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‘Big Strong Girls’ was commissioned as a series of 20, half hour shows for BBC 1, by Daytime Controller, Liz Barron. It was Liz who came up with the title when the idea was pitched to her by BBC Pebble Mill. The series was transmitted in 1999.
It is the only series idea that I thought up, developed and actually made. It was centred around the empowerment of women, in the wake of the Spice Girls – that women ought to get on with their own DIY projects, without waiting for the men in their lives to lead the way! The key talent were two sisters, Fiona Quigley, and Siobhan Palmer, who were both on screen team members of the Daytime makeover series ‘Real Rooms’, which I series produced at the time. Fiona and Siobhan were funny, creative, and yes – both big and strong! They visited members of the public and got to grips with their DIY jobs. I think one of the funniest episodes involved a family in Hall Green, Birmingham, who had missing skirting boards, which they’d replaced using tea towels! Unfortunately that episode was never shown, as it had been originally scheduled for the Opening of Parliament day.
Unfortunately the Daytime Controller changed between commissioning and delivery, and Liz Barron’s taste was not shared by Jane Lush and her team. When we’d already made and delivered around ten episodes of the series, I received a phone call from the Controller’s office, saying that they really liked the idea of ‘Big Strong Girls’, but that couldn’t we use a couple of fit, attractive young men instead, and rename the series ‘Big Strong Boys’. I felt that this was somewhat missing the point of the original series, but it’s difficult to argue with Channel Controllers! We recorded another five episodes that we had already researched and were committed to, and then the girls were replaced by the ‘Big Strong Boys’, which in my opinion was a far more predictable approach to DIY on television. Focus group research was carried out into a pilot of ‘Big Strong Boys’, whilst ‘Big Strong Girls’ was actually airing, and I was secretly pleased that the audience research said that people preferred the female version – not that it made any difference of course!
‘Big Strong Girls’ had a great production team, Roger Casstles was our executive producer, and was an early experiment in directors self shooting, using the Sony DSR 200 – which produced some very good results. We did employ a professional recordist – and were very glad we did.