Tales of Lesbian Love
This is a talk I gave at the University of East Anglia on 23 February 2012 as part of LGBT History Month. [ Read ‘Tales of Lesbian Love’ ]
I wrote this story in the seventies and filed it away. [ Read ‘Spent Letters’ ]
This is the first short story I ever wrote. It actually got published – in an Arts Council anthology. [ Read ‘Crooked Neighbours’ ]
The Relief was intended for the stage. Set in a ladies lavatory on an underground station, Charmaine takes over as attendant from Mabel who’s been in the job for thirty years.
At a rehearsed reading by the ‘Mouth and Trousers’, theatre company upstairs at the York and Albany in Camden Town, a drunk in the audience laughed too loudly, shouted slurred asides and refused to leave. Despite this a director from the New Vic (an offshoot of the Young Vic) liked the play and said he wanted to take it on tour with Michael Bogdanov directing. Nothing came of this, and at the time Mary Whitehouse was trying to get Bogdanov sent to prison for ‘procuring an act of gross indecency’ in The Romans in Britain. But on the strength of the script Margaret (Peggy) Ramsay took me on as a client. I remember her saying to me ‘a page a day, Diana’. I never did achieve this. [ Read an excerpt ]
The Weekend was my only TV play (apart from Jupiter Moon). It’s about twins who reunite for a weekend. One of them is schizophrenic. A cat in it, hired from the agency Pussies Galore, had its own dressing room at BBC Television Centre, appeared semi-feral and upstaged everything and everybody. Clive Brill directed. He went on to direct The Archers and wrote to me ‘if you can put your hand on your heart and tell me that you have long been a devoted fan of the programme we could try a trial script’. I couldn’t put my hand there. Wouldn’t have minded the alternative Archers though. Like the alternative Miss World.
Strip Show had a long and varied life. It’s a series of monologues by women as they get ready for bed.
When it was first put on by the Elephant Theatre Company with an Arts Council grant, the box office takings were £241.10 (‘the best we have done at the Elephant’) My share was £20.10. It moved to a stage at the South Bank Polytechnic, then to the Half Moon Theatre in the Mile End Road. Swedish rights were sold. ‘Out of the Blue Productions’ took it to the Edinburgh Festival (it got a Fringe First award for new writing and was a pick of the Fringe by the Scotsman) then to the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.
Michael McCallion, a teacher at RADA asked to use these monologues as teaching pieces. Linda Withers, an aspiring actress and wife of Pick Withers, the drummer in the rock band Dire Straits, then had lessons with him and commissioned me to write a play for her to star in which Michael would direct. She launched a company called Skin of Our Teeth Productions. Pick was to write the music and be in the play, drumming. Linda also wanted parts for her American friend Dondi and her friends Catherine and Susan. I came up with Sleaze and Dreams about a travelling circus troupe. She took it to the Edinburgh Festival. The Scotsman called it ‘a well-made contemporary play with much of the style of John Godber’s work.’ Well, maybe.
What a Saga
What a Saga was on BBC Radio 4 in 1986:
‘As a hot weather listen you couldn’t do better than What a Saga’ Val Arnold Smith wrote in the Guardian ‘a tale of disasters in which poor Mrs Bloom finds out in quick succession that her daughter is expecting twins without even the support of a boyfriend, her house is falling down and her husband is eloping with his boyfriend without leaving her a penny. Oh, and the cat’s lost its marbles. Diana Souhami wrote it, Prunella Scales played poor Mrs Bloom and there wasn’t a happy ending. It cheered me up no end.’
‘Would that that author’s skills could be turned to the current yawning gap in radio sit. com.’ Roy Strong said of me in The Times.
It was then broadcast on the world service and Prunella Scales got an offer of marriage from a man in Africa who felt sorry for her.
In 1989 BSB offered me a commission to write for a TV soap opera called Voyage of the Ilea. The pay was high. It was produced in Birmingham and set in space. I was responsible for episodes 18, 32, 40, 41, 54, 55, 64, 65. I have no recollection of what happened in any of them, though I remember a very funny review by Nancy Banks-Smith about how this must surely be the worst soap opera in the universe (‘but who knows what other horrors are lurking out there’ she wrote). The only way I could write lines like ‘We’re going to have to launch the rockets even if it means half the ship gets blown off’ was to get terribly drunk first. At one script meeting I was praised for my wit and imagination and held up as an example to the other script writers. At the following meeting I got the sack. It was clear I didn’t have an inkling as to what was meant to be going on. It wasn’t that I’d lost the plot, I was incapable of finding it. I had the wrong people kissing each other, and I hadn’t twigged that ILEA was a spaceship. I thought it was the Inner London Education Authority. None of the other scriptwriters could follow on from my offerings.
Jupiter Moon survived for 150 episodes, then disappeared into a black hole. I never saw any of them because I didn’t have a dish. For some reason it’s still on the internet. Maybe it became a sort of cult thing, like that soap opera set in Spain.
A Horse Called Gertrude Stein
A Horse Called Gertrude Stein was on BBC Radio 4 in 1990. It’s about a daughter who tells the family over Sunday lunch she’s lesbian. Patricia Routledge played the mother. [ Read an excerpt ]
Lots of plays I wrote weren’t put on. Are You Going to Chadwick Green, The Stuff of Life, Samuel Binns and the Photographer, Ms Wonderful, Symptoms… One day I’ll get them out of the filing cabinet…