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Hattie Jacques: How we filmed her bittersweet tale

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Seb Barwell Seb Barwell | 11:03 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The idea for a Hattie Jacques film was first hatched with Cheryl Taylor in BBC Comedy, following the excellent BBC Four dramas on Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock and others.

We all felt it was time to look at a woman in comedy and it would be interesting to portray a comic whose life was more colourful off screen than her roles ever suggested.

Ruth Jones as Hattie Jacques.

Deeper research into her story suggested that we were dealing with a bittersweet tale - humorous moments, but tinged with sadness - and the project became a joint effort, with the support of Ben Stephenson and Anne Mensah in BBC Drama.

We were keen to avoid a cradle-to-grave treatment and instead find one episode in her life that captured her core dilemmas - her work, her personal life, loyalty and adventure.

Writer Stephen Russell grasped this brilliantly and forged a revealing, satisfying narrative around the love triangle with her husband, John Le Mesurier, and her driver, John Schofield, covering just a few years.

We resigned ourselves to the fact that Matron - Hattie's iconic Carry On role - wouldn't feature, but we were determined the story should work for any viewer, even if they'd never heard of Hattie Jacques.

In fact, the filming of Carry On Cabby coincided with our story. This was an unusual lead role for Hattie and her favourite in the series.

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With themes of sexy cab drivers, unfulfilled marriages and female empowerment, Cabby provided plenty of parallels with Hattie's personal narrative.

From talking to some of Hattie's friends and family, we were struck by the very civilised way in which the marriage break-up was handled and the conviction that, although Hattie's affair with Schofield ended badly, she would make the same gamble again.

We didn't want to create goodies and baddies in this story - there is always more to the end of a relationship than one person's actions - and this was the perfect story to explore that theme.

Director Dan Zeff made sure that moments of great strength and human weakness were revealed in each of the characters.

One of the most poignant aspects of the script is the irony that Hattie and her husband rediscover each other through the process of separating - and seem to fall in love again just as they are divorced.

Casting started with a shortlist of one for the main role. Luckily Ruth Jones was a fan of Hattie and, soon after reading an early draft of the script, she was on board.

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Casting for the two Johns was tougher. John Le Mesurier needed a passive, detached air, while exerting a powerful influence over the other characters.


John Schofield was the opposite - raw, intuitive, passionate and bristling with physical presence. Robert Bathurst and Aidan Turner fulfilled these criteria perfectly and make a fantastic combination.

With three weeks to shoot a 90-minute film, the schedule was tough - not least for Ruth, who appears in nearly every scene with detailed hair and make-up each morning.

To her great credit she threw herself into it, delivered a ravishing performance and, through her unflagging good cheer, helped make the frantic shoot a pleasure.

Seb Barwell jointly produced Hattie with Richard Osborne.

Hattie is on Wednesday, 19 January at 9pm on BBC Four and BBC HD.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I think Ruth Jones was a fantastic choice for Hattie Jacques as she is also one of those larger than life kind of people. I can't wait to watch it tonight, I hope it doesn't disappoint!!

  • Comment number 2.

    Can't wait to see Hattie. It sounds like it's a completely different angle from anything we've heard about her before. , Ruth Jones, Aidan Turner and Robert Bathurst sound so right for the parts. Looking forward to this as I gather are many fans of Being Human!

  • Comment number 3.

    Did I not see this before or was it a diff tv film on Hattie's life?

  • Comment number 4.

    I was so looking forward to watching this programme until I found out that it was only on BBC 4. I'm living in The Netherlands and can only get BBC1 & BBC2. Do you think that there will one day be shown on BBC1/BBC2?

  • Comment number 5.

    This was absolutely brilliant. Ruth Jones was superb, she had obviously studied film of Hattie as she was so like her but also displayed great acting: much, much more than an impression. Robert Bathurst was also great as the lovely John Le Mesurier. The supporting cast were fantastic without exception! A very moving story. The relationship between Hattie & John Le M was greatly touching. I also have to mention the make up artists, wardrobe & set design: all spot on. Showing the actual 'This is your Life' afterwards was an inspired move, as it was being portrayed in the film I found myself wondering if I could ever find it on the internet to see the real thing & was so pleased when it followed!

  • Comment number 6.

    Predictably awful, embarrassing to watch, self indulgent rubbish. "This is my husband John Le Mesurier", not Robert Bathurst then who neither looks nor sounds like John Le Mesurier...dreadful, just dreadful. Painful & utterly irrelevant rubbish to add to BBC4's collection of Kenneth Williams/Tony Hancock/Fanny Craddock/Frankie Howerd "dramas".

  • Comment number 7.

    I felt so much for John Le Mesurier as I'd liked both of them for such a long time (I'm only 23) and only this drama let me know they were even married. I hope John wasn't in some of those situations where he could hear them (that's a nightmare of mine) very heart wrenching stuff.
    Robert Bathurst is an amazing actor and Ruth Jones was great as Hattie.

  • Comment number 8.

    I have to disagree with kloncill. I felt Robert Bathurst displayed the pain that John Lemez was going through superbly, by his facial expressions. We could feel his torment. By all accounts Lemez was a lovely, gentle man who loved Hattie dearly and I felt the acting of all concerned was exceptional.A fine tribute to Hattie .

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm not really sure which programme klonkill was actually watching. This programme was quite superb. Ruth Jones was tremendous - and showed that she has acting abilities far beyond the confines of Gavin and Stacey. Robert Bathurst's gentle and subtle portrayal of John le Mesurier was both utterly believable and very moving. Well done all for a truly enjoyable prigramme.

  • Comment number 10.

    I had a feeling that Hattie was not going to disappoint and for once I wasn't wrong. This was excellent; superb casting for a start. Robert Bathurst actually began to look like John Le Mesurier inasmuch as anyone could, his facial expressions were spot on. It didn't surprise me that he acted the way he did; after all, he was "old school" and wouldn't have made a scene. There was sympathy for le Mesurier in real life but it has to be remembered that both characters veered from the marriage, not just Hattie. Ruth Jones was marvellous as ever. I don't think anyone else could have played her. Aidan Turner did an excellent job as John Schofield and there is a general concensus among some, two years ago, that he's going to go far in his career and he will. Wonderful attention to detail with costume, props and speech. All in all, moving, gentle and as true to the story as it could be. Thank you both BBC Four and BBC Comedy.

  • Comment number 11.

    Absolutely loved this. Everyone, bar one, has said just what I think. Made me cry and any programme that can provoke a real emotion, whatever it is, is worth watching. Well done to all, beautiful. :-)

  • Comment number 12.

    This didn't work for me. Seb Barwell's comment "We were keen to avoid a cradle-to-grave treatment and instead find one episode in her life that captured her core dilemmas......." perhaps explains why. Maybe we did need to know much more about how and why Hattie and John Le Mesurier became these people. My perception from this one small episode in their life portays Hattie as amoral and Le Mesurier as spineless. Maybe they were, but I suspect there was much more to them than that. I suppose just three weeks shooting and 90 minutes demands brevity, but not if it risks distorting the truth - if it did.

    For me, Aidan Turner did everything right; Ruth Jones, seemed to struggle with the character; Robert Bathurst performance was painful, lifeless and irritating. But.. Le Mesurier's demeanour alone would surely be impossible to portray, and without it the character becomes wooden, mute.

  • Comment number 13.

    I loved every minute of this show, i.ve always been an admirer of Hattie Jacques, she made a great career for herslef in an era that demanded tiny waists and large hips. I think Ruth Jones was a great choice for the role although it took a few minutes to get my head around her in such deep character, I feel she captured the glamour and vuneralbity of Hattie perfectly.

    A touching, shocking and thoroughly unique tale told sensitively and accurately. I'm just not toally convinced of Robert Bathurst's John, although John Le Mesurier, is a complex and unique person, one I'm sure is difficult to capture. Well done BBC4, a long awaited, great drama well executed from the Beeb.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hattie was excellent. I don't usually go for biopics but I think this one went a lot further than most. Some very clever ideas, and I guess a key theme was "keeping up appearances," with actors and their private lives so strangely intertwined. Brilliant script and brilliant acting.

  • Comment number 15.

    I thought it was quite marvellous with terrific performances from Ruth Jones and Robert Bathurst who captured Hattie and John Le Mesurier without attempting impersonations. An intelligent, touching script and beautifully directed and produced. Am I right in thinking it was based on a rather good biography of Hattie Jacques ?

  • Comment number 16.

    Sorry but we gave it 40 minutes and that was enough! Don't like this rapid change of

    scene every 20 seconds or so, bouncing from one situation to another too often. It

    also seemed to take place in half darkness

  • Comment number 17.

    Thanks all for taking time to post comments - and of course for watching Hattie.

    'Antonietta' asks about a repeat on BBC1/2 - we are expecting Hattie to go out on BBC2 sometime this year - to be confirmed. The viewing figures on BBC4 have been really strong, so there's every chance.

    'Rumer1' - yes Hattie started with a great biography by Andy Merriman, which brought to light a lot of the details about Hattie's affair with Schofield - but also covers the rest of her life and career in detail.

    'anode' feels the film needed more about Hattie and Le Mesurier to paint a complete portrait. There's definitely a lot more to their characters and lives than we could represent. And it is a balancing act. At one extreme, if we tried to tell everything of note that happened to her - that would really only be of interest to existing Hattie Jacques fans - who you would expect to know a lot of it already. So that doesn't work for me. We wanted to focus on a love story that might touch people whether or not they know Hattie Jacques. Hopefully this brings recognition of Hattie to a wider audience and reveals a vivacious, exuberant side to her that sometimes only simmered beneath the surface in her screen roles.

    Thanks again for feedback.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think Ruth Jones protrayal of Hattie was excellent as indeed was all the casting. I cannot recommend this enough. I am delighted it is being repeated on Sunday. I have always liked Hattie but was quite shocked by the way she treated John Le Mesurier. It must have been a most difficult time for them all.

  • Comment number 19.

    Perhaps it's a mistake to watch biopics like this about someone that you like. How anybody could treat someone they allegedly love like she treated John Le Mesurier is totally beyond me. The fact that he found love again only for her (Joany) to betray him with Tony Hancock makes it even sadder.

    A once-loved comedy icon now forever tainted in my eyes. I will never watch 'Carry on Cabbie' again!

  • Comment number 20.

    Not sure which programme klonkill watched, but it must have been a different one from the one that I saw! The cast and support all deserve plaudits - this was a superb presentation, absolutely rivetting stuff. Ruth Jones in particular 'lived' the part of Hattie - she will have a great acting career if this is anything to go by.

  • Comment number 21.

    I enjoyed the storyline and the acting but, if you employ a continuity director then I think he or she should look around for different employment. The film was set mainly in 1963, the E type Jaguar 2+2 didn't come out until 1968 and the Ford Cortinas in the Carry on Cabbie scene were post 1964.Surely the BBC should be able to find staff that pay attention to detail.

  • Comment number 22.

    I absolutely adored this programme. I have just watched it again this evening, I dont think I have ever done that before, I just find it enchanting. The period is evocative of my childhood so I guess there is some romance in that for me but the acting is superb and the casting immaculate. Hattie Jacques was such a well loved celeb, I dont think knowing about her affair changes opinion of her, infact she appeared to be a victim in this piece, someone very human and flawed like us all. I shall be buying the dvd to share with my Mother.

  • Comment number 23.

    Anybody know what the twinkly piano music during the cinefilm footage at the end was? Sounded very Einaudi, but i don't think it was.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hello Andysexton78 #23 - the music tracklistings are listed on the Hattie programme page. Hope that helps.

    Cheers
    Fiona

  • Comment number 25.

    For me, i felt it just didn't work. I've enjoyed many hours watching these actors, but felt let down by this portrayal. The acting was good, but taking a snippet of Hattie Jacques and John Le Mesurier's life like this will never tell the full story. By that i mean the truth about feelings, motivations and relationships etc. So all you end up with is a distorted view of events and peoples character. You literally just hear half the story. So, i just didn't see the point in the end. Hattie comes over as some sort of patronizing selfish puppetmaster, and John as some weak willed, pathetic shell of a man. I 'd like to think this wasn't the case in real life, so why portray it like this.


  • Comment number 26.

    I was totally blown away by this biopic. Ruth Jones was fantastic in her portrayal of Hattie. I only really knew of Hattie from the Carry on Films, but have now gone and bought the book as I was intrigued by Hattie's life.

    Is the music at then end outside the court room and when Hattie first goes upstairs to John Schofield Adele's Hometown Glory? It doesn't mention it on the BBC Hattie website?

  • Comment number 27.

    Does anyone know what the music is that is played as the film ends as it isn't in the list on the page mentioned above?

  • Comment number 28.

    I thought it was supposed to be set it the 1960s but Hattie was seen using a 1970s Hoover Junior vacuum cleaner and 1970s saucepans. Also the standard lamp in the living room had a 1970s shade on it!

 

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