Tag Archives: Bad Girls

My Bad Girls Series 1 fan fiction has arrived!

I posted it yesterday on Zetaboard’s Nikki and Helen forum. I’ve also started and contributed to other posts on this site, I love the insights on there.

Under the first instalment, I explain how weird it was to write other people’s characters and that it’s not my usual style. We’ve been debating the style of Bad Girl’s writing, and whether it’s too short and misses things, or whether its subtly is part of its quality. Personally, I think the former.

It wouldn’t let me put them all in one file as it’s too long (22,000 words). Here’s the links:

http://s4.zetaboards.com/Nikki_and_Helen/topic/10047551/1/#new eps 1+2

http://s4.zetaboards.com/Nikki_and_Helen/topic/10047561/1/#new 3-5

http://s4.zetaboards.com/Nikki_and_Helen/topic/10047562/1/#new 6-8

http://s4.zetaboards.com/Nikki_and_Helen/topic/10047563/1/#new 9-10

If you’ve got any more specific feedback (make criticism constructive please) I’d love to hear it

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Bad Girls: Why Nikki and Helen don’t work

PLOT SPOILING POSSIBILITIES

I say this with sadness as they were a hugely important couple for me and their relationship is Bad Girls, the ITV/Shed Prison drama that ran their story 1999-2001 in Britain and from 2005 in US.

It’s been called one of the best love stories between two women – or anyone – to hit the screen, with a central forbidden love and much emotional complexity.

But I’ve reviewed their story in detail and can’t get past the thought that it’s not properly written. No wonder there’s so much fan fiction, filling in missing scenes and finishing off their story.

We never see the turning points we need. For instance, Cabenson fills in why Helen decides to break off with Sean at http://www.ralst.com/Transitions.HTM; but the TV series never did. The same is true of Helen’s acceptance of Sean’s proposal, her first resignation at Larkhall  and subsequent visit to Nikki – when she’s never expressed interest before… and of most scenes in fact, when I really analyse them.

I’m shocked to also conclude that ultimately, I don’t like Helen – who was my favourite character. I want better for Nikki, though she often annoyed me with her anger and immaturity and lack of thinking through consequences.

Helen may seem mature, older than her years, and a good leader…. but she’s emotionally inept and never gets better at that. She uses her professional power any time she’s ruffled. She is always the one calling it off with Nikki. She can find Nikki when it suits her – for she has the keys – and knows that Nikki can only be in a few limited places (her cell, the servery, the library, the garden). All Nikki can do is phone – but we never see Helen answer.

I am sick of the amount of times that Helen walks away: after the potting shed; after the kiss; after her first resignation and the cattle truck incident – with that shit line, “Shit happens”; after the row over Dominic; after the love scene; after Femi. That’s quite a few for 3 series – and that doesn’t count every time Helen walks out of Nikki’s presence or orders Nikki to leave. Only a few times does Nikki leave Helen’s. Often she’s the one seeking Helen out.

The one that most angers me is the Femi one. To recap: Helen is encouraging Nikki to appeal and saying that if they put their relationship on hold they hope they can soon be together properly on the outside. Nikki stages a protest over the awful treatment of a frightened non English speaking Nigerian prisoner, but Helen – who’s fought so much for fairness and welfare – isn’t interested in Femi and is angry over Nikki’s stance. Now as acting Governing Governor, she’s all power trippy and not very nice. She tells Nikki it’s over and she doesn’t even feel sad.

If I were Barbara Hunt, I’d tell Nikki that Helen really isn’t worthy of her. This time I’ve no sympathy for Helen’s position. She seems as keen to protect her own reputation and impress VIPs as Simon Stubberfield ever was. She sounds callous. She’s more than once told Nikki to look elsewhere and can’t seem to cope when Nikki does. Yes we know Caroline’s a nonce and Helen is to some extent protecting Nikki – but again she holds power over Nikki, having the right to separate her from the few women she can meet whilst in prison, but Helen can move on freely.

The end of the series is way too rushed, padded out with rubbish and new characters when it should be winding down. The length of time spent on Nikki and Helen’s finale makes it more like a movie than the 36 hours they’ve had over 39 episodes to tell this yarn properly.

Some of the best fan fiction I’ve read so far is Gina Dartt’s “Dead Slow.” http://users.eastlink.ca/~ginadartt/BadGirls/AfterLarkhall/DeadSlow.html I was appalled to rewatch the show and find out how few lines are given to the reunion of Nikki and Helen, ending with that one. Gina takes that as her starting point and has nearly 50,000 words to say – most of them necessary – to take Nikki and Helen to a place where as viewers we feel happy with them as a couple.

I’d not have let Nikki go so easily if I were Trish; why should this Helen be allowed to supersede a lover of 9 years just for turning up in a new red jacket? I wouldn’t have made the court steps speech Nikki does, for Helen did give up on Nikki: she does not owe Helen her life – she’s here despite Helen. Why wasn’t she at the law court then, if Helen valued Nikki so much? Why did she keep dumping Nikki, offering a carrot and then snatching it away?

In her attempt to be careful and professional, Helen stopped Nikki and her getting to know each other. How did they know that there was a relationship worth having on the other side of the prison gate? They mostly talked about Nikki’s appeal or argued in the very short scenes – another problem I have with the writing of Bad Girls.

No, the subtext and layered performances are not enough. To be mature, you need to learn to speak what you feel. Helen never again tells Nikki she loves her and wants to be with her. She doesn’t explicitly say she’s sorry, or ‘will you still have me?’ I’d have left Helen standing outside, because that’s what she ultimately deserved.

For them to have a fighting chance at survival – and viewers to feel happy with them as a couple – we needed them to be open and articulate, to get beyond angry exchanges and running off when something’s difficult.

There was a suggestion of making a Nikki and Helen special episode – it was badly needed. And the harassment charge re Fenner should have been followed up and we could have ended it all at series 3½, satisfied.

As it is, I’m wondering if Nikki shouldn’t have gone for ‘Mink instead of Beaver’ after all and found a better life with Babs!

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Bad Girls: Borrower nor Lender Be

There’s likely to be quite a chain of posts on Bad Girls and I’ll also be posting some fiction and views on fan sites, which I will give links to – I am  currently writing fan fiction for the first 3 series, focussing on Nikki and Helen (and their essential companions and nemeses).

For now, I have some more prison critique and reform to share:

Sharing itself is banned in prison. That means an act of trust and kindness is forbidden where those sorts of qualities matter most.

With the gagging bill going though this week, it means more unviolent people could end up in prison – but the only threat they are is to the establishment, not to the society that they want to improve.

The location that Bad Girls used – Oxford Prison – is now a hotel and heritage attraction. That’s what I’d like to see the majority of prisons become.

Check my tag cloud for other Bad Girls related posts. There’s two already.

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Bad Girls The Cathy Come Home of Women’s prisons

I like this phrase, I’ve used it of Moll Flanders and Black Beauty. Cathy Come Home was a shocking 1960s television piece directed by Ken Loach which stirred up Britain’s social conscience, using fiction to demonstrate real life abuses and problems. The ITV drama Bad Girls, aired in its natal Britain from 1999-2009, still has fans globally and has become a cult show. Through the camp entertainment, it held up some important mirrors. I’ll write several posts about characters and writing later, but I want to focus on those mirrors here.

PLOT SPOILER ALERT

Monica’s final speech is the belief of the show’s creators, Shed productions: that prison only makes a bad situation worse. I think that could be put more eloquently; erudite, articulate Monica was a character who could have done so.

It’s unfortunate the original name for the show was taken, so Jailbirds became Bad Girls. As well as sounding cheap and crude and making it harder to do a search for, Bad Girls suggests that these convicts are bad, as well as using the juvenile term for female humans. Surely a better title could’ve been conjured which does not connote against the show’s ethos, for Bad Girls implies that those serving in South London’s fictional Larkhall prison are debauched. Prisoner Cell Block H (refilmed as Wentworth) and Within These Walls and Orange is the New Black all managed to find show names that did not denigrate the inmates they wish to sympathetically portray, so surely the minds that came up with some incredulous plots could have generated better for the inmates of G Wing.

Bad Girls’ consultant was an ex professional thief who set up a women’s prison charity. I was upset to think that around the world (especially in Canada) there is the Elizabeth Gurney Fry movement, and yet in the country that the reformer lived in, we have no such society. As someone who’s lived in Elizabeth’s natal city and sat on the benches she did at Goat’s Lane Quakers’, I was very disappointed in the apparent lack of local campaigning that most convicted women shouldn’t be in prison. Britain does have such an organisation, Women in Prison, whom Bad Girls supports. (I’m now thinking that much of prisons’ problems stem back to Elizabeth Fry and I’m no longer sure that I admire her… another article).

That the founder, who shares a name with a great composer, stole for the hell of it rather undermines her message. Bad Girls attempts to show that many of the inmates are there due to defence or provision for themselves or loved ones – in fact, any character I can think of in the first three series (which I will focus on) can, even obliquely, come into that category. The Julies ‘knobbed and robbed’ as a team to support themselves and their children when their marriages broke down; Nikki Wade stopped her girlfriend being raped by a policeman; even gangsters Yvonne and Renee were taking care of their own; Denny is an abused young woman who was in some sense defending herself and the injustice of being moved on from the one children’s home she was happy in; Shaz was bullied at work and feared the abuse of her stepdad if she was sacked; Denny’s mum was on the bottle because she too had been abused; Crystal stole out of desperation after burying her mum in the West Indies and returning to find her home and job gone; Barbara committed euthanasia to release her husband from the suffering of his illness; Monica was one of those carrying the can for the crimes of love of her life, as were Rachel Hicks and Zandra. Michelle Dockley would argue that the unspeakable act she did to another woman she was defending her love: I think it is untrue, but she too has been horrifically abused.

The show shows how prison splits up families and friends on the inside and the out (eg the Julies and Monica from their children, Nikki from Trish, Zandra from fiancé and baby). Sometimes those relationships are destroyed altogether; sometimes it leads to loss of life (Monica’s Spencer and Rachel Hicks; one could argue, Zandra too.)

Warm friendships are formed between unlikely people in prison but the splitting up punishment is used as a way of control (Shaz and Denny). Lesbianism is against the rules, so that connections, happiness and physical fulfilment are to be denied in a place that leads so many to despair. Barbara Hunt said she and Nikki would be sharing not so much cells, but private hells; and prison brought Rachel, Monica, Rachel, Charlotte Middleton, Julie J and Michelle to attempt suicide.

Not only are these people excluded from society, they are told when to rise, eat, wash, go to bed. Their property is taken away and the little they are allowed with them can be rifled through at any time. You can be divested of clothes – by force if necessary – not just in your induction (what a welcome) but if the drugs team wishes or anytime you are sent to the segregation block. Staff don’t even have to shut the door or look away.

Prisoner’s health is not of concern. Zandra is simply a junkie and so any symptoms are deserved. I was angry that the results of her tests were hidden from her – as an adult, it’s her right to know she has a tumour, not something for her wing governor to hide from her. Her treatment doesn’t seem negotiable and she (like many outside) are wheeled off to hospital and to operations or stuffed with drugs without gaining permission or explanation. When Shell breaks down in series 2, she’s dosed up in the hospital block – is that really what she needed? Doesn’t seem to help: she’s soon back on G wing bullying, but has she really had closure on her abusive past? Pam and Tess are also confined to the “Muppet” psychiatric wing and the ministrations patronising, drug dealing Dr Thomas, supposedly a goodie.

I’m continually struck by how regressive prisons are. Grown women, often called girls, are treated like they are at school: being put on report, sent to the head, living by bells, calling officers ‘sir’ and ‘miss’ (how uneven those terms are between the genders – Sir being what you call the king or a knight, Miss sounding pejorative). You have to ask for permission to do anything and can’t leave the gates without special application whilst in the institutions’ care.

I also note how people behave unpleasantly whilst in prison and are not really themselves. The actress who plays Nikki – Mandana Jones – says she puts on a London tone to sound tough when dealing with bullies, and makes physical and verbal threats. Many women find themselves fighting or using violence as a means of protection who would never do so on the outside (even Monica and Barbara). Worse than in school, there’s the unwritten rule that one never complains or tells, so that you cannot get justice the right way. Ands then you are punished if you take justice into your own hands by fighting bullies back. Bullies steal goodies – sweeties of a different kind – and despite their outside market value, class A drugs are swapped for phone cards; but then the price of communicating with the outside world probably is priceless.

Like being on benefits, the government decides what money you get each week and can take it away if they deem that you don’t deserve it. There’s a tuck shop hatch, like a jobcentre screen, through which you receive what you’re allowed via the rules and whims of the government employee on the other side.

The staff too behave regressively. Senior staff treat their minions like naughty school children – both Helen and Karen slipped into this mode when they governed. And Helen especially used it as defence when a nerve was touched, pulling rank against Nikki whenever an argument goes the wrong way. It cannot be healthy for the development of either senior or officer grade staff. It’s another reason that I don’t support the army for having this hierarchical, unquestionable system of obedience through fear and punishment.

Punishment is something I am questioning too, not just in prison. I presented a piece I’d written in an alternative church service about why the Christian faith as well as society is based on a If… then threat system to keep others doing what you want. Why do we need punishment? Although legally considered offences, are most of what these women have done actually, really crimes in the wider moral sense? When you can get sent to prison for not paying council tax, for having your event’s noise levels too high, or for letting your punters drink outside on the street, it’s clear that prison isn’t about keeping us safe from dangerous people. And when those convicted of fraud (perhaps wrongly) or who even are recovering from alcoholism squat over the same bug ridden open loo as a torturer and assassin….! And so people inside are more at risk from people they either avoid on the outside,  or because they are reunited with problems (such as Renee and Yvonne, rival gangsters;  Zandra is decrutched by Denny, and Karen is threatened with a syringe of HIV infected blood,  both for grudges from a previous incarceration).

Prison augments and creates issues, it does not remedy; it’s just an expensive way to pretend that they are dealt with and decapacitated. It’s not about justice, but a place of forgetting (an oubliette) by everyone but their jailors.

Bad Girls rightly wanted these women visualised and vocalised.

More on characters, storylines, links to my fan fiction and thoughts on drugs all coming soon

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The shape of things to come

Shortly into the New Year, I’ll be considering the prison drama Bad Girls and how it’s influencing my views on punishment and justice; on Britain’s justice secretary’s comments on the European Court of Human Rights today; and scheming satirical sketches for workfare supporters.

Coming up next is my review of Death Comes to Pemberley – and whether it’s further death to my relationship with Austen…

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Bad Girls – a prison revisited

Twelve years ago, I discovered a television show which was the most significant for my personal development. I’ve just gone back to it and am musing on my thoughts. It’s a bit like going back to primary school and realising the desks are tiny. I’ve both a better respect for the show and more criticism. This is the first time I’ve done a really close reading of the first 3 series, and also looked up other people’s opinions.

I’m still formulating my thoughts on the world of HMP Larkhall, especially the story of Nikki and Helen, but I will post some reviews and ideas elsewhere too – and some fanfiction. This is a new genre to me, being used to writing my own characters, rather than extending other people’s. In recent years, I’ve worked on several pieces of fiction and think at least some might appeal to Bad Girls fans, one of which I hope to publish next year.

I’ve also got an amusing crossfiction idea – all to be shared shortly.

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