A King Among Queens

1 Jun 2015

 

A few years back Linda Thorson, who played Tara King in 33 episodes of The Avengers in 1968-69, very kindly responded to some email questions for an article I was writing for Classic Television. Here are her answers in full.

 

EC: Of all the Avengers series, those in which you were involved were the most surreal – how did you find being entombed in a vat of butter and other extreme measures of confinement and bizarre plot lines.

 

LT:  Well, I found it very slippery, greasy and silly.  I also had to swim in a vat of milk, which made my skin very smooth and be trapped in a huge egg timer with sand pouring over me for days.  That was the worst.  I still found sand in my ears weeks later.  Being tied up wasn't my favourite thing either. I suffer from claustrophobia so they always had to untie me between takes.

 

EC: How did find taking over from Diana Rigg? and making Tara King a character in her own right rather than a replacement?

 

LT:  I was so sure that I was nothing like Diana that it didn't worry me as far as being LIKE her was concerned.  Remember, it was my second job out of drama school, (the first was a stage performance of "A Month In The Country", with Susannah York and Ian McShane, which was subsequently filmed for television), and naturally I wondered how I would replace a character as beloved as Emma Peel.  We filmed for almost a year before my first episodes aired and during that time I gained a reputation with the press of "behaving like Garbo".  The truth was that I was petrified to say anything until I saw if the fans would embrace Tara King, which fortunately, they did.  However, the producers, having chosen me from 200 other actresses then decided that I was perhaps too like Diana and proceeded to change everything about me, starting with my hair colour.   I always thought that was very amusing though more in retrospect than at the time.  I also insisted on being MISS Tara King as I explained that it would seem far more respectable for Tara to stay the night at Steed's flat, (if indeed she ever did), if she were single.

 

EC: Had you seen the previous series, and were you aware of what you were letting yourself if for when you accepted the part?

 

LT:  I had never seen the Avengers.  I had no tele in my flat and in fact only had the radio (which I adored) for entertainment and news since I had first come to Britain three years before.  So, as they say, "ignorance was bliss". I feel sure I would have been infinitely more intimidated had I actually seen Diana.  But at 20 I was blessed with great confidence and optimism and felt I had the enthusiasm and energy the job required.  I was also quite athletic coming from Canada and felt I had an edge on the British actresses for this particular role.  And I was right.

 

EC: How did you get the part?

 

LT:  I was seen by John Huston while I was still at RADA.  He had come to find an unknown for his film "Sinful Davey".  He liked me and he offered me the role.  Subsequently he cast John Hurt as the male lead and I was deemed "too tall".   Pamela Franklin gained the role and to make up for this John Huston sent me to ABPC to meet with Robert Leonard who was head of casting as he knew they were searching for a replacement for Diana Rigg.  I went along for the interview thinking I would be in competition for a FEW others.  They were actually seeing 200 actresses for the part.  I just somehow stayed the course until it was 50, then 25, then 8  and then 3.  Mary Peach, Tracy Reed, and me.  We were all screen tested and in the end I got it.

 

EC: Tara’s relationship with Steed was more flirtatious that those before you, why the change?

 

LT: I believed from the beginning that any novice sent out to be trained and work with John Steed would fall in love with him.  I believe my choice to portray her this way gave Patrick an opportunity he enjoyed of showing his sexuality and strength  He was more protective with Tara, more tender and yet they still fulfilled their dangerous missions with equal dominance and risk. Often Tara saved Steed's life as in "Noon Doomsday", the take-off on "High Noon".

 

EC: Tara was a powerful character in her own right – do you believe that some of her personality rubbed off on you, or did you bring something of yourself to the part?

 

 LT: I believe I brought a great deal of myself to the role.  I think that I was chosen and cast as an actress first but as a strong, lively, DIFFERENT, young and very keen girl.  I learned so much as a performer having the opportunity to spend 8 hours a day for almost two years in front of a camera.  In the end, at the age of 23, I had 33 hours of film under my belt.  That's probably more that Elizabeth Taylor ever did in her entire career, so far. It was a marvellous opportunity and I shall always be grateful for it.

 

 

 

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