13 February 2013
Posted in TV
WPC56 is a new five-part television drama about a female police officer in the 1950’s, to be launched this March on BBC1. Series Creator Dominique Moloney explains how it all began.
Back in 2010 the producers at BBC Birmingham were looking to commission a returnable daytime crime series in the vein of Dixon of Dock Green. As fate would have it I had written a proposal about a young WPC in the 1950s, and Executive Producer Will Trotter liked it enough to take it through the various stages of development.
At the time I had over 20 episodes of BBC TV's Doctors under my belt, and had been lucky enough to work on all three series of another BBC series, Land Girls (created by Roland Moore). So the team at BBC Birmingham were familiar enough with my work to trust me with creating the characters and to begin story-lining an original series.
I have always been fascinated by 1950s culture, especially what it meant to be a woman in that decade. After a brief taste of freedom in the fields and munitions factories of World War 2, an entire generation of women were forced back into the domestic sphere. There were of course those who chose to pursue a career, but it was rare for them to venture beyond the limited gender roles assigned to them. This is why I wanted to tell the story of Gina Dawson, a young woman entering a traditionally male dominated world, having to fight daily to prove her worth as a police constable.
From the outset I knew that if I was to do the subject justice I had to do a lot of initial research (we later had a dedicated research team to flag up any historical inaccuracies). The more I delved into the period, the more I realised what rich territory it was. I was amazed to discover for instance that if a police woman (and this only applied to the women) decided to marry and have children, she’d be instructed to leave the force, an ultimatum unthinkable today.
Those dedicated enough to stay were officially relegated to dealing with women’s, juvenile and children’s issues, and no matter what her rank, she was expected to do the typing for even the lowliest male colleague.
Naturally I was also hungry to hear stories of police women who took similar risks to the men, and it turned out there were indeed a determined few who were able to force their way into the thick of it. They proved vital for undercover and detective work, and were recognised for their more compassionate approach to policing. These brave women put their lives on the line, just as they continue to do today. WPC56 is about one such heroine, dedicated to her job but forced always to choose between love and career.
By the start of 2012 Will Trotter had secured a green light from the Controller of Daytime. I was assigned episodes One, Three and Five, and writer Ray Brooking was brought on board to write episodes Two and Four. Working closely with Will, Ray, producer Mike Hobson and script editor Grainne O’Boyle, we began crafting the scripts to make the fictional world of Brinford (a satellite town of Birmingham) a living, breathing reality.
We were keen to tap into some of the darker realities of the 1950s, and not just portray the police as the 'goodies' chasing the 'baddies'. It was a time where racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism were commonplace, and individual officers were not beyond using violence against suspects or taking backhanders. The central investigation in the series is of a rather chilling murder, and the scripts do not pull their punches, despite being pre-watershed. The series has a lighter side to it too, and there is humour peppered throughout. With a fresh young cast of colourful characters, we enter a world of juke box cafés, smoke filled dance clubs, Teddy Boys and Rock & Roll.
The writing process took about seven months to complete. Each script ran on average to seven or eight drafts, and there were times when Ray and I had to jump back and forth between episodes as deadlines often overlapped. It was invaluable having our script editor keeping an eye on continuity as inevitably things got complicated, given the multi-stranding with various police cases running in tandem. But the process was never dull; it was one of those all too rare occasions where you wake up each morning genuinely excited by the day’s writing ahead.
We were finally ready to rumble into production in early November. On the eve of filming we had a read-through at BBC Television Centre, which was a chance for the producers, cast, writers and production team to assemble for the first time and run through the first two scripts. With a strong cast in place, including 23 year old actress Jennie Jacques taking the leading role of Gina Dawson, the atmosphere was electric and we all felt certain we were about to make something special.
As any scriptwriter knows, it’s an odd feeling getting to the finish line when the majority of the work is only just beginning. After several months of immersing yourself in a world of your imagination, suddenly your job is done and it’s over to others to embody those characters, and make their own discoveries.
Production took place entirely in and around Birmingham. It was filmed back-to-back in two blocks, the first directed by Ian Barber, the second by Niall Fraser. The shoot lasted for two months, wrapping just days before Christmas. Visiting the location I was struck by the extraordinary attention to detail reflected in the sets, props, costumes, hair and make-up. Despite a relatively tight budget and an even tighter schedule, the atmosphere was cheerful throughout and the crew operated like a well oiled machine, the majority being well used to a fast turnover from working on Doctors.
WPC56 is just the latest of a slate of exciting new projects being produced by BBC Birmingham for Daytime Television. With the promise of an early evening repeat for the series, and the ever growing popularity of on-demand viewing, shows made for this time slot are able to reach a far wider audience than would have been imaginable just a few years ago.
Our hope for WPC56 is to go to a second series and beyond. The joy of writing a police drama with a strong ensemble of characters is that there is scope for ever more stories to unfold. If you ask me, Gina Dawson’s adventures are only just beginning.
WPC56 will be shown on BBC One from 18 March