Shoulder -To-Shoulder: Female Suffrage, Second-Wave Feminism and feminist TV Drama in the 1970s.
I very much enjoyed attending this conference –Shoulder To Shoulder: Female Suffrage, Second-Wave Feminism and feminist TV Drama in the 1970s – which focussed on ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’, the BBC’s 6-part series about the militant suffrage movement, broadcast in 1974.
The conference was held on 15 and 16 May 2014 at Birkbeck College’s School of Arts in Gordon Square. Who would think that behind the familiar early-19th-century facade of no 43 lies a state-of-the art cinema and gallery? It was a pleasure to be there.
And even more of a pleasure to be in the audience for a screening of one of the episodes from the series. The one selected was Episode 2 – ‘Annie Kenney’, written by Alan Plater, directed by Waris Hussein and starring Georgia Brown as Annie Kenney. This was the first time I had ever seen the production. I have long known of the series, have sold copies of Midge McKenzie’s ‘spin-off’ book, and have even sold copies of the Radio Times Special that was produced to accompany the series, and the tie-in issue of Radio Times in which Margaret Drabble interviewed three surviving suffragettes, Grace Roe, Leonora Cohen and Cicely Hale. But I have never seen the programmes – we didn’t have a television in the 1970s.
I was very impressed by the episode I saw – impressed by the script and by the production. From a 2014 perspective faces, dresses, sets etc all look persuasively Edwardian – no hint, I think, of the 1970s.
The script, too, is pleasingly accurate. There was much discussion at the conference about the fact that the writers of the series were reflecting the Pankhursts’ view of suffragette history, centring the story around the characters of Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst and Annie Kenney. Nevertheless they do not shirk from dealing with the politics of the campaign in considerable detail. Would any drama series nowadays bother (dare!) to discuss the nitty-gritty of the ballot for private members’ bills – and actually mention the name ‘Bamford Slack’?
After the screening of the Annie Kenney episode we were privileged to be party to a reunion discussion between cast and crew of the series, chaired by Dame Joan Bakewell. Sian Phillips, who played Emmeline Pankhurst, Patricia Quinn,(Christabel) and Angela Down (Sylvia) were joined by two of the series’ directors, Waris Hussein and Moira Armstrong, and Graham Benson, the programme’s production manager. All had given up their time to come along and reminisce about the making of the series. It’s always so interesting to listen to insiders talking – and remarkable that 40 years on so many details were recalled.
I particularly liked the fact that, because the budget allowed for so few extras, rather than attempting to show the battle in Parliament Square on ‘Black Friday’, the damage wrought on the suffragettes was, instead, hinted at by filming the detritus left on the ground, while a voice-over intoned a dispassionate account (from a newspaper, think). Very much an example of ‘less is more’.
One thing that became very clear was that cast, crew and audience were united in hoping that Shoulder To Shoulder would be made available on a DVD. In my bookselling capacity I am often asked if I know where such a thing might be obtained – and the answer is that, not only has the series rarely been rebroadcast, but there is no DVD. You can find the series on You Tube – but it really should be commercially available, with added background, context, interviews etc. Apart from the interest and enjoyment it would give to the general viewer, what an excellent teaching tool it would be!
Dr Janet McCabe of Birkbeck and Dr Vicky Ball of De Montfort University are planning to launch a campaign to persuade the BBC to produce a DVD of Shoulder To Shoulder. There will be a petition and, to coordinate the campaign, a Facebook page. But in the meantime, if you are interested in giving your support you can email Janet McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or Vicky Ball at email@example.com.
#1 by Lyn on May 20, 2014 - 8:35 am
Thank you for this (& all your posts, I’ve been lurking for some time). I would also love to see STS. I only know of it through reading a book on British TV series by Alistair Cooke. The full series is available on YouTube & I’ll look forward to watching it. It’s been uploaded by kissmequick8 so you could find it by searching for her or the series. A DVD with interviews with the cast etc would be so much better though.
#2 by womanandhersphere on May 20, 2014 - 3:18 pm
Many thanks for your message, Lyn. On receiving it I changed the You Tube link to the series one. Very useful comment – I’m grateful.
#3 by dianabirchall on May 20, 2014 - 10:29 am
Oh, bless you, bless you for writing this! What a conference, I can’t stand it that I wasn’t there – how did you ever hear about it! I have seen the entire Shoulder to Shoulder series, in the only form I knew existed: a small British import shop here in Santa Monica, California, has it in their library, but it is NOT reproduceable because it is so “snowy” you can barely see the images. I saw and heard enough, though, to believe that this is one of the very best dramas ever to be on television. No wonder it was filmed in the “I Claudius” age of TV drama. The only place I could find after a big search that might have a copy was somewhere in Oklahoma. Yes, yes, up, up, up with your song – this must and shall be a DVD for everyone to see!
I did not realize it was on YouTube, so thank you for telling that.
#4 by womanandhersphere on May 20, 2014 - 3:20 pm
Delighted there is a fan of the series – and a knowledgeable one at that – Over There. I will pass your comments on to those mastering (mistressing??) the campaign. Elizabeth
#5 by dianabirchall on May 21, 2014 - 10:35 am
Please do pass on my keenness on Shoulder to Shoulder, Elizabeth – though I have already written to Dr. Janet McCabe!
#6 by womanandhersphere on May 21, 2014 - 5:43 pm
Actually I did copy your comments to Janet and Vicky yesterday. Very many thanks for your support.
Best wishes, Elizabeth
#7 by Anne on May 28, 2014 - 11:41 am
Just as a matter of fact, the series has been shown since the seventies. It was repeated in the nineties, when I made some VHS copies, which I still have, I used to show them to students!
#8 by womanandhersphere on May 28, 2014 - 12:34 pm
Thanks, Anne – for info re 1990s re-broadcasting. I’ve slightly amended my text. In fact I think I did hear someone mention in passing at the conference that it had been re-shown once – but even so that is probably getting on for 20 years ago. A DVD would make it available to all who wanted to view it now.
Best wishes, Elizabeth
#9 by Ronald Helfrich on July 17, 2014 - 2:39 pm
This series, which I saw on PBS, changed my life. Let me add my voice to the chorus of voices asking, nay demanding, that it be released on DVD.