Life's amazeballs for Twenty Twelve's Jessica Hynes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

She lost out to co-star Olivia Colman at the Baftas, but Jessica Hynes has lots to keep her happy, including two new sitcoms and a possible Twenty Twelve spin-off.

Comedy writer and actor Jessica Hynes – Daisy Steiner in Spaced, greedy neighbour Cheryl in The Royle Family and PR fruitcake Siobhan Sharpe in the now Bafta-garlanded Twenty Twelve – is telling me about her fascination with the suffragettes. "I mean Christabel Pankhurst (activist daughter of suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst) got a first-class degree in law, but, as a woman, wasn't allowed to practise law."

It's a topic that seems to be in the air at the moment. Last year's Tom Stoppard adaptation of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End re-introduced the world to the spunky young suffragette heroine Valentine Wannop, while the BBC factual series Tales from the Old Bailey re-created Emmeline Pankhurst's 1912 trial (before an all-male jury, naturally) for damaging property. And next month sees the centenary of the most shocking suffragette action of them all – when, on Derby Day 1913, Emily Wilding Davison died when fatally obstructed the King's horse – the subject of last Sunday's Channel 4 documentary, Clare Balding's Secrets of a Suffragette, in which the presenter declared: "We're talking about a terrorist movement."

"There were other women killed", says Hynes. "On one particular day in 1910 called Black Friday the police killed two women at a protest after Herbert Asquith's Liberal government did an about-face on the Conciliation Bill." After Asquith's U-turn on a statute that would have given the vote to one million of Britain's wealthier women, a group of suffragettes plotted to assassinate the Prime Minister, which is where Hynes first came to subject.

"I was researching a sort of Ladykillers-style comedy film about the suffragette plot to assassinate Asquith," she says. "They looked so funny and I thought that would make a great comedy, but my research got more and more serious and I thought actually, the film isn't what it's supposed to be, which is comedy. And then I realised what I wanted to do was write a comedy based on strong comic characters and put it in a proscenium setting."

The result, after several years of development, is her new BBC4 sitcom Up the Women. Set in Banbury in Oxfordshire, it stars Hynes, Rebecca Front (The Thick of It), Vicki Pepperdine (Getting On) and Judy Parfitt (Call the Midwife) as members of an embroidery circle who decide to create their own local branch of suffragettes. "It's just about a group of women who haven't got a clue and are failing badly," says Hynes. "It's a kind of character study and hopefully, on a good day, it will be a kind of female Dad's Army."

Of course, comedy thrives on conflict – it's not all sewing and sisterhood, with Front's character, Helen, belonging to a more conservative era of womanhood. Or, as she puts it: "What on earth do women need the vote for? My husband votes for who I tell him to vote for. What could be a better system than that?" Another character asks whether votes for women will mean compulsory smoking – one example, says Hynes, of many such baseless (but comedically fruitful) fears. "There were genuinely held beliefs that if women got the vote the population would die out," she says. "Also how could they vote? Their sleeves would get caught up in the ballot papers."

Up the Women has the distinction of being the last ever sitcom filmed in BBC Television Centre in London, and in the fashionable manner (think Miranda, Mrs Brown's Boys or – if you must – Ben Elton's The Wright Way) it was recorded in front of a studio audience. It's a new direction for Hynes, who has preferred the more subtle observational comedy of Spaced and Twenty Twelve.

"I wanted to do something totally different", she says. "To go to the other end of the spectrum and see what I can do when I have total limitations… just the characters, just that stage. It was really, really hard… particularly with no outside shots, no locations."

Up the Women is her second creation (after an episode of Sky Atlantic's Common People) under the wing of Steve Coogan's production company Baby Cow, and Hynes has also been working on a female superhero series for Sky Atlantic called Justine ("It's Buffy meets Kick-Ass"). But her most recent television appearance was at this month's TV Baftas ceremony, looking on as her friend and Twenty Twelve co-star Olivia Colman won the award for best female performance in a comedy programme. I had thought Hynes was going to be a shoo-in to win that award to put alongside the Royal Television Society prize for her Twenty Twelve turn as Siobhan Sharpe.

"You know what? I had a sneaking suspicion I wouldn't," says Hynes, who attended with her mother, who, being a big fan of Olivia Coleman, kept leaning across her daughter to talk to her heroine (Hynes's daughter – a Miranda fan like so many teenage girls – was rooting for Miranda Hart). "Olivia's done the most phenomenal body of work in the last few years, and I was thinking 'this is her year'."

In the aftermath of Twenty Twelve's Bafta haul, one newspaper quoted "a BBC insider" to the effect that there was "real desire" for a spin-off series featuring the same actors and characters, but in a new setting – the NHS has been one suggestion. Certainly when I visited the set of Twenty Twelve last summer, the show's creator, John Morton, told me that: 'There's been some talk about whether there can be a life (for the series) post-Olympics and it's tempting because I'd love to work with those actors again'.

"There's a few murmurings," confirms Hynes, who "unashamedly" advertises her availability for any spin-off. "I'd like to work with him [Morton] again because I think he's brilliant. I've never worked with anyone who sees his characters with such clarity. Every little 'um', 'ah', 'if' and 'but' all written with… you know… it's incredible." Or "Holy shet… amazeballs", as a certain PR guru might have put it, and hopefully Siobhan will be let loose on the English language again before too long.

'Up the Women' starts on Thursday at 8.30pm on BBC4

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'