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Classic TV Revisited: A Woman Of Substance

Classic TV Revisited A Woman of Substance

A Woman Of Substance was a sweeping 1985 mini-series about the rise of a poor Yorkshire housemaid who rose to become a millionaire department store owner. Jenny Seagrove, Deborah Kerr, John Mills, Liam Neeson starred.

Why was it so good?
Solid acting performances by a young Jenny Seagrove surrounded by classy veterans including Deborah Kerr, John Mills and George Baker. It’s still C4’s highest rated drama having attracted 13.8m viewers.

So it was about a fat lady drug dealer,right?
Wrong, Emma Harte was the heroine who never dabbled in illegal substances and she was a trim size 10.

Were corsets necessary?
Quite right. As it began in 1905, Emma, played by Jenny Seagrove, did have to wear clothes from the period.

What was it all about?
Initially, she was left pregnant by her caddish lover but she became a businesswoman and earned her fortune in America.

Who was in it?
Based on Barbara Taylor Bradford’s bestseller, it starred Jenny Seagrove as Emma Harte aged up to 49 and Deborah Kerr as the older Emma. A youthful Liam Neeson made an appearance along with John Mills, Gayle Hunnicutt and Miranda Richardson.

Was there any bodice ripping?
Very little as bodices were going out of fashion. It concentrated more on a woman battling against the odds and succeeding.

Was Mrs Thatcher a fan?
More than likely as it epitomised Thatcherite virtues such as getting on your bike and setting up your own business. Jenny Seagrove says: “I still get women coming up to me today, especially in America, saying the drama gave them the courage to start businesses. The recognition was extraordinary – I can still remember being spotted by fans of the drama at Denver Airport at 5am.”

Did the recognition last?
Jenny Seagrove took on the role of Paula, Emma Harte’s granddaughter, in the sequel Hold The Dream. Paula’s challenge was to preserve Emma’s business empire but she had man problems along the way with characters played by James Brolin and Stephen Collins.

Could it be revived?
It was a very expensive drama when it was made in the ’80s when there was a trend for glossy mini-series and costume dramas.

Distinguishing features?
Rags, riches, strong women. Exhaustio – star Jenny Seagrove was in all but 20 minutes of the six-hour drama made in 1984.

Do say:
“Wonderfully moving costume drama. We shall never see the like of it again.”
Do not say: “It was too sugary, give me Catherine Cookson anytime.”

Not to be confused with:
Hart to Hart, Wonder Woman; Cat Woman, Pretty Woman.