The Secret Life of Sue Townsend (Aged 68 ¾)

Posted by ap507 at Oct 14, 2016 12:55 PM |
University of Leicester contributes to programme being aired on BBC 2 at 9pm on Saturday 15 October

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 14 October 2016

A video of Sue Townsend receiving a Distinguished Honorary Fellowship at the University of Leicester in 2008 is available here:

The University of Leicester has played a key role in a new BBC programme on honorary graduate and Distinguished Honorary Fellow Sue Townsend, who died in 2014.

The programme, The Secret Life of Sue Townsend (Aged 68 ¾), provides a warm and witty celebration of Sue Townsend's life and writing. The story is told with the help of children from Sue's old school, her friends and family, as well as the comedy and literary stars she inspired - including Stephen Mangan, Ian Hislop, David Nicholls, Isy Suttie and Adrian Scarborough. Drawing on Sue Townsend's own archive of letters and notebooks, the film also features unseen photographs, footage and even her appointment diary, which includes poignant entries about her struggles with ill health, written in a humorous style instantly recognisable from her books.

The Archives & Special Collections team at the University of Leicester David Wilson Library made a substantial input into the project. The Leicester team gave advice to the filmmakers on use of the Sue Townsend Archive, provided access to the collection, and accompanied material offsite for filming.

The Sue Townsend Archive was deposited with the University of Leicester in 2005 by Sue herself. It contains her literary, personal and business papers covering her entire literary career, from successful early plays such as Womberang (1979), through the Mole years, and to more recent novels including Number 10 (2002) and The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year (2012). The collection provides fascinating insights into the life and work of one of Leicester’s favourite and most successful writers.

Dr Simon Dixon, Archives and Special Collections Manager at the University of Leicester, said: “The Sue Townsend Archive is one of the Library’s most important collections, and a key part of the rich cultural heritage of the city of Leicester. We were very pleased to be able to support Sue’s family’s involvement in the documentary by providing the filmmakers with access to the collection. It was particularly rewarding to witness the reaction of her friends and colleagues, including Carole Hayman and Stephan Mangan, to seeing material from the archives for the first time.”

  • The archive and Dr Dixon also feature in BBC East Midlands programme Rebel Writers of the East Midlands on BBC One on Sunday ( The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ was chosen by the author Bali Rai as one of the region’s most important books. Bali was filmed talking to Dr Dixon about the archive.

About The Secret Life of Sue Townsend (Aged 68 ¾)

Sue Townsend left school at 14, with no qualifications; by her early twenties, she was a single mother living in poverty, struggling to feed her three children.  A decade later, how had she become the best-selling author of her time? 

‘I wanted to be a writer so much it was painful because I knew I never would be.  It was an impossible thing to want.  You knew you were either going into the shoe factory or the boot factory or the sock factory and there was no possibility of being anything else.’ - Sue Townsend

A highlight of the BBC’s Love to Read campaign, Julie Walters narrates The Secret Life of Sue Townsend: the extraordinary untold story of a working class woman lacking connections, encouragement and opportunity, who achieved literary stardom through talent, luck, and an indefatigable will to write.

‘As a comic novel, I think there are very few books that are funnier and more consistently brilliantly witty, with such a clear, strong voice. It's undoubtedly one of the best comic novels of the last hundred years.’ - Writer, David Nicholls (One Day, Starter for Ten)

A critical and commercial smash, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, sold over 20 million copies and has been translated into 48 languages.  Its success made its author a household name, but Sue later said that no amount of balsamic vinegar or Prada handbags would make her forget what it was like to be poor. Her experiences from the margins of working class Leicester, provided a rich source of inspiration throughout her life - in smash hits like the Queen and I, to lesser known works like Ghost Children – and, of course, in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

‘Our kids were growing up in the Thatcher years and were at school and were told, they’ve no hope when they leave school. There is nowhere to go, nothing for them. They would all be put on a scrap heap. There was no hope for Adrian. What, what was he going to do when he left school? He had nothing.’ - Colin Broadway, Sue’s husband.  

Featuring intimate unseen footage, the documentary is a revealing portrait of Sue’s determination and need to continue writing, even after she’d lost her sight, her mobility and could no longer read.

It was horrible, there were times she was ill and she was struggling and to [see her] go from someone who has been responsible looking after you and then being someone that you need to look after, it was the worst thing.  She wasn’t going out as much, or do the things she wanted to do, but she wanted to write. – Finley-Rose Townsend, Sue’s granddaughter

Inspired by her famously egalitarian approach to literature, this warm, witty story of her life and work will be told with help from her beloved community of Leicester; children from Sue’s old school, friends and family, sharing the stage with the comic and literary stars she inspired - including Stephen Mangan, Ian Hislop, David Nicholls, Isy Suttie and Adrian Scarborough. 

The Secret Life of Sue Townsend Aged 68 3/4 is produced by BBC Studios. The Executive Producer is Richard Bright and it was produced and directed by Jude Ho. It was commissioned by Mark Bell, Head of Arts Commissioning, BBC.

You can see the excerpt showing Stephen Mangan in the reading room here:

Images of Sue Townsend visiting the Special Collections Archive at the University of Leicester:

Sue Townsend Archive:

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