Secret Diary of a Call Girl

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Secret Diary of a Call Girl
Secret diary intertitle.jpg
Genre Drama
Created by Lucy Prebble
Directed by Yann Demange
Susan Tully
Peter Lydon
Fraser MacDonald
China Moo-Young
Alex Garcia Lopez
Wayne Che Yip
Starring Billie Piper
Iddo Goldberg
Cherie Lunghi
Ashley Madekwe
Lily James
Gemma Chan
Paul Nicholls
James D'Arcy
Callum Blue
David Dawson
Narrated by Billie Piper
Opening theme "You Know I'm No Good" (Instrumental)
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 32 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Greg Brenman
Avril MacRory
Michael Foster
Billie Piper
Producer(s) Jacquie Glanville
Elinor Day
Cinematography Gavin Struthers (series 2)
Running time 22 minutes
Production company(s) Tiger Aspect Productions
Silver Apples Media
Artist Rights Group
ITV Studios
Broadcast
Original channel ITV2
Picture format 16:9
Original run 27 September 2007 (2007-09-27) – 22 March 2011 (2011-03-22)

Secret Diary of a Call Girl is a British television drama broadcast on ITV2 from 2007 to 2011 based on the blog and books by the pseudonymous "Belle de Jour," starring Billie Piper as Belle, a high-class London call girl. The series was written by Lucy Prebble, who is also known as the author of The Sugar Syndrome and ENRON. The series has been compared to Sex and the City by many critics, mainly due to its humorous approach to sex.[1][2]

Background[edit]

The rights to the blog were bought by Silverapples Media (Avril MacRory and Paul Duane), who co-produced the series with Tiger Aspect Productions. The series was initially developed with Channel 4[3] and when Channel 4 passed on the project, ITV took over. The series airs in a late-night 10pm slot, as part of ITV2's "XXL Thursday" programming block.

The theme song is an excerpt of "You Know I'm No Good" by Amy Winehouse. The song runs whilst the intertitle plays, showing Belle applying make-up and getting dressed, interspersed with shots of urban London.

Plot[edit]

The series, set in London, revolves around the life of Hannah Baxter (Billie Piper), a seemingly normal woman, who lives a secret life as a call girl, under the pseudonym Belle. The series focuses on her professional and private life and its complications as they collide. However, she receives help and advice from her best friend Ben (Iddo Goldberg), in most situations. In the second series premiere, a new call girl Bambi (Ashley Madekwe) is introduced; Hannah becomes close friends with her, and frequently gives her advice regarding prostitution and her personal life.

Hannah, as the main character, also narrates the series, sometimes through voiceovers but more frequently she breaks the fourth wall. During the first series the episodes are held together by a light story arc, however Series 2 and 3 have relied heavily on a story arc, usually in the form of Hannah's romances, namely with Alex and Duncan.

Characters[edit]

Hannah is a university graduate living in London and – unbeknownst to her family – is also the high class call girl known as "Belle". Hannah is well educated, very eloquent and intelligent. She has expensive tastes and is at times slightly snobbish. She loves her job as a call girl as she is being paid handsomely to do something she does very well. She comes from an average middle-class family who live outside of London; she's close to her father but remains somewhat distant from her older sister who is married with an infant son. Hannah reveals she has tried several professions but struggles to keep down a steady job (as revealed in series two). Hannah is an expert at leading a double life, and is a meticulous planner – her specialty is role-playing fantasies. Hannah is a self-employed call girl, having left Stephanie's agency during the series' run.

Ben is Hannah's best friend and ex-boyfriend from her university days. Ben is the manager of a London bar. His relationship with his on-and-off girlfriend Vanessa is made complicated by his feelings for Hannah. Ben was engaged to Vanessa but backs out of the wedding, instead opting to move outside of London with Vanessa in series two. He knows about Hannah's secret life, which causes much friction between the two at times. Ben has a tendency to stir trouble when he disagrees with Hannah's ways of dealing with things in her life and will often go out of his way to prove his point – especially if it involves other men in her life.

Stephanie is Belle's madame in series one; she was once a call girl like Belle herself. Rich and glamorous, with a cutting sense of humour and cynical attitude, she reluctantly looks out for Belle, offering her advice and help. At times, Stephanie has a tendency to seem quite cold-hearted and unfeeling and will constantly advise her 'girls' away from having romantic attachments. In series three, it is revealed that Stephanie had a lesbian relationship with a woman who broke her heart. Actress Cherie Lunghi has said "there's a maternal aspect to [Stephanie]."[4] Stephanie features in series four, having been placed in jail. Hence, she asks Hannah to temporarily run the agency during her sentence, and to look after her daughter Poppy (Lily James), who is unaware of her mother's real job or her true whereabouts.

Bambi started as a naive wannabe-escort who was mentored by Belle in series two. Fun-loving Bambi, who started as an escort for money, is now working for Stephanie. In series three, she deals with her rate being dictated by her race and becoming too close to one of her clients. Bambi has lived a notably harder life than Hannah and has been prone to bad relationships and subject to domestic abuse. Bambi has several scars on her upper arms that she generally hides with shrugs and wraps. In series three, Bambi meets and marries her client Byron, an outlandish aristocrat. Bambi does not appear in series four.

Duncan is Belle's publisher in series three, who is urging Belle to write a second book after the success of her first. Belle, despite claiming to have only a working relationship with Duncan and that she does not fancy him, has several on-screen liaisons with him. Belle then starts to have a relationship with him. But friction between Ben and Duncan causes Belle to fall out with Ben. Duncan then has a professional appointment with Bambi, who is at the time unaware that he is Belle's boyfriend. When this becomes known to Belle, she decides to end their relationship, on the basis that he may have slept with numerous other girls, both escorts and non-escorts. Duncan is portrayed as the stereotypical workaholic and a frequenter of call girls.

Alex is a doctor whom Belle initially mistakes for a client in series two. They date and begin a relationship, while Hannah keeps Alex unaware of her secret night life as the call girl "Belle". After discovering her secret, he leaves her, saying he can't deal with her chosen career. Hannah then gives up prostitution and tries to have a "real" job, but finds it tedious and unfulfilling. They mutually decide to separate as he feels she is not all she can be without prostitution, and she cannot fully be happy without her life as "Belle". Alex does not appear in series three, neither is he explicitly mentioned, though, like other former characters, is implicitly referenced in the series three finale, when Ben tells Hannah his view on all her previous boyfriends.

Byron is an eccentric young gentleman who comes from an aristocratic family who falls outside of his kind by dressing in the general scruffy, bohemian style while finding various ways to bend the conventional stereotype of his birthright. He becomes one of Bambi's regulars in series three, after her wage is increased to £350 an hour. The pair fall madly in love with each other, much to Hannah's disdain. "Young guy, old money" is Stephanie's description of Byron, a reference to both his noble background and his apparent inheritance of a large sum of money, which would explain how he finances his visits to high-class call girls. In the finale of series three, Bambi and Byron get married. Byron does not appear in series four.

Response[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Belle turns to the camera and says, "Sex is really a numbers game. Group sex is complicated, but that's mechanics. For me, the hardest numbers have always been one plus one. Can never seem to make them add up." If that voice sounds familiar, it's because you heard Carrie Bradshaw use it in every episode of Sex and the City. The show also uses London in somewhat the same way Sex and the City used New York – we see a lot of bright lights, fancy restaurants, and expensive apartments – though there is a sadder, more wistful quality to the photography here, as if Belle were living in a kind of London fog, which, of course, she is.

The New Yorker, noting the similarities between the two shows.[5]

The series was mainly well received by critics, with Tim Goodman of The San Francisco Chronicle saying, "there's surprise at how much you've underestimated its quality."[6] It was graded A− by Entertainment Weekly, which said, "you will find a rather fascinating drama." Entertainment Weekly also commented on Billie Piper's portrayal of Belle, saying, "Piper is extraordinary, intermittently talking right to the camera in a straightforward, conspiratorial manner, the way a prostitute who's really good at her job would talk to a client."[7] It was less well received, however, by The New York Times, which said, "Secret Diary has amusing touches, but not enough to sustain an entire series."[8]

Whilst reviewing Series 3 of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Gerard O'Donovan of The Telegraph opined that the show focuses too much on Piper's character, saying "All the characters, apart from Belle (Piper), are about as two-dimensional as cardboard cut-outs – and no more engaging."[9]

Criticism[edit]

The series was attacked by some feminists, as Belle sells her body and some stated that it objectified women.[10] The series was also accused of glamorising and being a misrepresentation of prostitution.[11] Feminist Rosie Boycott, writing for the Daily Mail, echoed the claims of others, accusing the programme of objectifying women and falsely portraying prostitution, saying "It is impossible to imagine that any one of these women entered 'the game' out of free choice. Yet according to Belle, the heroine of the series ... she loves sex and money and so prostitution was a natural career choice."[10]

Piper hit back at the claims saying, "We've only been exposed to the drug-fueled, sex traffic side – but the fact is, there are middle-class, cultured, well-read women who take part in this job."[12][13] Cherie Lunghi also noted the complaints and said in response "Series two is good because it brings the less glamorous side out into the open",[14] as the second series dealt with serious issues such as the prospect of rape within prostitution.

Episodes[edit]

Both series 1 and 2 consisted of eight episodes; the series was commissioned for a third series, even before the second series was aired. Series 2 became complicated to film due to Piper's pregnancy and body doubles were hired.[15]

The filming of series 3 began at the start of 2009, once Piper had recovered after the birth of her son, Winston, in October 2008.[16] Piper also stated she would be taking on the role of executive producer of the upcoming series as well.[17] Ahead of the series 3 premiere ITV2 aired a one-off interview between Piper and Magnanti, the real Belle de Jour, entitled, Billie and the Real Belle Bare All.

After the end of Series 3, ITV had not commissioned a fourth series, and there was speculation, even amongst the cast,[18] whether or not Secret Diary of a Call Girl would return. However on 4 May 2010, Katie Begley of the Daily Star reported that Piper and the cast would return for a fourth series, and that Piper would earn £2 million for the new series.[19] The next day however, the Daily Mail stated that Piper had signed a £400,000 contract, earning £50,000 per episode of the fourth series.[20] Piper has stated that the fourth series is to be the final,[21] but Piper commented that there have been talks to create a film adaptation of the series.[22]

Broadcasters[edit]

US promotional poster (Series 1)

The series was first broadcast on 27 September 2007 on ITV2 in the United Kingdom. It was watched by 1.9 million, a record (which has since been beaten by Bionic Woman) for ITV2.[23]

In Canada, the first series began on Showcase on 22 November 2007. The second series debuted on The Movie Network on 19 January 2009.

In the United States, Showtime aired the first series of eight half-hour episodes beginning in June 2008, with a commitment for an additional 12 episodes.[citation needed] Robert Greenblatt, Showtime's president of entertainment, initially considered buying format rights and recasting it with American actors, but he ultimately decided that the original was "fantastic"; Greenblatt also noted that "it's very hard to find American actresses who are comfortable doing nudity."[24] The second series aired on 18 January 2009. On November 6, 2009, Showtime announced that the show's third series would return on January 25, 2010 at 10:00pm. Showtime scheduled the fourth series to premiere April 7, 2011, at 10:30pm.

Home media[edit]

The first series was released on 7 January 2008 on Region 2 DVD.[25] Series 2 was released in the United Kingdom on 2 March 2009, and like the first series classified 18. On the same day, a four disc box set edition consisting of both series 1 and 2 was released.[26] On both sets, much of the popular music was replaced due to high licensing costs.

The entire series is also available to download on iTunes and to stream on Netflix UK and Lovefilm UK.

In the U.S. the Region 1 version of series 1 was released on 6 January 2009. Series 2 was released soon afterwards, in June. Again, much of the music was replaced due to high licensing costs.[27]

The television series is rated R18 in New Zealand as it contains sex scenes and offensive language.

Ratings[edit]

The first series averaged 1,242,125 viewers in the UK. The following weekly viewership statistics are from the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board:[28]

The series premiered in the U.S. on Showtime to the highest ratings the cable channel had seen in four years for a television premiere. The series debut reached almost one million viewers, its closest rival, Dexter, premiered to 604,000.[29] The showing held on to an impressive 70% of its lead-in audience that tuned in for the fourth-series premiere of Weeds.

International versions[edit]

On April 8, TVN (Chile), premiered their version of "Secret Diary..." entitled "Diario secreto de una profesional" (Secret diary of a professional).[citation needed]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Franklin, Nancy. "Working Girl". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  2. ^ Goodman, Tim (16 June 2008). "'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' – watchable fun". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  3. ^ BBC News, Piper set to star in TV sex drama, 2007-02-12.
  4. ^ Cherie Lunghi (2008). "Meet the cast". ITV. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  5. ^ Nancy Franklin (2008-06-30). "Working girl – a British take on the world's oldest profession". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2009-12-22. 
  6. ^ Goodman, Tim (16 January 2009). "TV reviews: 'Conchords,' 'Big Love,' 'Call Girl'". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  7. ^ "News Review: Secret Diary of a Call Girl". Entertainment Weekly. 
  8. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (16 June 2008). "Old Love, New Love, Ev'ry Love but True Love". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  9. ^ O'Donovan, Gerard (28 January 2010). "Secret Diary of a Call Girl, ITV2, review". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  10. ^ a b Rosie Boycott (2007-09-25). "Why do so many modern women think being a sex object is cool?". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  11. ^ Sherwin, Adam (8 September 2007). "Billie Piper drama is accused of glamorising prostitution". The Times (London). Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  12. ^ Deacon, Michael (6 September 2008). "Secret Diary of a Call Girl". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  13. ^ Wyatt, Edward (16 June 2008). "'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' series imported by Showtime". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  14. ^ "Cherie Call girls are cold inside". The Sun (London). 3 September 2008. 
  15. ^ "Body double to fill in for pregnant Billie Piper as she reprises racy call girl role". Daily Mail (London). 16 May 2008. 
  16. ^ Beth Hilton (2008-05-27). "ITV2 orders third series of 'Call Girl'". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  17. ^ Billie Piper (2009-02-02). "Billie to cut workload after Secret Diary Of A Call Girl". ITN. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  18. ^ Published Friday, Mar 12 2010, 12:43 GMT (2010-03-12). "'Secret Diary' cast unsure over fourth run – TV News". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  19. ^ Kaite Begley (2010-05-04). "Billie Piper to get £2M for fourth call girl series". Daily Star. Retrieved 2008-05-05. 
  20. ^ "Billie Piper is the world's highest paid 'prostitute' as she signs a £400,000 deal to reprise her role as Belle de Jour". London: Daily Mail. 2010-05-05. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  21. ^ [1][dead link]
  22. ^ Blackburn, Jen (11 June 2010). "The Secret Movie of a Call Girl". The Sun (London). 
  23. ^ "The Secret Diary of a Call Girl A Ratings Hit! | Unreality TV". Primetime.unrealitytv.co.uk. 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  24. ^ US networks look to British TV for content that can be Americanized into domestic hit, an Associated Press article via the International Herald Tribune
  25. ^ "Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season 1 (UK – DVD R2) in News > Releases at DVDActive". Dvdactive.com. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  26. ^ "Secret Diary of a Call Girl [DVD]: Amazon.co.uk: Billie Piper, Aleksandar Mikic, Jamie Sives, Aislinn Sands, Iddo Goldberg, Rachel Fielding, Thom Fell, Scarlette O'Harlette, Toyah Willcox, Stuart Organ, Joanna Bobin, Robert Purdy, Fraser Macdonald, Peter Lydon, Susan Tully, Yann Demange, Belle de Jour, Chloe Moss, Julie Gearey, Katie Douglas: Film & TV". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  27. ^ "Secret Diary of a Call Girl – Season Two DVD – IGN". Uk.dvd.ign.com. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  28. ^ "BARB Weekly Ratings". Broadcasters' Audience Research Board. 7 November 2007. 
  29. ^ Plunkett, John (18 June 2008). "Secret Diary of a Call Girl's US debut is a hit with viewers". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 23 May 2010. 

External links[edit]