I TALK TELLY

i talk to: jessica hynes

Learning from the successes of The Thick of ItGetting On and Twenty Twelve, BBC Four return with a new sitcom, this time a studio sitcom, a first for the channel. Up The Women, written by Jessica Hynes, best known for her roles in Spaced, The Royle Family and Twenty Twelve, is set in 1910, based around a movement called ‘The Banbury Intricate Craft Circle’ and set in the Banbury church hall.

Hynes has managed to put together a fantastic cast for Up The Women, including Rebecca Front (The Thick of It, The Spa), Vicky Pepperdine (Getting On), Ryan Sampson (Plebs), Dominic Coleman (Miranda, Heading Out) and in the final episode Sandy Toksvig (The News Quiz).
Back in the first week of March, I went along to BBC Television Centre to watch the recording of Up The Women, the last ever sitcom to be recorded in the iconic building. I saw episode one and whilst it was a long record I could see potential for a great little sitcom. Having now seen the entire three-part series I can honestly say that I really enjoyed the series.
So last week I caught up with Jessica at a private screening of some Georgian photos in London that she’d helped to organise, to chat all things Up The Women. Here’s what the lady herself had to say…

Q First of all, what inspired you to write Up The Women in the first place?

Well I did a treatment for a film, and as a result of that I did a lot of research and I really got into the research. My initial treatment was for a comedy film about these suffragettes who tried to assassinate the Prime Minister, and as I researched it more and more I got into it in a much more serious way and so the treatment got more and more serious. So then when I delivered it, it wasn’t really comedy enough. So then I had this idea to right it into a sitcom basically. I left it for a while, and then I decided the characters would be maybe, well served in an old fashioned structured sitcom. 

Q Was the women’s suffragette something you’d always been interested in?
No, not at all. It’s only until I read that article and started researching it that. 

Q Up The Women is set in the one room, the Banbury Church Hall. Was it always the idea always to set it in one room?

Yes, I mean initially I thought I might go into cutaways and different locations, but then when they commissioned it, the budget for the studio restricted it. So basically all I had was the Church Hall. It was an incredible challenge, an incredible writing challenge.  

Q So tell me a bit about your character, Margaret.
She’s book smart, with no practical experience basically. She means well but she’s a terrible leader. She does her best but she doesn’t really do very well.
Q Watching it, Up The Women really felt like an ensemble piece. There didn’t appear to be one lead character. Was this a conscious decision?
Yes, I mean it was always about the characters and how they interacted yes.
Q At the moment, Up The Women is only three episodes long. Do you have any plans to make any more?
Yes, this was just a pilot. They’ve commissioned it for another six episodes.
Q That’s great news. So what can you tell us about that then?
Well, we’re just talking about it now really and the schedule was quite tight before, so we’re just trying to work out a way of making it not so intense. And yes, I’m just thinking about the characters and where to go. It’s odd thinking about it before it’s actually been on television.
Q Does that mean you’re waiting to see what the audience think in order to write the next six episodes? Does it impact on your writing?
I think it does. And I think when people offer you constructive and good criticism, it’s foolish to completely ignore it. I know people who never read critics, but I’ll be interested to know what people think.

Q OK. So here’s my feedback then. I loved the series and Gwen (Vicky Pepperdine) is such a great comedy character and definitely one of my favourites. Where did the inspiration come from for her character?
My starting point was just thinking about types of characters that would together be good, and work well together. And I guess that’s how Gwen’s character came about.

Q So I couldn’t leave without saying congratulations for Twenty Twelve and the BAFTA win last week. Although London 2012 is now behind us, do you think the characters will ever come back in some shape or form?
Aw thank you. Yes it’s really great. Erm… I don’t know really, I’m not sure. I know John (Morton)’s working on something, and I know he does like to work with the same people, so I really hope he does give me another job. I’d love to work with him again.

 Q So what’s next for you then? I read that you want to do more stand-up, is that true?

No, no, no. I don’t know where that came from. I think that was written in my Wikipedia page and for some reason I’ve been unable to change it. No, I did do some stand-up, and I do love it but I really don’t have time to write it really at the moment. Up The Women is my main focus for the minute, I’ve got a few other things to diversify myself.
Q You’ve done comedy and drama, is there one discipline you prefer over another? And how did writing come about?
No not at all. If things come along, I’m always up for, you know, reading good scripts. In terms of writing, what spurs me on to write is that I write stuff that I want to see and what I feel is missing.
Q When writing did you always think Margaret was the character you were going to play?
I did toy with the idea of playing Helen, because I think Helen’s a really nice character. But then, you know, when Rebecca (Front) agreed to do it, I just thought – Oh nothing could be better than that! She said yes straight away, I think on the same night this is on, Psychobitches is on I think at the same time. So it’s Frontovision – she’s so good. It was lovely having her on board.

She’s great. Well thank you so much for your time and the best of luck with the pilot series and can’t wait to see more!

Up The Women begins tomorrow night on BBC Four at 8:30pm.