• From Anne’s diary, Friday 10th August 1832 (age 42)

    [The first time that Anne Lister put her thoughts in writing about the possibility of courting Ann Walker, the young heiress who lived at Lidgate in the neighbourhood of Shibden.]

    ‘… Thought I, as I have several times done of late, shall I try & make up to her?’

  • From Anne’s diary, Sunday 5th January 1834 (age 43)

    [After eighteen months of an on-and-off courtship, Anne was unsure about whether or not there could be a permanent relationship between them.]

    ‘…Miss W[alker] talks as if she would be glad to take me – then if I say anything decisive she hesitates to. I tell her it is all her money which is in the way. The fact is, she is as she was before [i.e. indecisive], but determined to get away from the Sutherlands and feels the want of me. But [I need to] take someone with more mind and less money. Steph [Belcombe – i.e. Mariana’s brother] is right: she would be a great pother [sic]. [I] have nothing serious to say to her – she wants better manning than I can manage.’

    [See also Jill Liddington’s Female Fortune. Rivers Oram Press. 1998. p.85.]

When TV stars step from behind the screen

It is not often that a TV star asks to spend a day with you in your own home, but that is what happened to me once the BBC had decided to make a film from the book of extracts which I had edited from the journals of Anne Lister.

On May 31st 2010 The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister was produced on screen by BBC2. The BBC Press Office put out a press release about the programme which included an interview they conducted with Maxine Peake, who was playing Anne in the film. I have used some of Maxine’s comments from that interview in this blog.

Once she knew that a film about Anne was about to be made, Maxine was immediately interested in taking on the role. She began some in-depth research to find out as much as she could about the character she was about to play, trawling the internet for every book she could find about Anne. Then she arranged to come to my home to meet me. As she told the interviewer:

“I walked in to the room and [Helena] said ‘oh thank goodness you’re tall’. Although Anne was only about 5ft 4in – I’m 5ft 7 – in those days that was tall, so I thought that’s good because I did start panicking thinking I’m physically nothing like her! I spent the day with Helena and that was the best because she’d formed Anne in her imagination, which really helped me to form the character. Every day she’s doing something with Anne Lister, so she’s got a very strong image of her. I thought I’m going to go with that – this woman has spent 20 years researching her – so I asked her about her views of Anne. She was very into her being romantic, this very dark figure, so I took that nugget away and worked from there.”

As a sequel to Maxine’s visit to my home, I would add that many weeks later, when BBC2 were filming Revealing Anne Lister, the documentary which followed the film, I also had the privilege of entertaining another TV personality in my home – Sue Perkins, the presenter of the documentary (and of many others!). My two young granddaughters were envious. Sue is quite an icon for young women and I was instructed that I had not to let her go until I had acquired her autograph, twice, one for each of them!

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  1. Posted October 28, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Privilege indeed, Helena. If you had the opportunity to receive another star in your home, in connection with your Anne Lister work, who would you choose? …

    • Posted October 28, 2017 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      It would have to be Suranne Jones, Helen – thenew Anne Lister in Sally Wainwright’s forthcoming epic to be filmed at Shibden Hall.

      • Posted October 29, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        Excellent choice, Helena. Suranne Jones has something of Anne’s look, I think. It’s a tantalising wait for Sally W’s drama to be aired next year …

  2. Flora M Ramey
    Posted June 20, 2019 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it interesting that the right person caught the depth of meaning in Lister’s diary.
    I love BBC series because their dialog is so much better than American series (I am American and I say that without reservation). It’s true.
    I stumbled on Gentleman Jack while looking for ANYTHING interesting to watch in the evenings after work. The cast is excellent!

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