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Series / Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

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Talking Heads (1988) and Talking Heads 2 (1998) are two series of six half-hour monologues by British playwright Alan Bennett. Bennett also created a monologue called A Woman of No Importance in 1982, which could be seen as the pilot for the series using the same blocking and style, in fact it is often added to the scriptbook.

Some surprisingly dark subject matter, especially in series two which includes a paedophile falling off the wagon, a serial killer who gets away with it and a non-con BDSM club whose victim finally snaps and shoots her abusive husband. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, ten of the original monologues were remade with new actors, alongside two brand-new monologues written by Bennett.


     The Monologues 
  • A Woman of No Importance: When Peggy (Patricia Routledge), an office worker who sees herself as the backbone of the place, is hospitalised she realises due to the lack of visitors that she wasn't the figurehead she felt she was. Not remade for the 2020 series.

Series One (Screened in 1988)

This series was also adapted for radio in 1991; unless otherwise noted, the actors were the same as in the original TV versions.

  • A Chip in the Sugar: Middle-aged Graham (Alan Bennett in the original, Martin Freeman in the 2020 remake) lives with his elderly mother and follows a strict routine, however an old flame of his mother's appears, causing trouble. Just as they prepare for a late marriage, Graham discovers the old man's secrets and smugly reveals them at the cost of his mother's happiness, allowing Graham to resume his life as it was before.
  • A Lady of Letters: Irene (Patricia Routledge in the original, Imelda Staunton in the remake) frequently writes letters of complaint - seeing this as an opportunity to improve public services or help the police. However, she has gone too far with her latest letter, resulting in a spell at prison. She makes good of a bad situation, gaining new skills, new friends and feeling truly happy for the first time in her life.
  • Bed Among the Lentils: Susan (Maggie Smith in the original, Anna Massey in the 1991 radio adaptation, Lesley Manville in the 2020 remake) is the unhappy, alcoholic wife of a Vicar who has a 'fan club' of older women that he focuses more of his time on. Susan goes to Leeds to buy her drink and it's there she finds her escape through a brief affair with an Asian greengrocer.
  • Soldiering On: Muriel (Stephanie Cole / Harriet Walter), a pillar of her community has always learnt to adapt; newly widowed, she hopes she can carry on regardless, but after trusting her son her circumstances change, resulting in her losing her home and leaving her poor. She still thinks nothing bad of the situation.
  • Her Big Chance: Lesley (Julie Walters / Jodie Comer), an actress who has had only minor credits as an extra, finally gets a big role in a movie. As she makes the film and then returns home it's clear to the viewer that she has starred in a softcore porno.
  • A Cream Cracker under the Settee: Doris (Thora Hird), an old woman with OCD has fallen after trying to clean. Whilst trapped under the sofa, she thinks back to the past and realises that her home help isn't cleaning up like she wants. Doris fears that if rescued, she would be sent to an old folks' home so she prefers to die, and chooses not to let a visitor know that she is hurt. Not remade for the 2020 series.

Series Two (Screened in 1998)

  • Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet: Miss Fozzard (Patricia Routledge / Maxine Peake), a lonely middle-aged woman, is caring for her brother after his stroke. Her only escape is her "foot fella" but after she gets a new one, he reveals a foot fetish. When her brother goes broke after overpaying the carer, Miss Fozzard finds escape with her podiatrist.
  • The Hand of God: Celia (Eileen Atkins / Kristin Scott Thomas) owns an antique shop and she gets close to older neighbours, so she can get something from their grand houses. Her latest target dies and leaves everything to a relative, and Celia gets only a box of "junk". However, after one item in the box turns out to be a Michelangelo study for the Sistine Chapel, she is made a fool of by the media and nothing is sold in her beloved shop.
  • Playing Sandwiches: Wilfred (David Haig / Lucien Msamati) is a park maintenance man with a good working skill. However, he hides a dark secret: he's a paedophile who is trying to be on the straight and narrow. The stress of his superior searching for old personnel records that would reveal Wilfred's history, and the friendship of a mother and her daughter, results in Wilfred giving in to his old ways and he is fired and arrested. In jail, he reflects on his flaws.
  • The Outside Dog: Clean freak Marjory (Julie Walters / Rochenda Sandall) discovers as the story goes on that her husband Stuart is up to something; she is annoyed at the mess his dog makes, and won't let the dog indoors. Stuart is highly sexual and frequently makes demands of Marjory after he comes home. When he is arrested as a murderer, Marjory tries to carry on, only then she finds proof of his crimes. Stuart is acquitted due to lack of evidence, and she is forced to allow his dog into the house.
  • Nights in the Gardens of Spain: Rosemary (Penelope Wilton / Tamsin Greig), a golf widow, befriends a neighbour who killed her husband after years of being used as a sex slave. Rosemary finds that her own husband might have been involved, and before she gains enough confidence to leave him, her friend dies and Rosemary is trapped in Spain for the remainder of her life.
  • Waiting for the Telegram: Violet (Thora Hird) is confused after having a stroke and her memories come and go. She can't remember her son and when told she will be receiving a telegram from the Queen, she recalls a sad moment from the past. As she reflects on this story to her only friend, a gay nurse called Francis, she notices the AIDS that will kill him soon. Not remade for the 2020 series.

New monologues for the 2020 remake

  • An Ordinary Woman: Gwen (Sarah Lancashire) begins developing sexual feelings toward her teenage son. This leads to her family falling apart, and Gwen having a breakdown and spending time in hospital. She returns home and resumes normal life with her family, convincing them that she has now recovered from her "mental illness" - though her feelings for her son remain unchanged.
  • The Shrine: Lorna (Monica Dolan) is suddenly widowed when her husband dies in a motorbike accident. She visits the location regularly, keeping it exactly as it was when he died. Her image of him is shattered when she learns he was living a double life, and she destroys the shrine, deciding she doesn't want to find out any more than she already knows.

Tropes Used:

  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Miss Fozzard works at a department store called Matthias Robinsons which closed in the 70's.
  • Adapted Out: A Cream Cracker Under the Settee and Waiting for the Telegram were not included in the 2020 adaptation, so Doris and Violet do not appear.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Susan might still be married to a vicar and her Asian lover has moved away to a better shop and to bring his young bride to the UK, but she's going to AA and her husband is focusing more on her than the 'Fan Club'.
    • Irene might be in jail but she has learnt skills that means an early release and a second chance in life.
    • Muriel in Soldering On is now living alone Giles has spent her money, but has removed visitation rights for her and her grandchildren she has only the TV for entertainment and is forced to have handouts, but she refuses to believe she's a tragic character. However the only real positive in this story is her mentally ill daughter Margret, after being given psychiatric help, she's nearly living a normal life.
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  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Doris, who chooses not to alert a visitor to the fact that she has fallen and is badly hurt, evidently preferring this to an undignified existence in a nursing home which, she fears, would probably kill her anyway.
  • Broken Pedestal: Lorna develops this toward her late husband in The Shrine with the discovery that he had a secret double life which, it is suggested, included an affair with a much younger man.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Lesley.
  • Darker and Edgier: Series Two.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Stuart's victims.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Irene in A Lady of Letters is seen as a serious version of Hyacinth Bucket.
  • Doomed Protagonist: Wilfred in Playing Sandwiches ends up back in jail due to his paedophilia, he reflects on it by saying
    Wilfred: It's the one part of my life that feels right... and that's the bit that's wrong.
    • Miss Schofield in A Woman of No Importance ultimately dies from her illness.
  • Downer Ending: It's Alan Bennett's most believable trope.
  • Due to the Dead: The title of The Shrine refers to flowers placed at the roadside where Lorna's husband was killed in an accident. Played with in that, even when Lorna asked the police not to mark the spot because her husband didn't like flowers, they insisted on doing it anyway since it encourages the public to drive safely.
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  • During the War: Violet's clearest recollections.
  • Eat the Evidence: Doris finds a cream cracker under the sofa, "proving" her suspicions that the home help is not cleaning thoroughly. She eats the cracker and even remarks on this trope when she realises it.
  • Europeans Are Kinky: The pornographic movie in which Lesley stars was made by a German director for release in his home country, and he originally wanted to cast a French actress in the role.
  • Female Misogynist: Miss Fozzard says that she is "not a feminist"; and doesn't trust a female chiropodist with her feet.
  • Gold Digger: Celia. And then there's Mallory Malloy.
  • Heel Realization: Miss Fozzard when she realises talking about her kinky podiatrist has been used against her by her work colleague and her brother.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Miss Fozzard seems to see herself as this after she enters an arrangement with her chiropodist to be paid to "model" shoes for him and perform BDSM-style acts in them.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Possibly Lesley, who may or not realise that she is starring in porn.
    • Muriel in Soldiering On, who naively doesn't understand her son's mismanagement of her money until it is too late.
    • Miss Schofield in A Woman Of No Importance believes that she's well-liked in her office and others depend on her efficiency. When she's admitted to hospital, none of her co-workers come to visit her and she is swiftly dismissed from her job; it's questionable whether she realises the implications of this.
  • Last-Name Basis: Miss Fozzard's first name is never mentioned.
  • The Lost Lenore: Violet's first love was killed in World War I and she was notified of his death by telegram, causing her to become confused and somewhat upset when told that for her upcoming hundredth birthday she will receive a telegram from the Queen.
  • My God, What Have I Done??: Irene has this moment when she is arrested and realises the letters she sent to a family whose child has died of cancer were unwanted harassment. Marjory has one at the end when she aided her killer husband in hiding evidence and is forced to bring the outside dog indoors.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Lesley's movie ends with an explicit sex scene between the hero and his bespectacled librarian girlfriend, after he chose her over the glamorous Moll Lesley plays.
  • Nosy Neighbor: In Bed Among The Lentils, Susan has to deal with the fan club a group of older women that fuss around her Vicar husband but Susan is negated, no wonder she turns to drink.
    • Also Celia in The Hand of God is one and considers the other Antique Shop owners this.
  • Oop North: Most (but not all) episodes.
  • Parental Favouritism: Gwen favoured her son over her daughter even before developing inappropriate feelings for him.
  • Parental Incest: Gwen in An Ordinary Woman has a sexual obsession with her young teenage son. In A Chip in the Sugar, Graham's relationship with his mother has overtones of this even though he is gay, also in Soldering On, Margret, Muriel's mentally ill daughter was suggested to be abused by her father but Muriel wasn't sure.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Soldering On has Muriel not realising that her son Giles was disinherited because he was poor with money, it costs her the security of her home.
  • Porn Stash: Graham has one and doesn't know his mother knows about it.
  • Race Lift: In the remake, Wilfred in Playing Sandwiches and Marjorie in The Outside Dog are played by actors of color (Lucian Msamati and Rochenda Sandall respectively), averting the Monochrome Casting of the original series.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The 2020 remakes could not use actors over 70 because they were produced during (and, indeed, because of) the COVID-19 pandemic. This resulted in one or two of the monologues being performed by actors younger than the parts were written for (most notably 'The Outside Dog' and 'Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet'), and the two Thora Hird episodes not being remade at all.
  • Really Gets Around: Lesley. Oddly, she doesn't seem to realise it.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The windows of the house in Marbella look more like the kind you would see in a prison.
  • Shout-Out: Lesley's soft-porn film is obviously a cheap European rip-off of the James Bond film Thunderball.
  • Skewed Priorities: Rosemary admits that when she saw the body of Fran's husband (whom Fran had shot in the head) her first thought was that all the blood would have ruined the carpet.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Susan in Bed Among the Lentils
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Wilfred.
  • The Topic of Cancer: In Nights in the Garden of Spain Fran dies suddenly from this, destroying Rosemary's hopes of a new life for them. Irene in A Lady of Letters is horrified to discover that the neighbours she harassed because she suspected them of child abuse have, in fact, just lost their child to leukaemia.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Francis the nurse dies of HIV related pneumonia.
  • Trophy Room: Celia describes the house of the old women's this, she is almost is check-listing what she wants from each room.
  • Typecasting: invoked Lesley is concerned about this, saying that she would like to play more serious roles but only ever seems to be cast as "fun-loving" women who'd be "at home on a bar stool"
  • Unreliable Narrator: The characters often don't see what the audience does.
  • Villain Protagonist: Celia, who befriends a terminally ill old lady that she barely knows so that she can get all her swag when she dies.
  • Wham Line: At least one per episode.
  • Widow Woman: In Soldiering On, Muriel's problems begin after the death of her husband. Lorna in The Shrine from the 2020 series has been widowed suddenly.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: Celia thinks very little about the trash that was given to her, she thinks about trashing the picture favouring the frame, she's amazed when the man buys it. However upon discovering it's importance Celia is near to tears.


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