“‘Ave you seen ‘er?” On Victoria Wood

An Audience with Victoria Wood, Dec 1988

Growing up, I always knew about Victoria Wood. My mum had her videos and we had a couple of signed books, too. I remember feeling dead grown up, aged about 10, when I was allowed to watch some of her stand-up. Here was a lady, who wasn’t thin or glamorous- but she was funny. Even as a kid, I knew she was unusual.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that she’s had a huge effect on me. As a northern, working-class kid, she talked about things I understood. I even own an orange raincoat (although not a fetching yellow hat to go with it.) My sister and I have been known to say “I’m looking for my friend, Kimberly. ‘Ave you seen ‘er?” to each other. We don’t know any Kimberlys.

In restaurants with slow service, it won’t take long for Benn or I to whisper to the other “Two soups?”

I’ve always felt a bit suspicious about prawns too, thanks to this sketch:

And I remember seeing her programme about tea. Of course.

The thing is, Victoria Wood’s humour was funny and warm; it was grounded in real life and it was never cruel, either. I’ll miss her.

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How women on TV shape my career goals

Now that D is three- and will be starting school in September 2017, eek!-I’ve started to think more about where my career is and where I would like it to go. At the moment, I’m happy where I am and what I’m doing, but there are things I would like to achieve (if I had a Five Year Plan, this is where it would come in.)

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I LOVE TV. I like to say it’s because I teach Media Studies, but it’s really just that I’m a telly addict and have been forever. I love Netflix and I love a good binge-watch. What’s surprising is that I’ve found career inspiration in some of my favourite shows and that by watching these four women, I’ve started to think differently about my own job and the way that I work.

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Leslie Knope- Parks and Recreation

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Leslie Knope is a ball of contradictions- sometimes she’s brimming with self-confidence, other times, she’s on the floor with self-doubt. And although Amy Poehler (one of the greatest comedians of the 21st century, IMHO) plays Leslie for laughs, there is something in her character that most women can relate to; she’s a visible embodiment of someone with imposter syndrome. Leslie’s key strength, though, is her love and support for her colleagues. Yes, she looks after herself, but she cares deeply for those around her- and not in a self-sacrificing way.

Dana Scully- The X Files

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Scully (and Gillian Anderson) has been a heroine of mine since I was twelve. Although I’m not very good at emotional detachment, I’ve always admired Scully’s dedication to her job, her dry humour and her dogged pursuit of what she thinks is right. At work, next to my desk, I have a poster with a picture of Scully, reminding me that if I have a bad day I should think about what she would do. It stands me in good stead.(I also like Stella Gibson, Anderson’s character in The Fall, but don’t really feel the same connection to her. Did I mention I just really love Gillian Anderson?)

Viv Deering- No Offence

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If you haven’t seen No Offence yet, I urge you to seek it out (the series is on All 4). I loved Viv as soon as I saw her- northern and bold as brass, obsessed with clothes and very, very sweary. She’s sort of like the old stereotype of the northern, working class matriarch but updated and promoted to DI. She presents a tough-as-old-boots persona and won’t take nonsense from anybody, but isn’t vile to work for. Her sense of humour, ruthless determination to do her job well and her ability to stick up for those working for her make her an excellent, if occasionally slightly scary, boss. I want to be more self assured and trust my judgement a bit more- Viv’s the woman to look up to. (Also, when the young PC answers the above question with a hesitant “..Seven?” Viv replies “Oh, good. I do love a man who isn’t bothered about career progression.”)

Alicia Florrick- The Good Wife

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The Good Wife is my current obsession. I love it because it’s full of interesting female characters in addition to Alicia (Kalinda, Diane and my personal soulmate in the world of work, Elsbeth Tascioni), but my focus in terms of career is Alicia. She mucks it up sometimes, she often feels like she’s struggling to parent her kids and she has to deal with an on/off husband who is a bit of a git. Yet, she manages something that resembles a work/life balance (she also drinks a lot of red wine) and looks amazing at all times. I am currently debating whether I am going to grow my hair into an ‘Alicia’. But it’s the way that she negotiates her career that impresses me. It doesn’t always go right, but she brushes herself off and starts again- and this attitude is one worth holding on to at times of disappointment.

I guess all these women have a lot in common and represent idealised versions of women in the workplace. However, I reckon if I can channel just a little of what they have in my own job, I can see improvements. We’ll see.

Tell me- who do you admire in a career sense?

 

The rise of the female TV historian

I have never hidden the fact that one of my greatest regrets in life is that I never took history at either GCSE or beyond. My reluctance to study the subject was due to the fact that, at my extremely hard up secondary school, options were very limited and I chose drama (why, oh why?) Since my late teens, I’ve been a bit of an armchair historian, devouring books on loads of subjects, but particularly long dead women. If you were a beheaded queen, I’ve probably read most of the books about you. The bulk of my reading is historical non-fiction and, at the moment, I seem to be in a Georgian phase. I’m the family geneologist, tramping backwards and forwards to Ireland to find out about my long-lost relatives. At university, I did an enhancement course on Tudor and Stuart architecture and used to get on the nerves of the actual history students with my enthusiasm for the subject (admittedly it was, in part, dry. But also interesting!) It’s one of my dreams to be able to afford to do some kind of proper qualification in history one day and then to do something with it.

But one thing that was always clear to me was that history was very much dominated by men. The historians I was watching on TV were David Starkey and Simon Schama. I honestly cannot remember ever watching, or seeing advertised, programmes presented by female historians until recently. In the last five years, there has been a massive improvement in the representation of women presenting serious, well-researched historical documentaries and in the last year, we’ve been truly spoilt.

At the moment, we’re lucky enough to have Bettany Hughes presenting ‘Divine Women’, Mary Beard and ‘Meet the Romans’ and recently, Suzanne Castor’s ‘She-Wolves’. Lucy Worsely pops up with regularity and Amanda Vickery is also on TV quite a bit. All of these women have a calm, reassuring presence and I enjoy watching them; without fail, their passion shines through, whether it’s Hughes by the Ganges watching a Hindu goddess being given to the water, or Beard reading with enthusiasm the epitaph of a long-dead Roman. I also never come away from watching these programmes feeling patronised. I wish that I could have been taught by any of these women. Maybe I’d be researching and publishing my own historical work by now if I had. If this is the effect on me, maybe there are teenage girls who are watching who are inspired to take up their own historical research. It can only be a good thing.

However, it seems that these women have something that the male historians don’t; they are consistently judged on their looks. Whether they’re a ‘stunner’, as a Times reviewer once called Hughes in a review ridiculously entitled ‘Historian or Exotic Dancer?’ or berated for their looks, as Mary Beard has found out this week,  it seems that there are still hang ups that seem to influence people’s expectations of whether a female historian is suitable for TV work. Too attractive? Well, are you sure, my love, that you know what you’re talking about? If you’re not a glamourpuss, should you even be allowed anywhere near a TV camera? No one ever made those arguments about Starkey, did they?

Anyway, regardless of what other people think I, for one, will continue to watch, enjoy and be inspired by these fascinating women and continue to dream of my own journey through history. History has always been overwhelmingly male. It was mostly written by men, taught by men and presented by men. I think the balancing that now seems to be happening is welcome and long overdue.