelard and HeloiseHeloiseWyndham's Theatre, London
1971Abelard and HeloiseHeloiseBrooks Atkinson Theatre, New York City
1972MacbethLady MacbethOld Vic Theatre, London
1972JumpersDorothy MooreNational Theatre, London
1974PygmalionElisa DoolittleAlbery Theatre, London
1978Night and DayRuth CarsonPhoenix Theatre, London
1975Misanthrope, TheThe MisanthropeCélimèneNational Theatre, London
1975Misanthrope, TheThe MisanthropeCélimèneSt James Theatre, New York City
1982ColetteColetteUS national tour
1983Heartbreak HouseLady Ariadne Utter wordTheatre Royal Haymarket, London
1985Little EyolfRitaLyric Theatre, London
1985Antony and CleopatraCleopatraChichester Festival Theatre, UK
1986WildfireBessTheatre Royal, Bath & Phoenix Theatre, London
1987FolliesPhyllisShaftesbury Theatre, London
1990Love LettersMelissaStage Door Theatre, San Francisco
1992Putting It TogetherOld Fire Station Theatre, Oxford
1992Berlin BertieRosaRoyal Court Theatre, London
1992MedeaMedeaAlmeida Theatre, London
1993MedeaMedeaWyndham's Theatre, London
1994MedeaMedeaLongacre Theatre, New York City
1995Mother CourageMother CourageNational Theatre, London
1996Who's Afraid of Virginia WoolfMarthaAlmeida Theatre, London
1997Who's Afraid of Virginia WoolfMarthaAldwych Theatre, London
1998PhaedraPhaedraAlmeida at the Albery Theatre, London & BAM in Brooklyn, NY
1998BritannicusAgrippinaAlmeida at the Albery Theatre, London & BAM in Brooklyn, NY
2001Humble BoyFloraNational Theatre, London & Chichester Festival Theatre, UK
2002The Hollow CrownInternational Tour: New Zealand, Australia, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK
2004Suddenly, Last SummerViolet VenableAlbery Theatre, London
2006HonourHonourWyndham's Theatre, London
2007All About My MotherHuma RojoOld Vic Theatre, London
2008Cherry Orchard, TheThe Cherry OrchardRanyevskayaChichester Festival Theatre, UK
2009Hay FeverJudith BlissChichester Festival Theatre, UK
2011PygmalionMrs HigginsGarrick Theatre, London

Awards and nominations[edit]

1967Emmy AwardBest Actress in a Drama SeriesThe AvengersNominated
1968Emmy AwardBest Actress in a Drama SeriesThe AvengersNominated
1970Laurel AwardFemale New FaceThe Assassination BureauNominated
1971Tony AwardBest Actress in a PlayAbelard and HeloiseNominated
1972Golden GlobeBest Supporting Actress (motion picture)The HospitalNominated
1975Tony AwardBest Actress in a PlayThe MisanthropeNominated
1975Emmy AwardBest Actress in a TV MovieIn This House of BredeNominated
1990BAFTA TV AwardBest ActressMother LoveWon
1990Broadcasting Press Guild AwardBest ActressMother LoveWon
1992Evening Standard AwardBest ActressMedeaWon
1994Olivier AwardBest ActressMedeaNominated
1994Tony AwardBest Actress in a PlayMedeaWon
1996CableACE AwardSupporting Actress in a Movie or MiniseriesScreen Two (1985) - episode "Genghis Cohn"Nominated
1996Olivier AwardBest ActressMother CourageNominated
1996Evening Standard AwardBest ActressMother Courage and Who's Afraid of Virginia WoolfWon
1997Olivier AwardBest ActressWho's Afraid of Virginia WoolfNominated
1997Emmy AwardBest Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or TV MovieRebeccaWon
1999Olivier AwardBest ActressBritannicus and PhedreNominated
2000Special BAFTA Award[24] non-competitiveJohn Steed's partners shared with Honor Blackman, Linda Thorson and Joanna Lumley.The Avengers (and
The New Avengers
2002Emmy AwardBest Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or TV MovieVictoria & AlbertNominated
2013Critics' Choice Television AwardBest Guest Performer in a Drama SeriesGame of ThronesNominated
2013Emmy AwardOutstanding Guest Actress in a Drama SeriesGame of ThronesNominated[12]
2014Emmy AwardOutstanding Guest Actress in a Drama SeriesGame of ThronesNominated[13][14]


  1. ^ a b Parkinson, Michael (14 October 2010). Parky's People. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 316. ISBN 978-1-84894-696-5. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  2. ^ DiPaolo, Marc (31 March 2011). War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film. McFarland. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-7864-4718-3. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Meet... Dame Diana Rigg, BBC South Yorkshire. Retrieved 14 July 2006.
  4. ^ a b c Nigel Farndale (17 August 2008). "Diana Rigg: her story". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  5. ^ dianarigg.net
  6. ^ Diana Rigg during her Parkinson Interview 15 September 2007 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpmdE68R_w0&feature=related
  7. ^ Dave Rogers The Complete Avengers, London: Boxtree, 1989; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989, p.169
  8. ^ J.G. Lane, "Diana Rigg Biography". Retrieved 3 December 2010
  9. ^ 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...
  10. ^ Doctor Who, "Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling to Star in New Series!". Retrieved 3 July 2012
  11. ^ "Dame Diana Rigg Joins Season 3 of HBO's 'Game of Thrones' | The Playlist". Blogs.indiewire.com. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  12. ^ a b "Emmy Nominees Full List: Breaking Bad, Homeland, Downton Abbey Dominate 2013 Awards". The Huffington Post. 18 July 2013. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Jacobs, Matthew (10 July 2014). "Emmy Nominations 2014: Breaking Bad, Orange Is The New Black Among Top Nominees". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Brown, Tracy (10 July 2014). "Emmys 2014: Complete list of nominees". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  15. ^ Miss Peelpants (7 February 2011). "Diana Rigg and Philip Saville". Vintage-a-Peel. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Tracy, Kathleen (2004). Diana Rigg: The Biography. Dallas: BenBella Books. p. 38. ISBN 978-1932100273. 
  17. ^ a b Hauptfuhrer, Fred (15 July 1974). "Being Mr. Diana Rigg Was Too Much for Gueffen". People 2 (3). Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  18. ^ Groskop, Viv (17 February 2010), "Rachael Stirling is a rising stage star – and she's in love with her ass", London Evening Standard, retrieved 12 June 2011 
  19. ^ Langley, William (5 May 2013). "Dame Diana Rigg is still fanning the flames of feminist derision". The Telegraph (London). 
  20. ^ Hunter-Symon, Penny (17 March 1969). "Those vulnerable feminists". The Times (London). 
  21. ^ My body & soul – Diana Rigg, actress, 70
  22. ^ "Ciaran Brown meets Avengers actress Dame Diana Rigg". Ciaranbrown.com. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  23. ^ Biography for Diana Rigg at the Internet Movie Database
  24. ^ The Special BAFTA Award | http://www.bafta.org/awards/special,2365,BA.html

External links[edit]

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