With the world having just celebrated International Women’s Day, women are becoming more empowered than ever before to stand up for their rights and be heard. So, it is very timely that the role of female scriptwriters in the UK drama industry is currently in the spotlight.
Britain’s unique mix of commercial, private TV and public-service broadcasting has meant that the UK has become one of the world’s leading production hubs. But, despite the fact that Britain is producing some of the highest quality drama in the world, is there enough diversity amongst show-runners and writers?
Nurturing female talent
In an open letter to TV drama commissioners last month, over 70 female scriptwriters criticised the ‘‘glass ceiling’’ and claimed British drama is “overwhelmingly written by men”. If you look at the dramas currently or recently aired on British TV, it’s hard to argue against this. Of the 20 primetime dramas aired so far in 2018, just two – Heidi Thomas’ Call The Midwife and Kay Mellor’s ITV series Girlfriends – were written by women.
I am a real sucker for a good TV drama. The most gripping dramas are those that weave together multiple plot strands before smashing your expectations out of the park with twists and turns that you just haven’t seen coming. When the UK does drama well it is very hard to beat. Making quality TV is recognised internationally as a great British trait and the global appeal of our output is second only to the States. But we do need to nurture the female talent on our little island.
The exception not the rule
Most of the British dramas I’ve enjoyed in recent times have been written by men; Netflix’s The Crown (Peter Morgan), BBC’s Dr Foster (Mike Bartlett), BBC’s The Moorside (Neil McKay), ITV’s Broadchurch (Chris Chibnall), and Sky Atlantic’s current drama Save Me, written by and starring The Walking Dead’s Lennie James. Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty is also a particular favourite of mine.
There are some notable exceptions. Last year’s BBC Three Girls, written by Nicole Taylor and based on the true stories of victims of sexual abuse in Rochdale, and Sally Wainwright’s excellent Happy Valley, which for me is without a doubt one of the best dramas ever shown on British TV. Yet, it is beyond question that this is a genre very much dominated by men.
Change is coming
Commissioners have suggested things will change in the future. Recently, ITV’s head of drama, Polly Hill, promised that four new dramas written by women would be revealed soon, and yesterday she announced the female-led drama Deep Water from leading producer Kudos and written by Anna Symons. BBC One’s Piers Wenger has also said that 40% of the dramas he has commissioned in the last year have been written by women. With so much talent out there, I’d like to see that glass ceiling come crashing down and shattering into pieces very soon. To quote the Spice Girls – it’s all about #Girlpower.
By Melanie Webb, Senior Account Director, Franklin Rae