Emma Peel

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Emma Peel
The Avengers character
Emma-Peel Avengers-Intro.jpg
Diana Rigg as Mrs Emma Peel
First appearanceSeason 4
Last appearanceSeason 6
Portrayed byDiana Rigg
OccupationUnofficial undercover operative[1]
Spouse(s)Peter Peel
RelativesSir John Knight (father)
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Emma Peel
The Avengers character
Emma-Peel Avengers-Intro.jpg
Diana Rigg as Mrs Emma Peel
First appearanceSeason 4
Last appearanceSeason 6
Portrayed byDiana Rigg
OccupationUnofficial undercover operative[1]
Spouse(s)Peter Peel
RelativesSir John Knight (father)

Emma Peel was a fictional spy played by Diana Rigg in the British 1960s adventure television series The Avengers, by Diane Appleby in the South African radio series of The Avengers (1971-73) and by Uma Thurman in the 1998 film version of the show. She was born Emma Knight, the daughter of an industrialist, Sir John Knight.


The partner of John Steed, Mrs Peel was introduced as a replacement for the popular Cathy Gale, played by actress Honor Blackman, who left the series at the end of the programme's third season to co-star in the James Bond film Goldfinger.

Elizabeth Shepherd was cast as Emma Peel and production on the fourth season began. After filming all of one episode and part of a second, however, the producers decided that Shepherd was not right for the part, and she was dismissed. No footage of Shepherd as Peel is known to have survived.[2]

The producers scrambled to replace her and gave the job to Diana Rigg: the Shepherd episodes were subsequently re-filmed.


The character was notable for a number of characteristics. She is a heroine; she is rarely bested in any fight and is capable of rescuing Steed if he is in trouble. She is a master of martial arts and a formidable fencer. A certified genius, she specializes in chemistry and other sciences. She is often seen in episodes engaging in artistic hobbies and had success in industry at the helm of the company of her late father, Sir John Knight. Her husband, Peter Peel, was a pilot whose plane disappeared over the Amazonian forest. He was presumed dead for many years, and Peel went on to work with Steed. She drove a convertible Lotus Elan at high speeds, and convincingly portrayed any series of undercover roles, from nurse to nanny. Her favourite guise was that of a women's magazine reporter, trying to interview big business tycoons and rich playboys. The name "Emma Peel" is a play on the phrase "Man Appeal" or "M. Appeal", which the production team stated was one of the required elements of the character.[3] However, an alternative explanation derives Mrs Emma Peel from Miss SM appeal.[4]

Peel's verbal interactions with Steed range from witty banter to thinly disguised innuendo. Regarding the question of whether they had a sexual relationship at any time, Patrick Macnee thought they went to bed on a very regular basis (just not in view of the camera), Rigg thought they were engaged in a very enjoyable extended flirtation that ultimately went nowhere, and Brian Clemens said he wrote them with the idea they had an affair before Emma's first appearance in the series.[5]

Her style of dress typified the period, and the character is still a fashion icon. John Bates was brought in as the costume designer for Emma Peel in the second half of the fourth series. He created a wardrobe of black and white op-art mod clothing and mini skirts. Before this, people had believed that lines, circles and other bold patterns would not work on the television cameras of the day. It was also filmed before the mini skirt had become mainstream. Bates even had to stop leaving hems on the mini skirts because the production team kept lowering them again. He also licensed his designs to several manufacturers under the Avengerswear label and these pieces were sold in various shops throughout the country. Diana Rigg is often remembered for the leather catsuit she wore early on in her first season. She in fact disliked wearing leather, so Bates designed softer stretch jersey and PVC catsuits for her instead.

For the colour season, the designer was Alun Hughes, who used bold colours and lurid, psychedelic patterns. Hughes also created the Emmapeeler catsuit, which was made of stretch jersey in bright block colours. The Emmapeelers and several other pieces from this season's wardrobe were also licensed and sold in the shops.


When Peter Peel surprisingly reappears, at the end of "The Forget-Me-Knot", Emma leaves Steed and her spy career behind. In the distant shot in which he appears, Peter Peel looks suspiciously like Steed (and was played by Patrick Macnee's stunt double, Peter Weston), and like him drives a two-door convertible Bentley, albeit a contemporary model. Emma meets her replacement, Tara King, who enters the building as she herself is leaving, and tells her that Steed likes his tea stirred "anti-clockwise".

In real life, Diana Rigg had chosen to leave the series for a number of reasons, one of which was to accept a role in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. During her first series, as she eventually learned, she was making less than the cameraman: afterwards her salary was tripled, and that, combined with her loyalty to Macnee persuaded her to come back for 25 additional episodes (including her farewell episode, which was actually shot well into the Tara King season). However, eventually the arduous shooting schedules, conflicts with the producers, the lure of film and stage roles, and a desire to challenge herself as an actress all combined to make her decide to leave the show for good.[6]

She was the last in a string of "talented amateurs" with whom John Steed was teamed: her successor was a neophyte professional agent named Tara King, played by actress Linda Thorson, but Emma Peel appeared on TV one last time, in an episode of The New Avengers entitled "K is for Kill." She speaks briefly with Steed over the phone and mentions in passing that her last name isn't Peel anymore; Steed replies, "You'll always be Mrs. Peel to me."

After leaving the series, Rigg played Emma Peel in two unofficial German short films produced for the 8mm market: The Diadem and The Mini-Killers. Little information has survived regarding these films, though the films themselves survive.[7][8]

The Avengers radio series[edit]

In the South African radio series adaptation of The Avengers (1971-73), Emma Peel was played by Diane Appleby.

The Avengers movie[edit]

The character was revived and reworked for the 1998 film version of the show, with Uma Thurman playing Peel and Ralph Fiennes playing Steed. In the movie Mrs. Peel is a scientist working as part of the Prospero project - an attempt to influence the weather. When the project is sabotaged by someone who appears to be Mrs. Peel, she is investigated by Ministry agent, John Steed. They work together to investigate the sabotage, first questioning Sir August De Wynter, and then Wonderland Weather - a business that artificially creates weather. At Wonderland Weather Emma is attacked by an evil duplicate of herself, which is witnessed by Steed, verifying her innocence. Further investigation leads to Sir August who is now trying to blackmail the world's leaders with his control of the weather, but Steed and Mrs. Peel defeat him on his secret island.

References in popular culture[edit]


In the 1967 Man From U.N.C.L.E. novel (number 13), The Rainbow Affair by David McDaniel, Emma Peel and John Steed appear on p. 43, but are described, not named. Emma is a "sleek, aristocratic redhead" teamed with an "elegantly, almost foppishly dressed gentleman" wearing a bowler. Emma is accused of "teasing Mr. Solo" merely by looking at him.

A Dame Emma Knight appears in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel The Dying Days.


Dishwalla released the single "Miss Emma Peel" on the album Pet Your Friends and Steven Wilson's side-project, I.E.M., has a song called "The Last Will and Testament of Emma Peel" on the self-titled album.

The Allies, a Seattle-based rock group during the early 1980s, recorded "Emma Peel", which was featured on MTV during its early days.

Purple Avengers, an Australian band that formed in Brisbane in the early 1990s second LP release was entitled "Emma Peel Sessions".[9]

Cornelia Grolimund, a Swiss singer/actress, released a track "Emma Peel" on her 1996 album, Electra.

Mad Bomber Society included a song titled "Emma Peel" on their first album, released in 2001.

John Powers, musician, released an album in 2004 titled A Million Suns, featuring a song called "Goodbye, Emma Peel."

Michael Guthrie Band, a rock band formed in Europe during the 1960s, released an album titled Right Honourable Friend in 2010. The album cover featured John Steed - played by Patrick Macnee - on the cover and a song called "Emma Peel" on its tracklist.

The Wild Snohomians, a young band out of Washington, released their debut album in 2012, which included a song titled "Emma Peel."


Noxzeema Jackson tells Miss Clara that she is going to make her look like Emma Peel in the feature film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

In the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, John Travolta's character confessed to Uma Thurman's character that his only celebrity crush was Emma Peel. Four years later, Thurman portrayed Peel in the 1998 film The Avengers.

In the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), starred by Mike Myers and Elizabeth Hurley, Mrs. Kensington (played by Mimi Rogers), Austin Powers' former sidekick in the 1960s and retired agent, is a spoof of Emma Peel.[citation needed] She wears a leather catsuit in the opening scene and is the mother of Vanessa Kensington.


One episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. ("Stagecoach") featured a female British spy named Emma Steed.

In the TV show Married With Children, the episode called 'Kelly Breaks Out' Al and Jefferson are watching TV and see an ad for Avengers videos. Al orders the tape and is disappointed when it arrives because it features Tara King and not Emma Peel. He also asks the operator when ordering the tapes if they have an episode where she "kicks really, really high".

In the Sci-Fi Channel movie Mammoth (2006), Patrick Macnee (who played John Steed), Emma Peel and The Avengers are mentioned by the B-Movie fan Simon Abernathy (played by Tom Skerritt), his granddaughter Jack Abernathy (played by Summer Glau) and Special Agents Powers (played by Leila Arcieri) and Whitaker (played by Marcus Lyle Brown).

In the Good Eats episodes Flat is Beautiful and Flat Is Beautiful V, Alton Brown refers to his pizza peel as Emma.

Suzie Shooter, the love interest of the main character, John Taylor, in Simon R. Green's Nightside series has a poster of Emma Peel hanging in her living area, with the words "My Idol" scrawled in what Taylor refers to as "suspiciously [looking like] blood" across the bottom of the poster.

"Run, Robot, Run", a third season episode of Get Smart, features a male-female pair of suave British KAOS agents named Sneed and Mrs. Neal (John Orchard and Lyn Peters).


In 2012 in a licensed work, IDW Publishing released a comic titled Steed and Mrs. Peel telling additional tales of the two.

In the November 1988 comic Secret Origins Starring Justice League of America, in issue #32, The Flash makes mention that they should called themselves The Avengers (Clearly making a poke at their rival comic company Marvel Comics), Black Canary respondings by saying they don't want to be confused with John Steed and Emma Peel.

In the 1988 comic Shattered Visage, made as a sequel to the spy show The Prisoner, Emma Peel makes a cameo at the funeral for a spy, along with Steed, Napoleon Solo, and Illya Kuryakin.

A thinly-veiled version of Emma Peel appears in Alan Moore's comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, as the young "Emma Night", daughter of industrialist Sir John Night, where she shares a mutual attraction with "Jimmy", of whom her paternal "Uncle Hugo" disapproves. She returns in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III: Century 2009 (Chapter 3. Let It Come Down) as the new "M", head of MI5. She is drawn to visually incorporate Judi Dench's M from the James Bond films.[10]

Emma Frost is the name of the White Queen of the Hellfire Club in X-Men comics, a reference to the Avengers episode "A Touch of Brimstone".

In Superman v. 2 #13, both Emma Peel and John Steed made cameo appearances, recruiting the titular hero to capture the Toyman, who had been revised by John Byrne as a British mad scientist murdering toy company executives.

Both Emma and John Steed made cameo appearances in the bar scene in the second issue of the 1996 comic book mini-series Kingdom Come.


In the 1990s, Lib-Tech Snowboards had a model called "the Emma Peel" which was the same height as the character.


  1. ^ Smith, David K. (26 March 2002). "Emma Peel (Biography)". The Avengers Forever. Retrieved 18 August 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Avengers Forever: Elizabeth Shepherd". Theavengers.tv. 2007-10-24. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  3. ^ The complete Avengers: everything ... - Google Books. 1998-02-08. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  4. ^ Farren, Mick (1985). The black leather jacket. New York: Abbeville Press. pp. 45, 49. 
  5. ^ "The Avengers Forever: Frequently Asked Questions". Theavengers.tv. 2007-05-08. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  6. ^ "The Avengers Forever: Behind the Scenes". Theavengers.tv. 2002-11-25. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  7. ^ Shock Cinema Magazine Official Website: The Diadem/Mini-Killers. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
  8. ^ Dead Duck: Diadem and The Mini-Killers. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  9. ^ "TiniSite". Purpleavengers.com. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  10. ^ Jess Nevins, Annotations to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume III Chapter Three, a.k.a. Century: 2009