Joanna Lumley’s body was thought to be the wrong shape

Dame Joanna said they instead wanted to bring back “sexy” Avengers actress Linda Thorson for a planned 1970s sequel to the hit 1960s series.

When she wasn’t available, Joanna, then catalogue modelling, was invited to audition to play secret agent Purdey.

But Ab Fab star Dame Joanna, 77, said when the French saw her, they turned their noses up.

She told the Rosebud with Gyles Brandreth podcast: “In those days, the search for a new Avenger girl, woman, was as hot as it was for James Bond.

“It started off with Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, then Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg, then Tara King – who’s quite often forgotten – played by Linda Thorson, then a 10-year gap.

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“Then suddenly, the French put up the money to do it again. They said, ‘We love this very sexy woman Linda Thorson, she’s got very big bosom, we love her, we like her again please’.

“The producer said, ‘We can’t get Linda again, we’ll audition for a new one’. So I eventually auditioned for it.

“They said, ‘She’s got no bosom – very disappointing’. So I disappointed the French and I cut my hair off.” Dame Joanna heard she had landed the part after returning to Italy for a catalogue shoot.

She said: “I knew then that that would change [my career] because whatever happened, good or bad, I was going to be locked into playing a part which was more than just a girlfriend in one episode or somebody popping up to say one amusing line in something like Are You Being Served?”

But despite becoming a household name in 26 New Avengers episodes with Patrick Macnee and Gareth Hunt from 1976-77, Dame Joanna said her dreams of making serious money never materialised.

She said: “They got me on a five-year contract and said, ‘The first two years are rock bottom, after that it begins to soar. By the end of it you will own Scotland’.

“What they didn’t tell me was that they planned to stop the show after two years.

“And it was a buyout fee, so we had no repeat fees or anything.”

But she said of the show, which ended amid financial difficulties: “I wouldn’t have given it up for the world.”

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