Diana Rigg discusses On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diana Rigg sat down with BBC4’s Mark Lawson to discuss her career and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service came up. There’s a 3:37 clip of it you can view by BY CLICKING HERE. Even though it’s on YouTube, embedding isn’t permitted.

Among the highlights: “I know why I did it….George Lazenby was ill-equipped. He was a model, a male model. I was there to steer him through and give it some gravitas.”

On working with Lazenby: “He was really difficult. It’s not for nothing they didn’t offer him any sequels. He was just difficult…He thought he was a film star immediately and started throwing his weight around.”

On the role of Tracy, the doomed Mrs. Bond: “The character I played had a central role and was not just a piece of fluff.”

The Avengers: a half century of John Steed & Co.

Better late than never, we felt we should note this was the 50th anniversary of The Avengers, in which the English gentleman agent John Steed and his various associates battled forces that threatened the U.K.

Actually, when the show began in January 1961, Patrick Macnee, who played Steed, had second billing and Steed wasn’t yet in gentleman agent mode. Receiving top billing was Ian Hendry as Dr. David Keel. The show began with Keel’s financee being murdered. The mysterious Steed pops up and two proceed to avenge the death of the financee.

For the second season, Dr. Keel was gone and Macnee was now the clear star. Eventually, he’d partner with Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), who favored leather clothing and was skilled at judo. Blackman went off to play Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger. Below, Cathy Gale tells Steed goodbye and the dialogue provides a hint of Blackman’s upcoming 007 role:

Diana Rigg took Blackman’s place as yet another “talented amateur,” Emma Peel. At this point, the U.S. television network ABC to import the U.K. series and the Steed-Peel combo clicked with American audiences. Also, the show apparently got a bigger budget. Production switched from videotape to film, freeing up the crew to shoot sequences outdoors and not just be confined to a studio. The original John Danworkth theme was discarded and a snappier theme, composed by Laurie Johnson, was recorded.

Macnee and Rigg had an appealing chemistry, helped along by scripts from the likes of Brian Clemens and Philip Levene. David McDaniel, who penned some of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. tie-in paperback novels worked Steed and Mrs. Peel into The Rainbow Affair, though the duo aren’t named.

However, after a couple of seasons, bigger things beckoned for Rigg. She, like her predecessor, would be the female lead in a James Bond movie, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Another replacement, Tara King (Linda Thorson) rounded out the original show.

It’s hard to keep a good agent down. Macnee’s Steed had a return engagement in the 1970s in The New Avengers, this time with two partners, Gareth Hunt’s Mike Gambit (to take over some of the rough stuff from Steed) and Joanna Lumley as Purdey. The show was overseen by Clemens and Albert Fennell, who had produced the last few seasons of the original show. Laurie Johnson returned, composing a new theme. The New Avengers was shown by CBS in the U.S. as part of The CBS Late Movie. The New Avengers only lasted two seasons, though Diana Rigg did make a cameo as Mrs. Peel.

The Avengers was also something of a farm team for Eon Productions. Besides Blackman and Rigg, various character actors from the show got cast in Bond movies, such as Philip Locke (Vargas in Thunderball), Julian Glover (Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only) and James Villiers (Bill Tanner in For Your Eyes Only). And members of The Avengers crew, such as director of photography Alan Hume and art director Harry Pottle would get hired to work on Bond movies. Thus, it was appropriate that Macnee finally be cast in a 007 film, 1985’s A View To a Kill.

Inevitably, The Avengers would be considered for a feature film. The result was the uneven 1998 namesake film with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman facing off against a villain played by Sean Connery. Macnee got a small voice-only cameo. Today, the original series remains fondly remembered while the film….well, the less said, the better.

Happy 50th, Mr. Steed. Here’s a look at the different main titles of The Avengers and The New Avengers:

Michael Gough, Batman’s Alfred and Avengers villain, dies

Character actor Michael Gough died April 17 at the age of 94. Most obituaries, LIKE THIS ONE IN THE U.K. NEWSPAPER THE GUARDIAN lead with how he played Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s trusted aide, in four movies from 1989 to 1997. But he also holds a spot in spy entertainment.

Gough played the inventor of “The Cybernauts,” one of the best episodes of The Avengers TV series, starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. It was written by Philip Levene, one of the best scribes for that series, and it inspired a sequel the following season (with Peter Cushing playing the brother of Gough’s character) and an episode of the 1970s series The New Avengers.

Here’s a look at the original episode. Gough shows up just before the 5:00 mark. RIP, Mr. Gough.

UPDATE: We couldn’t resist. Here’s the conclusion. Counting Macnee and Rigg, there are at least six people in either the cast or crew who have James Bond movie credits in this particular episode:

The brains behind The Avengers awarded with the OBE

Brian Clemens, a writer and producer on The Avengers, recently received an Order of the British Empire.

According to thisTHIS STORY on the BBC’s Web site:

The main creative driving force behind The Avengers, The Professionals and many other successful television series and films has been appointed OBE.

Brian Clemens, who lives near Ampthill, Bedfordshire, has been honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to broadcasting and drama.

Clemens wrote 32 episodes of The Avengers and another 17 of its 1970s revival, The New Avvengers, according tohis profile on IMDB.com.

Here’s the main titles to one of the episodes of The Avengers written by Clemens (b. 1931). It’s from the first season with Diana Rigg co-starring with Patrick Macnee. During this particular season Clemens was associate producer of the show. In the first color season, he’d get promoted to producer, a post he (along with Albert Fennell) held through the rest of the series. The pair would also produce the revival series.

We also give a shoutout to Wes Britton, who alerted us to Clemens getting the OBE.

UPDATE: Digging a little further back, here’s an opening and closing from earlier when Macnee co-starred with Honor Blackman on The Avengers. This episode was also written by Clemens.

OHMSS’s 40th anniversary Part V: the film’s legacy

Forty years after its release, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has one of the most mixed legacies of the James Bond film series.

1. While profitable, it would be the first film in the series not to be considered a hit and a major financial success.

2. It scared away producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman from further faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming stories. It wouldn’t be until 1981 (and after Saltzman departed the series) when For Your Eyes Only utilized large portions of two Fleming short stories that much of Fleming’s plots appeared in a film.

3. A combination of No. 1 and No. 2 caused the series to go in a much lighter direction in the 1970s. There wasn’t even a hint of the unhappy ending of OHMSS, which concluded with Bond’s bride perishishing.

4. Despite all that, OHMSS is viewed by many hard-core Bond fans (or “the base” in the language of politicians) as one of the best, if not the best film in the series.

5. Even if you don’t buy into No. 4, it features one of the best of John Barry’s 11 scores for the series, one that Barry has referred to as his “most Bondian.”

6. It had a terrific performance by Diana Rigg as Bond’s doomed bride. While fans debate about George Lazenby’s turn as 007, his Bond was more vulnerable than the one by Sean Connery. It contributed to a film, under the guidance of director Peter Hunt, that took more chances than its immediate predecessors, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. There was still spectacle, but there was emotion to go with it. It’s a unique chapter in the film story of 007, one that hasn’t really been matched since.

HMSS nominations for best lines from James Bond movies

What’s the best line from a James Bond movie? Here are a few for consideration:

“Bond, James Bond.” Sean Connery (James Bond, natch) from Dr. No.
Analysis: Perhaps a cliche now, but Connery established a classic introduction line.

“She should have kept her mouth shut.” Sean Connery (Bond), capping off a tense sequence in the movie From Russia With Love that was mostly a faithful adaption from a memorable chapter of the Ian Fleming novel of the same name. Connery had delivered a number of quips in Dr. No, but this one reflected perfect timing and Connery’s growth in the role of 007.

“No, I expect you to die!” Comeback by Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe dubbed by Michael Collins) to Bond’s witticisms from Goldfinger.

“Somebody’s probably lost a dog.” Bond (Connery again) skeptical that about the emergency for which he has been summoned in Thunderball. Often overlooked among 007 witticisms, it’s a perfect example of Connery at his peak in the Bond role.

“Wait till you get to my teeth.” Bond (Connery) muttering to himself following his first encounter with Domino in Thunderball. The line isn’t as memorable as Connery’s delivery, a perfect example of what was the actor’s polished confidence in the role.

“Mr. Osato believes in healthy chests!” Helga (Karin Dor) to Bond in You Only Live Twice. An early sign of how the series was starting to parody itself.

“But darling we have all the time in the world.” Bond (George Lazenby) to his soon-to-be-deceased bride Tracy (Diana Rigg) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. A line based on Ian Fleming prose, something that would soon be rare in the film series.

“Look after, Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.” Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) to his manservant Chang in Moonraker. An example of subtle humor and menance in an otherwise over-the-top film.

“I’m glad I insisted you brought that cello!” Bond (Timothy Dalton) to Kara in The Living Daylights. For most of a key sequence, Dalton/Bond had been more than a little annoyed that Kara had insisted on bringing the cello. The instrument turns out to be both a clue and a means to a getaway from Cold War-era Czech troops.

“He disagreed with something that ate him.” A note attached to Felix Leiter (David Hedison) in Licence to Kill, which took the idea from Fleming’s Live And Let Die novel.

“The bitch is dead.” Bond (Daniel Craig), referring to double agent Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Once again, going to the Fleming source material.

James Bond and New Year’s Day

In the James Bond canon, New Year’s Day has a special, and tragic, place.

I do.

James Bond said the words at ten-thirty in the morning of a crystal-clear New Year’s Day in the British Consul General’s drawing room.

And he meant them.

(On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “All the Time in the World,” page 186, 11th printing, Signet paperback edition.)

It was not a marriage that would last the day. To the credit of Eon Productions, director Peter Hunt and screenwriter Richard Maibuam, that ending from Ian Fleming’s novel was preserved in the film. John Barry’s score enhances the scene:

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