Saturday, June 21, 2008

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Mrs Peel

I suggested last month that Lt. Gay Ellis of Gerry Anderson's UFO was perhaps my first flesh-and-blood crush, but NO, that's rubbish, of course. I think every hetero Englishman old enough to remember the '60s (and perhaps those just a bit younger, too; I'm sure they were doing re-reruns well into the '70s) has an erotic fixation on Steed's coolly sexy sidekick from The Avengers, Emma Peel.

Heck, her influence even spread to America: there's a section in Tarantino's original script for Pulp Fiction (excised from the final film) where, at the beginning of Vincent and Mia's date, she quizzes him on his pop culture tastes, and one question - I think it's "Which woman do you fantasise about being beaten up by?" - produces the answer "Emma Peel from The Avengers."

She was, of course, very calculatedly crafted to be an ultimate fantasy woman by the show's producers. It is said that even her name was chosen as a sly pun: M Appeal=Man Appeal. Although her first name, in fact, was rarely used. I've always had a bit of a weakness for the name Emma (I wonder if it can be traced to this programme, or if it was an entirely independent predilection), but Steed almost invariably referred to her as "Mrs Peel". Perversely enough, this was a key part of her appeal: although she was the sexiest woman on the planet, she was also sexless - determinedly chaste and glacially unattainable (I worry that this 'challenging' template may have imprinted itself too deeply on my pre-adolescent brain). Her husband - a spy or a test pilot or an explorer or somesuch, I forget quite what - was missing, presumed dead, on some distant continent; but she remained unwaveringly loyal to him, stubbornly hoping for his eventual return (and indeed, he did - improbably! - reappear, to justify writing her out of the series after 3 or 4 seasons). There was ostensibly a frisson of attraction between her and Steed which they were both too noble to act upon; but I have to say, to me their exchanges seemed less like flirtation and more like the teasing of long-time co-habitees (brother and sister perhaps, middle-aged but unmarried, still living together).

Rather as with my earlier (marionette!) crush,
Penny Creighton-Ward, Mrs Peel was an unlikely superspy: highly intelligent, independent, and resourceful, adept with firearms and in unarmed combat, cool under pressure - and a stylish dresser (oh my god, those catsuits!). Ah yes, and the casual hauteur, that 'unattainability' thing - a dangerous quality for a boy to get addicted to!

The character was all the more compelling, I'm sure, for being played by Diana Rigg - no mere eye-candy but a rather fine actress, and a woman who in her own person exuded much of the same coolness, elegance, and intelligence that distinguished Mrs Peel.

Darn it - Emma Peel was quite simply the ideal woman. No-one else - whether real or fictional - could ever equal her. It is a strange curse that we middle-aged, hetero British men have to bear: knowing that we are forever doomed to a sense of faint dissatisfaction with the women in our lives.


Anonymous said...

She wields that gun like it's a wooden spoon and she's coming after you with it 'cause you stuck your finger in the marinara sauce.

Oh wait. That was probably one of your fantasies too.

Froog said...

Er, no. But it is now.

JES said...

Thanks for mentioning this in your "Picks of the Month" post. I don't think I knew you'd written about EP, although it certainly makes sense!

Many a US-based hetero male shared the same fantasies, I'll tell ya. I've got a small collection of Avengers-related stuff -- DVDs of HER years only, a book by the show's creator which documents every episode, and for a time I had as much as I could learn about the show's specifics stowed in an actual database I'd built (long gone, alas, done in by the march of technology).

Her successor, Tara King (?) I think was the character's name -- I never warmed to her, even though Steed became rather creepily older-man coquettish with her. (It probably didn't help that I had a Brit online friend in the '80s, a guy, who told me that Patrick Macnee had once chatted him up in a pub "in a goal-directed way.") The TK actress said something in describing her audition like, They saw I had good legs so they hired me which made me double-take a little in disbelief.

Oh, and those catsuits? They were called Emma Peelers. *shiver*

Froog said...

Well, well, what a surprise to find you here, JES!

Somehow or other, this failed to show up in my 'comment notification' folder. Very strange.

Also... I could have sworn you'd commented on this before. Did we discuss The Avengers or Emma Peel somewhere else? Perhaps on the post about Tara Reed ('Miss Scott')?

I'd never heard that those catsuits were called 'Peelers', but I'll take your word for it. Sounds all too horribly plausible.

In retrospect, Linda Thorson - the Tara King actress - seems quite pretty. But she seems to have inspired profound indifference, if not active hatred in many fans of the show. She perhaps wasn't much of an actress, and perhaps her part was not so well written - but I fear Emma Peel/Diana Rigg was just an impossible act to follow. Can't help feeling a bit sorry for her.