She was the only woman to have been Mrs. Bond. The JBIFC is very sad to report that Dame Diana Rigg, who played Tracy opposite George Lazenby’s 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and also starred opposite Patrick Macnee in the hit TV series The Avengers, has passed away, aged 82, after a short battle with cancer.
Described by the UK’s Sky News as ‘one of the most gifted classical actors of her generation’, Dame Diana won numerous awards for her stage and screen work, and there have been many tributes to her life and career from across the acting world.
Born Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg in July, 1938, in Doncaster, England, at the age of 17 she was accepted into the famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). After graduating from RADA, she began her professional career in 1959.
After working for a couple of years in repertory theatre, the highly talented Diana then joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), where she was able to gain invaluable further experience in many stage productions. After several years with the RSC, Rigg then auditioned for the role of Emma Peel opposite Patrick Magee’s secret agent John Steed in the hugely popular TV series The Avengers. Interestingly, she took over from Honor Blackman, who had played Cathy Gale in the series, and had left to take the role of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.
During her time as Mrs. Peel (1965-1968), Rigg became an overnight sex symbol and arguably one of the best-known faces on British TV in the mid-1960s. The cat-suited Peel was an all-action character. Like Honor Blackman, Rigg ensured that her part in The Avengers showed a strong, confident and highly intelligent woman, who was also very skilled at all forms of physical combat and fighting. Peel was often held up as something of a feminist role-model for a new generation of liberated women in the 1960s, something Rigg remained proud of.
When the producers of James Bond chose Rigg for the role of Tracy, or Comtessa Teresa di Vincenzo, Diana Rigg helped director Peter Hunt create a very rounded and strong character, with a clear and moving back-story taken directly from Ian Fleming’s original novel. Tracy also (briefly) became James Bond’s wife, leading to one of the most unusual but powerful endings to a 007 movie.
It was also felt by Hunt that Rigg, along with Telly Savalas as Blofeld, could use their extensive acting experience to help support George Lazenby, who was, of course, the new James Bond but had little acting experience at the time. In fact, Hunt dismissed comments from critics about Lazenby’s lack of experience, saying that it was possible to get a good performance out of anyone through a combination of good directing and skilled editing. And Hunt was very aware that strong performances from the likes of Rigg and Savalas could help elevate the film to new heights.
He was right. In many ways, OHMSS has become a firm fan favourite. And there is no doubt that Diana Rigg helped play a big part in this. She had many eye-catching moments in the film, and was particularly good in her scenes with Savalas at the climax of the movie:
‘Marry me’, said Blofeld, ‘and I’ll make you a Countess’. ‘But you forget’, Tracy replies, ‘I’m already a Countess’.
Similarly, Tracy’s loving banter with her new husband James Bond at the end of the film, and then her tragic and shocking murder, brought out the very best in Lazenby. Who can forget such a moving scene?
All the time in the world
Diana Rigg said on a number of occasions that she did not like watching herself on screen, and rarely saw her own performances, as she would become frustrated at any ‘mistakes’ she had made. The advantage of theatre, she said, was that you could work on your performance ‘over and over’ until it was just right.
Looking back on the James Bond movie in later interviews, Rigg said at one point that the money spent on the Bond film was ‘profligate’, and ‘as an actress who’d been in The Avengers and not been paid a great deal of money, I was paid zonking amounts… I couldn’t believe it’. In fact, after her experiences in TV in particular, Rigg became well-known for fighting for equal pay for women in the TV and movie industries, and was very devoted to the actors union Equity during her long career.
As many Bond fans know, and as both Rigg and Lazenby later admitted in interviews, there had been tensions between the actress and the new Bond star on set, fed by stories leaked to the press at the time. It is difficult to know what is accurate and what is not about all this but, as Sinclair McKay noted in his Bond history The Man with the Golden Touch (2008), whatever happened, and whatever tensions there may have been on set, ‘they don’t show on screen’. Indeed, there is no doubt that OHMSS has grown and grown in status and appreciation over the years, and Lazenby and Rigg’s performances have been highly praised by Bond historians in recent studies. The movie now regularly gets rated highly in polls of Bond fans.
In 1994, Diana Rigg was made a Dame for her services to UK theatre. Speaking to The Times in 2014, Dame Diana said she had absolutely no intention of retiring: ‘Actors keep going until we fall off the twig’. True to her word, Rigg kept working well into her later life. She especially relished her role as a baddie in the popular TV series Game of Thrones. One of her last roles can be seen in the 6-part TV remake of All Creatures Great And Small, where she plays Mrs. Pumphrey, and which recently started transmission on Britain’s Channel-5.
In a statement released by EON, the 007 producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said: ‘We are very sad to hear of the passing of Dame Diana Rigg, the legendary stage and screen actress who was much loved by Bond fans for her memorable performance as Tracy di Vincenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only woman to have married James Bond. Our love and thoughts are with her family and friends at this sad time’.
Dame Diana Rigg, 1938-2020. R.I.P.