Lisa Holdsworth, Sally Ogden and Jin-Theng Craven discuss gender inequality in screenwriting as soaps are axed

Lisa Holdsworth, Sally Ogden and Jin-Theng Craven discuss gender inequality in screenwriting as soaps are axed

Wednesday, 3rd April 2024
The final episode of BBC One’s Doctors will air this December (Credit: BBC)
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Screenwriter Lisa Holdsworth, producer/director Sally Ogden and documentary film-maker Jin-Theng Craven reunited last month for an RTS Yorkshire event celebrating International Women’s Day, five years after they first discussed the state of the TV industry and gender equality.

The cuts in unscripted TV and the cost of living crisis, said Holdsworth, the creator of upcoming Channel 4 drama Dance School, had hit the largely freelance workforce in the industry hard. “If you have to keep a roof over people’s heads… it doesn’t feel stable to be working in television at the moment. I don’t blame anyone who’s looked elsewhere,” she said.

In the writer’s own sector, Holdsworth said that “places where, traditionally, women have written [such as] continuing drama, have been eroded”, citing the axing of Holby City and Doctors, and fewer episodes of Casualty and Hollyoaks being made.

“[There is a] feeling that our industry is not being run very well at the top, that we don’t weather these storms… that the people who take the brunt are the freelancers at the bottom.”

There were, though, grounds for optimism. Holdsworth held up “the ability of old-fashioned storytelling to surprise us. Who would have predicted a year ago that a drama about the Post Office [Mr Bates vs the Post Office] would have inflamed the country? Hats off to Gwyneth Hughes for writing an incredibly human, empathetic [drama].”

“Email networks… are essential, especially when you are a freelancer. It can be such a lonely world,” said Ogden, who has worked on documentary series such as 24 Hours in A&E.

Mentors are important, too, she added. “I was mentored by Anna Hall from Candour Productions for 10 years… She assured me that it was possible to [have a baby] and she was living proof. She’d had three children and continued to work full-time as a documentary director.”

“Lights, camera, equality: Revisited” was hosted by University of Leeds Professor of Television and Media Studies Dr Beth Johnson.

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