Middle Age isn’t as bad as you think it’ll be – perhaps not the best opening words to snag a student reader. However, All to Play For by Heather Peace is arguably essential reading for every bright-eyed media wannabe; her book is loosely based on her experiences in the industry. It follows Rhiannon, a girl whose ambition has thrust her into the cut-throat television business. With much hilarity along the way, of course.
An English student, Heather worked in theatre for ten years after her graduation, before “falling into” television work in the 1980s. She began working for BBC Drama in 1989, and in her time there she was even a script editor for high-profile programme Eastenders. As I spoke to her about the release of her new book, it became clear Heather had many stories about her career that were just as interesting as the plot-lines she was involved in creating.
Twenty years ago, what was on our television screens was very different, and Heather is an excellent chronicler of these changes. For instance, she remembers working on one particular Eastenders storyline in which the pub landlord’s daughter and her friend were held hostage. “In one scene, Sharon [the daughter] descended the stairs, and there was a rip in her tights. Well, what had happened to her up the stairs with the kidnappers was… implied. Anyway, in the end, the episode was cut – that sort of thing was considered too risqué.”
Only a few years later, Heather noticed a volte face in the tone of the series. “I wasn’t working for the BBC at the time, but I happened to turn on the television and here was Eastenders. Martin Kemp’s character was being burnt alive in his car as a group of schoolchildren walked by. Before the watershed! ‘Jesus, this is absolutely unbelievable!’ I thought to myself. That never would have happened when I was working there.” Perhaps this provides ammunition for the media pundits who are all too eager to criticise the BBC’s current programming- it is often lambasted in the press for broadcasting inappropriate content early in the evening. Indeed, it is not hard to argue that burning major characters isn’t the most family friendly topic.
Nevertheless, the former script editor is not eager to criticise the BBC too much. “I have not worked for the corporation for over ten years, so I wouldn’t want to comment on some of the most recent headlines about it. I can’t really say anything about its controversial relocation from London to Manchester as I have been out of the loop too long.” Returning to the topic of her work for them she says, “I really enjoyed script editing, but the hours were long. I’m now fifty-five and a lecturer at the Open University – it is nice to be able to work part-time in something not so high pressure.”
Rhiannon is much more forthright about her views on working women, though. In the closing pages, she alleges that women cannot have it all, but Heather clarifies that this is not necessarily her own standpoint – “I wouldn’t dream of discouraging any young women from doing what they want. Rhiannon is much blunter than myself. My own choice to move away from television did give me more balance, but everyone is different.”
Whatever her reasons, Heather Peace gives every aspiring writer a flavour of what life could be like post-graduation, both in person and in All to Play For. As we take our first tentative steps into the job market, we can only hope our careers might be as interesting and ultimately as satisfying as hers.
All to Play For by Heather Peace, £7.99, out now.