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Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads: Everything you need to know & how to watch them

By Tom Sanderson
Last updated: July 2020
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Here’s everything you need to know about the new series of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, plus where to watch them.

Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads – The Quick Overview

Talking Heads is a series of 12 monologues written by Alan Bennett. The series of monologues returns to the BBC with an all-star cast, aired throughout June and early July. All episodes are also available on the BBC iPlayer.

Dates available: Ongoing
Suitable for: KS4 & KS5 (though dependent on the monologue)
Subject links: Drama & English

About Talking Heads

Talking Heads is Alan Bennett’s critically acclaimed and multi-award-winning series of monologues first aired in 1988 and 1998.

Ten of the original pieces have been re-made with the addition of two new ones written by Alan Bennett last year. They have been produced by Nicholas Hytner for London Theatre Company and Kevin Loader.

Nicholas Hytner, Bennett’s long-term collaborator and Lead Director and Producer, says ‘Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads are among the masterworks of one of the very greatest writers in TV, film and theatre history.’ 

The series of monologues are directed by some of the most prominent directors in UK theatre: Marianne Elliott, Nicholas Hytner, Sarah Frankcom, Josie Rourke, Jeremy Herrin and Nadia Fall. The series features top names including Jodie Cromer, Imelda Stauton and Martin Freeman.

Hytner also remarks on the ‘profound and fascinating experience to work out a way of making them again.’

The series was recorded in the BBC’s Elstree Studios on the now dormant sets of Eastenders. The team used innovative and creative camera techniques to film the series during the lockdown in a socially distanced way.

Read more about Talking Heads on the Bridge Theatre’s website.

See more about Talking Heads series on the BBC website.

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Overview of the Talking Heads Monologues

Imelda Stanton starring in A Lady of Letters from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

A Lady of Letters

Irene Ruddock dashes off letters with her trusty fountain pen, complaining about the failures of others. But when the police come by, it’s Irene who is in trouble.

A Lady of Letters (1988) stars Imelda Staunton and is directed by Jonathan Kent. 

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

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Sarah Lancashire in An Ordinary Woman from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

An Ordinary Woman

Michael is only 15, but you wouldn’t know. Gwen thought there would be something that gave you immunity, that you couldn’t fall for your own child.

An Ordinary Woman was newly written by Bennett in 2019. The monologue stars Sarah Lancashire and is directed by Nicholas Hytner.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

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Harriet Walter in Soldiering On from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

Soldiering On

Muriel’s son Giles appears with papers for her to sign. It turns out she is quite a rich widow. But soon there’s a liquidity problem, and Giles could be to blame.

Soldiering On (1988) stars Harriet Walter and is directed by Marianne Elliott.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

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Jodie Cromer in Her Big Chance from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

Her Big Chance

Actor Lesley prides herself on her professionalism, even if it’s for a walk-on role. She is thrilled to land the role of Travis, who spends the film bikini-clad on a yacht.

Her Big Chance (1988) stars Jodie Cromer and is directed by Josie Rourke.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

Lucian Msamati in Playing Sandwiches from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

Playing Sandwiches

Wilfred is a parks attendant. After he befriends a young girl, it becomes clear why nobody can trace his records.

Playing Sandwiches (1998) stars Lucian Msamati and is directed by Jeremy Herrin.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

Martin Freeman in A Chip in the Sugar from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

A Chip in the Sugar

Graham is his mam’s number one. But when they bump into semi-retired Mr Turnbull, Graham discovers she had a life pre-Dad and fully intends to have another.

A Chip in the Sugar (1988) stars Martin Freeman and is directed by Jeremy Herrin.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

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Rochenda Sandall in The Outside Dog from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

The Outside Dog

Marjory hates husband Stuart’s dog, Tina. He takes her out late, comes in at midnight, clothes in the wash, naked to bed and then starts carrying on. Then the police arrive.

The Outside Dog (1998) stars Rochenda Sandall and is directed by Nadia Fall.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

Lesley Manville in Bed Among the Lentils from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

Bed Among the Lentils

Susan is not cut out to be the vicar’s wife. When she meets Mr. Ramesh in his shop, she discovers what else life can offer.

Bed Among the Lentils (1988) stars Lesley Manville and is directed by Nicholas Hytner.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

Tamsin Greig in Nights in the Garden of Spain from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

Nights in the Garden of Spain

Rosemary recalls the morning she was accosted by Mrs McCorquodale, who had shot her husband. A friendship began, until Rosemary had to look again at her own marriage.

Nights in the Garden of Spain (1998) stars Tamsin Greig and is directed by Marianne Elliott.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

Kristen Scott Thomas from The Hand of God from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

The Hand of God

Celia runs an antiques shop. But after she buys a lovely old frame containing the smudgy drawing of a finger, she discovers she’s less of an expert than she thought.

The Hand of God (1998) stars Kristen Scott Thomas and is directed by Jonathan Kent.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

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Sarah Frankcom in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet

Miss Fozzard has a new chiropodist, Mr. Dunderdale, though technically he’s retired. Their weekly appointments soon raise the tricky question of who’s treating whom?

Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet (1998) stars Maxine Peake and is directed by Sarah Frankcom.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

Monica Dolan in The Shine from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads

The Shrine

Lorna visits the spot where Clifford’s motorbike crashed.

The Shrine is the second of the two newly written pieces by Bennett in 2019. The monologue stars Monica Dolan and is directed by Nicholas Hytner.

This episode is available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

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How to watch Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads

You can watch all of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads online on the BBC iPlayer.

Read more about Talking Heads on the Bridge Theatre’s website.

See more about Talking Heads series on the BBC website.

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For more free resources, see our Complete Guide of Free Teaching Resources, Teaching Ideas & Educational Activities. The list features over 100 resources broken down by subject, Key Stage and opportunities.

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