Joanna Lumley claims her famous Avengers photo was an example of sexist 'upskirting'

Helena Horton
Joanna Lumley claimed the press refused to cover her photocall for The New Avengers unless she put on stockings - Hulton Archive

The famous photograph in which it was revealed Joanna Lumley was to play a starring role  in 'The New Avengers' was actually an example of sexist 'upskirting', the actress has claimed.

Although the character Purdey was her breakthrough role, and she was able to choose her hairstyle and some of her clothes, she said she faced misogynistic attitudes while fighting to make the character more progressive.

Lumley revealed she wanted her character Purdey in the 1976 television series to portray a more feminist image, and thought she should be in tights and flat shoes instead of stockings and high heels.

Against the wishes of producers and the press, Lumley wore tights to the photocall to announce her part in the show - but was told the event would not be covered unless she quickly changed into stockings.

The Absolutely Fabulous star described a scene she thought of as indicative of the attitudes towards women at the time, telling the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "When we launched it and were about to say 'ladies and gentlemen, the new Avenger girl will be Joanna Lumley' it was outside the Dorchester, and we'd got a great  big Rolls Royce, they'd got all the accoutrements, 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' and I said 'but I'm wearing tights!' 

The photograph was a result of snatching the stockings off a woman inside the Dorchester, Lumley claimed Credit: Peter Cade/Central Press/Getty Image

"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."

She then claimed she had to run into the Dorchester and "ripped the stockings off" an "oldish woman" in exchange for a five pound note.

However, because the lady was significantly shorter than her, the stockings only came up to just above her knees - and they weren't a pair.

Lumley explained:  "So one had a huge thing at the top, one had a little thing, and they only came up to just above my knees, I stood there and they said 'put a gun in your stocking', 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."

Joanna Lumley with her famous Purdey haircut Credit: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

However, she added that she loved playing the role, especially the combat scenes in which she relished being able to practice her kick.

The actress played a spy working for British Intelligence in the popular television series, alongside Patrick Macnee and Gareth Hunt.

She put her own stamp on the role, choosing the character's distinctive short hairstyle herself - asking the hairdresser to cut it to look like a "prep schoolboy."

She told the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2012: "They said they had never had a heroine on screen with short hair. If they didn't like it, I'd have to pay for a wig and wear it throughout the show.

"Luckily the world loved it and I became the patron saint of hairdressers. Suddenly the Purdy haircutbecame fashionable and hairdressers were thrilled with me."

Lumley is due to set off on her first ever live tour, 'It's All About Me', which begins on the 6th of October, and will answer questions from the audience - revealing new stories from her decades-long career.