Emma Peel: feminist icon

I was sad to hear that the British actress, Diana Rigg, had passed away at the age of 82. Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Rigg was most famous for her role as the female lead in the TV show, The Avengers, which ran from 1965 to 1968. In the show she was strong and fearless, solving crimes with her partner John Steed, who sported a bowler hat and carried a cane. Very British.

I loved that show and I desperately wanted an Emma Peel doll, so it was something of a miracle when I received one for my 10th birthday. I suppose I was a little old for playing with dolls, but I thought she was the ant’s pants.

Like the actress, the doll had long reddish hair and came wearing tight black leather trousers and knee-length black boots. She came with three different outfits, all black, as well as a shiny gun! This makes me laugh now. I can’t imagine a doll coming with her own gun these days, but in the show, Emma could shoot the cork out of a bottle of champagne at twenty paces and was also skilled at fencing, karate and judo. She was whip smart and able to outwit even the most diabolical criminals. She never lost her cool.

She could do anything and I wanted to be just like her. Maybe not so sporty, but smart and sassy. I loved her independence and secretly thought that a life of fighting crime would suit me very well.

In the show Emma Peel worked for the British Secret Service, which is interesting because the marriage bar – legislation that prohibited married women from joining the civil service – was only lifted in 1946 for the Home Civil Service, and not until 1973 for the Foreign Service. In Australia, the marriage bar wasn’t lifted until 1966, so for the audience it would have seemed very audacious for Emma to have been working in such a powerful role, let alone as a sexy spy.

Emma had a husband, but he conveniently went missing in the Amazonian jungle after his plane crashed. She also drove a white convertible (a Lotus) which only added to her appeal.

Diana Rigg was also well known for her role as Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones and was also a Bond girl, playing opposite George Lazenby in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but she will always be Emma Peel to me.

6 thoughts on “Emma Peel: feminist icon

  1. I don’t remember you having an Emma Peel doll! In fact I can hardly remember the show at all. Must have struck a chord with you though. I think I was more interested in Patrick McNee.

    1. That’s interesting, I only remember you having one doll with dark hair but you must have had other toys.
      I never liked Patrick McNee very much. I used to be in love with Sydney Poitier when I was about 15.

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