A while ago I did a post, Land Girls on BBC1, about how much I enjoyed the television show and I got a very pleasing response to it indeed. The writer of the show, Roland Moore, commented upon my little post thanking me for my feedback. I was some what delighted and thanked him for his response, I was even daring enough to ask that I might ask him a few more questions as a short interview for this blog. He's a much obliging chap and agreed to do so!
And so this is what transpired; I hope you find it entertaining and insightful!
Having never worked in any form of media I felt a little out of my depth but soon I realised that perhaps an insight into script writing from the perspective of someone like me might be actually interesting; after all not everyone out there knows all about media. So I sat and I thought, and I got a bit of advice. I realised I know nothing so that’s where to start, exactly how does writing a television series, like Land Girls, happen?
For Land Girls, I submitted an idea outlining the story for each episode and an overview of the main characters, plus a summary of the series. There wasn’t a script at that stage. I knew (in 2008) that the BBC wanted to schedule programmes to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, so my idea just arrived at the right time. A five part series was commissioned for broadcast in September 2009.
As a child I was shocked to find out about rationing and yet more shocked to find out that many children were healthier than they are today. Surrounded by our comforts and luxurious lifestyles it can be difficult to imagine what a situation like the Land Girls may have faced. How does someone from the 00’s manage to portray an era which many of us could literally not imagine today? I already guessed research would be the key factor, but how did Roland go about this?
I spoke to former Land Girls and read first-hand accounts of their times on the farms. I also read academic books on the subject. When we came to write the series, we had historical researchers helping us with any period details. This was invaluable.
Any period drama has to juggle a line between total attention to detail and dramatic licence. The real Land Girls typically worked 12-14 hour days, but we could only give a flavour of that – otherwise most of the screen time would show women digging fields and planting crops. Such authenticity would have resulted in a fairly uneventful drama.
In terms of authenticity, we came across an interesting phenomenon: people will have an idea of what is correct for a period, but sometimes that idea is based on perception and not facts. So viewers would ‘feel’ rather than know that something was correct or incorrect. For instance, I realised the word ‘fantastic’ came into use in 1939 and ‘snog’ was already being used, but if I’d included them in the dialogue, people would have complained that they weren’t accurate for the period. So sometimes you are working to those perceptions rather than actual facts.
I can see how difficult it must be treading the line between what is accurate and what the audience may expect or want to see. Having done some of that magic research on Roland I found out he has also written for the BBC series Doctors. There must have been a bit of shift between writing for such dissimilar decades and even I realised there must have been some differences in the style, language and tone.
Language and tone are definitely different for period drama. There is an argument between Bea and Annie in Series 1, and I wanted Bea to say the equivalent of ‘whatever’. It was obvious that this word wasn’t used like that in the 1940s, and as I researched for an alternative, I realised that there wasn’t a World War II equivalent. People were just more polite back then.
Interestingly, we had complaints about a very minor, half-glimpsed sex scene, but no one seemed to mind an extended scene of a man being forced to his knees at gun point before someone is shot.
My Grandmother was in the ATS during the Second World War and the Women’s Land Army is already a subject of great interest to me, but what about other people? Why would they be interested in such a dark period of our Country’s history? Probably for the same reasons I am!
Separation from your loved ones was a theme that I also wanted to include as it affected a lot of people on the home front. And it has resonances with anyone in the present day who has loved ones serving overseas. There was that feeling that the war was bigger than any one person and that everyone was a vital but small cog in the machinery of winning that war. So I wanted to show Joyce’s sadness at being separated from John, but wrestling with her need to be patriotic and ‘do her bit’. That was a big emotional heart in the series.