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1970s, BFI, Billy Smart, Drama She Wrote, LWT, Susan Pleat, Thames Television

‘Drama She Wrote’ at BFI Southbank: ‘Oranges & Lemons: Brenda’ (LWT/ ITV 1973) and ‘Rooms: Susan’ (Thames/ ITV 1975)

Brenda

‘Oranges & Lemons: Brenda’ (LWT/ ITV 1973)

Our ‘Drama She Wrote’ season of neglected TV plays by women writers continues at BFI Southbank at 3.20 on Saturday 6 October with two 1970s ITV dramas about fathers and daughters (featuring a host of familiar TV faces including June Brown, Leslie Dwyer, Cheryl Hall, Nigel Havers, Jane Wymark and Pauline Yates).

Rooms (Thames/ ITV 1974-77) was a series formed of individual plays – each focusing on a different occupant of the rooms in a lodging house – with the landlord and landlady the only regular characters. The series was broadcast in the afternoon, but often reflected quite grown-up concerns, of particular interest to a largely female audience. Susan was written by Patricia Hooker (1933-2001), a highly original Australian-born screenwriter active in British television drama in the 1970s (and, later on, BBC Radio drama). Hooker is best-remembered for her 1973 Armchair Theatre play The Golden Road, the first UK lesbian TV play written by a woman (screened at the BFI in 2015 as part of our first ‘TV’s Forgotten Dramas’ season). I have written a full-length consideration of Pat Hooker’s life and work here, which includes a critique of Susan (although that section is perhaps read after watching the play).

Oranges & Lemons (LWT/ ITV 1973) was a series of five dramas set in London’s Docklands. Susan Pleat’s Brenda was the only play in the season written by a woman (the other four were by P. J. Hammond, Alan Plater, Eric Coltart and Jeremy Godwin).

Susan_Pleat_Spectrum

Susan Pleat in 1972

The screening will be introduced by Susan Pleat, who shares some of her memories of the production and the status of women writers within television drama in the 1970s here:

Susan Pleat: I have a much clearer memory of the research for Brenda – a night long trawl through pubs and clubs and streets in Rotherhithe in the company of the producer Jeremy Godwin – than I do of the play itself.

One irony is that although women didn’t get to write many one offs, when they did it was a different era – by that I mean there were small production teams so you had a close working relationship with the producer and even the director. You didn’t have to face an army of script editors keen to earn their money and put in their two pennyworth – so it was a very rewarding time in that way.

I also worked on Angels for the BBC – about nurses and where all the lead writers were women – and Within These Walls – a mix of men and women on the writing team but women at the heart of the stories. As for soaps, I worked on Coronation Street where women were totally marginalised  – and it is true, ten years later – on Brookside, where the writing team was half and half and Phil Redmond ran a very female friendly ship.

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