Ladies of Letters

ITV reorders the acclaimed comedy drama Ladies Of Letters

The quirky and compelling comedy drama series Ladies of Letters, starring Maureen Lipman and Anne Reid as two very different widows who become pen pals, has been recommissioned by Emma Tennant, ITV’s Controller of Digital Channels.

The ten part series which aired in February this year was produced by Tiger Aspect Productions. It was the first original comedy commission for ITV3 and was also recently repeated very successfully on ITV1.

These new ten episodes will feature more vitriolic correspondence between Irene (Maureen Lipman) and Vera (Anne Reid) fuelled by their intense rivalry about everything under the sun, ranging from recipes for blue cheese quiche to their despair over their dysfunctional children.

Ladies of Letters is written by Lou Wakefield and Carole Hayman, who came up with the original idea of sending improvised letters to each other more than 20 years ago. The resulting books led to ten radio series and highly successful CDs, before making it to the screen. It will be directed by John Henderson, produced by Francis Matthews and executive produced by Sophie Clarke-Jervoise.

Emma Tennant says: “We are thrilled that Ladies of Letters will be returning to ITV3, the acting, writing and production of this drama is of the highest standard.”

Hayman and Wakefield say: ‘Emma is so perceptive. We’ve always believed that once Ladies made it to the screen it would be a huge hit, as there’s something in it for everyone.’

Michaela Hennessy-Vass, ITV’s Controller of Comedy adds: “It’s wonderful to see the return of the venerable Ladies of Letters to our screens. We’re so delighted to be working again with Maureen Lipman and Anne Reid, two fabulous actresses who bring the characters alive brilliantly.”

Sunday, 7 June 2009, 10:00PM – 10:30PM

The Wedding of Irene’s daughter Leslie was a great success, but who was that lady Irene (Maureen Lipman) got tiddly with at the reception? It turns out to be Vera (Anne Reid) – not a relative at all but just helping with the catering – but she’s very nicely written to say thank you, so Irene replies to Vera, thanking her for her thank you letter. And they’re away.

Now that the children are off their hands, Irene & Vera – both widowed – have plenty of time for a correspondence. An exchange of dubious recipes is spiced with increasingly nervy speculation about what they drunkenly got up to at the wedding. Vera is relaxed, but Irene has an eye to her dignity and gets quite prim. This puts Vera in a tiz and she trips over the dog and down the stairs.

Irene is mortified and sends flowers, but that stupid florist gets the order wrong and, anyway, Vera is recuperating on the coast with Audrey Roscoe. Vera’s learnt that Audrey is an old friend of Irene’s. She hints that Audrey may have been indiscreet about Irene and Irene is tortured by the uncertainty.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009, 10:00PM on ITV3

Vera’s house is on the verge of demolition to make way for a new bypass. Opening Vera’s correspondence, Irene learns that – due to the credit crunch, Vera’s house is now worth VERY little, so that once her mortgage is paid off she will be left with hardly anything from the compensation. Bulldozers have already started to tear a path through her garden. So Vera & Irene swop houses again so Vera can pack up her things which proves a melancholy task.

Entrusted with the care of Sidney, Vera proves a careless guardian – he’s disappeared. Irene is furious, and returns to Vera’s house in a rage, evicting her unceremoniously. Of course Sidney is found and Irene tries to make her peace with Vera by telling her the exciting news that she’s won a camper van in a raffle Just think! They could set off round the world together!

The van is a bit of a disappointment – second hand and rather shabby – but Vera’s very excited about the whole idea and buys up every luxury holiday item that Great Shagthorne has to offer. Setting aside doubts about how they’ll manage in close proximity, the two ladies set off into the sunset – determined to make the most of their remaining years.


 

Tuesday, 31 March 2009, 10:00PM on ITV3

Vera is out of prison. High on drugs given by her psychiatrist – she caused a sensation on HMS Pride of Cleveland with a combination of nudity, soprano decibels and an unprintable offer to the ship’s boson. Now resident at Sheepdippers, she’s struggling to cope with her temperamental children, the mountain of dirty nappies, Bohemian house guests and a flock of sheep.

Irene – having sold her own house – is now resident at Vera’s old house, where she’s enjoying village life and a new interest in Tarot. Vera isn’t inspired by Irene’s idea that they might set off round the world together, despite a certain weariness at the estate management at the farm. And how would baby Sabrina manage without her?

Irene has discovered the delights of email, which she uses to reveal that the threatened bypass has been rerouted and will now pass through Vera’s lounge. Spooky incidents lead Irene to wonder whether the house may be haunted?

To Irene’s surprise Vera proves a dab hand at computing: if the house is haunted then maybe it’s just as well if they build a bypass through it. But it’s very sad to think of her old house being bulldozed. Very sad indeed. Better have another gin and tonic – then she’ll feel better.


 

Tuesday, 24 March 2009, 10:00PM on ITV3

Sheepdippers Shed Irene is being driven to distraction by Howard’s childishness and Karen’s irresponsible behaviours, She’s neglecting her new born baby Sabrina, and out clubbing every night. On HER Prison ship, Vera has found peace and contentment – and is looking forward to 15 years of analysis with the prison psychiatrist. But Howard is suffering without her – all his hair has fallen out. He tries a succession of exciting hats & wigs: the Kathy Kirby look is particular triumph.

The Free Vera Small fund-raiser goes well. Posh and Becks fail to show, but local journalist Nigel Norris (a particular close friend of Howie’s) brings along snooker champion Les Spatchcock. Irene appears to get on very well with him. Obstinately, Vera insists she’s rather stay in prison- -where she has started a literacy programme. Compared to life outside, life “inside” is full of interest. Vera is organising a production of Les Mis with her cell mates.

Irene- exhausted by life at Sheepdippers moves to Vera’s old house, evicting squatters drawn by the Vera’s reputation as an OAP drugs baron, and tacking the wilderness of mint with a flamethrower. But there’s grim news. The local authority is threatening to build a bypass right through Vera’s back garden. What with one thing and another it might be best if she DOES stay in prison. At last Vera is motivated to come out.

 

 

Tuesday, 17 March 2009, 10:00PM on ITV3

Vera and Irene are making a big impact on board Her Majesty’s prison ship Pride Of Cleveland, helping and advising the other prisoners and bringing their wealth of experience to subverting the system in isolation. Irene deals with the painful news that her daughter in Australia has told little Cheryl Marie that her granny is dead, while Vera struggles to come to terms with her son Howard’s admission that he’s gay (a surprise only to her). Her ample cell mate – Beefy – is a great comfort, though the tattoo of a mermaid she pricks out around Vera’s belly button leads to as nasty case of blood poisoning. Irene despairs of Vera’s rambunctious behaviour and, stung by Vera’s misinterpretation of Irene’s affection as border-line lesbian, she announces that she is soon to stand trial and will soon be free.

Sure enough, the court finds Irene to be totally mad, and immediately releases her into the community. She makers for Great Shagthorne in the Derbyshire Dales, where Vera’s children have set up house – including Karen, with her brand new baby Sabrina. Irene takes control with a vengeance – tidying, cleaning, lecturing – and is soon organising a “Vera Small is Innocent Fork-and-Finer Buffet” to raise funds for her still imprisoned friend. Howard misses Vera badly, but Karen is unforgiving. Vera can ‘rot inside’ as far as she’s concerned.


Tuesday, 10 March 2009, 10:00PM on ITV3

Irene is in prison – quite unreasonably – for demonstrating to her friends how she head-butted a bulldozer at the protest against the nuclear dumping site. Her swearing affliction only made matters worse. But at least Irene’s memory is back: unhappily it returned in the middle of a performance by the Aster Players when a box of chocs fell on her head.

But Irene makes the best of it – cleaning up the cell, helping other prisoners with the problems if censored letters, and learning of the many injustices around her. Vera makes herself useful looking after Irene’s dog Sidney, but she thinks she has to censor her own letters, which makes them more or less incomprehensible. Then one day, Irene receives shocking news. Vera has been arrested as well!

A combination of her daughter’s drug habit and the misinterpretation of one of her letters to Irene led to a late night raid on Vera’s house. The damage the police caused. But prison is quite bearable compared to the visits from Vera’s daughter Lesley – now heavily pregnant and uncertain about the child’s father.

Vera and Irene end up on the same Prison ship and are soon the life and soul of the community. It’s not long till Christmas, so there’s a production of Guys and Dolls to be staged, carols to be sung, cells to be decorated. Actually – prison can be quite fun. And you can look at the bad food as a really easy way to diet.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009, 10:00PM on ITV3

Irene DID wear the dayglo lurex tankini at the demonstration against the nuclear fuel dump! Vera is deeply shocked to hear that Irene was both injured and arrested, and is now in hospital – suffering from amnesia, loss of sex drive and a compulsion to use bad language. Irene’s friendly vicar Bruce suggests that Vera could help, but the hints and assorted memorabilia she sends to Irene confuse rather than clarify. Her letter is mostly about herself – her early years and working in a laundry, her introduction to sex, her difficult father…

Irene does her best to get her bearings. There’s the resentful daughter Lesley who calls in the middle of the night from Australia, the photos of her late husband, and – strangest of all – newspaper reports of her arrest – for head-butting a bulldozer! None of it makes much sense. And the swearing is a problem… except when you have to deal with a hoodie who tries to snatch your handbag. Then it can come in quite handy.

Finding herself next to a roadworks – and a bulldozer – Irene decides to show a group of friends what happened at the demo. A passing policeman thinks she’s up to her old tricks, her Tourette’s Syndrome kicks in, and she’s under arrest again! Irene writes in desperation from a cell at Grossthorpe Police Station.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009, 10:00PM on ITV3

Vera discovers her unmarried daughter Karen is pregnant. Years of frustration lead to an embarrassing outburst by Karen in her hospital bed. Irene pays Vera a visit and finds that she gets on very well with Karen, who decides to spend a few days with her mum’s pen pal. Karen tells Irene all about her brother Howard, and Irene immediately writes toVera saying how impressed she is by her tolerance. Vera is puzzled. So what if Howard likes feather boas and has moved in to a converted sheep-bothy with his friend Anthony? He may be a vegetarian but that’s all the rage these days.

Meanwhile, Irene has joined a local committee to protest at the siting of a nuclear fuel dump under the local golf course.

They plan a themed sit-in – green beach wear – and Vera helpfully suggests that Irene could wear the dayglo lurex tankini Irene (unwisely) bought the previous summer.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009, 10:00PM on ITV3

Irene invites Vera to stay for a few days, but she’ll have to come by train as her daughter Karen has written the car off. Vera is furious – she felt more affection for that little Fiesta than she ever felt for Karen.

The visit isn’t an unqualified success. Vera accompanies Irene to the annual Cricket Club Dance, where Irene has been given the honour of presenting a special prize. On the night, the Chairman – introducing the event – mistakenly invites Vera onto the platform instead.

Irene is shocked and disgusted that Vera doesn’t point out the mistake, but hogs the limelight. It awakens terrible childhood memories – injustices that still rankle. Vera tries to patch things up, but can’t resist describing her own – very happy – schooldays. Irene’s anger is quickly forgotten in the face of another set-back. Her daughter Lesley is moving to Australia. She’ll never see her beautiful little granddaughter again. Irene’s distress drives her to drink, with painful consequences.

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