ACTRESS Dame Diana Rigg is to be Stirling University's fourth chancellor, it was revealed yesterday.

Dame Diana, who has long-standing links with the university, was appointed at a special meeting of the University Court on Thursday night, and although it was hoped to keep the move secret until tomorrow, news of the appointment leaked out.

A staff member commented: ''Diana Rigg is just the woman we need to take the university into the twenty-first century.''

The former Avengers star, who was awarded an Emmy for her part in the recent television serialisation of Rebbeca, will step into the largely ceremonial role next August, and will represent the university at public functions, and preside over the twice-yearly graduation ceremonies.

The current incumbent is Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and his predecessors were Sir Monty Finniston and Lord Lionel Robbins of Haymarket.

Dame Diana, who has chaired the committee of the university's MacRobert Arts Centre for many years, was formerly married to local landowner Archie Stirling, of Park of Keir, Dunblane. Now divorced, she still lives locally.

In recent years she has acted as Chieftain of both the Bridge of Allan and Callander highland games.

Her other local work includes being patron of the Stirling and District Association for Mental Health.

University principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Andrew Miller, welcoming the appointment, said: ''I am very confident that this appointment brings to our university a chancellor with a strong commitment to the best interests of the institution.

''Dame Diana is highly distinguished, a household name, an eminent local resident, and an honorary graduate of Stirling University.

''She has given superb support to the university over many years.''

In a short statement, Dame Diana said: ''It is a great honour, and I shall do my very best to serve the university.''