Monday, September 8, 2014
Having just finished watching several episodes of the 60s drama The Avengers, I contend that Emma Peel is without a doubt one of the most inspirational female characters written for twentieth century television. She embodied the transitional paradigm for women in a modern society. While we might look upon the show, now, and smile at the predictibility of the scripts, the tongue-in-cheek turn of phrase, or the simplistic choreography of the fight scenes, we must note that in her creation, the writers of The Avengers television series departed the usual text, and reached into the future. While Honor Blackman was the original side-kick sleuthing agent for the secret and never-named British homeland investigative branch, she departed as the series was beginning to ride the crest of the cold war spy show craze. Honor’s character was very much like a character she would later play in the James Bond film, Goldfinger. 1963, however, welcomed Diana Rigg as a new partner for the ever-so-British John Steed. Rigg’s character broke most of the stereotypes for sidekicks, especially female sidekicks. First of all she was married. “Mrs. Peele, we’re needed,” introduced an attractive and presumably not available woman who was neither a housewife, nor churchmouse. Emma Peele fenced, fought (martial arts), and penned papers on physics in her spare time. Wait! A woman who was self sufficient, self aware, and had a sense of humor? Indeed. Emma could take a joke, throw a punch, and calculate a physics computation without breaking a nail. Not that she bothered about her nails. She was too busy foiling bad guys to worry about a manicure. And, she wore the most practical wardrobe ever seen on television. No stranger to heels and stylish hemlines, Emma Peele wore pants and flat ankle boots to do her snooping. Catsuits, or capes were the costume of choice when breaking and entering by night, or when tromping through the hills and dales of the English countryside. She climbed ladders, did not squeal when her hair got in her eyes, and even carried a second pair of shoes when out and about (just in case the car broke down and she had to walk to the nearest RAF station). More over, Emma Peele defended herself. On occasion, Steed would ride in to save the day, and her life, but more often than not, Emma threw her own high kicks and karate chops, parried and thrust her own sword, and played hero for herself. She seldom screamed, did not wimper or cry, and never once-in 51 episodes- fell into a fit of hystrionics. And Steed, admirably, never once challenged her on her reason, her intellect, or her biorhythms (although he did on occasion criticize her driving). She was sexy and confident in her attitude, compassionate and empathetic when necessary, and pragmatic and professional on the job. Remember, there were no other women doing this in 1963. She became a role model for millions of female viewers, world wide. She was cultured, well read, and did not shy away from expressing opinions or ideas. Legend has it that her name was a play on words, themselves. “M appeal” or male appeal was the hook that the producers were looking for in her character; that’s how she came to be Emma Peele. Millions of men, also were watching. Apparently, even in the sixties, smart was sexy. The writers allowed her to have a flirtatious, intelligent relationship with her coworker that did not involve her fetching coffee, or wearing a frilly apron, or ironing his shirts...ever. And we love her for it.