by Kathleen Tracy
Diana Rigg has millions of fans around the world who still know her as the witty, stylish Mrs. Peel on the Avengers television program of over 30 years ago. What’s more, in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service she had a key role in the James Bond mythos: The only “Bond girl” who ever got the spy to even try to settle down. Add to this an acclaimed, enduring stage career and an evidently crackling mind, and it’s easy to see why she should be the subject of biographical interest.
As the writer of an “unauthorized” book, Kathleen Tracy had no access to Rigg or any of her colleagues, friends or family, and has therefore produced a clipping job. This need not be offensive. A handy compendium of quotes on her professional and personal life by such a well-spoken woman as Rigg would be welcome, and such are the best bits of the book. Unfortunately, the bulk of it is badly written — Tracy does things you just can’t do to the English language — and it is questionable whether it ever saw editing at all.
Tracy’s clumsily arranged retellings of Riggs’ experiences on The Avengers and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service especially make one grimace; she drops names and blithely refers to points of information without properly introducing or explaining them. And in both cases, apparently lacking substantial material on her erstwhile subject, she stops her book to go on for pages about the history of the TV series and the trouble with the film’s one-time Bond, George Lazenby. Some of this material is of interest but in a book about Diana Rigg it ought to have been cut down to about a paragraph except where directly related; it’s been well-covered before. The author further lets the side down when it comes to giving the reader the flavor of Riggs’ stage performances. Accepting that Tracy could have seen few if any of them herself, surely she could have chosen more evocative reviews from critics of the past.
With its outsiders’ perspective, the book rarely escapes the trap (well-known to readers of theatrical biographies) of turning into a monotonous litany of “and-then-she-did-this-television-series, and-then-she-did-this-movie, and then-she-did-this-play…” It thus also fails to fully explore or explain Riggs’ character psychologically. We are left with a vision of the actress not much more complex than we get from gazing at the yummy ’60s photos included (which are, it must be said, well-chosen).
Not much more complex, but somewhat. Rigg appears to have been, at times, much like her characters. In her personal life, as Tracy writes, “she always maintained her individuality even while engaging in the compromises that are a necessary part of any union, which is why to many she is a feminist icon.” Riggs’ best-known characters took similarly revolutionary stances on sex, sexuality and feminism. It has been observed by more than one media critic that the whole “post-Buffy” generation of sexy girls who kick ass could just as rightly be called the daughters of Diana. She scores above some of that “next generation” in one or two ways as well. First of all, smartly, she left her signature role before she began to repeat herself; thus following the theatrical superstition of always leaving them wanting more. Second, she did essentially what her “daughters” are doing now, but she did it in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Rigg herself has said she is too private a person to ever write an autobiography, and resents press attention when she feels it intrudes upon this privacy. While that’s obviously her choice to make, it is in some ways unfortunate, because as this poor substiture of a book makes clear, such a memoir should be keenly wished. When Riggs’ true persona seems to peek out from around the corners of the author’s opaque prose, it reminds and frustrates us about the challenge the book has failed to meet.
Mrs. Peel — you’re needed.