Interview: Prisoners' Wives Pippa Haywood
Pippa Haywood is best known for a variety of acting roles, including Green Wing and Brittas Empire. In Prisoners' Wives she plays Harriet; a respectable middle-aged upstanding member of the local community. Harriet led a quiet and sheltered life until her 'tough love' resulted in the imprisonment and estrangement of her only son.
With the release of Prisoners' Wives on DVD, we asked Pippa about her role on the show.
How successfully do you think this series can change attitudes towards women who are real Prisoners' Wives?
First of all I just want to say how fantastic it has been to hear so many wonderful comments about the series. To have such an enthusiastic response form the public has been hugely rewarding and very exciting. It feels as if people have really connected with the characters and stories. We're all so very happy that it has gone down so well and achieved such a loyal audience.
To answer the question, well all I can say is I hope it does! I think that families connected to prisoners are often unfairly tarred with the same brush, and it is almost expected that all prisoners come from criminal families.
This just is not the case. You realise that there are so many innocents bound up with the offenders' lives; their children, girlfriends, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers AND wives!
During our research I met several prisoners' wives who certainly confounded the general conception. I hope the series has been an eye opener for many people and I am delighted by the number of people who have come up to me on the street to say that they have had experience of prison visiting and how we had portrayed it extremely accurately.
It was very encouraging, and again, the people who came forward were people you would never expect to have been anywhere near a prison, which just goes to show how deep our misconceptions can be.
Prisoners' Wives DVD
Prisoners' Wives has some ardent fans and they all want to know if there will be a second series. What can you tell us on this subject?
We all want to know too! We are all so keen to do another series as we had such a great time working together and we want to develop the characters further. I know the writers have some fantastic ideas for new storylines so we're all really hoping the BBC will ask us to do some more. Fingers crossed!
What kind of research did you undertake for your role?
We all went to a prison near where we were working to experience first hand the security process and to see inside the prison itself. I was shocked by how small the cells were and how physically intrusive the security searches are.
However, I was also surprised by the number of positives. There were media projects, beautiful gardens and the atmosphere was certainly not all gloom, doom and violence. There was humour and a good energy among people and you realised that this is another world that not all of us see, but which encompasses all walks of life and all human emotions.
I also went on the prison bus from my local train station to my local prison. Again I was surprised by how varied the people were - old, young, black, white, working and middle class. I met several of the visitors and prison officers and they were all very open and friendly and happy to talk about their lives.
Several of the stories were very upsetting but there was definitely a camaraderie amongst the visitors who had got to know one another over the weeks and sometimes years.
It's rare for a TV series to provide such strong roles for more than one actress; why do you think Prisoners' Wives got it so right?
Firstly, I don't think we've seen this exact situation or these characters before. We often see the journey to prison for offender and victim and the police involved in such dramas, or we see the prison environment but never before have we concentrated on those affected on the 'outside'. So we're dealing with very original story lines and environments.
All four of the female lead roles are so utterly different. Lots of people have talked to me about really connecting with the characters and imagining how they would react in the same situation. Lots of mums seem to have connected with Harriet and also the fact that she is a very ordinary woman - she's not a high-flying career woman she's just an ordinary, rather anonymous mum.
It's been very touching and rewarding to hear how many people seem to have taken the character to heart. I think audiences, especially female audiences, like to watch dramas about relationships and they like to see people similar to themselves on screen. I think, and hope, that Prisoners' Wives has provided them with both.
If there's a second series of Prisoners' Wives, what would you like to see happen to your character?
If there's a second series, I can't wait to see what happens to Harriet and the chaplain. She obviously hasn't been in a relationship for many years, so exploring how she copes with that situation would be fascinating. I would also be very interested to explore how she copes with Gavin's conversion to Islam, how that affects both Harriet and her relationship with the chaplain, and through that explore how religion works within prisons.
It would be interesting to see if this brings up new issues that separate Harriet and Gavin or whether they finally find a way to connect. I can't wait to see how she copes with being a foster mum to Oliver and how her relationship with Lou might develop now that she is in prison.
And of course what's going to happen to Basil? Quite literally is he going to make it to a second series? Poor love, he was on his last legs. I would miss him very much as he was a dear old thing, but I wouldn't miss his personal hygiene. Not the most fragrant co-star I've ever had to share a bed with!
If the person reading this interview hasn't seen Prisoners' Wives, how would you persuade them to hunt it down on DVD?
If you like compelling relationship dramas with interesting and strong female characters that also includes touches of humour, then this one's for you. And unlike the frustration of weekly viewing, you won't have to wait until the following week for the next episode!
And, hopefully, there will be another series so you'll need to watch this one first to be up-to-date on the characters' stories.
Prisoners' Wives is out now on DVD