John Bates

1960s, avengers, avengerswear, David Gittings, diana rigg, emma peel, Inspirational Images, jean varon, john bates, norman eales, Rolf van Brandtzage, the avengers
Scanned from Woman’s Mirror October 30th 1965. Photographed by Norman Eales.

If you follow me on Instagram, you will already have read my tribute to the amazing John Bates, who died on the 5th of June aged 83. Here I have collated a few images of his work designing costumes for Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in her first season in The Avengers, and an accompanying article from Woman’s Mirror, October 1965. I have also updated an earlier post with clearer scans from Woman’s Mirror, May 1966 of a dress which wasn’t officially Avengerswear but being offered as a pattern for readers with a cover photo of Diana in the dress.

“WHEN people say, ‘Oh, she’s the new Avengers girl’ I know that’s not all I am,” says 27-year-old Diana Rigg. “I had a career in the theatre before this and I know I can always go back to it. I hate talking about The Avengers and what I’m like in it and how I differ from Honor Blackman. I would much rather people drew their own conclusions.

“I dread the prospect of all the attachments to being famous. I work here at the studios from seven in the morning until six at night and I feel that should be enough. The thought of being a public personality, opening shops, and not being able to answer the door in my curlers, horrifies me.”

But being the Avengers girl has its advantages. Not the least of them being the prospect of wearing a sizz-ling new wardrobe, designed specially for the series by John Bates of Jean Varon.

“John’s been absolutely smashing,” says Diana. “Like most actresses, I spend a lot of time studying myself for the stage, and so off-stage I tend to the casual. I really have no set ideas about clothes. First of all, John studied my figure, discovered my faults, used them, and made a virtue out of them.

“He’s emphasised my broad shoulders with cutaway necklines. He’s drawn attention to my big hips with hipsters and huge broad belts. I think that this is a far more realistic attitude than designing for some impossible ideal model figure.

“There’s a kind of swinginess about John’s clothes which really makes me move in a special kind of way. And they’re all interchangeable. In different episodes there will be different permutations of the same clothes and ideally, of course, this is just how a woman’s wardrobe should be.

In deference to the American market, which still thinks that leather is the sexiest thing out, Diana has one leather fighting suit. “Of course, leather isn’t sexy at all,” she says, “It’s far too rigid. My other fighting suit is in black, clingy jersey which is far sexier.”

Clingy jersey fighting suits are all very well, but they have to stand up to pretty stiff competition in the shape of some snazzy interchangeables.

In this week’s instalment set in a gloomy Scottish castle, Diana will wear ice-blue lace ensemble with ankle boots, hipster trousers, bare midriff, bra top and modesty jacket. For exploring dungeon and torture chambers, flesh lace catsuit under white chiffon negligee.

There’s no doubt about it. If the clothes are anything to go by, this ABC series of The Avengers is certainly living up to the boast of its associate producer . . “It’s still a kinky show.”

Scanned from John Bates: Fashion Designer by Richard Lester.
Scanned from Television Stars Annual.
Scanned from Woman’s Mirror, 28th May 1966. Photographed by Rolf van Brandtzage.
Scanned from John Bates: Fashion Designer by Richard Lester. Photogrphed by David Gittings.
Scanned from Fashion in the 60s by Barbara Bernard.
Scanned from John Bates: Fashion Designer by Richard Lester. Photogrphed by David Gittings.
Scanned from Fashion in the 60s by Barbara Bernard.
Photographed by David Gittings. Scanned from The Sunday Times Magazine, September 26th 1965.
Scanned from Woman’s Mirror October 30th 1965.

Design for Avenging: Sisters Under The Skin

1960s, avengers, avengerswear, David Gittings, diana rigg, emma peel, frederick starke, honor blackman, Inspirational Images, jean varon, john bates, meriel mccooey, Meriel McCooey, Paul Blanche, Selincourt, sunday times magazine, the avengers
Diana Rigg in buckled snakeskin coat made by Paul Blanche.

On Thursday evening at 8 o’clock The Avengers comes back. Viewers in London, Scotland and the South will see it, other channels will have to wait until October 2. The new show lacks one vital element. Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale, that female gauleiter with a heart of gold, has left television for films and the arms of James Bond.

She is replaced by rangy, redheaded Diana Rigg, an actress already blooded for knock-about violence in shows like King Lear and The Devils with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She plays the new Avenger woman Emma Peel, who is described by A.B.C. television as “the youthful widow of an ace test pilot, daughter of a wealthy shipowner, and an internationally educated symbol of the jet-age female”.

A strong-arm widow, born with such disadvantages, couldn’t fail to be an interesting autumn draw, but the new girl will find it hard work to oust the memory of Cathy Gale from the spot she kicked out for herself in these shows. For, as Cathy Gale, Honor Blackman was mesmeric. Male viewers turned to pulp in their armchairs as she hurled opponent after opponent through plate glass windows, and their TV dinners turned to dust as she half-nelsoned men twice her size.

Women were fascinated too, but for different reasons. They sat glued to their sets wondering what it was she had, that they hadn’t. Her slightly sinister but wholly fathomable allure had little to do with her natural assets ; her toughness, the purring reassurance of her voice, her earthiness ; her blonde hair and wide mouth. Cathy Gale’s real appeal was firmly laced into the shiny black leather of her fighting suits.

The black leather fighting suits she wore, now generally referred to as ‘kinky clothes’ were designed by Frederick Starke. They proved such a success both here and in the U.S.A., where the last series was sold, that the American business men controlling the sales insisted that these clothes should be retained for the next series. This was a mistake. Fashion moves much faster than most business men, and the feeling for black leather was on the wane, long before the last episode was off the screen. But A.B.C. agreed to the American conditions, and Emma was togged up in black leather and boots, looking just like Cathy Gale in a long red wig.

Before the new series was half-way through, the planners realised that some fairly startling changes were taking place in the fashion world. Skirts were getting shorter and women appeared to be crossing their thighs, not their knees. Leather was out. All sorts of animal skins, from snakes to zebras, were in. And op and pop art were having an explosive effect on textile design.

This series is the first to be made on film instead of videotape, which means it could be running in different countries all over the world for the next five to ten years. It would be pushed to keep its con-temporary smack with a limping gimmick like black leather. At this point, with half their film in the bag, A.B.C. called in fashion co-ordinator Anne Trehearne, an ex-fashion editor of Queen magazine, and asked designer John Bates of Jean Varon to plan a new wardrobe for Emma Peel to wear during the last 14 episodes. John Bates is the man who made the now famous daisy dress which 25 red-faced debutantes wore to the same ball.

Designing a wardrobe for a preconceived image is no easy task, but he succeeded in doing this and more besides. His clothes are 100 per cent. modern. He has shortened the skirts (in spite of tough opposition in certain quarters at A.B.C.), re-designed the black leather fighting outfits into modern, one-piece jump-suits, introduced tailored snakeskin and a whole range of op art furs.

In all there are 35 garments with complementary accessories. And for the first time the whole collection will be sold in the shops. (Frederick Starke did sell some of Cathy Gale’s wardrobe, but only selected items.) Over 12 well-known manufacturers, like Edward Rayne, Paul Blanche and Kangol, are co-operating with John Bates at Jean Varon and are making the shoes, the skin coats and the berets under licence; Echo are even making the amusing ribbed sheer nylon stockings. They will all be in the shops in October.

Both the clothes and the series are now saleable properties. It will be interesting to see which proves the biggest draw to interested buyers the striking new clothes or the shiny new girl.

Photographed by David Gittings.

Story by Meriel McCooey.

Scanned from The Sunday Times Magazine, September 26th 1965.

In short snakeskin blazer made by Paul Blanche and ribbed sheer nylon stockings.
Leather jumpsuit with clasps made by Paul Blanche.
Black and white bunny coat made by Selincourt. All designed by John Bates.