The actor Dame Diana Rigg passed away on the 12th of September, at the age of 82, after a cancer diagnosis in March. Rigg’s career spanned 60 years, and included roles with the RSC, BBC and Bond Film Series, although she is perhaps best known among our generation for her role as Olenna Tyrell in the HBO series Game of Thrones.
Born in Doncaster in 1938, Rigg spent the first eight years of her life living in India, before attending boarding school in England. Rigg trained at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, before starting out in 1959 with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. She quickly made a name for herself on the small screen in the role of secret agent Emma Peel, in the very popular BBC spy series, The Avengers. She gained a massive reputation, and would later talk about how uncomfortable she was with the press attention and her newfound status as a sex symbol. Rigg would later highlight sexism in the industry and criticise the BBC over the gender pay gap due to her being paid one third that of her co-star. Rigg would leave the series over this inequality, and poor press attention over her desire for equal pay.
Rigg would later star in the 1969 Bond classic, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as Countess Teresa di Vicenzo, the love interest of James Bond (played by George Lazenby in his only film as 007). Rigg’s character became one of very few ‘Bond Girls’ to rise above the inherent sexism and steamy shower scenes, eventually marrying Bond. Rigg’s intriguing portrayal and her characterisation in the role attracted a lot of attention and cemented Di Vicenzo as a fan favourite in the film series.
Rigg went on to star in plays with Lawrence Olivier and a few Doctor Who episodes but she is most well known today for her role as Olena Tyrell in Game of Thrones. As a harsh, unfair and unyielding character, Rigg’s depiction lifted the character out of the books into an expanded role on screen, becoming a favourite character of many fans. The role also challenged perceptions of age that often exists in Television and Film just further cementing the importance of Rigg’s acting.
Rigg challenged typical ideas around femininity and age with many strong characters on both stage and screen.
In both her early career and her later roles, she challenged typical ideas around femininity and age with the several strong characters she presented on both stage and screen. As an actor, she will be remembered for many different roles and links our generation with that of our grandparents. She is survived by her daughter, Rachel Stirling, who she appeared alongside in the Doctor Who episode ‘The Crimson Horror’ and the 2000 TV Film In the Beginning, as well as her grandson Jack.
Last modified: 15th September 2020