At last, Beryl Cook's ample ladies come to life

THE EXUBERANT, ample ladies spilling out of Beryl Cook's paintings are to be brought to life in an animated sitcom that will centre on the lives of seven working class women from Plymouth Hoe, Cook's home town.

Most of the action in the series Bosom Pals takes place in their local pub, the Dolphin, where Jimmy, the landlord, occasionally manages to get a word in edgeways.

Claudia Lloyd, the producer, has studied the paintings in detail and, with the help of their creator, has invented characters for them all.

"My favourite painting is the fat lady we have called Joan trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans," she said. "She's somewhat oversexed, drinks snakebite and is the kind of woman who wears a strappy top in the middle of winter. Her best friend is Stella, a medium who can get through to the other side, and drinks pints of Guinness, with her adopted daughter, Marie.

"Then there's Crystal, who used to be called Chris when he was a docker in Wales but he's much happier as a cross-dresser. We have spent hours building up their characters and we know them all right down to the last wart."

The 13 episodes, each 11 minutes long, are being written by Dawn French, herself a voluptuous figure, and a team of feature writers from EastEnders, Birds of a Feather and This Life. It is being developed by Tiger Aspect production for the BBC and Polygram.

Ms Lloyd said they had deliberately chosen an all-women team to write the series.

"It works really well and it is a new approach to have a team of writers. America sitcoms always have teams of people working together but that has not really happened in this country."

The voices have not been confirmed but will include Ms French and Alison Steadman.

Ms Lloyd, a life-long fan of Cook's work, said: "It will be a really vibrant, oozing, boisterous cartoon but people will recognise the characters and identify with them. We are hoping it will not be hidden away at 11pm."

Ms Lloyd said the idea for the series came after she watched her parents roar with laughter every year when she gave her mother Beryl Cook birthday cards.

"Every year I try to hunt down a new card and my mother bursts out laughing and passes it over to Dad and he laughs as well. I just thought it would be brilliant to develop it into a programme."

With the exception of David Hockney, who has moved to California, there is no British artist whose work is better known than Cook's. Although her face remains unknown to the public, her greetingd cards sell in 18 countries, and her paintings are bought by everyone from company directors to window cleaners.

When Ms Lloyd presented her idea to Cook, the reclusive artist was said to have been delighted. Her only advice was: "Make it funny."

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