Writing now inspires former Anglia TV drama queen
PUBLISHED: 09:32 12 March 2012
As head of drama at Anglia TV in Norwich, Brenda Reid gave us lots to enjoy on the box. Nowadays, writing - and a sunny Greek island - occupies her thoughts. She talks to STEVEN RUSSELL about life and drama.
It’s a heady world, the television game. One of Brenda Reid’s projects during her time with Anglia Films was a crime-thriller called Framed. Written by Lynda La Plante, it starred former James Bond Timothy Dalton as a villain on the run in Spain. The four-part series also featured a little-known but very beautiful Spanish actress then calling herself Penélope Cruz Sánchez.
“She must have been 18, 19 – no more than that,” remembers Brenda, who was executive producer on the 1992 production. “She was full of energy and tremendously nice – and very shy.”
Brenda worked, too, with writers such as Alan Bennett, Jilly Cooper and PD James during her long TV production career.
Her first job was as an advertising copywriter. Then in 1978 came the chance to become a script editor at the BBC and, a year later, a producer. In the late 1980s, the former controller of BBC2 Graeme McDonald came to Anglia Television in Norwich as managing director of film and drama. He asked Brenda to become its head of drama.
She accepted, and at times had up to 200 people working for her, depending on the number of projects in production.
“Regional drama was really important. Anglia had a terrific reputation for doing PD James, Tales of the Unexpected and so on. My brief was to get them more hours on the network.
“I had the absolute dream job again, of being able to take in people like Fay Weldon and Jilly Cooper (Riders). I went on to do more PD James. Nobody wanted more Tales of the Unexpected, which was a shame, actually,
because I thought they were great!”
With Anglia now submerged within the general ITV1 brand, she can reflect on an era when our regional franchise pumped out a wealth of creative programming.
Brenda now spends large parts of the year with husband David, who used to be head of drama at the BBC, at their home in Crete where she has developed a new dramatic career. As she moved out of TV, so she moved into writing.
She initially sat in Crete and over two or three years wrote a book that went nowhere.
“I realise now it wasn’t good enough. I’d tried to do something too autobiographical, about a TV producer. It was my kids who said first, and then the agent, ‘Why don’t you just go for fiction?’”
She researched the Greek island’s history and realised it had had a terrible time during the war. “The Battle of Crete had been so much ignored. It was fought with pickaxes and sticks by villagers forming resistance.”
In May, 1941, the Nazis had begun an airborne invasion. They eventually endured, though not without suffering heavy losses.
Brenda’s story The House of Dust and Dreams is about a love affair beginning as the island goes to war. A diplomat’s wife, the spirited Heavenly, falls in love with Crete and its people, and stays on when her husband returns to Athens. As she strives to rebuild his family’s ramshackle home, she makes friends with a local woman and Christos, a good-looking builder.
Writing took three years – lengthened by the leaving of research notes on a plane and then having a laptop stolen. Still, all worked well in the end – and the paperback is now out. “The fact the book has been enormously successful in Greece is most important. To have their approval, for an Englishwoman writing about their history, means it’s been recognised where it matters most.”
A second novel – Heavenly’s Child – is out in July. It’s set in the same location but under the regime of the colonels: the series of right-wing military governments that ruled Greece until 1974, after a coup d’état in 1967.
“Now there’s a danger that, in times of real crisis, you again go to extremes: the far left and far right.”
A third book, set in the village and more or less contemporary, should complete the trilogy. Brenda is also keen to pen a holiday thriller. Set in Crete by any chance? “Set in Crete without any doubt!”
■ The House of Dust and Dreams is published by Orion, priced at £6.99.