From Crossroads and the Rag Trade to Made in Dagenham – event celebrates working women on TV

A nostalgia trip celebrating television’s portrayal of women in the work place in the 60s and 70s is being laid on by academics from the University of Warwick and De Montfort University.

The free event, called Career Girls on the Small Screen, is at the Phoenix Arts Centre., Phoenix Square, Leicester, on Saturday afternoon, 8th October, and has been organised by Helen Wheatley and Rachel Moseley from the Department of Film and Television at University of Warwick and Helen Wood from De Montfort University.

They are hoping many people who remember classic television series such as Compact, The Rag Trade and The Liver Birds will come along, watch some episodes of these landmark dramas, and have a chat about how they remember these programmes.

There will also be a screened conversation with Hazel Adair, the maker of the drama Compact, which was about women working in the magazine industry. Hazel was also responsible for Crossroads – which revolved around a widow, Meg Richardson, who had single-handedly opened a motel in the grounds of her former home, it made an international star of leading actress Noele Gordon – and the big-screen version of Emergency Ward 10 which the TV series made a household name of Jill Browne as Nurse Carole Young.

Helen said: “There has been so much publicity about the current American series of Mad Men which shows women at work in the 1960s but there has been a long history of women in the workplace here on television the UK going back to the drama Compact in 1962.

“We would love to see people at the event who remember these series, have fond memories of them and may be able to reminisce about them.”

People who attend the screenings, if they want to, will be asked to write what they remember of these and any other significant programmes to them on a postcard which will go towards the research project called ‘A History of Television for Women in Britain: 1947-1989’ There will also be a round table discussion after the screenings and a drinks reception at 5pm.

Compact, which was screened from 1962, was a drama about women working in the magazine industry starring Carmen Silvera as features editor Camilla Hope.

Helen said: “This was the first time many people saw a professional woman role model on television. Many of the women we have talked to have said Jean’s character became a role model for them as it was portraying women who were not wives and home-makers.”

The Rag Trade, which was on screens in the early 60s starring Sheila Hancock, was about women factory workers and will be introduced by Dr Vicky Ball from the University of Sunderland who is currently writing a book about the British female ensemble drama.

Helen said: “The women were quite rebellious towards the male supervisor played by Reg Varney. To have such a strong female cast was unusual at the time. It certainly showed women as active and feisty and they were not the passive characters people assumed about women on TV. It was very popular because these women workers were recalcitrant, comedic and often pulled a fast one against male authority.”

The Liver Birds, which ran for 10 years from 1969 to 1979, was the story of two flatmates in Liverpool.

Helen said: “This portrayed women’s new freedoms. The girls shared their own flat, they were very independent, went to work, had their own income, talked about relationships outside of the marital or family home.”

The event is free and is on Saturday 8 October, starting from 2pm. A screening of the British film Made in Dagenham follows at 6pm at the special price of £4.50.

ATV Today soap expert Vivian Summers says, “While people could relate to the Ena Sharples of Coronation Street and the gritty background settings very few wanted to be Annie Walker in a grotty miserable back street boozer. They wanted to be Meg Richardson of the Crossroads Motel in her lovely grand house, with her nice clothes and the peaceful middle-class village. They admired she was a self made woman, running a business she had created and managed it all with glamour, that’s why she became such a hit with the female viewers. She offered a peak into the lives they wanted to have.”

Women at Work – The early years:

1957 – Nurses and senior female staff are seen in ATV’s Emergency Ward 10.

1961 – Harpers West One. The female management and shop workers are seen in this ATV department store drama.

1961 – Working class girls make the most of life in The Rag Trade, a BBC drama which was later revived by LWT.

1962 – The women working in the magazine trade are highlighted in the BBC serial Compact.

1964 – The sole female owner of a Midland Motel is seen in Crossroads, a large number of female staff are also seen in the form of secretaries, cleaners and receptionists. Later the show also boasts the first female garage mechanic in soap.

1969 – independent girls about town – or in this case Liverpool city – in sitcom The Liver Birds.