Emma Peel: The Avengers

Above image: Diana Rigg as Emma Peel
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Emma from the episode 'The Town of No Return'.
Emma from the episode 'The Town of No Return'.

Enter Emma Peel


Emma Peel made her television debut in the UK in October, 1965. I do not think my husband has ever been the same since. Diana Rigg's cool, beautiful and cat like characterization guaranteed that grown men would turn into slobbering, lavicious wrecks, while women wanted to emulate her independent, emasculated lifestyle.

Born Emma Knight, she showed her prowess at the early age of 21 by becoming the Chairman of Knight Industries - her father's corporation. Between this and her meeting with John Steed, she married pilot Peter Peel who we later learn was involved in a plane crash and thought to have died.

While mourning for her husband, she realized that stuffy board meetings were not for her. Emma craved excitement in her life, along with a dash of danger and adventure. John Steed would provide this and more. Adept at both Kung Fu and Karate, she was also very capable with a gun or sword.

The chemistry and subtle humor between Diana Rigg's Emma and Patrick Macnee's Steed is stuff of TV legend. Two other actresses tried and failed to bring Emma Peel to life, but she still lives on in the minds and memories of a generation of a certain age.

The Avengers: The American Introduction

Elizabeth Shepherd, the original choice to play Emma Peel.
Elizabeth Shepherd, the original choice to play Emma Peel.
Elizabeth Shepherd publicity shot.
Elizabeth Shepherd publicity shot.

Elizabeth Shepherd -The First Emma Peel

Once Honor Blackman had decided to hang up her leather boots as Cathy Gale in 1964, the search was on to find a new partner for John Steed. However, things did not run as smoothly as the producers would have hoped.

After several months of auditions, actress Elizabeth Shepherd (pictured right) secured the role of Emma Peel. It was decided that a new character would accompany Steed on his missions, as Cathy Gale was so synonymous with Honor Blackman. Emma Peel was born out of "man appeal" or "m-appeal", and thus a new era of The Avengers began.

Filming started, and Shepherd completed the episode The Town of No Return and only half of The Murder Market after which her contract was terminated. The producers felt she was not right for the part, but a definitive reason for her departure has never truly been uncovered.

Looking at the pictures of Shepherd, it seems somewhat unsurprising that she secured the role. She bears an uncanny resemblance to Honor Blackman, with the blond hair and statuesque figure. This is how Emma Peel could have appeared had circumstances turned out differently.



Emma Peel's Best Bits

Emma Peel Episode Guide - 1965/66

  1. The Town of No Return.
  2. The Gravediggers.
  3. The Cybernauts
  4. Death at Bargain Prices.
  5. Castle De'ath.
  6. The Master Minds.
  7. The Murder Market.
  8. A Surfeit of H2O.
  9. The Hour That Never Was.
  10. Dial A Deadly Number.
  11. Man-Eater of Surrey Green.
  12. Two's A Crowd.
  13. Too Many Christmas Trees.
  14. Silent Dust.
  15. Room Without A View.
  16. Small Game For Big Hunters.
  17. The Girl From AUNTIE.
  18. The Thirteenth Hole.
  19. Quick Quick Slow Death.
  20. The Danger Makers.
  21. A Touch of Brimstone.
  22. What the Butler Saw.
  23. The House That Jack Built.
  24. A Sense of History.
  25. How to Succeed...at Murder.
  26. Honey For the Prince.

The above episodes were the first to feature Emma Peel as John Steed's sidekick. They were initially shown in the UK between October 1965 and March 1966. Unlike the previous three seasons, The Avengers was now recorded on film in monochrome, thanks to an injection of funds from American backers.

Many fans of the series consider these episodes to be superior to the following color season, although this is, of course, a matter of personal taste.




The Avengers 1967 Opening Titles

Emma in Her Final Episode

Emma Peel Episode Guide - 1967

  1. From Venus With Love.
  2. The Fear Merchants.
  3. Escape in Time.
  4. The See-Through Man.
  5. The Bird Who Knew Too Much.
  6. The Winged Avenger.
  7. The Living Dead.
  8. The Hidden Tiger.
  9. The Correct Way to Kill.
  10. Never, Never Say Die.
  11. Epic.
  12. The Superlative Seven.
  13. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station.
  14. Something Nasty in the Nursery.
  15. The Joker.
  16. Who's Who?
  17. Return of the Cybernauts.
  18. Death's Door.
  19. The £50,000 Breakfast.
  20. Dead Man's Treasure.
  21. You Have Just Been Murdered.
  22. The Positive-Negative Man.
  23. Murdersville.
  24. Mission: Highly Improbable.

November 1967 would see the last of Emma Peel's adventures with John Steed, except that Diana Rigg agreed to return for one last episode, The Forget-Me-Not, in which she hands over the reins to a new partner, Tara King.

It would be another 31 years before Emma would appear on film again (bar a short cameo appearance in The New Avengers).

The Avengers: The Movie

Uma Thurman
Uma Thurman

Emma Peel in Hollywood

Following her departure in 1968, nothing new was seen of Emma Peel until 1998 (barring a brief appearance created from old footage used in The New Avengers episode K is For Kill).

Her fans had clamored for her return for thirty years, and while she had appeared in print and in a South African radio version of The Avengers, it took Hollywood to bring her back in the shape of Uma Thurman. This time Emma had the title of Doctor and was equally fashion savvy as she had been back in the 1960s.

Unfortunately for Dr. Peel, her transfer to silver screen was an unmitigated disaster. Only a handful of fans admitted to enjoying what was billed as a summer blockbuster movie named after the TV series. While Emma still had the wow factor in terms of her appearance, this time the chemistry and humor between the two sleuths was now very forced. It did not help that much of the film ended up on the editing room floor, causing the story to become disjointed and inconprehensible.

The critics panned the movie almost unanimously and even Patrick Macnee appeared content that it had flopped miserably. What could have seen Emma Peel return more frequently in sequels was ruined by the Hollywood machine that saw The Avengers as an action contemporary of James Bond, which the television series never was. Emma and Steed were about style and subtlety, not elaborate special effects.

It has now been sixteen years since we saw Emma Peel in action. However, she impressed enough people to rank her #1 in a 2002 TV Guide poll as the sexiest TV star ever.

But, I have a feeling that she is now a memory. A glorious memory nonetheless.

What's Your Opinion?

Who Was Your Favorite Avengers Girl?

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Your Thoughts 25 comments

limpet profile image

limpet 5 months ago from London England

Emma Peel, beauty, brains and and loads of saucy 'fun lovin' panache to her credit. John Steed, the ideal gentleman to partner up with Mrs Peel on their capers in the murky world of crime solving.


limpet profile image

limpet 5 months ago from London England

Hoe could i not take an opportunity to not offer comments on this simply amazing hub page. When i was aware of the Avengers T.V. cult series being screened i happened to miss the first few seasons and never even saw glamorous English actress Honor Blackman till her role in Goldfinger likewise the gorgeous Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty's secret service. Fortunately i was able to watch The Avengers as repeats which to me were far more intellectual than the whole host of copy cat 'spin off's we were getting in the late 1960's. Don't get me wrong though some were entertaining but the plot lines in the Avengers happened to be more mysterious and bizarre. The Mister Bigs of the criminal underworld were so confident in their capers that they completely underestimated the the skills of Steed and Mrs Peel in their tandem close knit approach to bringing down the bad men. The schemes those cooks hatched seemed to be foolproof but they themselves ended up the fools whilst this was just all in a day's work for the professional sleuths. The caper was also intermixed with quite clever witticisms too.


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 5 months ago

Actually Lantokey the term Ms. didn't come into vogue until the 1970s, some time after the Mrs. Peel character left The Avengers. The important thing about Mrs. rather than Miss. was that Mrs. Peel was married. Her and Steed could never be a couple.


Lantokey 6 months ago from Olde London Towne

ERROR; The reptile in question held by Mrs Peel in her 'snake dance' sequence was in fact a python and not a boa - constrictor as stated. Both of which do not sting their prey but rather coil around their victim and squeeze them breathless. The Avengers Lady though is quite capable of delivering the choke hold and bear hug to her adversary.


Lantokey 6 months ago from Olde London Towne

Greetings my little Darklings.

Once more we enter the surreal realm of Avenger land, this tyme showing a more than special interest in the formidable Mrs Emma Peel. Mrs ? Yes indeed ! Right at the very beginning of when the title Ms inspired by the Women's Liberation movement, Mrs Peel preferred to assert her independence. Not one to be screaming for help when in danger, she preferred the high swiveling kick to her adversary's upper parts followed up by a karate chop (the rabbit killer) to his neck. Now safe from attack she would walk toward her prone opponent on the floor giving him a saucy smile. In an Avenger's episode 'Queen of sin', Mrs Peel needed to go under cover (pun intended) as a dominatrix. The purpose was to expose a high society all male club of cads and rakes. One of the more zany sequences was her performance with a live boa constrictor where she lulled her audience into a false sense of awareness before they met their ultimate doom.


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