The mastermind behind the BBC theme song Gentleman Jack, Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, revealed how their famous song inspired a name change for writer Sally Wainwright’s series.
Gentleman Jack made a dazzling return to screens earlier this month, as fans saw Suranne Jones return straight to the feisty role of Anne Lister.
So far in this series, we’ve seen Anne trying to settle in Shibden Hall for herself and her new wife Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle), as the pair attempt to quietly navigate their romance in 1834.
But there are other challenges ahead, with Walker’s mental health issues continuing to feed into his time, as well as Lister’s old flames surging.
With the show now on its second series, there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes gossip to explore, including Belinda, who performs the famous theme song – and more – for the series with wife Heidi in folk duo O’Hooley and Tidow. , took the time to disclose.
She told Metro.co.uk how the show was supposed to have a very different name and how they were approached by Sally to get heavily involved with the show.
“We wrote our song Gentlemen Jack for our 2012 album, Fragile,” she shared. “We had heard of Anne Lister from a friend and she told us all about it in the papers and said the disapproving locals of Halifax had given her a nickname.
“When she said Gentlemen Jack, Heidi and I just looked at each other – we knew it was going to be a great song. »
They wrote the track “very quickly” with Belinda noting, “It was really fun to write and we released our album in 2012. It was really good because it was a way to share Anne Lister’s fabulous with people who never heard of her. She never reached the history books and things like that.
Fast forward to 2018, and writer Sally appeared at one of the couple’s concerts at Hebden Bridge, approaching Heidi to ask if she could use the track for her upcoming BBC drama ‘Shibden’ .
Yes, it turns out that the drama’s iconic name wasn’t planned at the very beginning.
The pair had been keen to work with Sally, after friends and fans commented on how well their music would fit into one of her programs – but they never thought it would actually happen.
“The actual reality of this event seemed never to happen really unlikely. How to send him your music? We didn’t give him our music. She really found us! It was such a pinch moment for me,” Belinda commented.
Sally revealed to the couple that she became obsessed with their song and played it “thousands of times in the car”.
“It inspired her to help flesh out who Anne Lister was going to be,” Belinda continued. “Then she changed the name of the drama from Shibden to Gentlemen Jack because of our song. I feel like that had a major role to play in this brisk walk of this person you see with this attitude – part of it has to do with the attitude of the song.
“In some ways, the program is very much Anne Lister. It’s about his attitude and his swagger. The name Gentleman Jack, even though it was used as an insult, it looks like she’s coming to terms with it.
The pair became part of the writing process, with Sally wishing to involve them. In addition to using their song as the show’s theme, they create “tailored little pieces” to come before the end credits.
“It’s instantly recognizable as our song, it may go in a slightly different direction before becoming our song again as the credits roll. ” What I like [Sally] it’s that she has incredible faith in you,” Belinda added, even though the pair have never written for film or television before.
They also had to get a little creative in the process: “Suddenly we get phone calls from Sally saying, ‘I want a pretty dark theme for this one, can you do something for me tomorrow? And I was playing stuff on the phone on the piano – it was really improvised. It was nothing fancy, but it worked!
The pair were fortunate to be present on set during the filming of the first season, including the rehearsal of the crucial scene where Lister and Walker shared the Eucharist.
But she warned it was “absolutely cold” throughout filming for the special occasion, noting, “It was as cold as it gets. We were sitting there, wearing coats and hats and scarves and gloves, and Suranne and Sophie were wearing period outfits, which really aren’t hot, rehearsing scenes and doing things and trying different angles and all that kind of stuff.
“I just remember thinking, ‘People don’t know half of it. When they watch a show, they don’t realize how much work has gone into it. I was really amazed by their ability to withstand the cold – I don’t know if they were wearing thermal underwear!
She also detailed how much preparation was done by leading lady Suranne, before the cameras even started rolling.
“Sally and Suranne researched the role so much and even did rehearsals before they started filming it – which is quite unusual – to make sure that Suranne really understood exactly how she wanted to portray Anne Lister to talk about it and try some things.
“Everything from his incredible acting to his appearance in costumes, photography. It really is like a tour de force.
Meanwhile, Belinda also praised the incredible impact the show has had on the LGBTQ+ community, with Lister often being credited as the first true modern lesbian.
“I don’t think anyone imagined that the Anne Lister story would be shown on national television on a Sunday night at 9pm on BBC One – primetime – because it was seen as a source of embarrassment. Halifax saw her as an embarrassment, someone they should hide and not talk about.
Lister kept much of his diaries in code in order to conceal details of his dealings, and there were attempts to burn them because of the subject matter they contained.
“We thought she was a strong and inspiring woman and she did something amazing,” Belinda remarked. ‘We really wanted [her story] to start being told, and we were on the ground level singing a song to her about her at concerts and things like that, but it was never going to be anything big.
“But Sally told us it was because of her success with things like Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley that the BBC, she got to a point where they said to her, basically, you can do what you want. She said, “Well, well, I want to do something about Anne Lister because it’s been a passion of Sally for years and years and years.
Sally had ‘always wanted’ to write the Yorkshire-based series but knew it would be ‘expensive’ as it was a period drama – and wanted to make sure it was ‘done right’.
“It really was the right time,” Belinda continued. “Me and Heidi, when we turn on the television and watch on Sunday, it feels like it’s time people know for people like Anne, that she’s not stuffed in a closet somewhere. go ! » [Instead] that she is glorious and that she is celebrated.
“It’s unbelievable that it’s a multi-million pound period drama, but she’s in the middle and it’s a Sunday night – what a party. »
Gentleman Jack airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on BBC One.
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