Digital Channel > Unique Then, Unique Now: Pioneering Feminist TV with Isabel Taub

Unique Then, Unique Now: Pioneering Feminist TV with Isabel Taub

Ahead of screening the 70’s feminist TV series Pandora’s Box this June, we caught up with the event curator Isabelle Taub, Researcher in History at Manchester Metropolitan University who shared her experience of working with the HOME Film Team and more.

What is your involvement with HOME?

From December to April I undertook a placement with the Film Team at HOME. Working under Jennifer Hall, Film Programme Producer, the experience enriched my understanding of the work involved in producing film programmes for a public audience – the sheer amount of administering, discussion and responsibility this entails. I also shadowed the engagement, communication, development, and events teams, which contributed to my understanding of how each department interacts, the ambitious projects undertaken across the organisation, and of HOME’s work in reaching out to new audiences. As part of my placement, I was given the opportunity to develop an event to reflect an aspect of my research, which examines the development of the Manchester-based Granada Television Company from the late 1950s to early 1980s. Both Jen and Rachel Hayward, Head of Film, were hugely encouraging in letting me explore different possibilities for this, and in assisting me with thinking through the final format for the event. I choose to screen an overlooked series, Pandora’s Box, created by Granada in 1977.

Why you have chosen this TV series as part of Celebrating Women in Global Cinema?

Pandora’s Box was a pioneering feminist series.  I initially came across it, by chance, in Joan Bakewell’s autobiography, Stop the Clocks, where she describes it as one of the most important achievements in her career: ‘perhaps the initiative I am most proud of happened back in 1977, when the tide of feminism was running strong. I persuaded Granada Television to let me chair a series called Pandora’s Box: six half hour discussions about justice, education, health, etc…there was one component of the format that made it unique then, and unique now. All of those on the panels were women…and what’s more we never referred to the fact’.

Bakewell’s statement of the series being ‘unique then, and unique now’ jumped out at me when I first came across it. Further research revealed how guests on the series came from various backgrounds, including activism, writing, entertainment and politics, with many of them trailblazers in their fields; women whose names were, and still are, quickly followed by the word ‘first’. For instance, one of the guests on a panel discussion on ‘Work’ included the activist and writer, Amrit Wilson, author of the first book to chronicle the experiences of Asian women in Britain, Finding a Voice (1978). Alongside her was Diane Tammes and Stella Richman. Tammes was the first woman accredited by the ACTT as a cinematographer and in 1977, would work with Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen on their experimental feminist film, Riddles of the Sphinx. Richman was director of programming at London Weekend Television and the first women to sit on the board of a commercial television company. One of the interesting aspects of the series is that it prominently featured the experiences of women working in the media at the time – other guests include Coronation Street Actor Julie Goodyear, and screenwriter Anne Valery – and therefore provides a fascinating portrait of the experiences and obstacles faced by women working in film and television during the late 1970s.

Another key aspect in selecting the series was that it was created by a female-led team. Directed by Mary McMurray, it was produced by Susi Hush, who had previously worked as a producer on Coronation Street, where she had innovated the series by consistently championing the work of women writers. Hush died in 1995, aged forty-nine, and in her obituary, written by screenwriter Paula Milne, whose career she helped develop, Hush is described as being ‘a feminist before it was either politically correct or fashionable to admit to it’.

The series therefore seemed appropriate for the Celebrating Women in Global Cinema programme – itself a hugely significant moment in spotlighting overlooked films and filmmakers. Pandora’s box was a series created to challenge and to disrupt societal assumptions of the period, and one of the most exciting things about this screening is having a panel of trailblazing women to discuss and reflect on its original themes: Jackie Hagan, Kate O’Donnell, DJ Paulette Constable and Dr Katie Milestone have all opened up the possibilities for younger generations through their writing, activism, music and research, and I am thrilled that they will speak as part of this event.

Catch Pandora’s Box this Sat 15 Jun followed by a panel discussion chaired by Dr Katie Milestone, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University, with speakers Jackie Hagan, DJ Paulette Constable and Kate O’Donnell. Click here for more info and tickets.