May 15, 2013 at 8:57 pm (Feminism, film, Rosie B, women)


Today on Woman’s Hour (first item) they were discussing Disney making over Merida, the red-haired heroine of Brave, into something sexier and more feminine for merchandising purposes.  Little girls were angry that Disney has spoiled Merida, as Disney does most things it touches.

“I like Merida because she likes wearing loose-fitting dresses so she can aim properly when she’s hunting.   And I also like her because she’s not one of those pink girly princesses who is always flapping around looking for boyfriends.”

Going by the pictures, they’ve changed a quirky kid with a bow and arrows to a hot babe, who spends her time in the hair-dresser’s rather than on the archery field.

The mothers on Woman’s Hour were annoyed as well, as Merida is a gutsy princess they like their daughters to admire, as any decent mother would far rather their daughter had a pin-up of Jessica Ennis (achievement, drive) than of Kate Middleton (expensive teeth).

The little girls favoured Merida’s penchant for dress suitable for active pursuits.  One of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life was Van Helsing.  Among its general badnesses was Kate Beckinsale playing Anna Valerious who was constantly pursued by evil winged vampires.  If a family curse had me being pursued by evil winged vampires I’d wear a loose top, jogging bottoms and trainers, or the nineteenth century equivalent, not a corset and high-heeled boots up to my thighs.  I’d also tie back or even cut my hair, however tumbling and curly. Throw her to the vampires.

What not to wear when chased by evil vampires

I can understand why the little girls were so furious with the Disney makeover.  If you love a character, you hate them being messed around.  When I was little I adored Emma Peel, as played by Diana Rigg, in The Avengers.  She raced about in a Lotus Elan, wore cat suits and karate kicked the baddies.  I’d have been raging if she had appeared in a frilly dress and stilettos, and had waited to be rescued.

Emma Peel was replaced by a less fighting woman, and the show fell out of my ratings.

Diana Rigg as Emma Peel


  1. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    I haven’t rewatched the Avengers for some years but IIRC Mrs Peel certainly did wear dresses and high heels as it was hardly possible for a 1960s woman not to.

    At least for heterosexual males of a certain age her most memorable outfit was probably the black leather and latex one which is clearly the direct inspiration for the impractical garb vampire Kate Beckinsale wore in the Underworld movies.

    And it is this and (and also a truly frilly dress) that Emma Peel wears in the iconic 1965 black and white intro:

    Having said this she did probably did do a great deal to popularise the pants suit, slacks and flat shoes and when they get to the colour intros (1966-7?) she is wearing a relatively sensible outfit (at least for the odd bit of stylized balletic karate and kick fighting in the sort of posh drawing rooms where so many Avengers scenes seem to take place) – and this change may in fact represent a minor but significant early victory of second wave feminism.

    As for the decline of the show after Diana Rigg’s departure that also owes a lot to the quality of the scripts falling dramatically and including more fantasy (or just plain silly) elements and to Patrick MacNee being so visibly bored by the whole thing.

    And not sure that Linda Thorson’s character was less fighty than Diana Rigg’s – it’s just that nobody really cared when it was her doing the kicking and karate-chopping.

    Also never forget that the core audience for modern blockbuster movie are teenage boys (of all ages) and also that if you are an attractive woman living in a fantasy world where you get pursued by vampires and werewolves the laws of physics are already suspended so that running, jumping and fighting in ridiculously high heels and a corset is probably quite practical.

  2. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    And for anyone who hasn’t read it I highly recommend Natasha Walter’s Living Doll: The Return of Sexism.

  3. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    And this truly terrible trailer illustrates that while Tara King was intended to do as much fighting as Emma Peel, Linda Thorson was just not very good at it (which did eventually become clear to the writers who developed a slightly creepy habit of having her chloroformed or just tied up for as much time as possible and in one episode kept her unconscious for the entire hour):

    And has there ever been a less enthusiastic voiceover in the history of television?

    Having said this it was the Tara King episodes that I saw first (the original 60s runs of the show being broadcast before my bedtime) and remember watching on a tiny portable TV in my grannies caravan in Selsey where we spent many of my childhood weekends.

    So at least in recollection I am still quite fond of them – probably too fond to ever want to actually rewatch them – while the Emma Peel episodes are with Star Trek the only 60s TV I could happily watch over again and again.

  4. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    And you almost could write the whole chequered history of the sexual revolution from The Avengers titles alone:

    Clearly something quite hideous did happen between the Peel and King series which is probably down to the series being sold to the US where they obviously prefer their women to be pursued by a gunsight and then rescued by a much older man.

    Having said that the rather marvellous site informs me that in fact the US TV network who brought the show so hated the Tara King episodes that they mostly repeated old Emma Peel ones instead – so this was clearly all for nothing…..

    Also had quite forgot that in the first New Avengers titles Steed is standing under a ‘The Cock Pit’ sign which does say it all about that sorry iteration of the show.

  5. Jimmy Glesga said,

    It was just a lot of drivel to pass the time for working class people who had to work for a living.

  6. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    So nobody interested in discussing either Disney princesses or The Avengers – sad…..

  7. Pink Prosecco said,

    I have a rather different take on this – I understood that Macnee despised Thorson because she wasn’t slim enough, and that Thorson had no choice but to play the role in the way she did. I can’t track down a reference but he alludes to her supposed weight problem here.

  8. Rosie said,

    @ Roger – I thought it might be possible to unearth frillier aspects of Emma Peel, but the main impression was of a cat-suited athlete. My cousin and I used to play Emma and Steed in the barn. When I knocked him over, he would always say he meant that to happen.

    Thanks for the clip of Thorson. She’s not a patch on Rigg. Even her hairstyle looks absurd whereas Rigg’s is far more classic. According to Wikipedia the Thorson series fizzed up the romance with Steed, whereas with Rigg it was kept ambiguous. I agree with you that along with Star Trek (and the Goodies!) it’s the only 60s telly series I can imagine watching. Of course it was fairly camp.

    We watched it as a family and it was wonderfully exotic to us rural NZ hicks. You could make a solemn social history point that it was a case of post-imperial Britain (or England) rebranding itself for entertainment with an ironic take on its old traditions (Steed’s umbrella and Bentley) plus the new Carnaby Street modernity. No gun boats any more, send in the Beatles.

    I’ve loved Rigg ever since and like to catch her playing older ladies eg as Mrs Danvers in a screen adaptation of Rebecca.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      What I particularly like about the black and white stills Avengers title is that she seems genuinely amused at the ridiculously frilly dress they put her in and is sharing the joke with us.

      Rigg is particularly wonderful in Game of Thrones although she only appears from Season 3 and doesn’t have that much screen time in a show with it seems dozens of simultaneous character arcs to maintain,

      Her waspish exchange with Charles Dance in the last episode but one was just extraordinary and its a pity that Maggie Smith seems to hoover up every other formidable dowager matriarch role in film and TV.

      Someone needs to remake I Claudius just so she can play Livia.

      As for Macnee he was clearly at least half-smitten by his co-star and must have been personally affronted at having not just to exchange her for a nonentity who had none of Rigg’s talent, grace and beauty but who to add insult to injury was written to have a crude and creepy schoolgirlish crush on him.

      Really do recommend that site which almost justifies the existence of the internet alone and presents almost a history of British TV in that era as so many of its luminaries played villains or victims of the week in the show.

      • Rosie said,

        Re I Claudius, Sian Phillips would be a hard act to follow – I’ve seen a couple of the re-runs recently and she’s terrific. Wouldn’t it be a tussle between Rigg and Helen Mirren to play Livia? I agree about that slightly amused air that she brought to the role of Emma Peel. It went with the whole light, camp atmosphere of the series.

        Now older ladies are playing Chief Inspectors in the whole plethora of gory murder series that are going around. Every time I turn on the telly a pretty young woman is being murdered in a horrible way, with further shots of cut up corpses at the post mortem.

      • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        You’ve picked out the very reason that I don’t like police procedurals that much anymore – they’ve increasingly become coroner porn.

        What’s impressive about Rigg in Game of Thrones is that even though she is playing a hard as nails matriarch plotting with the worst psycopaths in that particular fantasyland there is still that light touch – for instance a lovely bit where she dismisses her gay grandson’s chance of producing an heir as ‘he was always a sword swallower’.

        And its precisely because Sian Phillips defined the role that you’d need someone who could give it a lighter touch and show her as not just a venomous spider at the centre of a web of intrigue motivated primarily by the bizarre notion that the Senate of Rome can decree her into literal immortality but as a villainess who actually enjoys it as a game.

  9. Rosie said,

    @ Pink P – I enjoyed that interview. MacNee comes across as a total sweetie, highly engaging. I’d forgotten that he was in my favourite film, Spinal Tap. I don’t get the impression he “despised” Thorson for having a weight problem, since he had one himself.

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