Leading Ladies



Theatre director and artistic director of the Southbank Centre Jude Kelly marks the 350th anniversary of the first performance by the first English professional actress.

Before the restoration and the reopening of the theatres after years of Puritan rule, boys and men had played women's roles.

However, when Charles II came to the throne he requested that women be allowed on stage and the course of theatre history was changed forever when a woman took the stage in the role of Desdemona on 8th December 1660.

Although little is known about who she was, Jude Kelly pieces together a picture of what life would have been like for the first generation of actresses.

She visits the real tennis court at Hampton Court Palace to find out what the first performance would have been like, takes Celia Imrie to the site of where the first performance took place and tours the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in search of Nell Gwynn.

Were the first actresses' victims of exploitation or women who exploited the situation to their own advantage? Were they whores or pioneers?

Producer: Benjamin Partridge

A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

Jude Kelly marks 350 years of women on stage.


Actor Christopher Lee presents a two-part series about leading ladies of American wit and comedy in the first half of the 20th century.

1: He traces the roots of American women's comedy to vaudeville and burlesque, recalling the careers of, among others, Fanny Brice, Mae West, Gracie Allen, Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Booth.


Actor Christopher Lee presents the second of two programmes about leading ladies of American wit and comedy in the first half of the 20th century.

He tells how they made the transition from radio to Hollywood in the 1930s, tracing their arrival on television in the 1950s.

Featuring the stories of Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Jane Russell, Frances Langford, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall