No doubt most of us are familiar with the first bars of the theme tune that heralds the beginning of each week-nightly episode of Emmerdale, the cue to settle down and become absorbed in the drama in the Dales. Originally known as Emmerdale Farm, the soap has come a long way from its beginnings in 1972 when it was regarded as a ‘sleepy soap’ by critics – something that certainly isn’t true of today’s show, which now draws up to seven million viewers per episode in its prime-time slot.
On Friday 8th March, the men of Emmerdale will not be making an appearance as the very first, all-female episode will be aired in recognition of International Women’s Day. The episode has been written, produced, directed and recorded by a female-led crew and will feature only the women of Emmerdale. The team is already made up of almost 50/50 female to male anyway, and their daily filming crews have a high ratio of women, but an extra-special crew is being pulled together for this episode to showcase what women can do in an industry that is still very much male-dominated.
Living North spoke to one of Emmerdale’s producers, Kate Brooks, to find out more about this first in soap history. ‘We’re really excited about this episode because we just want to celebrate women in the industry which has always been quite a male-dominated one,’ says Kate. ‘We want to celebrate the fact that more women are taking jobs in the crew, camera and sound departments.’
The idea for the all-women episode came from one of the shows’ female storywriters, who pitched it last year as a way of acknowledging International Women’s Day, and the suggestion went down a storm among the rest of the crew. ‘After that, we set about trying to storyline it,’ explains Kate, ‘as we wanted to make sure we told stories from all different female perspectives. We’ve got a real range of characters in this episode, from our youngest Amelia Flanagan who plays April Windsor, right through to stalwarts of the show like Liz Estensen who plays Diane Sugden.’
‘They will all get the chance to shine and to explore stories that are not necessarily predominantly female orientated, but that are very much in-keeping with their characters and where their journeys are going,’ says Kate.
What the team are keen to demonstrate is exactly what women are capable of these days. ‘We just want to celebrate the fact that in this day and age, we can produce a show which is led by an all-female cast and made up of an almost all-female crew – this is the age in which we’re living now, we can do this, so let’s do it and have fun with it.’
While the episode itself will focus on only the women and girls’ stories, it wasn’t possible for an entirely female crew to be pulled together, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. ‘Our Head of Costume is a man so we couldn’t bring in a female replacement just for one episode,’ laughs Kate. ‘But in terms of the crew on the day, we’re going to use our female boom- and camera-operators, we’ve got a female director, Sarah Kendell, who is fantastic and was previously a vision mixer on the show and is now directing. The writer is Maxine Alderton, the episode will be produced by females and the script editors are female.’
The episode will be a first, as no other soap has aired an all-female episode before, and hopefully it will inspire many young girls and women to look into careers and roles they may have previously believed difficult to break into. But the team were determined not to produce an all-female episode simply for the sake of it.
‘We primarily wanted to tell a really good story and produce a great episode,’ says Kate. ‘We’re very lucky we’ve got such a brilliant cast with strong female characters who represent every section of life, so we’ve got that to play with. First and foremost we wanted a show that felt special, female-led but also story-led, without throwing in any spectacular stunts.’
Once the finer points of the storyline were pinned down, it was fairly straightforward for the team to pull together the female crew members already on the Emmerdale books, with the only tricky part being ensuring they were all available on the right days for filming. The Emmerdale shoot schedule is set over two weeks, with three different recording crews shooting scenes from four different episodes on a daily basis.
They also made sure to include every female cast member, rather than just cherry-picking the biggest from the show. ‘We want it to be a showcase of what girls can do in the industry right across the board,’ says Kate.
Behind the scenes, the initiative has been met with nothing but enthusiasm and support, although it did cause a bit of controversy on Twitter. ‘There were a few people saying “When are you going to do an all-male episode?” and things like that, but on the whole people are very much behind it,’ says Kate. ‘They understand that we’re doing this to celebrate women in television and that there’s no ulterior motive or agenda – it’s very much just showing people what we can do as a collective, as well help entice more women to the industry. There’s still a shortage of female camera- and boom-operators, so we want to show people that these jobs are for women, so please, come on board.’
Although there are more and more TV shows these days embracing more female leads and storylines, Emmerdale is certainly the first mainstream show to air an all-women episode, produced, written, directed and shot by women too. While Kate thinks it would be brilliant if other shows were inspired to follow their lead, she’s adamant she doesn’t want it to become something that feels forced. ‘Ultimately, we’re here to tell really great stories, and if those stories warrant an all-female cast then great, but I don’t think it should ever become a gimmick of some sort’ says Kate.
And those stories will appeal to everyone. ‘We’re not trying to say “Hey, women are amazing, we never put a foot wrong”,’ explains Kate. ‘We’re saying we’re flawed, we make mistakes, we can be hotheaded, we can be scrappy, gentle, emotional, and we can be all these things in between. We are very much telling the story of what it’s like to be a woman on a broad spectrum, and how women come in very different shapes and sizes, with different personalities.’
Of course, it wouldn’t be an episode of Emmerdale without a dash of drama – obviously Kate wasn’t going to drop any spoilers for the 8th March episode, but she assured us that it will have us on the edge of our seats. ‘We want the episode to speak for itself,’ says Kate. ‘It’s really strong and powerful with lots of twists and unexpected reveals, that just celebrates women in all their messy glory.’
‘The storyline will very much pick up from the previous two episodes, however there are three massive storylines that we’re sitting on during this show,’ reveals Kate. ‘Obviously I can’t say anything more about it than that, but it is going to change a lot of our characters’ lives and turn them upside down. It’s an ongoing episode, it won’t be isolated in that respect, and it should be very exciting.’
Tune in on 8th March for this unmissable episode and see exactly what women in the television industry are capable of.