Home Television Drama Woman Of Substance, A

Woman Of Substance, A

1 9 8 5 (UK)
3 x 160 minute episodes

Told in flashback and beginning in 1905, this Channel 4 drama (their most successful) was the rags-to-riches story of Emma Harte, a tough Yorkshire lass from the serving classes who made her way from kitchen maid up through society.

Her ambitions took her out of the scullery and into the world of business. From humble beginnings, Emma starts her business with a small shop, but over the next twenty years she expands her stores and invests in the growing textile industry in Leeds – eventually becoming one of the world’s wealthiest women, owning a major chain of ‘Hartes’ department stores clearly modelled on Harrods (where some of the filming actually took place).

By the time of World War II, Emma is the head of a major international retail and manufacturing empire.

After an illegitimate daughter and two marriages, she finally meets the love of her life, Paul McGill, but their affair is cut short by a tragic accident, leaving Emma with his daughter.

In the 1980s Emma faces one of her biggest tests – her children’s attempt to remove her as head of her company, but Emma is far from the senile old woman they think she is – she is determined to stop them at all costs.

There was trooble on t’ moors, trooble in t’ big house, trooble in t’ shop and then trooble in t’ boardroom. Alas there was also trooble wi’ t’ script and trooble in t’ cast . . .

Jenny Seagrove played Emma between the ages of 15 and 80 but succeeded in looking like a vacant 23-year-old throughout. Deborah Kerr took over at 80, but looked only 50 and had all the grit of a cuddly pink teddy bear.

The period trappings were fairly generic and some of the scenes sometimes verged on the ludicrous due to over-compression. A good example of this could be found in three consecutive sequences in the second instalment in which Emma, now running her own shop in Leeds, turns down a marriage proposal from her business partner David, is sexually attacked by the evil Gerald Fairley, and then proposed to again, this time by her present landlord (played with gruff charm by John Duttine), all in quick succession.

Adapted by Lee Langley from Barbara Taylor Bradford’s romantic novel, this mini-series was shown on three consecutive nights in 1985.

A year later, a sequel – made in America and entitled Hold That Dream – once again saw Seagrove and Kerr in the role of Harte.

Emma Harte
Jenny Seagrove (1)
Deborah Kerr (2)
Major Paul McGill 

Barry Bostwick
Laura O’Neill 

Diane Baker 
Edwin Fairley 

Peter Chelsom 
Joe Lowther 

John Duttine
Adam Fairley 

Peter Egan
Frank Harte 

Mick Ford 
Arthur Ainsley 

Christopher Gable
Gerald Fairley 

Christopher Guard 
Winston Harte 

Dominic Guard
Jack Harte 

Del Henney
Olivia Wainwright 

Gayle Hunnicutt
Barry Morse
Blackie O’Neill 

Liam Neeson
Adele Fairley 

Nicola Pagett 
Paula McGill Amory 

Miranda Richardson
David Kallinski 

Joris Stuyck 
Elizabeth Harte 

Meg Wynn Owen
Bruce McGill 

George Baker