As a one-off episode broadcast on Radio 4 on New Year’s Day, Conversations from a Long Marriage portrayed Joanna Lumley and Roger Allam as a married couple for over 40 years. Children of the Sixties, they were still free spirits, drawn together by their passion for music – and each other. The show followed their conversations that took them from the local café, to their kitchen table, taking in her resentment of new glasses – a symbol of ageing – and fury at being lectured by the dental hygienist. He had a dodgy knee and was on statins, and when they discussed the marriage break-up of their closest friends, Sally and Peter, there was jealousy and talk of affairs. She suggested there are advantages to single beds, separate holidays and wanted to go clubbing in Ibiza for her imminent ‘big’ birthday.
Soon it became clear that episode was a success and that the story resonated deeply with the audience (All-Allam.com received quite a few messages from people asking for a copy.) Now Radio 4 has recorded another episode set to be broadcast on Christmas Eve at 11:30am, with a four-part series to follow in 2019.
“Let’s laugh at the oldies”
Conversations From A Long Marriage is written by Jan Etherington, who has been married to Gavin Petrie for over 30 years. Second Thoughts, Faith In The Future and Next Of Kin. She says: “Conversations From A Long Marriage will resonate with couples of any age but especially those who are still dancing in the kitchen, singing in the car and trying to keep the passion alive.” Talking to British Comedy Guide about the genesis of her latest show, Etherington explained further: “I wrote it for Joanna Lumley because she epitomises that ageless style and curiosity for living in the moment. Roger Allam is absolutely wonderful, one of the gods of radio and it was just magical to see them together, they are so in tune and they genuinely like each other.”
Etherington, who also teaches sitcom writing, says she was motivated to create the comedy as she was “tired of my generation being portrayed as golfing caravanners with no reference to how they were in their youth.” In an article for The Express published earlier this year, she expanded on her reasoning: “All my comedy writing life, I’ve aimed to create characters, stories and narrative that I could identify with – but as I get older, I am appalled at how my generation are portrayed – on screen and on air. “The ‘pensioners behaving badly’ and/or stupidly; the ‘let’s laugh at the oldies’ reality shows and the unforgiveable crassness of prime time comedies, which portrays anyone over 60 as bickering, clueless – often spiteful – fools, whose only purpose seems to be to misunderstand the obvious, or snap bitchy one-liners at each other. I was tired of the stereotypical ‘babyboomer’ portrayals, of those who have ‘become old’, none of which reflected the ‘still the same inside’ attitude of me – and my friends. They are like no-one I know – or want to know.”
A TV Sitcom?
It’s not the first time that Etherington creates a radio hit, but her writing didn’t always find its way to the screen. However, as she explains, times have changed: the creation of BBC Studios means the corporation’s radio and television production teams are liaising with each other again in an attempt to develop formats.
“When Second Thoughts was a huge hit on radio, back in 1989, we obviously offered it to BBC TV, and it got turned down – along with lots of other radio comedies: After Henry, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, etc… Greg Dyke, who was then head of LWT, bumped into us at a press launch (we were both journalists) and said ‘I’ve heard Second Thoughts on Radio 4, send me the tapes.’ LWT bought it, where it ran for 5 series, 49 episodes and averaged around 10 million viewers. Now they’re liaising between radio and TV at the BBC all the time. Better late than never!”
BBC Studios has commissioned the TV pilot, for which a script has now been written. But as the leads are busy bees, we might have to wait a while until their schedules align…