The ham! cell
LYNDA LA PLANTE has written a new drama series about a female governor in an all-male prison. Eddie Gibb talks to the doyenne of television screenwriters, while (right) Kathleen Morgan joins a real governor on her daily prison inspection.
Janet Mc‘l’eer playlng prison governor Helen Hewitt In Lynda la Plante's new drama series the Governor
hen Lynda La Plante first met the prison governor who sparked off the idea for her new television drama. she fell into that dumb chauvinist trap. ‘Good God. I thought you were the secretary.‘ La Plante blurted out when confronted with a young. attractive woman.
It‘s a frank admission from a writer who has become a power player in television drama on the back of a series of strong women characters who succeed in a male-dominated world. ‘Personally I‘m getting very bored with the female in the male world thing.‘ she says. ‘but if I’m writing a character I can use myself as my main source ofdrama. I can tell you what it felt like. I find it easier to write from a female perspective. but I‘m not determined to put females in all-male worlds. 1 am tired of seeing dominant. shoulder-padded females storming through every television detective thriller.‘
La Plante‘s latest character. Governor Helen Hewitt. is the youngest woman to be put in charge of an all-male. high security prison. As the new governor on the cell block. Hewitt has been brought in to put the lid on a tense situation after the prison was nearly destroyed in a riot. but first she must earn the respect of both officers and prisoners. She's under extra pressure from her political paymasters because as a Prison Service flagship. Barfield Prison is ripe for privatisation.
The storyline has all the classic La Plante elements: street-wise language. savvy women and dodgy crims. Looking at La Plante’s early influences it‘s not hard to see why. Her initiation into television was as a RADA-trained actress
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appearing in tough-guy dramas like The Sweeney and Minder.
It was while filming The Gentle Touch. the late-70s police drama with Jill Gascoine as the woman in charge of a bunch of unruly lads in uniform. that La Plante the bit-part actress first thought of becoming La Plante the writer. She submitted some plot lines for the Gascoine
character. which though not used in The Gentle
‘I am tired of seeing dominant, shoulder-padded females storming through every television detective thriller.’
Lynda La Plante
Torte/i. became the basis of the first La Plante hit — Wir/mvs. (La Plante recently returned to her first love when she reprised the role of ladylike gangster Dolly Rawlins from ll’iduws in the post-porridge series She 's ()u!.)
During the 80s. La Plante penned a string of situation-speciﬁc hits for [TV including Cii'i'ies (demob-happy soldiers). (i'omies (the stand-up comedy circuit) and Seconds ()ut (the boxing fraternity) — she doesn‘t hold with obscure titles. La Plante had become the undisputed queen of populist television drama. whose script~writing credit seemed to guarantee huge ratings.
Then in 1991 she created Detective Chief Inspector Jane 'l‘ennison — a tough. sexy, sensitive. ambitious and alarmingly bright police chief who Helen Mirren made her own. Since then Prime .S'uspeel. which is currently on our screens with a series of two-hour films though La Plante is no longer involved. has become a home banker in the [TV schedules.
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10 The List 5-18 May 1995