The Making of 'The Change' Part One

Di Aitchison WOBS

Women of the Beaumont Society Helpline.


Issue 29
Spring 2005

It doesn't seem possible now that Jan and Gavin's first contact with me was back in 1995. They'd seen or heard a media item featuring my husband Jim (Jenny) and I (I honestly can't remember which one) and of course the Women of the Beaumont Society Helpline of which I'm Co-ordinator and had decided from there that the crossdressing world was worthy of investigation! They had picked up a commission from the BBC to that effect and found me easily via the Helpline.

My own co-operation with the media had started many years previously. Once I had come to a sort of understanding with Jim about his crossdressing I was keen for the perspectives of wives, partners and others connected to a crossdresser to be viewed too and treated with respect. Most of the media material whether books, documentaries, magazine articles and such like seemed to be from the crossdressers point of view and there was an imbalance that needed correcting.

Jan Etherington and Gavin Petrie were already a successful writing team, best known at that time for 'Faith in the Future' starring Linda Bellingham, as well as being married to each other. Gavin is the quiet thoughtful one while Jan is the outgoing, no nonsense type who is very sensitive and caring as well. She has a career as a journalist and writer as well as script writing and can often been found in the pages of the Daily Telegraph describing her latest travel adventure or commenting on the joys of grandmotherhood. Even there her sense of comedy and feel for the occasion are acutely observed.

Jan's first phone call was to introduce herself and Gavin and put to me the concept of a television serial about crossdressing from the wives and partners point of view. With research being the top of the agenda I arranged for Jan and Gavin to visit the Cambridge Beaumont Society meeting so that they could experience first hand what they'd heard about in the media item. Having booked themselves into a hotel in Cambridge Jim and I picked them up and took them along to Glisson Road.

I'd already arranged for as many wives and partners who could make it to be there and about a dozen of us swanned off to the nearest wine bar where the BBC via Jan and Gavin picked up the tab for evening's entertainment. With no spouses present the wives and partners soon opened up about their feelings and experiences of being in a relationship with a crossdresser which was a bit of an eye opener as you can imagine! I still think of those wives and partners as the bravest bunch of women I'd come across in the B.S. at the time in the way that they trusted us with their confidences and dignity. There had of course been other women who had come out in the media and it is always a bit chancy - the media say one thing but you can find yourself being portrayed very differently on the day.

It was well past midnight when we Cinderellas returned Jan and Gavin to their hotel and a few days later it was agreed that I would be the Advisor on the programme and a contract was drawn up to that effect.

Within a week or so I found myself catching a train to London and a taxi to Golden Square, Soho where the production company who were going to make the television version of The Change are situated. Having been greeted at reception I was taken to a large conference room where Jan, Gavin, producers, directors and various other personnel were assembled around a table that nearly filled the room. After introductions we got down to the basics of how we were going to present the concept of a wife discovering her husband's crossdressing and taking it from there.

It was decided that for accuracy it would be best if we drew from the real life situations that both the B.S. wives and the callers to the Helpline describe. It is commonly known that weddings are particularly difficult for crossdressers especially closet ones so we had George 'coming out' to Carol after their daughters' wedding had taken place and they had returned home, tired but happy along with George's mum Violet who was staying with them. Jan and Gavin would write the first two episodes and associate script writers would write the others. Everyone worked from their own homes as free lancers.

The next few weeks were frantic - phone calls daily from the different script writers with diverse story lines, some of them totally impractical and to be honest completely untenable!

Meanwhile I had returned to College to do a pre-university Access course and one of the subjects I was covering was media studies. That academic year from 1995-96 was indeed a memorable one. The next step was to meet the actors who had been chosen to play George and Carol. Groucho's, Soho was the chosen venue and Jim and I and a couple from Peterborough all set off for an unforgettable evening in London's West End.

Next: Meeting the stars.

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