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9 most exciting female voices on television

To mark International Women's Day, I've chosen to celebrate 9 women whose impact on British television is already undeniable.


From documentary makers to actors and writer performers, there are so many incredible women making incredible television and changing the industry for the better and whilst it shouldn't need a day like International Women's Day to come along for me to recognise their contribution and achievements, it's an apt opportunity to celebrate some of the most exciting female voices on television.


Even just in the 11+ years of running I Talk Telly, television has changed a lot, and I'm not just talking about the rise of the streamers, but the rise in new voices, new stories and new talent, many of whom are female.


For example, Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You is one of the most original and impactful British dramas of all time, Stacey Dooley is one of our finest documentary makers and Unapologetic, fronted by Yinka Bokinni and Zeze Millz, is one of the most refreshing talk shows on television.


Here are who I believe to be the 9 most exciting female voices on television right now...


Daisy May Cooper


Daisy May Cooper is one of television's most recognisable faces thanks to the huge success of her five-time BAFTA-winning BBC Three comedy This Country, which she co-created with her brother Charlie Cooper. Running for three series and a special, This Country was a mockumentary focussing on cousins Kerry and Kurtan (played by Daisy and Charlie) and their life in a very small, very boring village in the Cotswolds.


After This Country, Daisy went on to finish runner-up in the tenth series of Taskmaster, became a Team Captain on Sky's revival of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, was a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race UK, starred in comedies Avenue 5 and The Witchfinder and earlier this year was unmasked as Otter on The Masked Singer UK.


Then in September 2022, Daisy brought us Am I Being Unreasonable? a new BBC One comedy which she co-created with best friend Selin Hizli. Together, they starred as Nic and Jen and the series followed their newfound friendship. But in this crime thriller about obsessive friendship, maternal paranoia and a dead cat, not all was as it seems.


With huge critical and audience acclaim, Daisy May Cooper has cemented herself as one of television's great new comedy writers, so it was no surprise in October when the BBC announced that it would be returning for a second series.


Elsewhere, Daisy is about to be seen on screen in the upcoming BBC One comedy drama Rain Dogs which is Cash Carraway's own adaptation of her 2019 memoir Skint Estate. The series promises to be a wild and punky tale of a mother’s love for her daughter, of deep-rooted and passionate friendships, and of brilliance thwarted by poverty and prejudice.

 

This Country and Am I Being Unreasonable? are both available to watch now on BBC iPlayer



Michaela Coel


Michaela Coel's voice within the TV industry is so vital that in 2018, the award-winning actress, screenwriter, singer, songwriter, poet,and playwright was asked to deliver that year's prestigious James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival.


During her keynote, she talked about the true extent of the racism she's received in the industry and opened up about an incident in which she was sexually assaulted. Sending a necessary message to the television industry about duty of care.


Michaela's success began with the huge success of her double-BAFTA-winning E4 comedy Chewing Gum, which began life as theatre play Chewing Gum Dreams. Written by and starring Coel, Chewing Gum followed 24-year-old Tracey Gordon, a religious Beyoncé-obsessed woman, who the more she learns about the world, the less she understands. When the series came to an end in 2017 after just 12 episodes, the show's impact was such that all eyes were on Michaela Coel's next authored project.


After a three-year wait, Michaela Coel brought us the five-time BAFTA-winning 12-part drama for the BBC and HBO, I May Destroy You, which she created, wrote, executive produced, co-directed and also starred in. At the time, it was reported that she had turned down a $1 million deal from Netflix for the show after they refused to let her keep full ownership of the project.


In I May Destroy You, Coel played Arabella Essiedu, who quickly finds herself labelled as the "voice of a generation" after a piece of writing garners internet acclaim, which leads to her getting an agent and a book commission. With the pressure of a writing deadline


Under pressure, easily distracted, non-committal and carefree, Arabella is sexually assaulted in a nightclub and from that moment on, her life changes irreversibly and she is forced to reassess everything: her career, her friends, even her family.


As Arabella struggles to come to terms with what has happened, she begins a journey of self-discovery. The fearless, frank and provocative series explored the question of sexual consent in contemporary life and how, in our modern landscape of dating and relationships, we make the distinction between liberation and exploitation.


In 2021, Michael Coel became the first black woman to win the Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards. Whilst very little is known about Michaela's highly-anticipated follow-up project, in May 2021 we did learn that it would be for the BBC as the then Director of Drama for the BBC, Piers Wenger, revealed in a statement that he was working on a new project with Coel.

 

Chewing Gum is available to watch now on All 4, I May Destroy You is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer and you can watch Michaela Coel's James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival here


Phoebe Waller-Bridge


Phoebe Waller-Bridge is undoubtedly one of the most influential female writers on television in the past 10 years, thanks to her 2013 Edinburgh Fringe show Fleabag which she successfully transitioned into a hit double-BAFTA-winning BBC Three comedy in 2016.


Written and created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag follows the life of a twenty-something year-old woman who hurls herself headlong at modern living she is thrown roughly up against the walls of contemporary London. Despite running for just two series, Fleabag is often cited as one of the greatest television programmes of the 21st century and undoubtedly made Phoebe Waller-Bridge a star.


In 2018, Phoebe lent her writing talents to the first series of Killing Eve, where she was Head Writer and arguably oversaw 8 episodes of close to perfect storytelling in the cat-and-mouse story between Eve and Villanelle, played superbly by Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer.


With her talent undeniable, it was reported in September 2019 that she had signed an exclusive three-year deal with Amazon Studios, which will see her create and produce new television content exclusively for Prime Video. A deal recently said to have been renewed as she looks to adapt Claudia Lux's novel Sign Here.

 

Fleabag and Killing Eve are both available to watch now on BBC iPlayer



Rose Ayling-Ellis


When Rose Ayling-Ellis joined in EastEnders as Mick Carter's daughter Frankie Lewis in 2020, she became the first deaf actress to appear on the soap in its then-35-year history and her positive impact on British television was just getting started.


In September 2021, Rose took part in and eventually won, the 19th series of Strictly Come Dancing in which she was partnered with Giovanni Pernice. She was the first deaf contestant the show had ever had and proved to producers why inclusion was something to embrace rather than ignore. In 2022 Paralympic champion and broadcaster Ellie Simmonds became the first contestant with dwarfism to take part and it's been widely reported that this year's line-up for the first time, will include a celebrity who uses a wheelchair.


Her appearance on Strictly had so much of an impact that in May 2022 her showstopping silent dance with Giovanni was awarded a BAFTA for Must-See Moment, the only award voted for by the public.


In August 2022, Rose delivered a powerful Alternative MacTaggart at the Edinburgh TV Festival (more here) where she called on productions to do better when it comes to deaf and disabled representation.


Her dedication to representation and frustrations at the current state of the industry was made clear when she told delegates that she was “done with being the token deaf character.” believing that “diverse, rich, and fascinating deaf stories are ready to go mainstream and that we can do this, together. Let’s create together, to normalise deaf and disabled people on screen. I can only dream of the day where seeing other disabled people on screen isn’t a rare sight, or where I don’t get excited at the sight of other disabled people working behind the screen."


Rose's lecture came shortly after the news that she had filmed her final scenes for EastEnders and it was at last year's Edinburgh Television Festival that her next project, a new hour-long documentary entitled Sign for Change was announced and a further project, a "totally bilingual and female-focused" comedy-drama she's developing, was teased.


Set to air on BBC One later this year, Sign For Change will see Rose reveal the daily challenges, discrimination and barriers faced by deaf individuals. It will question if society is adapting fast enough to allow for equality amongst the deaf and hearing worlds by looking at Rose’s own experiences and encounters with people on the frontline, pushing for change.

 

Rosie Jones


Comedian, actor, writer and author Rosie Jones, who has cerebral palsy, started her career as a researchers on shows like Channel 4's The Last Leg, itself a gamechanger before performing her debut hour of stand-up at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018. And it was after watching her perform that I was certain of the television career she'd go on to have.


Lo and behold, Rosie has barely been off our screens in the last few years and quite right too! Comedy is often a great medium through which to tackle important subjects, and there's no better example of this than when Rosie discusses her disability, her sexuality or her gender. And not just in her material.


In 2020, Rosie was first invited onto BBC One's Question Time, where one of the questions asked was "Are disabled people treated with equality and respect?" Whilst recognising how the disability discrimination act, brought in when Rosie was 5, had definitely helped her get to where she is today, she followed that up with some damning and heartbreaking truths.


When walking alone in the street, Rosie talked about how she chooses to wear headphones to block out the abuse she receives on a daily basis and how people would put the phone down on her when applying for jobs, because of the way she speaks and feels that disabled people are not being overlooked, but deliberately ignored.


Almost a year later, Rosie was invited back onto Question Time and following her appearance tweeted "The sad thing is that I’m not surprised at the ableist abuse I’ve received tonight regarding my appearance on Question Time. It’s indicative of the country we live in right now. I will keep on speaking up, in my wonderful voice, for what I believe in."


If I could have liked a tweet a thousand times, I would have done and I completely echo and agree with the words of television presenter and author Richard Osman who replied to Rosie's tweet acknowledging that whilst it's not something she may have signed up for, that Rosie was "changing the world for the better". And long may she continue to.


To date, Rosie Jones has written for the hit Netflix series Sex Education, created her own comedy pilot for Channel 4 called Disability Rights, starred in a number of episodes of Casualty on BBC One and appeared as herself in almost every comedy panel show on television, including the very show she used to research on, The Last Leg. In fact, so popular were her appearances on the show over the years that in 2021 Rosie became their regular roving reporter, out in Tokyo, reporting live from the Paralympics each night.


In 2021, Rosie Jones launched the first series of Trip Hazard in which she took celebrity friends on thrilling outings around Britain, gorging on culture, learning local traditions and seeking excitement in unlikely places. Unsurprisingly, the series was a huge success and returned in 2022 for a second series and some of her travel partners have included AJ Odudu, Jenny Eclair and Joe Wilkinson.


In terms of what's next for Rosie on screen, in March 2022 it was announced that she'd be making a one-off documentary in which she explores society’s attitudes towards disabled people. Looking particularly at the specifics of the language used towards disabled people, Rosie wants to build a picture of the nature of society’s attitudes towards them.

 

Rosie Jones' Trip Hazard and Disability Benefits are both available to watch now on All4



Sharon Horgan


Sharon Horgan is undeniably one of television's greatest comedy writers and it all began really in 2006, when she co-created, with Dennis Kelly, a BBC Three sitcom called Pulling, which was about the tangled and often messy love lives of three single women played by Horgan, Rebekah Staton and Tanya Franks.


Despite two hugely successful series, the decision to pull (sorry) the show was met with a lot of disappointment, and whilst there were to be no more series, there was a special in 2009 to tie up any loose ends.


After Pulling, Sharon went on to co-write the short-lived BBC Three sitcom Dead Boss with Holly Walsh in 2012 and in 2014, Sharon Horgan founded production company Merman with Clelia Mountford, and under their leadership Merman Television has won multiple accolades including five BAFTAs and multiple Emmy and RTS nominations.


Sharon's next smash hit came three years later in 2015, with the superb Channel 4 comedy Catastrophe, which ran for four series winning several awards including a BAFTA. Co-created with (then relative newcomer) Rob Delaney, Catastrophe followed the unlikely pairing of Irish teacher Sharon and American businessman Rob who after a short fling are thrown into a relationship neither of them saw coming.


Then three years after Catastrophe came another television masterpiece from Sharon Horgan, this time Bad Sisters on Apple TV+, a dark comedy thriller about the Garvey sisters, who are bound together by the premature death of their parents and a promise to always protect one another.


Adapted from a Belgian version, Bad Sisters was written and executive produced by Sharon Horgan and she starred in it alongside Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene and Eve Hewson and Claes Bang. Following the huge success of the first season, it was announced to the surprise of nobody, that it would be returning for a second season and I for one, can't wait.

 

Pulling is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer and Bad Sisters is available to watch now on Apple TV+



Stacey Dooley


Documentary maker Stacey Dooley left school at 15 and later worked as a shop assistant in Luton Airport, before successfully applying to be part of a 2008 BBC Three documentary called Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts, where she was one of six young fashion lovers made to swap shopping for the factories and backstreet workshops of India to learn how the clothes they wear are manufactured.


Following Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts and an appearance on Newsnight, Stacey Dooley was commissioned by BBC Three to make two episodes of Stacey Dooley Investigates where she explored the issue of child labour in Nepal and the Ivory Coast.


Stacey has since travelled the world, making over 35 episodes of Stacey Dooley Investigates, visiting places such as Brazil, Canada, Magaluf, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Turkey and even her hometown of Luton.


Topics have included Japan's sexualisation of children, Britain's digital drug dealers, Nigeria's female suicide bombers, and so much more. And in 2019, Stacey returned to the subject through which she made her name, uncovering the shocking environmental impact caused by an insatiable appetite for cheap clothing.


Stacey's popularity reached new heights in 2019 with the launch of her new series Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over on the W channel, which sees Stacey aim to to find out what life is like in modern Britain by spending 72 hours in the company of a wide range of extraordinary characters and families. It was also that year that Stacey took part in Strictly Come Dancing, emerging as champion with her dance partner Kevin Clifton.


In an almost 15-year career, Stacey has successfully broken through the male-dominated world of television documentaries, cementing herself as one of the most exciting, relatable and necessary voices to occupy that space. And with her career going from strength to strength, it's important that she continues to shine a light on the issues affecting young people around the world.

 

Stacey Dooley Investigates is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer and Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over is available to watch now on UKTV Play



Yinka Bokinni


Before moving to television, DJ, presenter, writer and documentary maker Yinka Bokinni made a name for herself on radio station Capital Xtra, where she stayed for six years, three of those hosting its flagship Breakfast Show alongside Shayna Marie. In August 2022 she left the station to focus on her various TV projects.


One of those projects, Unapologetic, is a late-night topical discussion programme that doesn't hold back, which started life as a pilot as part of Channel 4's Black to Front project on Friday 10th September 2021. Described as the show where guests are encouraged to say what they want to say without apologising for it, where Black people talk freely about topics many are scared to discuss, Yinka co-hosts with social commentator, presenter and documentary maker Zeze Millz (who I've also included an this list).


That pilot was so well-received that a full series aired mere months later in November and December 2021 and then the following year a second series was announced, which aired in October and November 2022.


Away from Unapologetic, Yinka is fast-becoming one of Channel 4's go to documentary makers. Her first in October 2020, Damilola: The Boy Next Door, was a deeply personal documentary for Yinka to make. Having grown up on the North Peckham Estate in South London which became notorious after 10-year-old Damilola Taylor was stabbed and left alone to die in a lonely stairwell, Yinka marked the 20th anniversary of Damilola's death by confronting for the very first time, the devastating impact her friend's death had on her community and the lives of almost everyone she knew.


Yinka followed that documentary with True Crime Unravelled, an 11-part digital series for Channel 4 inspired by her own YouTube and Instagram videos, in which she joined forces with criminologist Honor Doro Townshend to dive into the heart of the biggest true crime stories such as the Kray twins, the Cleveland Strangler and American serial killer Sam Little.


Her most recent Channel 4 documentary, How to Hire a Hitman, saw Yinka dive deep into the dark web's murder-for-hire sites to find out if you really can order someone's death online.


In terms of what's next for Yinka, it's not yet known if Unapologetic will be returning for a third series, although I'd be incredibly surprised if it doesn't, but we do know what her next project will be. Together with Anna Richardson, Yinka will co-host Channel 4's new six-part series Naked Education which is described as a body-positive, educational series aiming to normalise all body types, champion people’s differences and break down stereotypes and her management have teased that more compelling documentaries are on the way,

 

Unapologetic, Damilola: The Boy Next Door and How to Hire a Hitman are all available to watch now on All4



Zeze Millz


Social commentator, presenter and documentary maker Zeze Millz made a name for herself online thanks to the huge success of her YouTube interview series The Zeze Millz Show, where to date she has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, including Akon, Beenie Man, Ed Sheeran, Ghetts and Sean Paul.


The success of her online interviews and growing presence as a social commentator, saw her lend her voice to a number of television debates on shows such as Good Morning Britain, The Victoria Derbyshire Show and Channel 5 News.


Such was her success online that as part of Channel 4's Black to Front project on Friday 10th September 2021, Zeze was given the chance to co-host a pilot for Unapologetic, a late-night topical discussion programme that doesn't hold back.


Described as the show where guests are encouraged to say what they want to say without apologising for it, where Black people talk freely about everything, Zeze co-hosts with DJ, presenter, writer and documentary maker Yinka Bokinni (who I've also included an this list).


That pilot was so well-received that a full series aired mere months later in November and December 2021 and then the following year a second series was announced, which aired in October and November 2022.


Away from Unapologetic, Zeze recently fronted her first documentary for Channel 4, Young, Black and Right-Wing. Outspoken in her own views, Zeze has come under fire for views some see as conservative and used this doc to explore what it means to be young, Black and right-wing in Britain today.


In terms of what's next for Zeze, it's not yet known if Unapologetic will be returning for a third series, although I'd be incredibly surprised if it doesn't and I hope she's working with Channel 4 (or another broadcaster) on further documentaries as she's a clear natural and important voice to occupy that space.

 

Unapologetic and Young, Black and Right-Wing are both available to watch now on All4

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