Our ‘Drama She Wrote’ season of neglected television plays by women writers is launched at BFI Southbank at 6.20 on Friday 7 September with a screening of Andrea Newman’s 1974 play Choice. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion chaired by Gail Renard (Chair of the Writers’ Guild Of Great Britain), featuring Andrea Newman, Lisa Holdsworth (who has written for New Tricks, Robin Hood, Ackley Bridge and Call The Midwife) and Billy Smart.
Although best known for the serials that she adapted from her own novels (including Bouquet Of Barbed Wire (LWT/ ITV 1976) and its sequel Another Bouquet (LWT/ ITV 1977), Mackenzie (BBC 1980) and A Sense of Guilt (BBC 1990)), Andrea Newman started her television career writing single plays, mostly for LWT. Of these plays, Night of the Stag (1972) is included on our ‘Forgotten TV Drama’ DVD The Frighteners, and Home for the Holidays (a 1973 contribution to ATV’s Love Story, until recently thought lost) is also being screened in our season on Saturday 29 September.
The story of a married woman who decides to leave her husband for a much younger man, Choice was an opportunity for Andrea Newman to investigate the double standards that she saw between expectations of the conduct of married men and married women in middle age. She explained her thinking in an interview with the TV Times:
I think it’s absolutely foul the way a woman is put into a vice by marriage; expected automatically to follow a stereotyped set of rules. And if she does dare to break with the stereotype of the ‘parent’ or ‘wife’, ironically it’s her family – who should know and understand her best – who usually turn on her.
Mother is always expected to behave like a Mother with a capital M. If she goes off the rails she has comitted the unforgiveable sin of somehow ratting on her family. In my play it’s the daughters who are hurt and shocked. But sons, I suspect, would be even more offended…
The older man can go off with a young mistress, that’s okay. People just say ‘naughty old thing’ and give him a wink. But not vice-versa. It makes me sick.
Choice was the fifth drama in Seven Faces of Woman, a anthology series of plays depicting contemporary women at various stages of life. Perhaps surprisingly for a programme dedicated to dramatising female experience, only three of it’s writers were women, Newman, Shelagh Delaney and Rosemary Anne Sisson (the other four plays being by Robert Holles, Ray Nickson, Brian Phelan and Jack Rosenthal). The programme is best remembered for it’s emotive theme song, ‘She’, written and sung by veteran French chanteur Charles Aznavour, a British number one hit single during the summer of 1974.
Cowley, Elizabeth. ‘No one winks when Mum goes off the rails’, TV Times, 29 June 1974, pp. 20-21.