BBC remake of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads: Everything you need to know

Megan Sutton
Photo credit: BBC

From Good Housekeeping

The BBC is remaking Alan Bennett’s critically acclaimed and multi-award-winning Talking Heads monologues, which first aired in 1988 and 1998, and has shared an air date as well as a first look at the stars in character.

Ten of the original pieces will be re-made with the addition of two new ones written by Bennett last year. The monologues feature favourites including Jodie Comer, Sarah Lancashire and Imelda Staunton and will air from 23 June on BBC One.

Photo credit: BBC

Talking Heads: the cast

The Talking Heads monologues were first broadcast on the BBC in 1988 and 1998 and had a stellar cast including Patricia Routledge, Maggie Smith, Stephanie Cole, Julie Walters, Thora Hird, Eileen Atkins, David Haig and Penelope Wilton.

The monologues which will air on BBC One in the coming months are as follows:

  • Jodie Comer in ‘Her Big Chance’ (1988), directed by Josie Rourke
  • Monica Dolan in The Shrine’ (2019), directed by Nicholas Hytner
  • Martin Freeman in ‘A Chip in the Sugar’ (1988), directed by Jeremy Herrin
  • Tamsin Greig in ‘Nights in the Garden of Spain’ (1998), directed by Marianne Elliott
  • Sarah Lancashire in ‘An Ordinary Woman’ (2019), directed by Nicholas Hytner
  • Lesley Manville in ‘Bed Among the Lentils’ (1988), directed by Nicholas Hytner
  • Lucian Msamati in ‘Playing Sandwiches’ (1998), directed by Jeremy Herrin
  • Maxine Peake in ‘Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet’ (1988), directed by Sarah Frankcom
  • Rochenda Sandall in ‘The Outside Dog’ (1998), directed by Nadia Fall
  • Kristin Scott Thomas in ‘The Hand of God’ (1998), directed by Jonathan Kent
  • Imelda Staunton in ‘A Lady of Letters’ (1988), directed by Jonathan Kent
  • Harriet Walter in ‘Soldiering On’ (1988), directed by Marianne Elliott
Photo credit: BBC

Speaking about the monologues, Jodie Comer said:

"I think they are so beautifully intimate. There is a lot to be said for the relationship a person can have with a piece of drama. The direction to camera makes the audience feel special, almost as if the character is having a private conversation with the viewer alone. The emotions and subject matters these characters are experiencing are so complex and nothing is always what it seems, which is exciting for an audience, it keeps them on their toes."

Talking Heads: Social distancing

In a press release announcing the news of the revival, the BBC said:

"As the British public service broadcaster, the BBC has a key role to play in continuing to offer new programming for our audience at this time of national crisis. The contained nature of Bennett's monologues allowed the opportunity to tell timely and relevant stories while following the latest government guidelines on safe working practices during Covid-19."

Alan Bennett said: "In such difficult circumstances, that the BBC should choose to remount both series of Talking Heads, and produce two entirely new ones, is a comfort and a huge compliment. I hope a new generation of actors will get and give as much pleasure as we did twenty and thirty years ago."

Photo credit: BBC

Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, added: "Covid-19 has laid waste to drama production in the UK, but it has also posed a challenge: how do we adhere to restrictions while still offering British viewers the chance to lose themselves in great stories at this time of national need? Full of insight, wit, daring and compassion, these are stories of individual lives - but of great resonance. I am so grateful to Alan, Nicholas Hytner, Kevin Loader and the whole team for the caution, ingenuity and wisdom which they have shown in bringing these stories to the screen."

Filming took place at BBC Elstree Studios using existing sets. The Talking Heads production team followed government guidelines on Covid-19 to ensure that the series was made safely and responsibly.

Speaking about the social distancing filming experience, Tamsin Greig said:

"It was really strange, not coming into contact with anyone on set. Costume and hair/makeup is such an intimate collaboration, that to maintain distance from these artists was odd and a little isolating. And then to have the entire crew give you such a wide berth felt very weird! But I suppose all that perfectly mirrors what so many of us are experiencing at the moment, but also reflects the nature of the monologues themselves - people in situations of extreme loneliness longing to be heard and to connect."

Taking Heads: Air date

Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads will air on BBC One from 9pm on Tuesday 23 June with a double bill. All twelve Talking Heads will then be available to stream on BBC iPlayer, with the series continuing on BBC One across the following weeks.

Talking Heads will air from 23 June at 9pm on BBC One.

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