This week BBC Radio 4 Extra is repeating, for the first time in 55 years, episodes of a series of stand-alone dramas called Personal Column. Amongst the five episodes airing this week (selected from the original series of 28) is Jill Hyem’s Third Girl Wanted. The story setting is a familiar motif for Hyem’s radio scripts at this time, that of three flat-sharing girls.
In Third Girl Wanted Gemma, played by Patricia Gallimore before she became Ambridges’ Pat Archer, packs her bags and leaves with her flatmates, played by Anne Stallybrass and Marian Diamond, having to work out why.
Two years previously Jill Hyem (pictured above) and Andrew Sachs had written the 20-part serial Dear Girls in which job-hunting Tish Grant joins her fashion designing sister Biddy in her London flat. Tish is looking for a job whilst Biddy is looking for love.
Moving on to 1969 sees a Saturday Night Theatre production written by Jill Hyem and Alan Downer titled The Ropewalk, an Edwardian house that’s been converted into flats. In the opening scenes we hear flat-sharing sisters Lynn and Tracey Dixon who are looking forward to welcoming their somewhat naive new flat-mate who’s on her first visit to London Heather Benfield, another role for Patricia Gallimore.
The Ropewalk was a try-out for Radio 2’s daily soap Waggoners’ Walk that replaced the ailing The Dales later that same year. Again with scripts from Jill Hyem and Alan Downer the opening scene of the first episode is, as I’m sure you’ll have now guessed, set in a London bedsit, this time with sisters Lynn and Tracey Dixon waiting to split the rent with a third girl, Barbara Watling (played by Heather Stoney) fresh down from Yorkshire.
The revisiting of this theme is no surprise given the social context of the time: increased employment opportunities for women, a more mobile workforce, changes in the controls on rented accommodation under the 1965 Rent Act and the Swinging London background. Hyem herself was committed to writing better parts for women after only gaining several bits parts in TV series and B-movies.
By 1961 Jill Hyem was combining acting with writing, providing short sketches for Monday Night at Home “a selection of recorded wit, music and humour” linked by Basil Boothroyd. Submitting drama scripts to the BBC she was warned to “never write more than two women in a scene. They catch each other's tone.” Obviously ignoring this advice her first Afternoon Theatre play Better Than Nowhere set in a rest home indigent old ladies featured parts for six women and one man.
From 1964 until its demise in 1969 Hyem was one of the team of scriptwriters on The Dales (successor to Mrs Dale’s Diary). She’d secured the position – and in the process beating off competition from Tom Stoppard - when producer Keith Williams was seeking fresh blood to liven up the series. With fellow Dales writer Alan Downer, another actor turned writer, they were the lead writers for eleven years on Waggoners’ Walk until that was axed. Though she’d continued to write other dramas for radio, around thirty in all, television beckoned in 1980 when she was offered the chance to write for Tenko. This led to more tv scripts for shows such as Howard’s Way and another wartime drama series Wish Me Luck. By the millennium now tired of securing television commissions she returned to her first love of radio to write a number of plays for Radio 4, the last being Backtrack in 2007. Jill Hyem died in 2015.
Personal Column was a concept devised by writer Philip Levine. Twenty-eight separate dramas by a number of writers were aired on the BBC Light Programme from March to September 1967.