Judith Holder – interview


It is a truism that within every middle-aged woman lurks a sybarite.

Just because gravity is starting to take hold and grey hairs have started to appear, younger, more pert, women assume that their older counterparts are past it, have no history of fun and are, well, sad.

But, argues author and TV producer/director Judith Holder, these younger beings simply have no idea.

While older women may have a predilection for comfy shoes and tend to spend more time on their chins than eyebrows with their tweezers, they are still passionate, provocative and sexy (and not just when the HRT kicks in).

Judith, who produced the television series Grumpy Old Women and has just published The Secret Diary of a Grumpy Old Woman, a Bridget Jones for the menopausal age, believes the time has come for women of a certain age to stand up and be counted.

“I feel, at last, that middle-aged women, who are busy looking after their mothers and doing everything else, have got someone with attitude they can look up to – and that feels great,” she said.

“I feel I have found my voice.”

Fifty-one-year-old Judith, who was born and brought up in Solihull, has drawn upon her experiences as a mother in the book.

Pledges to be a better, more organised person are a common theme throughout the book, as well as gripes about everyday life, from her irritating boss to her daughters’ indifference to her existence.

There were wince-inducing passages – probably more because I recognised myself more than anything – and honest appraisals of what it is to be like to be a woman in her late 40s.

While there might be plenty of laughs, as the frazzled woman blunders from one day to another in a hormonal rage, there are some entries so poignant that it leaves a lump in your throat: the time when she marks the anniversary of her father’s death’ her feelings when her eldest daughter goes away for eight weeks’ the realisation that her children don’t need her to look after them any more.

So were some of those passages taken from the heart?

“I loved writing the diary – it’s the wickedest thing I have done so far,” she said.

“But I am much more prone to being sad and weepy now than I ever was, and so a lot of it has been based on truth.

“My daughter did go on a gap experience, so perhaps the honest bits are quite moving as they were very real for me. And they were helpful for me when I wrote them.

“I hope what I have written has some depth in it, but even some of the funny bits have some truth in them.”

Judith, who attended Harold Cartwright School, in Solihull, before attaining an English degree at Leeds University, has had a string of television successes under her belt.

Now head of features at Liberty Bell Productions, she brought us Girl Friday, in which Joanna Lumley survived on a desert island – memorably fashioning shoes out of her bra -put Lenny Henry in the Amazon and sent Billy Connolly to the Arctic.

She wrote and produced for other performers for years until the age of 47, when she decided to write and perform her own stand-up.

She has performed her own comedy pieces on Woman’s Hour and Home Truths, but it is Grumpy Old Women, which she wrote and produced, on which she is now riding high.

The show, for the uninitiated, sees irascible women, like Germaine Greer, Annette Crosbie, Jenny Eclair and Sheila Hancock, venting their spleen.

Body image, shop assistants, domestic goddesses and – obviously – grumpy old men – nothing escapes their wit.

To complement the television series and book, she co-wrote Grumpy Old Women Live, with comedian Jenny Eclair, which is enjoying its third sell-out tour.

The show with Jenny Eclair comes to the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, tomorrow and Judith is taking her family and friends – but is hoping they will be distracted by the rude bits.

“I am really looking forward to it. What is really remarkable is seeing all these women of a certain age, women who are normally invisible or overlooked having a fantastic time,” she said.

“Lines such as ‘Peter Stringfellow should sleep with someone his own age’ gets huge applause, as does ‘If teachers organise school plays they should make the costumes’.

“When my youngest daughter first saw it she asked if I had written the rude bits. I told her I hadn’t and that Jenny had done those. I think she believes me.”

Her enthusiasm abounds and she has clearly relished writing the shows with Jenny Eclair, a woman she fondly describes as a style Nazi.

“She’s very different from me. She’s very bossy with me but she is my style guru,” explains Judith, who now lives in Northumbria.

“When she came up to do some writing she went through my wardrobe and chucked out loads of stuff, including my comfy shoes. I got some of them back out of the bin when she’d left, though.

“But we make each other laugh and she is absolutely fantastic and a very generous person.”

And it is evident that Grumpy Old Women has not run its course, with Christmas and New Year specials on the horizon.

It seems that the world will never run out of hormonally-challenged women, ready to take on Saturday assistants in shops and complain about the youth of today.

I hope what I have written has some depth in it, but even some of the funny bits have some truth in them.

This appeared in The Birmingham Post in September 2006. It must not be reproduced without prior permission from Jayne Howarth