Media: 'I hope to God this does cause a stir': From the pen of Lynda La Plante now comes the TV series, 'Civvies': macho, violent and controversial. Sue Summers talked to her

LAST NIGHT saw the start of Civvies, Lynda La Plante's six-part BBC 1 series about the hard times faced by a group of friends after their discharge from the Parachute Regiment. The series is already under fire from the Parachute Regiment's Colonel Commandant, Lieutenant General Sir Michael Gray, who has written to the BBC listing 50 supposed inaccuracies in its accompanying book and calling the story objectionable and grossly inaccurate. The BBC has defended it by saying: 'We are not making a PR film for the Army.'

La Plante, a small woman with bright red hair, a carefully revealing cleavage and a name with the hothouse exoticism of a silent movie goddess, is one of Britain's few superstar television writers. She wrote last year's big hit, Prime Suspect, the award-winning ITV serial with Helen Mirren, an achievement only slightly marred by subsequent controversy over the voting of the Bafta jury. The autumn schedules contain three new Lynda La Plante productions. If BBC and ITV drama chiefs agree on anything it seems to be that La Plante 'writes ratings'.

Civvies is not the only La Plante drama in the pipeline. Next month, Screen One will show Seconds Out, her film about a boxer down on his luck. In November, ITV screens Framed, a four-part thriller starring the former James Bond actor Timothy Dalton as a supergrass. There is also her new novel, Entwined, a blockbuster about identical twins who become the victims of Nazi experiments.

Such limelight seemed inconceivable eight years ago, when La Plante was a bit-part actress. Then in 1984 she wrote Widows, an ITV drama series about four women who decide to carry out the bank robbery that had killed their husbands. It made her an overnight sensation. 'I never thought of writing for TV and when I did the world suddenly opened up,' she says. 'I stopped dead after 20 years of being a full-time actress with the National, the RSC and every repertory company in England. Yet I've never missed it for a second.'

Although a fanatical writer who spends up to 15 hours a day at her desk, La Plante, 46, is anything but a literary recluse. Added to the cleavage and the hair is an ability to spin a yarn, not only on the page but also at fashionable dinner parties. She is a born storyteller notable in a profession distinctly short on narrative drive. 'I believe there's an incredible body of good writers working in British TV,' she says. 'What often seems lacking is the stories.'

This autumn's outpouring of drama is, in fact, the result of several years' work. Widows may have made her famous, but afterwards she found many doors slammed in her face. 'For eight years I had rejection from every single TV company,' she says. 'Everything I wrote was rejected because the people in power didn't want anything new, they just wanted another Widows, and I didn't want to write one.

'First, I researched a big series on the drugs squad, but it got shelved. And Civvies was on the shelf in the BBC for four years. Everyone says I'm incredibly prolific now, but really people are suddenly taking material down from the shelves because of Prime Suspect. Prime Suspect has turned my life round again.'

Born into what she describes as 'an ordinary Liverpudlian family', La Plante originally wanted to dance, but her elocution teacher suggested she become an actress. By the age of 16 she was at Rada, but she hated it. 'I remember being called in by the Principal, who told me I was not very pretty and I was very small, so I would probably always play old ladies. So I walked out of Rada. I drifted back to the Liverpool Playhouse, where I had a fantastically glamorous part opposite Anthony Hopkins and one night, after the show, the Principal came to see me. 'My darling,' he said, 'you were absolutely brilliant.' I swung the door wide and said, 'Piss off'.'

She began writing when she left Rada. 'I've got drawers full of stage plays,' she says. She thought of writing for TV only when she had a bit part in the police series The Gentle Touch and decided that the scripts were 'crap'. She wrote four plot synopses and sent them to the producer, who rejected them all. On one idea, however, someone had scrawled 'wonderful', and it was this that became the basis for Widows.

Married for 17 years to the former heavy metal singer Richard La Plante, she lives in style in a huge house in Kingston, Surrey. But one of the secrets of her success is being approachable to any dodgy character with a good story to tell. 'People accuse me of only giving my full attention to villains or fighters, and in a way I think it's true,' she says. 'But they are drawn to me, too.'

The idea for Civvies was born when a builder working on her house asked if she could help find jobs for some friends who had just left the Paras. 'I rang up eight different security firms, but they refused to offer work to ex-soldiers on the grounds that they were too institutionalised. Then I met a group of them - men at the peak of their lives, whose pride in themselves was slipping out of their hands. I became very attached to those people and I felt very deeply that their story should be written.'

La Plante - who emphasises that she always pays her subjects for their time - used them as the basis for the characters in Civvies. 'Then the series sat around and never got made. By the time it was made, the story had a very tragic ending. They were all in prison.'

Civvies is quintessential La Plante: macho, violent, every line as tough as if written by a long- term male recidivist who had taken a literary course behind bars. Its central character, on the basis of last night's opening episode, spends much of his time swilling beer, rigid with self-pity, taking time off only to indulge in ritual 'Paddy-bashing' with some of his military chums. His redeeming feature thus far appears to be his loyalty to a Para friend, victim of horrendous injuries that have left a tube permanently in his throat. Later episodes will doubtless explore in graphic detail just how the tube came to be there.

The Army and the Ministry of Defence have complained to the BBC that Civvies portrays soldiers as maladjusted misfits released into society with no preparation or help. It is also extremely bloody. One BBC executive describes it as 'the most violent home-produced series the BBC has ever made'.

La Plante fervently hopes it will make waves. 'The characters are an amalgam of the men I interviewed, but the events are factual, particularly those set in Northern Ireland,' she insists. 'We're losing our young men in Ireland and their deaths only merit postage stamp-size articles, while stories about Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger monopolise the front pages. I hope to God this does cause a stir. That's why I wrote it, not to glorify any form of violence.'

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all