TV - Talking Heads


Socially distanced filming has begun on new productions of Alan Bennett’s critically acclaimed and multi-award-winning Talking Heads monologues...

Press Release

First aired on BBC Television in 1988 and 1998, ten of the original pieces will be remade, with the addition of two new ones written by Bennett last year. The contained nature of Bennett's monologues has allowed the opportunity to tell timely and relevant stories while following the latest government guidelines on safe working practices during Covid-19.

Alan Bennett said, "In such difficult circumstances, that the BBC should choose to remount both series of Talking Heads, and produce two entirely new ones, is a comfort and a huge compliment. I hope a new generation of actors will get and give as much pleasure as we did 20 and 30 years ago."

Nicholas Hytner, Bennett's long-term collaborator and Lead Director and Producer, continued "Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads are among the masterworks of one of the very greatest writers in TV, film and theatre history.

"It has been a profound and fascinating experience to work out a way of making them again, this time with a company of phenomenal actors who are the equal of those who first made them; with a group of leading theatre directors, colleagues and friends of long standing; and with a team behind the camera that represents the best of the British TV and film industries.

"It is a wonderful bonus that two of the 2020 Talking Heads are totally new, written only a short time before the current crisis began. Everyone involved has been working in an unprecedented way, rigorously observing social distancing, entirely rethinking ways of filmmaking that until a few weeks ago seemed routine. The shoot will never bring any of us within touching distance of each other, but I hope that in every other way it will reach out and touch millions of viewers. We are all of us beyond grateful to the BBC for setting us this challenge."

The Talking Heads monologues were first broadcast on the BBC in 1988 and 1998, breaking new ground for television, and widely celebrated as Alan Bennett’s masterpieces. They had a stellar cast including Patricia Routledge, Maggie Smith, Stephanie Cole, Julie Walters, Thora Hird, Eileen Atkins, David Haig and Penelope Wilton, alongside Bennett himself. The monologues won two Baftas, an RTS award and have also since been included on the A-level and GCSE English Literature syllabus.

The monologues which will air on BBC One in the coming months are as follows, in no particular order:

Jodie Comer in Her Big Chance (performed by Julie Walters in 1988), directed by Josie Rourke
Monica Dolan in The Shrine (New in 2019), directed by Nicholas Hytner
Martin Freeman in A Chip In The Sugar (Performed by Alan Bennett in 1988), directed by Jeremy Herrin
Tamsin Greig in Nights In The Garden of Spain (Performed by Penelope Wilton in 1998), directed by Marianne Elliott
Sarah Lancashire in An Ordinary Woman (New in 2019), directed by Nicholas Hytner
Lesley Manville in Bed Among The Lentils (Performed by Maggie Smith in 1988), directed by Nicholas Hytner
Lucian Msamati in Playing Sandwiches (Performed by David Haig in 1998), directed by Jeremy Herrin
Maxine Peake in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet (Performed by Patricia Routledge in 1988), directed by Sarah Frankcom
Rochenda Sandall in The Outside Dog (Performed by Julie Walters in 1998), directed by Nadia Fall
Kristin Scott Thomas in The Hand Of God (Performed by Eileen Atkins in 1998), directed by Jonathan Kent
Imelda Staunton in A Lady Of Letters (Performed by Patricia Routledge in 1988), directed by Jonathan Kent
Harriet Walter in Soldiering On (Performed by Stephanie Cole in 1988), directed by Marianne Elliott

Filming is taking place at BBC Elstree Studios using existing sets. The Talking Heads production team is following the latest government guidelines on Covid-19 to ensure that the series is made safely and responsibly.

Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, says: "Covid-19 has laid waste to drama production in the UK, but it has also posed a challenge: how do we adhere to restrictions while still offering British viewers the chance to lose themselves in great stories at this time of national need? Full of insight, wit, daring and compassion, these are stories of individual lives - but of great resonance. I am so grateful to Alan, Nicholas Hytner, Kevin Loader and the whole team for the caution, ingenuity and wisdom which they have shown in bringing these stories to the screen."

Talking Heads will be produced by London Theatre Company for BBC One, with BBC Studios providing the studios facilities. The series will be produced by Nicholas Hytner and Kevin Loader for London Theatre Company and co-produced by Steve Clark Hall.


Image - BBC - (L-R) Jodie Comer, Monica Dolan, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Sarah Lancashire, Lesley Manville, Lucian Msamati, Maxine Peake, Rochenda Sandall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Imelda Staunton and Harriet Walter.