I wish I could say that my lifetime role model was Marie Curie, Mother Teresa or Mahalia Jackson. Jane Goodall, maybe, or Margaret Mead. Wonderful dames, all, but I regret to say that the woman I’ve always yearned to be isn’t a real person, appeared to have no real visible means of support, wore a lot of leather and Pierre Cardin, and drove a Lotus Elan. I mean, what more could a fourteen-year-old wish for? Or indeed a 50 something woman.
If you were to ask “Hey, Maggie, what’s your favorite TV show of all time?” I’d interrupt before you finished the question. The Avengers, a British program that aired between 1961 and 1969, It played into the James Bond/John le Carre Cold War British Intelligence meme, but it was really a comedy of manners/sci fi/action flick mess of a show. Patrick Macnee played a shadowy bowlered, sword sticked, vintage Bentley driving spy.He always had a female foil — I liked Honor Blackman, Linda Thorsen and Joanna Lumley in their seasons. But any Avengers fan knows that it’s really all about the Emma Peel years.
Diana Rigg (now Dame Commander Diana Rigg) played Emma Peel for three short seasons and from the first episode, then in black and white, I knew who I wanted to be when I grew up.
My Senior picture demonstrates that I tried. I rolled the waistband of my uniform skirt a half inch shorter every day until it approached the length of Mrs. Peel’s , and when no one objected I ditched it and became the first girl at my high school to wear a genuine off the peg grey wool miniskirt. (I was not the last.) I traded that dorky blouse for a ribbed white turtleneck, and the principal, the manic L.V. Fuller, said nothing. Emma Peel pushed the girls’s dress code at Three Rivers High School — my heroine!
At the beginning of each episode Steed would appear in Emma’s flat while she was doing something crazy cool, like sculpting, and announce: “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed.” Why Her Majesty’s Secret Service needed them was unclear, but it was sure fun. Emma Peel is the first female screen character who was a martial arts expert, and she’d kick and karate chop baddies into submission. Submission is the right word. I once heard her say “Well, yes I get a lot of fan mail — from fourteen year old boys and leather fetishists.”
I was too innocent to know about fetishes, but an episode called “A Touch of Brimstone” had an unlikely plot about Mrs. Peel going undercover in some Swinging London version of the Hellfire Club. I’m glad I found a picture, because I knew, I just knewthat this lace up corset, tall boots and spiked necklace wasn’t gonna cut it in second period Algebra. (Hmmm, Maybe Archie Cameron would have upped my grade to an A if I’d worn it to student/teacher conference.) Diana Rigg was the designer.
I loved the change to color:
I discovered that Emma and I had the same hair color, and I could scope out all that rainbow Pierre Cardin costumery. Emma and Steed were witty and mildly flirtatious, but there wasn’t any real sexual charge between them, as there had been with Steed and Honor Blackman’s leather- girl anthropologist Dr. Cathy Gale. I mean, how could there be — Emma was a married lady, although her husband had disappeared into the Amazonian rainforest years ago. He reappears in the last episode of the Rigg/Macnee partnership, and guess what: he looks exactly like — No, I won’t tell you.
I’m wracking my addled cerebellum to come up with a television character since Emma who was is so effortlessly cool and witty, chic and powerful as Mrs. Peel. Nope, she broke the mold. Mrs. Peel, now and always, you’re needed.