No heroine before or since has captured my attention and imagination quite the way Emma Peel did. Her mod black wetsuit wardrobe, karate-style hand-knifing of villains, utter brilliance, and unflappable demeanor in the face of danger made her a riveting character to want to emulate.
The now classic, then hip and mod British TV show, The Avengers, was inventive in its ironic premise and minimalist set, but I would venture that the unique chemistry between two of its stars, Diana Rigg and Patrick MacNee, is at the heart of what drew audiences and made the show wildly popular at least for American audiences.
Emma Peel was my ideal: a feminist heroine before I knew what feminism was. She was strong without being strident, did not suffer fools at all much less gladly, could cast a withering glance as deftly as a judo punch, and relied primarily on her wit and wits rather than her feminine wiles. And with her partner, John Steed, she exhibited a provocative sense of tongue-in-cheek play.
By the time I met Emma Peel in 1966, I had already devoured all the Nancy Drew books on the shelves of my grade school library. For me, Emma took Nancy to the next logical level, especially with a world still in the throes of the Cold War and my parish church basement designated as a “Fallout Shelter.” You just never knew when talents such as Mrs. Peel’s might be required, so she hung in my head as an icon of female intelligence and strength.
It has been years since I viewed the shows, though I watched them religiously as a child when they first aired in the US and then later in syndication when I was in college, along with the New Avengers, which proved an enjoyable but pale facsimile of the original.
My current plan is to secure the DVDs and watch the shows featuring Emma Peel in chronological order, using Avengers Forever as my study guide. And I’m looking forward to diving into the recently released book that chronicles the life of the show, The Avengers: A Celebration: 50 Years of a TV Classic, a Christmas gift from my sister who occasionally relies on strong and unmistakable hints to guide her gift-giving.
Got to run. I’m needed.