Joanna Lumley shares depressing true story behind this iconic New Avengers photo

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Kayleigh Dray
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Joanna Lumley shares depressing true story behind that iconic New Avengers photo

“I stood there and they said ‘put a gun in your stocking,’” recalls Joanna Lumley.

Before Ab Fab’s Patsy Stone, there was Purdey.

Fans of Joanna Lumley will no doubt already know that her first major role was playing the high-kicking agent in The New Avengers. However, while many have credited the show with giving its Seventies audiences a female action hero that was very much ahead of her time, Lumley has admitted that things weren’t so forward-thinking behind the scenes.

Indeed, earlier this summer she revealed that she fought with the show’s producers when they tried to stop her cutting her hair.

“I said her [Purdey]’s hair will be cut short and they said, ‘No, you cannot do that because no heroine has ever had short hair’, which was true,” she said, whilst speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

“I said if I cut it you will like it. They said if you cut it and we don’t like it you’ve got to pay for the wig.”

Lumley, of course, went ahead and got the haircut she wanted.

“I cut it and they liked it,” she said simply.

Bravo. However, it wasn’t just the show’s producers that Lumley had to contend with: it was the world’s press, too.

During a recent appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the Absolutely Fabulous star explained: “When we launched [the show] and were about to say ‘ladies and gentlemen, the new Avenger girl will be Joanna Lumley’, it was outside the Dorchester.

“We’d got a great big Rolls Royce, “ she continued, “and they [the press] had got all the accoutrements: they had an umbrella, they’d got a bowler hat, they’d got all the things that looked a bit Avenger-ish and they said, ‘Joanna if you could just come up in the Rolls Royce and hoik up your skirt and show us your stockings’.”

Wait, what?

Lumley continued: “I said ‘but I’m wearing tights!’ And there was a dull roar from the press gang and they said ‘if you’re not wearing stockings we won’t cover the occasion and we won’t take any pictures.”

According to The Telegraph, Lumley went on to explain that she was forced to run into the Dorchester and “rip the stockings off” an “oldish woman” in exchange for five pounds.

However, it later transpired that the stockings weren’t a pair – and that, due to the fact the lady was significantly shorter than her, the stockings only came up to just above Lumley’s knees.

“So one had a huge thing at the top, one had a little thing, and they only came up to just above my knees,” recalled Lumley.

“I stood there and they said ‘put a gun in your stocking’, so I put a gun there. They would only take a picture of me – talk about upskirting – if I had stockings on and a gun in my stocking.”

Ahead of her first ever live tour, It’s All About Me (which begins on the 6 October), Lumley has been busy sharing anecdotes from her decade-spanning career.

However, as well as the sexism that dogged her career in the Sixties and Seventies, the 72-year-old actress has spoken about how she found her independence – and, perhaps more importantly, how she works to maintain it.

Speaking about her marriage on The Jonathan Ross Show, Lumley explained: “[My husband and I] are both independent. I love being on my own. When I’m away, I don’t even phone home. Incidentally I come from a different generation where we couldn’t usually afford to phone home, so I’ve never been used to it. I like to write a postcard. I won’t phone, that takes your travelling head away from you.”

She added: “You don’t want people keep phoning. If you’re on the other side of the world it’s always the wrong time.”

Image: Getty


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.