Talking Heads (series)

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This article is about the British TV show Talking Heads. For other meanings, see Talking head (disambiguation).
Talking Heads
Talking Heads.jpg
Title screen of the series, with animated characterisation of Alan Bennett.
Format Monologue
Created by Alan Bennett
Starring Alan Bennett
Maggie Smith
Julie Walters
Patricia Routledge
Thora Hird
David Haig
Eileen Atkins
Penelope Wilton
Stephanie Cole
Country of origin UK
No. of episodes 13 (including stand-alone play) (List of episodes)
Production
Producer(s) Innes Lloyd
Running time 30 – 40 mins
Broadcast
Original channel BBC One
BBC Radio
Original run 1987 – 1998

Talking Heads is a series of dramatic monologues written for BBC television by British playwright Alan Bennett. The two series were first broadcast in 1988 and 1998, and have since been broadcast on BBC Radio and included on the A-level and GCSE English Literature syllabus.

A West End theatre production, also entitled Talking Heads, opened at the Comedy Theatre in January 1992 for a 10-week season, starring Patricia Routledge and Alan Bennett, who also directed, plus piano interludes by Jeremy Sams.[1]

A few episodes also aired on PBS in the United States as part of its Masterpiece Theatre programme. In 2002, seven of the pieces were performed at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles for a highly praised engagement. In 2003, several of the monologues were staged in New York City at the Off-Broadway Minetta Theatre. The entire series is now available on DVD and also in published form.

Summary[edit]

There are two series of Talking Heads, six monologues in each, along with an earlier (1982) play, A Woman of No Importance, which, while not released alongside Talking Heads, generally fits into the canon. Although the plays deal with a variety of subjects, there are certain recurring themes, such as death, illness, guilt and isolation.

Most of the plays give some hint as to where they are set, mostly in Leeds, although not (as Bennett stresses) the "real" Leeds, but rather one that exists in his head.[2] For example, Matthias Robinsons, in which Miss Fozzard works, closed in the 1970s.

Cast and crew[edit]

Each episode consists of an individual monologue and therefore in most episodes only one character appears. The only exception is when Steven Beard features as a policeman in "A Cream Cracker under the Settee". Julie Walters, Patricia Routledge and Thora Hird appear as different characters in both series.

The show was produced by Innes Lloyd and Ralph Wilton (series 1) and Mark Shivas (series 2), while Alan Bennett, Stuart Burge, Giles Foster, Tristam Powell, Gavin Millar, Patrick Garland, Stuart Garland and Udayan Prasad directed individual episodes. The music was written by George Fenton.

Episodes[edit]

Actors are named for the BBC television versions.

"A Woman of No Importance" – (1982)

Peggy Schofield, clerical worker and self-described linchpin of her office, finds that when her strict regime is disrupted, her world crumbles around her. Her health deteriorates and she is rapidly spirited away to hospital, where she reconstructs her office routine, appropriating doctors, other hospital staff and patients as replacements for her co-workers. It is soon revealed, through hints that she has lost her job and her co-workers haven't bothered to visit, that she is not as popular and significant as she assumed.

Talking Heads 1 – (19 April through 24 May 1988)

Mild, middle-aged Graham Whittaker (who we learn is a repressed homosexual with a history of mild mental health problems) finds life becoming complicated as his mother, with whom he still lives, reunites with an old flame named Frank Turnbull. Graham becomes increasingly jealous when Mr Turnbull takes an ever-growing hold on Mam, especially when Frank proposes marriage while simultaneously suggesting Graham moves out of the house to a hostel. But Mr Turnbull is hiding a secret, and when Graham finds out he triumphantly confronts his mother with the information, restoring the status quo and his comfortable life but destroying her hopes of happiness in the process.
Irene Ruddock is a working class single woman living near Bradford who is not afraid to speak, or rather write, her mind: she writes letters to her MP, the police, the chemist – everyone she can, to remedy the social ills she sees around her. After one too many accusations of misconduct from Irene's pen, she is sent to prison – where, for the first time in her life, ironically, she truly feels free and happy.
Susan, an alcoholic, nervous vicar's wife who has to travel into Leeds to go to the off-licence because of her debts with the local shop keeper, distracts herself from her ambitious, and, as she sees him, vainly insensitive husband and his doting parishioners by conducting an affair with a nearby grocer, Ramesh Ramesh the third, discovering something about herself and God in the process. Interestingly, she does not feel cheated when Ramesh Ramesh moves on to marry. {Anna Massey took the role in the BBC Audio Tape version}
Muriel is a strong woman, and always has been – a pillar of the community, a regular charity worker, and a volunteer for Meals on Wheels; and looking after her mentally ill daughter, Margaret, has fortified her resolve – so, after the death of her husband, Muriel is well-prepared to cope with the crisis. However, given her son's ineptitude (or dishonesty) with money, and the vile secret behind Margaret's illness, Muriel finds that she needs to adapt in order to 'soldier on.'
Lesley is an aspiring actress, who, after a series of unpromising extra roles on television programmes such as Crossroads, finds what she believes to be her big break as the adventurous Travis in a new film for the West German market. It is not clear to what extent Lesley understands that she is appearing in a soft pornographic film.
Doris, aged seventy-five, is a tidy woman — and when she suffers a fall after trying to clear up after her considerably less thorough home help, Zulema, it becomes apparent that her constant nagging may have been responsible for her husband's early death. Alone and injured, she wonders whether the only place left for her in society is a care home which she distrusts. Resisting this with all her being, she decides she'd rather die on her own in considerable pain than live in a care home 'smelling of pee'.

Talking Heads 2 – (6 October through 11 November 1998)

Miss Fozzard is a lonely, middle-aged department store clerk in the Soft Furnishings Department whose free time is mostly spent caring for her brother after he suffers a stroke. Her one joy in life is her regular visits to her podiatrist, but when he retires, she finds her life consumed with a burgeoning relationship with his replacement, a decidedly kinky fellow with an all-consuming foot fetish. While Miss Fozzard would be the last to admit it, she ventures into benign prostitution as she allows her new podiatrist to pay her to model a variety of footwear whilst also indulging in other activities. It is this that gives her the satisfaction her life was missing, as she begins to stop caring what other people think.
Celia is a covetous antiques dealer who brazenly aids elderly neighbours for the sole purpose of being in a good position to buy their treasures on the cheap when they die. She's particularly put out when one elderly woman whom she's cared for, living in a house chock full of antiques, dies and leaves everything to a distant Canadian relative. Celia is somewhat soothed when the Canadian gives her a small box of the woman's things, which includes a curious drawing of a finger. Celia is particularly pleased that she makes a hundred pounds selling the picture, but then later learns to her horror that it is a lost Michelangelo masterpiece worth millions, which the buyer says on national television he bought in a "junk shop." The figure is a study of the central image of the hand of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
  • David Haig plays Wilfred Paterson in "Playing Sandwiches"
Wilfred is, we discover over time, a reformed paedophile living under a false identity and working as a much-praised maintenance man in a public park. However, as a superior begins to pressure him for bureaucratic historical information to include in his personnel file, the pressure causes Wilfred to resume his old ways with horrifying results. Incarcerated, he contemplates his condition, remarking 'It's the one part of my life that feels right... and that's the bit that's wrong.'
Clean freak Marjory gradually comes to realise that her husband, Stuart, who works in a slaughterhouse, is using his employment to cover the fact that he's a particularly dangerous criminal. He regularly goes out with his Alsatian, Tina, (whom Majory has barred from entering the house), and returns late at night. This usually culminates in brutal sexual advances which Marjory finds distasteful but feels powerless to reject. She is so alienated from the outside world that she subsumes all emotion in her domestic routine – her control of which becomes gradually more threatened as her husband becomes the subject of both police and media attention. When he is arrested and tried for a series of murders, Marjory struggles to maintain a low profile, and to continue with her routine as normal, but in the process discovers a damning piece of evidence which links her husband to the killings. However, she receives a telephone call announcing that he has been acquitted (due to lack of evidence) before she is able to decide upon a course of action. When he returns home, Majory now has to deal with the horrific realisation that she'll be sharing her home with a serial murderer. As an ultimate sign of her lapsed control, Tina finally gains entry into the house.
Rosemary Horrocks is a lonely woman whose husband is intent on moving them both to Marbella. Unknown to him, Rosemary does not wish to go. She takes it upon herself to tend to a female neighbour's garden after the latter is arrested for murdering her abusive husband. The two women become close friends in a tender relationship which has the potential to bring both of them real happiness. As the case of her newfound friend is investigated, a darker and more perverted side of Rosemary's own husband is revealed. Sadly, Rosemary's neighbour dies of cancer before the potential of their friendship can be fully realised and Rosemary must passively continue with the non-marriage she has with her highly repressed, golf-playing husband.
  • Thora Hird plays Violet in "Waiting for the Telegram"
Violet is a confused, elderly woman in a nursing home who has been told by the excited staff she will soon be receiving a congratulatory telegram from the Queen in honour of her one hundredth birthday. This, however, perplexes Violet as she wanders far back in her memory to an age where telegrams brought news of death on a battlefield. Violet ruminates about a long-lost love to her only real friend, a gay male nurse at the home named Francis, who ultimately dies of AIDS.

Nominations and awards[edit]

Series 1[edit]

BAFTA TV Awards

Year Category Nominee(s) Episode Result
1989 Best Actress Thora Hird "A Cream Cracker under the Settee" Won
Patricia Routledge "A Lady of Letters" Nominated
Maggie Smith "A Bed Among the Lentils" Nominated
Best Actor Alan Bennett "A Chip in the Sugar" Nominated
Best Drama Series Alan Bennett, Innes Lloyd "A Cream Cracker under the Settee Nominated
Best Single Drama Alan Bennett, Innes Lloyd "A Bed Among the Lentils" Nominated
Alan Bennett, Innes Lloyd, Giles Foster "A Lady of Letters" Nominated
Best Video Lighting Clive Thomas "A Cream Cracker Under the Settee" Nominated
Best Lighting Tony Burrough N/A Nominated
Best Graphics Mina Martinez N/A Nominated
Best Original Television Music George Fenton N/A Nominated

RTS Awards

Year Category Nominee(s) Episode Result
1989 Best Actress Maggie Smith "Bed Among the Lentils" Won

Series 2[edit]

BAFTA TV Awards

Year Category Nominee(s) Episode Result
1999 Best Actress Thora Hird "Waiting for the Telegram" Won
Best Single Drama Alan Bennett, Mark Shivas, Stuart Burge "Waiting for the Telegram" Nominated
Alan Bennett, Mark Shivas, Udayan Prasad "Playing Sandwiches" Nominated

Peabody Awards

Releases[edit]

The Audio CDs of the radio show were released in October 1999.[3][4] In 2007 the monologues were all written down in his book "Talking Heads".[5] There have also been a number of DVD and video releases, the most recent in 2005 entitled "The Complete Talking Heads".[6]

References[edit]

External links[edit]