Emma Peel

Emma Peel is a fictional spy played by Diana Rigg in the British 1960s adventure television series The Avengers, and by Uma Thurman in the 1998 film version. She was born Emma Knight, the daughter of an industrialist, Sir John Knight. She is the partner of John Steed.

Emma Peel
The Avengers character
Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel
First appearanceSeries 4
Last appearanceSeries 6
Portrayed byDiana Rigg (1965–1968)
Uma Thurman (1998)
Voiced byDiane Appleby (1971–1973)
Sue Lloyd (1977)
OccupationUnofficial undercover operative[1]
SpousePeter Peel
RelativesSir John Knight (father)

As a lady spy adventurer and expert in martial arts, she became a feminist role model around the world and is considered an icon of British popular culture.[2] Regarded as a 1960s fashion icon, the character is often remembered for the leather catsuit worn by Rigg in the first series.


Mrs. Peel was introduced as a replacement for the popular Cathy Gale, played by actress Honor Blackman. Blackman left the programme at the end of the third season to co-star in the James Bond film Goldfinger.

Elizabeth Shepherd was initially cast as Emma Peel and production on the fourth series began. After filming all of one episode and part of a second, the producers decided that Shepherd was not right for the part, and she was dismissed. No footage of Shepherd as Peel is known to have survived.[3]

The producers scrambled to replace her and gave the job to Diana Rigg; the Shepherd episodes were subsequently re-filmed.


The character was notable for a number of characteristics. Peel is a heroine; she is rarely defeated in fights and is capable of rescuing Steed if he is in trouble. She is a master of martial arts and a formidable fencer. A certified genius, she specialises in chemistry and other sciences. She is often seen in episodes engaging in artistic hobbies and had success in industry at the helm of the company of her late father, Sir John Knight. Her husband, Peter Peel, was a pilot whose plane disappeared over the Amazonian forest. He was presumed dead for many years, and Peel went on to work with Steed. She drove a convertible Lotus Elan at high speeds, and convincingly portrayed any series of undercover roles, from nurse to nanny. Her favourite guise was that of a women's magazine reporter, trying to interview big business tycoons and rich playboys. The name "Emma Peel" is a play on the phrase "Man Appeal" or "M. Appeal", which the production team stated was one of the required elements of the character.[4] (Diana Rigg was never comfortable in her position as a world-famous sex-symbol.)[5]

Peel's verbal interactions with Steed range from witty banter to thinly disguised innuendo. Regarding the question of whether they had a sexual relationship at any time, Patrick Macnee thought they went to bed on a very regular basis (just not in view of the camera). However, Rigg thought they were engaged in a very enjoyable extended flirtation that ultimately went nowhere. Writer/producer Brian Clemens said he wrote them with the idea they had an affair before Emma's first appearance in the series.[6]

Her style of dress typified the period, and the character is still a fashion icon. John Bates was brought in as the costume designer for Emma Peel in the second half of the fourth series. He created a wardrobe of black and white op-art mod clothing and miniskirts. Before this, people had believed that lines, circles and other bold patterns would not work on the television cameras of the day . Episodes were filmed before the miniskirt had even become a mainstream fashion statement. Bates had to stop leaving hems on the mini skirts because the production team kept lowering them again. He also licensed his designs to several manufacturers under the Avengerswear label and these pieces were sold in various shops throughout the country. Diana Rigg is often remembered for the leather catsuit she wore early on in her first season. Rigg disliked wearing leather, so Bates designed softer stretch jersey and PVC catsuits for her instead.

When the show transitioned from black and white to colour, the designer was Alun Hughes who used bold colours and lurid, psychedelic patterns. Hughes also created the Emmapeeler catsuit, which was made of stretch jersey in bright block colours. The Emmapeelers and several other pieces from this season's wardrobe were licensed and sold in the shops as well.


When Peter Peel surprisingly reappears, at the end of "The Forget-Me-Knot", Emma leaves Steed and her spy career behind. In the distant shot in which he appears, Peter Peel looks suspiciously like Steed (and was played by Patrick Macnee's stunt double, Peter Weston), and like him drives a two-door convertible Bentley, albeit a contemporary model. Emma meets her replacement, Tara King (played by Linda Thorson), who enters the building as she herself is leaving and tells her that Steed likes his tea stirred "anti-clockwise". Peel would be the last in a string of "talented amateurs" with whom John Steed was teamed, as her successor is a neophyte professional agent.

In real life, Diana Rigg had chosen to leave the series for a number of reasons, one of which was to accept a role in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (similarly, her predecessor Honor Blackman departed to appear in the Bond film Goldfinger). During her first series, Rigg eventually learned that she was making less than the cameraman: afterwards her salary was tripled and combined with her loyalty to Macnee, she was persuaded to come back for 25 additional episodes (including her farewell episode, which was actually shot well into the Tara King season). Eventually the arduous shooting schedules, conflicts with the producers, the lure of film and stage roles, and a desire to challenge herself as an actress all combined in her decision to leave the show for good.[7]

After leaving the series, Rigg played a variation of the Emma Peel character in two German short films produced for the 8mm market: The Diadem and The Mini-Killers. Little behind the scenes information has surfaced, though the films themselves have survived.[8][9]

The New Avengers

Although Emma Peel appeared on The New Avengers in flashback clips from the original series, she's also featured in the episode entitled "K is for Kill". She briefly speaks with Steed over the phone and mentions that her last name isn't Peel anymore; Steed replies, "You'll always be Mrs. Peel to me." Sue Lloyd provided her voice.

The Avengers (1998)

The character was revived and reworked for the 1998 film version of the show, The Avengers. Uma Thurman was cast in the role of Peel opposite Ralph Fiennes as Steed. In the film, Mrs. Peel is a scientist working as part of a weather project. When the project is sabotaged by someone who appears to be her double, she is investigated by Ministry agent John Steed. Ultimately, they team up to find out the truth. The film was a critical and box office failure with the new incarnation of the characters being panned. In 2003, Total Film magazine voted Fiennes and Thurman as "The Worst Movie Double Act of All Time" for their performances as Steed and Peel.[10]



The music video for the Pretenders' 1986 single "Don't Get Me Wrong" is a tribute to The Avengers and inserts lead singer Chrissie Hynde into the role of Emma Peel. Other tracks related to Emma Peel include:

  • Emma Peel Sessions (1993) is Purple Avengers' second LP release.[13]
  • Thin Red Line (1980), the debut album of The Cretones, includes a song titled "Mrs. Peel".[14]
  • The clip for "Emma Peel" from The Allies' debut album, Allies (1982), gave the band fleeting national recognition.[15][16]
  • Pet Your Friends (1995), Dishwalla's debut, includes a song titled "Miss Emma Peel".[17][18]
  • The Ann Arbor band Slot released a 7" single called "Emma Peel" in the 1990s.[19]
  • The 4th track from Shark Inferno's album Puncture (2015) is titled, and about, "Emma Peel".[20]
  • Pussy Galore has one CD track titled "Play Emma For Me", on Sympathy For The Record Industry (1996).[21][22]
  • Babette Novak of Babette's Feast and Femme de Champagne wrote a song titled "A-Peel", in 1984.


References and sources


  1. Smith, David K. (26 March 2002). "Emma Peel (Biography)". The Avengers Forever. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  2. Lentz III, Harris M. (31 March 2016). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2015. McFarland. p. 66.
  3. "The Avengers Forever: Elizabeth Shepherd". Theavengers.tv. 2007-10-24. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  4. Rogers, Dave (1998-02-08). The complete Avengers: everything ... - Google Books. ISBN 9780312031879. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  5. Gibbons, Fiachra (7 August 1999). "Diana Rigg: Is she the sexiest TV star of all time?". the Guardian.
  6. "The Avengers Forever: Frequently Asked Questions". Theavengers.tv. 2007-05-08. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  7. "The Avengers Forever: Behind the Scenes". Theavengers.tv. 2002-11-25. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  8. Shock Cinema Magazine Official Website: The Diadem/Mini-Killers. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
  9. Dead Duck: Diadem and The Mini-Killers. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  10. "Double disasters make it to top of the flops". The Western Mail. Cardiff. December 1, 2003. Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman have been named the worst movie double act of all time by film experts. The pair starred together in the monumental flop The Avengers... Writers at Total Film magazine say the normally acclaimed stars are the most gruesome twosome to grace the big screen, calling Fiennes 'stiff as MDF' and Thurman 'robotic'.
  11. Nevins, Jess. "Annotations to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume III, Chapter Three, a.k.a. Century: 2009". JessNevins.com.
  12. "We were all in love with Diana Rigg and that show she was on." Mike Sekowsky, quoted in Les Daniels, Wonder Woman: The Complete History (Chronicle, 2004), p. 129.
  13. "TiniSite". Purpleavengers.com. Archived from the original on 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  14. The Cretones (1980). "The Thin Red Line". discogs.com.
  15. "The Allies, brief bio". AllMusic.com.
  16. "Allies pop band that seemed to have a lot of potential". historydumpster. 2013-02-09.
  17. Dishwalla (1995). "Pet Your friends". discogs.com.
  18. "Miss Emma Peel (song, text/lyrics on Pet Your Friends". karaoketexty.cz.
  19. Slot (1992). "Emma Peel / Jagernaut". discogs.com.
  20. Shark Inferno (2015). "Puncture". discogs.com.
  21. "Emma Peel - Play Emma For Me". discogs.com.
  22. Pussy Galore (1996). "Sympathy For the Record Industry". Sympathy Records.
  23. "Flat is Beautiful". Food Network.


  • Alvarez, Maria (1998), "Feminist icon in a catsuit (female lead character Emma Peel in defunct 1960s UK TV series 'The Avengers')", New Statesman, Aug 14.
  • Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; & Topping, Keith (1998). The Avengers Dossier. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-86369-754-2.
  • Lars Baumgart (2002): DAS KONZEPT EMMA PEEL – Der unerwartete Charme der Emanzipation: THE AVENGERS und ihr Publikum. Kiel: Verlag Ludwig – ISBN 978-3-933598-40-0
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