Fit and Fizzy by Dave Lanning/Not as fit as Fizzy Diana, but who ended up just as dizzy...
THE world of Diana Rigg is 15,000 square feet, lit by high-voltage bulbs with pungent smells of cigarettes, make-up and mandarin oranges. This is Stage Four, Elstree Studios, the set for The Avengers. Di's world. From eight in the morning until 5.30 in the evening. An unusual world.
Today there is an overgrown Boy Scout lying on a bureau with a bayonet through his chest and Diana and I are practising keep-fit exercises in a quiet corner.
Not that I am worried about my waistline. Sunday morning soccer looks after that. Nor is Diana particularly concerned about hers. But she is rehearsing for an upcoming episode. And, as she throws herself meticulously into every aspect of her role, the only way to talk to her is... join in.
So we are bobbing up and down like sons of the sea and Di, 27, with model girl proportions and copper-coloured mane billowing, is talking about life with The Avengers and ignoring my gasps and creaking cartilages.
"It's the life of a mole," she says. "Alarm call at 6.30 a.m. Car waiting for me in the mews. Off to Elstree. In the Summer I drove myself in mini. (sic). Learned to drive especially for this part, y'know. But the traffic going home... ugh.
"Get to studio. Breakfast. A bacon sandwich, cup of coffee. Make-up. Get hair done for first time. Harry follows me round for the rest of the day, with brush and comb. Hair like mine needs attention after every move. On set, read lines. Never learn them. Memorise during rehearsal."
We are now practising touching our toes. I am distinctly uncomfortable and rather relieved when a cry of "Di, love" sends her scampering away to the set.
There's a long, low settee on another set which I discover is fine for regaining wind and composure. Diana, all leotard and litheness, bounds back. Nothing mincing about this girl's stride.
She positively gallops... right through life. But now, she sits. Instantly relaxed, one leg tucked under like a confident schoolgirl, and taking small puffs of her second cigarette of the day.
"Yes, it is a long day," she confides. "But never dull. And I grab an hour's sleep at lunchtime. Just wrap myself in a shawl in my dressing room. Lunch for me is one mandarin orange."
In fact, Di sends out for two pounds of mandarins every morning. The brown paper bag usually finds a niche among the chairs, make-up, dressing gowns and other miscellaneous paraphernalia of the "principals' corner," just off the set.
Everyone helps themselves. Continuity girl, Di's stand-in, sound mixers, chippies. Hence the almost continuous sniff of mandarins on The Avengers air.
There's a community spirit generally about the series. Everyone contributes to a "Sweetie Box" on the sound mixer's desk. Di usually chips in fruit drops.
Lunchtime, Diana Rigg, alias Emma Peel, hits her dressing room camp bed. I hed for a pub for a glass of what's worth waiting for.
Afternoon. Another brisk exercising session for Di - "just to wake myself up." Back on set for a long rehearsal and take. I reflect: this is quite a girl. Serious. Yet delightfully fizzy and dizzy. Willowy, almost Amazonian but devastatingly feminine. A down-to-earth Yorkshire lass (from Leeds) with a sharp sense of humour and a booming laugh.
Has the priceless ability to laugh at herself, too. Like the time she was playing Lady Macbeth in a matinee performance of "Macbeth." She relishes the memory of how, as Lady Macduff, she is murdered and sinks to the floor as the lights dim.
"I had to crawl off stealthily under cover of darkness," she recalled. "But this time the lights went on again too quickly and the astounded audience watched goggle-eyed as the 'murdered' Lady Macduff collapsed on all fours."
Five thirty. Studio day over. Di looks outside. It's dark. It's the life of a mole. She is still bubbling. The evening holds Di's only real meal of the day. Probably cooks it herself.
Her speciality is lamb, done with peaches and garlic. After her meal, probably a book. She doesn't watch television; doesn't even own a set.
Nights are strictly for sleeping. For recharging seemingly inexhaustible batteries. Tomorrow's alarm call is always just around the corner.
I, too, have had a hard day - just keeping pace with this energetic unassuming actress that Emma Peel has transformed into an international star.
But I'm grateful for one thing. At least Di has not been rehearsing for a punch-up in The Avengers. I wouldn't fancy my chances as a karate sparring partner.
From TV Times, February 24th 1966. Pages Three and Four.
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