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Newman, Andrea (1938-)


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Sex, adultery, betrayal, domestic violence, incest, revenge. 1976 was quite a year for television drama, with audiences stunned by the BBC dramatisation of Robert Graves' I, Claudius. But the year was barely a week old when winter-weary viewers were gripped by a more contemporary tale of dysfunctional family life, also classically influenced - allegedly by ancient Greek drama. A Bouquet of Barbed Wire (ITV), adapted from her novel by Andrea Newman, attracted over 24 million viewers, and became a 'success de scandale'.

Newman's work as novelist and scriptwriter has always been an intriguing mix of autobiography, biography and fantasy, and audiences enjoy working out which is which. She has a knack of tapping into the zeitgeist - the seismic changes in family life since WWII and people's anxieties about their relationships, although if asked, most people would say she writes about sex.

Born in 1938 in Dover, Kent, she was an only child - and apparently a grandniece of Elisabeth Barrett Browning. She began writing stories at 8 or 9 and once described the process as "acting for shy people". During the war years, with a father in the Royal Air Force and a working mother, she was mainly brought up by a grandmother. Following an English degree at London University, she taught English in a grammar school until her first book was published in 1964.

A film based on another of her early novels, Three into Two Won't Go (1968), was directed by Peter Hall, but her first real break came after dramatising one of her short stories for television, with an invitation to write two episodes of Helen, A Woman of Today (ITV, 1973). This was an early example of the new feminist drama, in which the titular character, discovering her husband's affair, chooses to leave him and start life again on her own, with her two children. Unusually for the time, the story was told from her viewpoint. Newman also contributed two episodes to Intimate Strangers (ITV, 1974), which featured the effects of a man's heart attack on his work and family.

Two years later came her huge success with Bouquet, in which the relationship permutations seemed endless. Newman was persuaded to write a sequel Another Bouquet (ITV, 1977), but didn't write for TV again until 1980, with an ambitious original 12-part series, Mackenzie (BBC), which followed the fortunes of a womanising builder, his family and acquaintances over two decades. Alexa (BBC, 1982), adapted from another of her novels, and Imogen's Face (ITV, 1998), an original script, were less popular, but she found success again with two more series pushing at boundaries of taste and acceptability in TV drama: A Sense of Guilt (BBC, 1990) and An Evil Streak (ITV, 1999), both with Trevor Eve as a sexually manipulative anti-hero.

Newman has always divided the critics. Some have welcomed her questioning of received ideas of morality and social behaviour, while others have complained of weak dialogue and characterisation. Julian Barnes described her as "a chilly moralist", adding, "the brutal side of loving is her speciality - the meanness, the possessiveness, the envy and the spite." Hilary Spurling, in The Observer, called her "an off-the-peg Iris Murdoch". Now in her seventies, she has written little in the past decade, but A Bouquet of Barbed Wire was remade, with a different script, for ITV1 in 2010 - starring Trevor Eve.

Janet Moat

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Thumbnail image of Bouquet of Barbed Wire, A (1977)Bouquet of Barbed Wire, A (1977)

Steamy suburban melodrama of jealousy and forbidden passions

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