Goodnight, Irene. More from the Ladies behind the letters, pt 2


More of our interview with the ladies behind the letters in Ladies of Letters, the hit ITV series now entering into its’ second season in the UK. We “sat down” through e-images.jpgmail with the brains behind the pens, Lou Wakefield and Carole Hayman recently. Here, not only do we hear from them, but Irene gets into the middle of it all in-between a little tipple of sherry. Here, the ladies + one, talk of their transition from books to radio to television. While Irene did tend to wrestle the pen from Lou, she did offer this very wordy explanation as to her actions. Fortunately, Lou was able to grab the pen when Irene left the room for more sherry.

Dear Bill


Thank you so much for your interest, and your interesting questionnaire. Here are mine and Lou’s answers. It would be too much to hope that Vera and Carole won’t also send you theirs, which will probably be quite contradictory. As with all Ladies communiques I have conferred with neither of them. Feel free to do likewise.

With sincerest good wishes,


Irene Spencer

oh – and Lou, of course…

Q: In transitioning from the books to radio and then to television with the series, what were the key differences and challenges to each adaptation?

A: Lou/Irene – Now I’m sorry, but Irene has taken over here to point out, rather huffily (and Vera would say, pendantically) that ‘transition’ is a noun not a verb, despite your New World asserterations, so nothing can be ‘transitioned’, least of all her life’s work. She suggests you might prefer to use ‘changing’ or ‘converting’, but admits that in doing so it would make a complete muddle of your sentence construction. That being said, and having now distracted her with a sweet sherry, I can reveal that, though the first radio series was based on a book, all subsequent series were commissioned as radio drama. The transition from that first book to radio was easy, because of the epistolary style. The challenge of changing format to television was, of course, what to do to make it visual. We had several goes at it over the years (we sold it to telly four times before it was actually made), but we were finally helped to settle on the style by our lovely producer at Tiger Aspect, Geoffrey Perkins, King of Comedy. Tragically, Geoffrey died a few weeks before the first series was shot, but his legacy lives on with the Ladies. Another decision he took was to get John Henderson to direct, who has a wonderfully visual style.

A: Carole – Letters worked perfectly on radio – very few changes were needed from the original book. Perhaps a little more explanation of who all the coming and going characters are, and a few more clues about the action. Translating the pictures in peoples’ heads to visuals on screen was the biggest challenge.  The Ladies often see the same event from very different perspectives – so they were fun to create. Our director is wonderful at interpreting our visions.

Q: How did the transition from the Radio 4 series to TV impact the latitude you had with Vera and Irene because of the added visual aspect?

A: Lou/Irene – Irene again. There is no latitude whatsoever, visual or otherwise, except perhaps, speaking personally and in all modesty, that the actress playing me is not quite as good looking as the original template.

A: Carole – It didn’t at all, I don’t think. The visual impact of Maureen and Annie is wonderfully accurate, as well as individually hilariously interpretive, to the characters. The Ladies are always totally on their own agenda as far as their tastes are concerned, both visually and otherwise.

Q: Were you involved in the casting for the television series? If so, did the concept/profile for each character change at all through the writing process?

A: Lou – Yes, we did choose our Ladies, Anne Reid and Maureen Lipman, but no, we made no changes to character. We tried, but Irene and Vera put their mutual foot down, while singing ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved’. It was a case of either staying faithful to them or abiding their dreadful singing and foot stamping.

A: Carole – We were involved. No not really, though each Diva brings something special to their character, the Ladies very much have a life of their own.

Q: How did each character develop over the life of the series?

A: Lou/Irene – Irene here. This is a very silly question. Vera and I live our action-packed lives, and Lou and Carole merely copy it down. You shouldn’t inflate their egos by thinking they are ‘writers’ per se. They are merely amanuenses (or, for the verbally challenged, ‘flunkies’).

A: Carole – They just follow their own paths and bingo! Before you know it they’ve led themselves, and us, into impossible scrapes and mind-boggling scene-arias (as they would say).

In the final part of the interview tomorrow, Lou/Irene/Carole/Vera give us a sneak peak as to what’s in store next season along with some thoughts about what makes good comedy. Cheers!