Blame it on the whip and the leather catsuit. Diana Rigg, Oxford professor of drama and grand dame of the serious theatre, has been voted the sexiest TV star of all time.
Now 61, and yet to succumb to the surgeon's knife, Dame Diana would rather be remembered for her searing Medea, Mother Courage or Phedre. But she long ago gave up trying to stick stakes into the heart of her most famous creation, the devilish but delectable Mrs. Emma Peel from the sixties series The Avengers.
`Sometimes I see photographs of myself and I think, God, I was really quite tasty,' she said. `But I didn't know it at the time.'
Dame Diana, who still has the legs regularly to sport a mini- skirt, beat Pamela Anderson, Angie Dickinson and Farrah Fawcett in a poll of readers of America's biggest entertainment magazine, TV Guide. But as in life, it was mostly males who trailed in her wake, with Tom Selleck, Pierce Brosnan, Richard Chamberlain and David Cassidy all scraping into the top 10 behind her.
The Avengers has rarely been off the air in America and if anything the disastrous film remake of the cult series last year only served to remind audiences of her unique blend of brains and beauty. Nor is her appeal confined to 60s nostalgics. Three generations of French males have been fixated by Chapeau Melon et Bottes du Cuir (Bowler Hat and Leather Boots) and its dominatrix heroine. Madame Peel still beats Bardot and Emmanuel Beart in polls of dream dates over there.
A career as a sex object, however, was never Rigg's cup of tea. `The mantle got put round my shoulders, which made me feel deeply uncomfortable,' she said recently.
The daughter of a Doncaster railwayman, she was already an accomplished Royal Shakespeare Company regular and favourite of Sir Peter Hall and Peter Brook before she teamed up with Patrick `Steed' Macnee in The Avengers. She returned to the theatre with a string of award-winning performances in the 90s.
A keen fly fisherwoman, she insists she was never vain, but now admits to the temptation to nip and tuck. `Well, I may. Enid Bagnold had one at 60.' She admires such women as Sophia Loren and Joan Collins `but I can't do that. I'd feel foolish. I don't think they are, but I'd feel `Everybody knows I'm 60'. And the Avengers girl I was then I don't think would translate to a 60-year-old.'