Doing an unscientific straw poll with a few people I hoped knew some well known current TV writers, I ascertained that the names Paul Abbot (Cracker, Shameless, Clocking off, State of play, No Offense) and Jimmy McGovern (Brookside, Cracker, The Street, Hillsborough) were, unsurprisingly, recognized. However the name Sally Wainwright was not.
Interesting. Sally is the Bafta award winning writer behind such TV dramas as Happy Valley, in fairness the most misleading title ever given to a TV drama!, Scott and Bailey, and Last Tango in Halifax. Sally also gave us the only TV highlight of Christmas 2016, which she wrote, co-produced, and directed, To Walk Invisible, a drama on the Bronte sisters, aired at 9pm on BBC1 on Thursday 29th December. Sally has been writing for TV for decades, she started on The Archers, moved to Coronation Street, where Paul Abbot and Jimmy McGovern also did work. She worked with Kay Mellor on her drama about a women’s football team, Playing the Field, writing a number of episodes, moving on to create At Home with the Braithwaites, and the dramas mentioned above.
As Andrew Anthony points out, writing in The Guardian, two themes occur in Sally Wainwrights work:
the extraordinary in the ordinary and the foregrounding of strong female characters. The second tendency has led her to being branded a feminist writer […] but really, all she has done is give women the kind of parts – complex, conflicted, funny and flawed -that are usually reserved for men. She is, she says, not anti-men, rejecting the notion that her male characters are weak. “I don’t think so. I don’t focus on them. I resent it because there’s this perception that I consciously write men as twats. I don’t.”
Sally Wainwright grew up in Yorkshire, not many miles from where the Brontes lived in Haworth. To Walk Invisible focuses on the three years between 1845 and 1848 when the family, briefly, lived together at Haworth, after working away as tutors, governesses and teachers. The Brontes fascinate, not least because one family produced three literary geniuses but also because their story is so full of tragedy, which Wainwright’s drama shines a light on. Again it is consistent in delivering on the themes of the extraordinary in the ordinary and strong female characters. What fascinated me, apart from the great performances, sets etc, is the view we are given on the subject matter that influenced their writing and what motivated them to earn money: their brother’s alcoholism, their lack of power as females, their work experiences, their environment, their upbringing. If you have not seen this drama I cannot recommend it highly enough.
It is somewhat ironic that the Bronte sisters believed they had ‘to walk invisible’, that is to assume male pseudonyms, in order to get published and be taken seriously as writers, and that a writer of the talent and caliber of Sally Wainwright is not as well known (granted my survey cannot be held as concrete evidence but I would lay a bet..), or is branded as feminist, simply because she creates work with strong female leads. Even more ironic is that the ‘feminist accusation’ seems to not understand the meaning of feminism, which is equality for men and women in all circumstances. How can she allegedly, write ‘weak male characters’ and at the same time be branded a feminist? Why are male writers rarely if ever branded as feminist writers? Surely, all Sally wainwright can be guilty of is making a contribution to addressing a massive imbalance of women in the arts.
Source: You Tube
We have just past the celebrations of 2016, where we witness Ireland’s national theater program, ‘waking the nation’, to commemorate the centenary of 1916, evoke the ire and fury of the nation’s female theatrical community by the invisibility bestowed on them by this program. It leads to the creation of the ‘waking the feminists’ movement whose aim is to achieve gender equality in Irish theater.
Maybe a goal for 2017 could be to understand why women still walk invisible.
And if you want to know more about Sally Wainwright’s achievements or you are a budding dramatist than you could do no worse than to spend an hour sharing a student drama masterclass with Sally which she gave to the Royal Television Society.
Anthony, Andrew. “SallyWainwright: the titan of genuine reality television”. The Gaurdian. February 7th 2016.
The Brontes. Digital Image. mick-armitage. staff. shef.ac.uk. n.d. Yahoo. Web. 11th Nov. 2016. http://www.mick-armitage.staff.shef.ac.uk/anne/brontes.html
Student Drama Masterclass with Sally Wainwright. Royal Television Society. 28th Nov. 2016. You Tube. Web. 11th Nov. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xqHQ63w4Jk
To Walk Invisible. Trailer. You Tube. n.d. Web. 11th Nov. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lC8VUfUb-hU