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.
Enter Diana Rigg
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 1965 Opening Titles
The Avengers: The American Introduction
Emma Peel Episode Guide - 1965/66
- The Town of No Return.
- The Gravediggers.
- The Cybernauts
- Death at Bargain Prices.
- Castle De'ath.
- The Master Minds.
- The Murder Market.
- A Surfeit of H2O.
- The Hour That Never Was.
- Dial A Deadly Number.
- Man-Eater of Surrey Green.
- Two's A Crowd.
- Too Many Christmas Trees.
- Silent Dust.
- Room Without A View.
- Small Game For Big Hunters.
- The Girl From AUNTIE.
- The Thirteenth Hole.
- Quick Quick Slow Death.
- The Danger Makers.
- A Touch of Brimstone.
- What the Butler Saw.
- The House That Jack Built.
- A Sense of History.
- How to Succeed...at Murder.
- 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.
In Color: The 1967 Opening Titles
Emma Peel Episode Guide - 1967
- From Venus With Love.
- The Fear Merchants.
- Escape in Time.
- The See-Through Man.
- The Bird Who Knew Too Much.
- The Winged Avenger.
- The Living Dead.
- The Hidden Tiger.
- The Correct Way to Kill.
- Never, Never Say Die.
- The Superlative Seven.
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station.
- Something Nasty in the Nursery.
- The Joker.
- Who's Who?
- Return of the Cybernauts.
- Death's Door.
- The £50,000 Breakfast.
- Dead Man's Treasure.
- You Have Just Been Murdered.
- The Positive-Negative Man.
- 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).
Emma in Her Final Episode
Emma Peel's Best Bits
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 twenty 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.
The Avengers: The Movie
What's Your Opinion?
More of The Avengers
- The Avengers: The TV Series
The TV series The Avengers is a blend of espionage, fantasy and sometimes science fiction that has appealed to those who enjoy witty, off-beat television.
© 2009 Bonnie
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on July 05, 2016:
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.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on July 05, 2016:
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 on June 25, 2016:
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.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on December 08, 2015:
Now Diana Rigg's daughter is really coming to the fore in the celebrity stakes. Born Rachel Atlanta (I won't give the year) now Stirling, she is an accomplished and versatile actress not averse to picking up award for her work. I'll wager she is proud of her mother and in particular being the first Mrs Peel. I can see her mother's looks in her countenance.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on December 07, 2015:
Dana Rigg's grown daughter is now pursuing a successful career in her own right, she must be proud of that.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on March 13, 2015:
I recall in an interview Honor Blackman did for a magazine that pre Avenger days Miss Blackman already had the yellow belt in judo but her role as Cathy Gale required her as a black belt karate exponent so she had to undertake a crash course in the martial art to catch up. Miss Blackman achieved this only after a few lessons. After completing one episode where she throttled a male opponent, a stuntman who told her he would never allow a woman to defeat him in 'real life' so she invited him to a rematch and in fact not only defeated in reality but humiliated him too. What a man!
Robert Sacchi on February 21, 2015:
Yes, the chemestry between Emma Peel and John Steed and the quirky nature of the episodes made it a fun show to watch. If they are going to try a big screen remake of The Avengers setting it in the 1960s might be a better approach. The backdrop of the UK in the 60's set the right mood for the TV show.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on September 27, 2014:
Confess i never met any lady who wished to emulate Emma Peel although i've encountered quite a few Emma Peel 'look a likes'. Cathy Gale did set a trend in leather mini skirts and kinky boots. She also caused girls to do judo lessons. One woman i knew did emulate Modesty Blaise even changing her name to Rosemary Blaise so she could be called Miss Blaise. A couple of women i knew emulated Honey West, they had the blonde hair for that!
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on August 04, 2014:
I wonder why Uma Thurman's portrayal of Emma Peel didn't recieve the accolades She deserved.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on July 31, 2014:
Difficult to decide who was the best Avenger Lady as each had their own specific talent to give the series T.V. cult status. It is interesting to note that when Hollywood chose to make it into a movie that Emma Peel was the candidate for the role. Could well have been Cathy Gale, Tara King, Purdey or even a new recruit to the team.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on July 21, 2014:
The fight sequences were on average less than a minute before the Avenger Lady had despatched her male opponent to the floor i do recall Mrs Peel taking nearly 5 minutes to make her 'hitman' adversary yield to her whims. However her predessor Cathy Gale's longest fight was with another woman.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on June 26, 2014:
When Tara King superceeded Emma Peel i think it was good for Her not to be a 'carbon copy' replacement but to keep the series real life, still with the kwirky plots and witty remarks. In each episode Emma Peel would get involved in fight sequences either with an adversary or some street pest and we know who always triumphed. Tara King didn't seem to get into as many fights so i checked the Avenger's compendium and it appears there were a few scrapes She had with attackers and Tara specialised in using improvised items as weapons to take out the villains.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on April 29, 2014:
Whilst not wanting to get off the main topic which is Emma Peel, ater noticing a compendium titled 'the compleate Avengers' i couldn't help admiring Elizabeth Shepherd who auditioned for but never got the role in the Avengers TV series. It would be a delight if there is any surviving footage of Ms Shepherd which could be included in a return to the Avengers TV special. In earlier episodes John Steed made casual references to his manservant who was never seen on screen and it is a pity we didn't get to see a master/servant dialogue adding to the bizarre wit of the players
LO on June 24, 2012:
Hi it was really interesting. Except i'm a bit confused if there is 2 series or not
peter on April 27, 2012:
In an interview in ON TARGET magazine in April 1986, Honor Blackman said "I got a blackbelt in karate. It was a long time ago, but i'm stll in good shape. I meam,if some man really tried to do me in, i could do them in first!". Also in her book on self defence (written in 1965) She said "i don't usually enforce my views with a quick karate kick." On page 6o, in her book she demonstrates her favourite karate move "lounge punch to the throat"
Peter on July 13, 2011:
Don't get me wrong, i'm a great fan of Emma Peel. She is still my favourite - Just! However, since having now see all the Cathy Gale episodes (1962-1964) on DVD. I feel that it's a toss up now between them. Also, Honor Blackman was the only one who knew martial arts - being a blackbelt in both Judo and karate( See her book on self-defense in which she uses both judo and karate moves to defend herself in the photo's)
jk on August 10, 2010:
I love Diana Rigg as Emma Peel but i think Tara King was a very very good follow up and anyone who's never watched these episodes should, very quirky and cool.
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on April 06, 2010:
Good hub on the Avengers, one of my favorite shows. I've also written on the subject.
Christine Mulberry on January 18, 2010:
I've never seen the Avengers except for clips I've seen in some of your work and other places. I think I like Diana Rigg...I'm not an big Uma Thurman fan.
Bo Heamyan from Lincolnshire, United Kingdom on November 12, 2009:
Quirky British TV shows from the 60's like 'The Avengers', 'The Prisoner', 'The Saint' etc were all products of their time and I don't think they lend themselves well to modern Hollywood remakes. The charm is in the eccentricity rather than the pyrotechnics.
Dianna Rigg was super-fir in 'OHMSS' as well!
TheLesleyShow from US on November 06, 2009:
Great hub on Emma....it kinda has the feel of a Squidoo lens.. ha ha Most hubpages are a couple of paragraphs. You've really done a fabulous job! Thumbs up Bon!
BevsPaper from Central Indiana on November 06, 2009:
Great hub on Emma Peel. I loved The Avengers back in the day.