Interview With “Bad Girls” Creator Maureen Chadwick


AE: You’ve written for and created a number of shows, but was Bad Girls particularly special to you?
Oh, absolutely. It was the first opportunity we all had to write the kind of television we’d like to watch. It touched on so many issues we were interested in, and we were able to have a largely female cast as well and to write parts for women who weren’t just adjuncts to the man’s story.

AE: Can you pick out a story line that was particularly important to you?
The Helen and Nikki story was fantastic to write and fantastic to see it so well realized by Mandana [Jones] and Simone [Lahbib]. I think they truly created a screen chemistry that was amazing. A lot of actresses get very self-conscious when they’re a heterosexual playing a lesbian. Mandana and Simone — they really went for it. It’s terrific for a writer to have it go from script to screen so closely to what you imagined.

AE: I assume you had the Nikki and Helen love story planned out from beginning to end. Did you have to adjust your vision as the show went along?
Oh, God, especially at the end of Series 1, when we were told after a very long wait that, yes, we were going to get recommissioned for Season 2, but could we get rid of Helen Stewart? It would have absolutely gutted the show — and us. It was just like, how on earth could they be so stupid? We were absolutely determined that some way or other we had to find a way to keep Helen in. It was down to the network thinking the character of Helen Stewart was insufficiently powerful, that the character kept on making mistakes, and that what we needed was somebody more authoritative and known from a soap in the role of wing governor.

AE: It’s amazing how wrong they were.
They were so wrong, because what endeared Helen Stewart to the audience was the fact that one could identify with her predicament, that she was in this man’s world, struggling, out of her depths, but with a conscience and wanting to do the right thing. I think that was the strength of the character.

AE: Was the Helen and Nikki love story always planned to end as it did?
I’m sure we would have carried on with it if the actors hadn’t wanted to leave the show, but as it was it had to end at the end of Series 3, although we did introduce other new and different lesbian characters and stories. We would have kept Helen in the prison and no doubt Nikki would have come back in as a prisoners’ advocate. We certainly wouldn’t have seen the last of Helen and Nikki. It wasn’t our plan that that would be the absolute end of the story.

AE: Is there any possibility of a reprisal with the Nikki and Helen characters?
Well, ITV has ended Bad Girls, but who knows? If we could find an opportunity, we would certainly love to find out where they are now. If we ever get the opportunity, I would definitely be interested in pursuing that.

AE: Do you have any idea where you’d want to take their story?
I have, actually, yes. I have several ideas but I’ll keep them to myself. [Laughs.] Definitely. As I said, if we’d been able to carry them on beyond Series 3, we had ideas of what we would want to do with them. Even though a few years would’ve passed, if we picked them up now, I think some of those ideas would still be realizable.

AE: Do you plan to bring lesbian characters into your other shows?
Whatever dramas we do in the future, I should think it’s highly likely there’ll be lesbian characters popping up. It won’t ever be the lead feature of the character, that she is a lesbian — and that I think is an important difference that we resolved to make with our presentation of Nikki. We didn’t make a big thing of her being a lesbian. Her issue was that she was incarcerated unjustly.

AE: Did the show lead to any prison reforms?
Oh, gosh, I wish it had. The sad fact is that the prison population is just getting bigger and bigger here [in the U.K.]. When we started, we hoped we’d have to bring the show to an end because women would be released from prison as soon as people realized prison doesn’t work. [Laughs.]

But the very opposite has happened — I think because politicians lack the courage to take on that Middle England mindset and dare to admit that they spend large sums of public money on a penal policy that shows a negative result. I think there’s a particular case to be made about women prisoners, few of whom can be considered violent and a danger to society. Most would benefit from a very different form of treatment involving education and rehab.

AE: This is the first time in eight years you’re not doing research or creating story lines for Bad Girls. You must feel that hole in your life.
This is where the musical sustains me. [Laughs.] We produced it at West Yorkshire Playhouse last year, and we hope to bring it to the West End this autumn. We don’t want the old girl to die.

Bad Girls airs on Logo.

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