DIANA RIGG WAS NEVER ONE TO SHY FROM HARD WORK AND SHE INSISTED THAT HER INDUSTRY AND COLLEAGUES RECOGNISE IT.
Dame Diana Rigg enjoyed a long and distinguished acting career on stage, film, video gaming and television. The range of her acting roles was enormous, from serious drama to comedy and to high camp.
Diana Rigg won admirers with her action-loving character Emma Peel in ‘The Avengers’.
She was a leading theatrical light portraying a range of single minded, self-actualised female characters. The leather cat suits and psychedelia of ‘The Avengers’ television programme made her as much a symbol of the Swinging 60s as the Mini and the Beatles.
Diana Rigg’s television characters became an icon for the feminist movement in the 1970s. The television characters she played were sexy, resourceful and self-assured.
As an actor she had a seemingly deadly knowledge of self-defence to unleash with her characters. Her action-girl roles, and her husky vocal parts brought her many admirers.
“We had no idea it would be defining,” she later said. “It was nose to the grindstone – working all hours that God gave.”
Diana Rigg supports pay parity
As an actress with a media profile, Diana Rigg showed she was determined to be taken seriously. As a result, she demonstrated that meant taking on the establishment. For example, during the first television series, she discovered while working on ‘The Avengers’ that she was being paid less than one of its cameramen.
“I remember thinking, ‘something’s very wrong here,’ ” she said. As a result, she insisted on more money before making another episode of ‘The Avengers’.
“When I complained publicly, the newspapers got hold of it, and I was represented as a mercenary young woman stepping out of line and demanding money.
“… no one supported me. I did get more money, but thereafter I was labelled as go-getting and ‘hard’ – and it was unfair because I wasn’t.
“The fight goes on,” she continues. “I wonder if anyone’s done a survey as to whether people go to watch a male or a female lead.
“I go to see a female lead as often as a male one, so why there’s disparity in the pay cheque I have no idea. Bosses need to be talked to about this.”
The issue of pay equality in the film industry has been recently highlighted. Diana Rigg was highly supportive of actor Michelle Williams and her backing for the (United States) Paycheck Fairness Act*.
Proponents of this proposed legislation consider it a suitable extension of the laws established by the US Equal Pay Act (1963)**. This current act makes it illegal to pay a man more than a woman and vice versa.
Diana Rigg’s insistence on pay parity earned her a reputation as a business woman as well as a thespian professional. This business attitude was essential as the theatre scripts and film roles began flooding in to her managing agent’s office.
Throughout her career, Diana Rigg surfed the tide of feminist thinking and role re-assignment on the stage. Her professional work challenged societal expectations of gender-based roles and legal rights.
Working in theatre, film and television is not without some hazards and risks. Diana Rigg had talked about how she found the sudden fame as a television star difficult to cope with. She recalled once having to hide in a public lavatory to avoid the attention of members of the public.
This trauma of ambush and lack of respect for her privacy was to last her entire career. It was partly her resentment at the invasion of her privacy that persuaded Diana Rigg that she would spend only two years with ‘The Avengers’ television programme.
In addition, she was also keen to keep her stage career alive. Being on stage and not within physical reach does keep the actors and audience apart for a while.
Working in the theatre meant that Diana Rigg was able to indulge in weeks of career activity without interruption from the public and admirers.
Strong work ethic of Diana Rigg
“Some weeks I’d spend four days on the set of The Avengers and then head up to Stratford [Upon-Avon] to be Regan to Olivier’s ‘[King] Lear’,” she said.
Diana Rigg was offered many scripts but was selective in her choice of roles. She said that, as she came from Yorkshire, she was reluctant to accept acting parts which included nudity. Some say, Diana Rigg considered that Yorkshire grit and disrobing in public did not mix except on Fridays for bath time.
Diana Rigg was also not an actor who would let a career slight go un-noticed. Various career episodes led her to later publish a collection of theatrical reviews titled ‘No Turn Unstoned’ which touched on representation of, and respect for, women in the arts.
She became Dame Diana Rigg in 1990 being inducted as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Dame Diana Rigg
Dame Diana Rigg was a multi-award-winning actress. She carved out a career unmatched by her contemporaries. For many media, entertainment and arts professionals, she was an acting legend.
She won a Tony (for distinguished achievement in American theatre), an Emmy (for outstanding performance in television acting) and a BAFTA (for excellence from the British Academy of Film, Television Arts).
In 2000, Dame Diana was honoured in Cannes for a lifetime of service working in television. Again, her achievements over her long career were recognized by BAFTA with a special award.
Diana Rigg continued working until shortly before her death. She recently appeared as the Duchess of Buccleuch in ITV’s production of ‘Victoria’, with British-Australian actor Rufus Sewell, and she appears in the new remake of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.
As an accomplished actress, she trod the boards portraying a range of gritty, direct-action characters.
“There are some actors who don’t like to play bad; they like to be liked. I love to be disliked,” she said.
Given the choice, she is quoted as saying she’d have played tough characters every time.
“I love playing bad [characters],” she said. “They are so much more interesting than good.”
For all her many credits, though, she said that she did not tend to watch herself on screen.
“Been there, done that, all of it,” she said. “Dredging up the past is not my style. I prefer to move on.”
As a “Go-get ‘em” actor, Diana Rigg kicked the bucket with a big splash. Tributes flowed for her long-range, award-winning career from a cast of industry luminaries including ‘Bond’ producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.
Dame Diana died peacefully at her home in London, UK, on Thursday
10 September 2020 at age 82.
Text copyright: BBC 2020 and Fiona Rothchilds 2020.
Copy text (available online, with thanks): Dame Diana Rigg: Avengers, Bond and Game of Thrones actress dies at 82 – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-54106509 retrieved Friday, 11 September 2020, at 8:36 AM AEST.
And ‘Diana Rigg, 9 Awards and Nominations’, https://www.emmys.com/bios/diana-rigg
*Get to know the (US) Paycheck Fairness Act at
For legislative details on the (US) proposed Fairness Paycheck Act, see https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/7/text
**For details on the (US) Equal Pay Act (1963) see