The Making of The Change: Part Two

Di Aitchison WOBS

Women of the Beaumont Society Helpline.


Issue 30
Summer 2005

The story so far: It is 1995. Scriptwriters Jan Etherington and Gavin Petrie have been commissioned to write a television comedy featuring crossdressers and their families in a sit-com style setting. Di Aitchison from WOBS has been asked to advise on the programme and the cast has been selected. A pre-filming meeting has been arranged for us to meet Jan, Gavin and the lead actors at Groucho's in Soho.

Four very excited people met Jan in the lobby of Groucho's and were taken to a private room upstairs to meet our stars. The four consisted of Di and Jim and Mick and Lyn from Peterborough with Jim and Mick being dressed as men on this occasion. Jan led us along dimly lit corridors and staircases until we reached the room and she ushered is in. The four people already there consisted of Gavin, a member of the production team whose name I can't remember and Alison Steadman (Abigail's Party) and Kenneth Cranham (Harvey Moon). We were immediately struck by the similarities between Mick and Kenneth. Both had close cropped hair and spoke with London accents - it turned out that they both came from the same part of London and 'George's' identity was assured - Kenneth would take Mick's persona as the model for his crossdressing part.

Alison Steadman had just come from the hairdressers and was 'chilling out' with a glass of wine and Lyn and I were invited to sit down with her. Both actors were very relaxed although they told us later that they really didn't know what to expect and were wondering if this was going to be a domestic version of the Rocky Horror Show with Jim and Mick turning up in DRAG a la Lily Savage. They were somewhat relieved that we all turned out to be so 'ordinary' (that was meant as a compliment and we took it as such).

The evening passed quickly; neither Alison or Kenneth were at all 'starry' and their professionalism shone through as did their warm and friendly personalities and we were able to relax quickly. A couple of trips to the loo gave us an opportunity to spot who was in the Groucho Club too which was hopping even at 7 in the evening. It was indeed a memorable night.

Nothing more was heard for several weeks until we got invitations from Jan and Gavin to attend a premier of the first episode of The Change which was being shown at a small theatre one evening in London's West End. Sadly none of us could make it but we were sent copies of the video which sadly we had to return because of copyright considerations.

The video was wonderful. Kenneth had got aspects of both Mick and Jim in his version of 'George' and Alison had picked up on parts of Lyn and I as 'Carol' so the characters were very natural and believable. The film had been well received by the media press and we looked forward to being scheduled for transmission some time later that year. Without a contract for the full series the rest of the episodes couldn't be filmed.

Jan and Gavin waited and waited. World Films held meetings with the television companies. Eventually Jan and Gavin were told that The Change wasn't being picked up for television after all. Apparently the TV companies had got 'cold feet' about the subject matter of crossdressing in a domestic situation. They would have preferred something akin to Rocky Horror plus excessive swearing, nudity and violence to go out after 11 pm it seemed. Our 'Change' was too 'normal' and 'tame' although they agreed that it was in fact an excellent production in its own right.

Back to the drawing board (or should that be word processor) as they say.

We tried it as a stage play next with similar response. Too tame or something.

It would take another five years or so before a broadcaster could be found who would be brave enough to tackle the subject in a real world situation. Thank You BBC Radio 4! Sadly Alison and Kenneth were not free to take up the radio roles so a new cast was chosen.

The Change Series One hit the airwaves in Autumn 2001 with Series Two being commissioned for Autumn 2002. This time Jan and Gavin kindly wrote me into Episodes three and five so I was able to record in studio with the new cast consisting of Linda Bellingham, Chris Ellison and the incomparable Sylvia Syms. Again professionalism carried us through, Linda and Chris were particularly helpful and friendly and it seems that they encouraged my part to be continued in Series Three .

The Change is written very much from the wives and partners point of view while remaining of course sympathetic to the crossdressers position. The Change is becoming a cult status vehicle not only for trannie families but also for other writers and university lecturers in English Literature and Media Studies who are including it in their curriculum as a prime example of writing for radio especially in the medium of comedy script writing.

I did a Creative Writing Course under Sally Cline at AP University in Cambridge in 2003 so imagine my surprise when I discovered that The Change was in fact part of the course that is presented by The Royal Literary Fund of which Sally is the Fellow. The last thing that Sally expected was for me to turn up but it has been a pleasurable experience never-the-less and one which Jan, Gavin and myself take a great deal of pride in.

I've been around 'trannieland' as a wife for getting on for 20 years now. I can look back to a barren wasteland lacking information or positive exposure when I was first looking for any guidance that would help me make sense of this radical form of gender expression. Since then we have come out as a sub-group in society little by little until we have made a positive impact on peoples' awareness. Hopefully The Change will help to move us just another step forward to a place of acceptance where we can all feel comfortable and proud to be who we are.

The Change missed a year and Series Three went out in November and December 2004 with myself being included again in Eps 3 and 6. We had a change of cast though, Chris Ellison was unable to pick up his role as George so it was taken over by Philip Jackson, a superb actor who brought a little gentleness to the character. Sylvia Sym was also unavailable to play George's mum so Marcia Warren took on the role admirably and Woman's Hour's own Jenni Murray appeared in the last episode as Herself with hilarious results.

We still have one ambition and that is to transfer The Change to the television screen. Listeners can help with this by lobbying the BBC and asking "when it is going to be on telly?" It will definitely need pressure from the listening audience to encourage television broadcasters to be courageous enough to show this during the evening after the watershed if they must (!) and at the same time accepting that not everyone wants sex and violence to be part of their viewing. There seems to be a big shift ahead from this type of format where viewers are switching off in their droves and broadcasters are desperate to find new formats which will draw families back to acceptable programmes such as classics like 'Only Fools and Horses' which didn't contain any swearing, sex or violence. The information that you need is on The Change's web page on WOBS own website. It is never too late to push for what we want. They dropped us for a year then picked us up again. Now they are dropping us again but we need to keeping nagging them; after all we pay Licence fees too!

Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. 16.08.06 Last amended 05.02.07