A previously unpublished interview from 1976,
conducted by Patrick Bailey and David Bailey

The New Avengers is about to be shown in one hundred and twenty-two different countries and in thirty-five languages. Does that frighten you?

I think it is frightening. When you think of how many more millions of people there are who not only recognise your face vaguely, but seem to know everything about you, when you don't know a thing about them – that's particularly difficult to live with. It helps that television audiences are very seldom larger than three or four people in a tiny little room, with discussions going on about whether they'd like baked beans or not. So the audience is actually very small... although it's actually very, very large as well! It's a very odd feeling. It's the same as a movie, where you never see the audience at all.

Did you mind when they said that Purdey would be seen all over the world?

No, I was very pleased, because it's marvellous. Professionally, it means that in countries where I have never been heard of at all, places like Italy, Scandinavia, America, Australia, suddenly I have become quite well known. It means that if that country wants to make a film or a television programme, or have a play touring, then they would be quite happy to have you. They know that people would know you, go and see it and everything would be a success. So it's always good to be as widely known as possible.

How did you get into television from your starting point in modeling?

I got into television via filming. I went into film from modeling. There's an actor called Richard Johnson who I met at a party and I said, very naively, that I would love to be in films. That was a terrible sentence, "to be in films"! But he told me that he was currently directing a film and promised to try to get me a small part. It's like everything. If you haven't done anything, they tell you that they can't risk using a complete beginner. So, when they asked me, I told them that I'd just been doing this film – neglecting to say that I'd actually only had one line! That just lead to more and more work…

Do you enjoy doing The New Avengers as opposed to something like Coronation Street?

It's always good to have a large part in something. It's enjoyable and easier. To play a small part like a walk-on is very, very difficult because it's difficult to judge what note you should strike. If you're one of the ones where there's notes being struck all the time, you know for certain that you can do what you want to do much more freely. I loved Coronation Street because the people were very nice, but it's very difficult to walk into something that had already been going for thirteen years, in a character which was new and wasn't a Coronation Street-type person – not from Manchester. It was uncomfortably written. They didn't know quite what to do with me, so I was always drinking sherry to appear posh, drinking far more than any normal person would. It all became a bit of a bore, the sherry drinking! I felt a responsibility of not letting them down, whereas in The New Avengers, it really is one's own game. There are only three of us, and we're all supporting eachother.

Do you feel you've played Purdey for long enough now that you would say that you know what is and isn't in character for her?

Yes, and I'll tell you why. When they gave me the part, they told me that they'd built this skeleton character as it were. She had this background and that it was my job to fill her out, to make her a person. I told them I didn't want her to be fantastical. I wanted to make her like me, only more so. I wouldn't dream of jumping from a rooftop. At least when she does it, she does it my way! Another advantage to basing a character closely on your own is that we shoot so many things out of sequence. We can have two, sometimes three, even four stories going at the same time. If you were trying to follow an invented character, you might lose your way, whereas if you're doing something your own way, it's safer.

Being one part of a team of three regulars, do you feel that Purdey has had an equal share of the lines and action?

It all rather depends on the whim of the writer. Occasionally the scripts can lean more heavily to one of us than the others. You're told things like, "there's an episode coming up called Sleeper and it's a good one for you, because you're on your own and get loads of the action". What they don't tell you is that that sometimes means you get a lot of action but not a lot to say. Patrick and Gareth were toodling about trying to find me in that one! They're all slightly slanted as to who's going to have the best lines.

Do you have a favourite episode of The New Avengers?

I haven't seen them all and I wish I had. I went to America for five weeks, so I missed five of them. I liked Faces quite a lot because it was sufficiently muddling. We all had doubles, but we didn't actually all have doubles – only one of us did. Steed had a real double and Gareth and I were playing doubles and sometime double-doubles. It was all terribly confusing and quite good because in the end, if you sat down and worked it all out, it was all plausible.

Have you ever refused to do anything asked of you as Purdey?

Oh yes, there was one episode called The Midas Touch. In it, I had to interview a man on an army assault course. The idea was that I would go through the assault course with him, interviewing him at the same time. We did it all and I can't tell you how frightening it was. There was one particular thing I flatly refused to do because I suffer from vertigo. I do mind – badly! – standing on a roof, as I had to in Target!, but at least there there's always something underneath you. This one on the assault course was a series of poles set about four feet apart going up in the air. You had to balance, completely unsupported by anything. I could do the first four, but not the rest. I told them, "That's it! I'm not going up any higher than that. I refuse to!" The other thing was riding a motorbike. They promised me several weeks on this motorbike and they ended up giving me about ten minutes, which is about enough time to learn how to start it! I said I wanted a double and, apart from anything else, they had to get one for insurance purposes.

Have you been stunt-doubled for many sequences?

For me, very seldom. A lot of times I would rather not have a double. I'd much rather do it myself. I've done things like going up on a helicopter ladder to be lifted out of a minefield. There was a lot of yelling that I shouldn't do it, but I didn't find it particularly frightening. It's very dangerous, but I don't mind that. So I've done as much of it as I possibly can, fighting and things like that. Also you'll notice that Purdey doesn't often get hurt, so I don't have to fly across the room or get socked in the jaw!

Do you enjoy the fact that, as Purdey, you can kick anyone on the chin and that's them out for the count?

Yes, it's tremendous! It does make you realise who little one can actually do in real life.

Away from filming, as Joanna Lumley, do you enjoy a fast life?

No, I lead a sedentary, slow, dull, unimaginative life when I'm at home. Enjoyable for me, but certainly not what people imagine. I once went to meet my boyfriend off a train at King's Cross Station and I wandered into the Smiths there because the train was delayed. I bought a newspaper, looking, I'm afraid to say, much as I do now, with lots of old, dreadful clothes on and someone came up to me and asked if I was Purdey. I nodded and he asked if I had my car here. I said it was. "Is it a Rolls-Royce?" he asked. "No, it isn't," I replied laughing. He looked a bit confused and asked if I'd bought a fur coat with all my money. When I told him I didn't have a fur coat, he looked perplexed and said, "I'd never have thought you'd just stand on a platform reading a newspaper!" The thing is, people somehow think that you immediately become a millionaire, which you certainly don't, and change your lifestyle completely and live in the lap of luxury, with satin sheets and servants... and it just doesn't happen!

Did you feel you'd let the person you met at King's Cross down slightly?

Mmmm. I do a bit, sometimes. I went into the launderette with a great load of washing, and there was a woman in there, just ratting away to the lady who takes in all the washing. She saw me and said, "Ooh, look at you. You've got a Purdey cut too, haven't you?" I said I did, but that it was getting a bit long. "It doesn't matter. Anyone who wears a Purdey cut begins to look like her, you know. You, you're quite like her, if you covered up the bottom of your face. The bottom of your face isn't like her, just your eyes and the fringe," she commented helpfully. She just couldn't believe that I was in there with my old laundry, in dirty shoes and jeans. People, I think, are a bit sad that one doesn't look prettier and nicer.

Do you take an interest in the fashion aspect of The New Avengers?

Yes, I find it rather maddening. I have to do so many things which are athletic and it's difficult to do them in high heels and stockings. I keep saying, "Can't you let me wear gym shoes or a pair of jeans?" We have an endless sort of tussle about what I should wear.

When did you first start to act as a child?

Oh, early days. I always played the men. I played Portia once, but played Petruccio in The Taming of the Shrew which was a marvellous part, much better I think than the Shrew part.

Do you think you actually got anything much out of attending Lucie Clayton's Charm School?

I don't know. You see, I often wonder if school helps. I think I've learnt more since I left school than I ever did while I was there. But it's better to have been to them than not, I suppose.

Were you bright at school?

Yes, I was actually. I was top at everything so they put me up another year. But as I'd never worked at it – I am very, very lazy – I very soon found myself at the bottom. People used to say that exams were important. They might be for boys, but for girls, they're not.

You traveled the world extensively with your parents. Would you prefer to live in, say, Hong Kong or Malaya, rather than England? Do you miss the traveling very much?

I do miss traveling. I like it very much and because we moved on average every three years, you do get quite fidgety about being stuck in one place. I'm lucky. I mean, for instance, I go to Holland on Friday and I'm off to Monte Carlo next Thursday, just for short visits – and I've just got back from America. I think the good thing about traveling is that it's all so different. It's no use sitting in England and saying that Egypt sounds boring. Much better to go there and be surprised at how different and exciting it all is.

What do you like to do when you've got time to spare? You must have some spare time?

Yes I do. I like drawing. I like reading. I like doing The Times crossword puzzle, not that I'm very good at it. I'm a dreadful junk collector. I have to try not to, but I collect, as you can see. I mean this is only a little bit of it! You suddenly think that if you bought this thing or that, scrubbed it down and put new handles on it... Only once you've got it, you realise you don't really need it and there's nowhere to put it…

Are you a musical person?

I like music and I do play the piano, by ear only.

Have you got any immediate plans, or are you just taking a breather before doing the next series of The New Avengers?

I will being doing another series of The New Avengers. I'd like to give television a break for a while afterwards. I wouldn't mind doing a play or maybe a film.

Films are always good, because they pay a lot of money and they don't take very long to make. The danger with television is that you can get so cosseted by the fact that everything can be edited out. If you make a mistake, they 'cut' and you do it again. On stage, you can't go wrong because the audience will start walking out.

Do you enjoy the security that you've got now?

Yes, because it's a nightmare if you're out of work, trying to think when you're next going to be in work. At least when you're in the middle of a series, you know that you've got several months' steady work – and money – still ahead of you.

Do you have any say in the scripts?

No, not really. Of course, we have ideas. If we think up a line which we think would be very funny or… better, we sometimes ring through to them and ask if we could change it a little. Sometimes they agree, but on the whole, not really.

Is it very worrying that during a series you might injure yourself doing something, causing production to be halted?

Yes, well that's one of the reasons why they try not to let you do too many of the difficult things, because if you do fall off a motorbike at 50mph, the chances are that you won't be in proper shape for work for the next week. This could mean a lot of shooting is held up. I sometimes wonder how much they care about you actually being smashed up, rather than its disruptive effect on the running of the studio and the shooting of the film. Yes, you do have to be fairly careful. I think they'd strap you up and put you together with sellotape and make you go on. Somehow!

Has there been any talk of a film of The New Avengers?

Not officially, but I think there's some interest in that because obviously there's a great deal of money to be made in a film. I notice they've brought out one of The Sweeney and they do Dad's Army and even Morecambe and Wise films, so I imagine it wouldn't be out of the question. Perhaps when we've done the next thirteen, they might think of doing one. Of course, by that time, we'll all be quite old! Well, older!

Do you have any idols that you aspired to be like or that inspired you to get into the acting profession?

I don't want to be like anybody. I do think Elvis Presley is tremendous and have done so since I was about nine. The same with The Beatles, when they were big. I also thought Marilyn Monroe was a terrific talent. I think there were a few French actresses that impressed me too, like Jeanne Moreau. I've never written to anybody for their autograph or anything like that, but I have no doubt at all that if Elvis Presley appeared, I'd have to ask him for his.

Do you get a lot of fan mail?

A certain amount. Some of it comes to me, some goes down to the studios at Pinewood. There's an amazing woman down there who answers the mail. I was just talking to her on the phone and she says she's just answered five hundred letters. Just the other day, we both went through eighty-five together. It's not an inundation, but to me, it is.

I see you've collected quite a few musical instruments of various types. Do you have any particular tastes in music?

Classical, yes. The big man is Beethoven, followed closely by lots of other people. I like some pop music, but they tend to fade rather quickly.

Do you like animals?

Very much, yes! The cat, looming about, walking across the table right on cue. This is just one. I think if I could, I'd have more and more. Pigs, cows, horses and dogs. Everything!

Do you like doing things like driving fast?

No, I hate cars.

Do you mix socially with your co-stars in The New Avengers, Patrick Macnee and Gareth Hunt?

In all the time we've been making the series, we've had one dinner together, all three of us.

Not for any real reason other than if you're working together on something for twelve hours every day, there's no need to see each other. You've talked it all out.

Do the three of you ever argue?

No. Never.

The three of us get on very well. We argue against the others like mad, but not amongst ourselves.

Do you rely heavily on your fight arranger, Cyd Child?

Yes, she's something else. Fight arrangers are desperately important because they can make a fight look incredible or nothing at all and quite often, she did the double.

How do they do a double? How can they make them look like you?

It's extraordinary. I thought they'd have to get someone who really did look a bit like me, but I had a man doubling for me. Alright, he was on a motorbike, but Cyd Child, who's taller than me and very, very different to look at. Just out of interest, I asked her how she could ever convincingly pass as my double when we looked so different. She put on a wig which was cut a bit like my hair, put on clothing identical to mine and we ran the cameras. I walked across and Cyd walked back. Then I ran across and she ran back. They showed it in rushes and didn't say anything about it to explain why we had done it. The producer asked why I was rushing about in front of the cameras for no apparent reason. They never even noticed that half the time it wasn't me, even when Cyd was walking, because you're tricked into believing you're seeing who you think you're seeing. I'll tell you something else she did. In Sleeper, I was driving about in a Mini and they fired through and shattered the window and Purdey had to be seen smashing her arm through to clear her view. Cyd had to do the stunt as they wouldn't allow me to do it. Just as well, because she had glass all the way up her arm and jammed into her hand, but that was her. When I saw it, I thought, "Good God, she's tough!" You saw her beating it two or three times and I, because I knew it was Cyd, saw Cyd in there, but my boyfriend Michael looked at it and he had no idea. I could point out every double. Sometimes they use doubles for distant shots. When we're working on something in the studio, and they've got, for instance, a long shot they need of Gambit and Purdey getting out of a car and going into a house, they quite often just let a couple of people dressed up in what we were wearing and do that with a second unit, because we haven't the time to do it. You think they're only going into a house. You don't bother to think whether it's actually them or not.

Did you feel, as the latest in a long line of Avengers girls, that you had a tremendous amount to live up to?

I felt rather grateful to them, actually, that they'd made the series so successful and watchable. It was rather handed to me on a plate. It would have been much harder to have started a brand new series and hope people would like me. For a start, there was a huge amount of interest anyway, with me becoming a new Avengers girl. The Avengers is headline news and this one was "will she live up to it?" – my reaction was to do the best I could and it people didn't like what I did, then tough.

Your haircut is very distinctive – and has become something of a phenomenon...

I know. Horrors! Yes…

Was that your style or was it something the producers suggested?

No. I was growing my hair when I got the part. It was right down to my shoulders and they asked what I was planning to do with my hair. I suggested that it'd be better if I cut it all off, which met with a horrified response. "You can't cut your hair off. Purdey can't have short hair," they said. I argued that if I was going to do all this action and rushing about everywhere, then long hair is going to look a mess a lot of the time. I loathe messing around with hairsprays and combs, so I went to my hairdresser and asked for a great big fringe and she did it. To begin with, they were all in panic, and now they're as pleased as punch!

Has the pressure become too much at any time to the point where you just felt like screaming?

Well I do, yes. It's a very odd thing.

You don't get a lot of sleep and quite often don't get enough to eat, because you have to do letters and try and do all your business – lawyers, accountants and companies and all that God-forsaken stuff which has to go on.

Perhaps you haven't had time to eat in the morning or at lunch-time and then in the evening, you're too tired to eat. So you go for two or three days without eating while working twelve hour days.

It's ridiculous, because you lose your resistance and the slightest word can throw you into a great rage. It's a very dangerous thing to get into because you're living off your nerves.

What sort of things would you like to go on to do when The New Avengers has finally finished?

I would like to do theatre and, if possible, an enormously well paid film. They say you do films for money, television for fame and the theatre for prestige, so as for television and fame, I've done enough of that, so it would be nice, first of all to make an enormous sum of money and then sink back into the theatre.

You really have shot to fame in a very brief time, and yet you said in an interview that you were adamant about not becoming a star.

Yes, I would hate to be so grand that I wouldn't pop down the shops, and was shipped from place to place in big cars and have lots of fur coats in my wardrobe. I would find it very boring. I know lots of people would probably think it the most exciting way of living. That all happened to me when I was much younger, about ten years ago. I might have been affected by it, thinking it was very grand. You can be terribly popular today and nobody tomorrow, so it would be stupid to be grand about it, it really would.

Do you determinedly defend your privacy and stay away from the press?

When you think about it, it actually isn't anything to do with anybody else, what you do at home. There is a way of thinking where people assume that if you're on television, suddenly you are public property and that they have a right to know about your home life. Why? Do they have a right? It's interest. The public have a right to inquire, but I also have a right to say, "no, thank you very much".

Interview conducted by Patrick Bailey and David Bailey
Edit
ed for publication by Alan Hayes
Purdey Digital Art by Alan Hayes

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