I was absolutely fascinated by this pretty lady, clad in catsuits and leather, who bashed the bone-marrow out of all the bad-guys. I had never seen anybody like her before and I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she was on-screen. As a tiny child, I had a strange feeling watching Mrs. Peel, that would take me years to understand. Emma Peel was my first ever crush, many years before I was old enough to have any idea of what a crush even was.
Apparently, I made a huge fuss on subsequent nights when my standard bedtime was enforced by my parents, and I wasn’t allowed to stay up late enough to see that nice lady kicking arse any more. Oh, what a hullabaloo. Poor Grandma tried to make amends by helping me write a letter to Emma Peel, asking her to put her TV show on earlier, before my bedtime, so I could watch her. I doubt very much that the letter was ever sent… but a few years later I was old enough to stay up late and watch the re-runs, anyway.
This 1960s TV series, starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, is a snap-shot of that time when everything coming out of Britain was automatically seen as being cool. The Avengers still plays well today, if partly undermined by other shows that have come along since, including many that this show inspired in the first place. The martial arts fights that I found so exciting as a child are hopelessly naff by today’s standards. We are now accustomed to seeing well choreographed action, and women in fight sequences aren’t a novelty any more, either; television has a different battle-babe for each night of the week. That wasn’t the case when Emma Peel hit the screen for the first time; she was a revolutionary character.
Though her “Karate Chop” style of fighting may look cheesy to modern viewers, the character herself is every bit as charming as she ever was. Even 40 years after Emma Peel first appeared on TV, there aren’t many characters to match her easy confidence, strength, book smarts, wry humour and sense of style. The playfully platonic relationship between Emma Peel and John Steed holds up particularly well. It is still unusual, even today, for a man and a woman to have a long running screen partnership that doesn’t inevitably end in a romantic entanglement.
I should also mention that Emma Peel, as played by the incomparable Diana Rigg, is every bit as beautiful as I had remembered her, maybe even moreso.