Suffolk documentary maker Frances Harper realises her dream
PUBLISHED: 14:49 11 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:08 20 February 2013
After spending her working life in sales administration and as a PA, Ipswich-born Frances Harper began making documentaries at the age of 60 and has since produced programmes for both the BBC and Sky.
After spending her working life in sales administration and as a PA, Ipswich-born Frances Harper began making documentaries at the age of 60 and has since produced programmes for both the BBC and Sky. Married to Richard, a builder, Frances has a grown up son and lives near Woodbridge
It must have been a thrill seeing your first ever film screened at Southwold in August?
Having a film screened at the cinema is very exciting and particularly rewarding after many weeks of producing a film. I have been very fortunate to meet so many lovely people in Southwold who have been kind enough to take part.
And realising your dream at the age of 63 strikes a blow for those of us at the latter end of our working lives!
Having completed my first documentary, I realised that I had the potential to carry on.
With determination and motivation I continued and researched my second programme for Sky. I am not sure where the experience comes from, but I know the results I am looking for and try to achieve the best I can within my resources. I would say to anyone who has an idea or something they want to achieve, to follow what they believe in.
Tell us about the film and why you made it
Last year I was asked by John Bennett to make a film, Southwold ~ Having a wonderful time! John is an architect who lives in Southwold, and also the manager of the Electric Picture Palace Cinema. John has written the script and the film has been narrated by Geoffrey Palmer. I met Geoffrey in London for the voiceover and he is charming. The film is just under 40 mins and is packed with everything about Southwold. It includes historical events, such as the Sole Bay battle, and the Great Fire of Southwold.
It was quite a challenge to re-create the Battle of Sole Bay, but it is surprising what can be done in the edit suite. There are interviews with Jill Freud, who produces the very well known Summer Theatre, and interviews at the lighthouse and lifeboat museum, local artists and much much more. It also features Punch & Judy and racing pigs!
There are museums, St Edmund church, and Olive, a 1950s bus which takes us on a journey around Southwold!
You have produced some hard-hitting television documentaries too...
My first documentary was broadcast in 2008. Where Angels Fear to Tread, which I developed and co-produced with BBC East, was about Lou, a young Ipswich woman, who was living on the streets of Ipswich, working on the streets, and a heroin addict. I followed her day to day life, meeting the people she knew on the streets, and also her other world at night on the streets of Ipswich. The documentary shows the battle we had to find accommodation and for Lou to have a permanent home. She finally moved in to a council flat later that year. I certainly found out a great deal more about people whilst filming with Lou and it has changed my perspective on life. Lou and I keep in touch from time to time.
I decided for my second documentary to focus on mothers and sons, and the sons misuse of drugs. I am particularly interested in social issues and my aim is for documentaries to raise awareness on subjects that are often pushed to one side. I researched and developed My Son, Drugs and Me and with MAP TV produced a documentary recently broadcast on Sky Real Lives and Sky 1 HD.
But A Whiter Shade of Pale, a documentary about plans for a naturist beach at Southwold, sounds lighter and more fun.
It was great fun! Following news reports that Southwold could possibly be having a naturist beach, I quickly went along to interview local residents to get their reactions. It was a beautiful sunny day with a clear blue sky and how a seaside resort should be. I put a very short film together and thought it might be of interest for the local cinema. It was screened a few weeks later and got a good response from the audience.
Have you always been interested in making film and television programmes?
It all started at the age of 60 when I started to develop an idea that I had for a documentary.
I purchased a small camcorder and started filming. I put a taster film together and contacted the BBC. I went along to a meeting and my first documentary was commissioned. But, I always thought it was something for other people, not realising that I was creative too!
Tell us about your early life... where were you born and brought up, and what were your first jobs?
I was born in Ipswich and I have two elder brothers. When I was young, I spent many hours with my aunt, who was unmarried and had a career. Even as a young child, I had always been influenced by her achievements and her encouragement. My first jobs were secretarial, and sales admin.
Favourite places in Suffolk and why?
Southwold of course. I have been visiting Southwold for many years and would love to have a beach hut there if only! I also like Snape Maltings and Aldeburgh too, especially the fish and chips!
I am fortunate to live in a beautiful area near Woodbridge, and I go there to shop and enjoy walking by the river and visiting the cafes by the river.
Favourite film and actor?
Secrets & Lies because of the diverse characters, and the strong emotions which come through, illustrating there is often another side to peoples lives.
My favourite actor is Johnny Depp. There have been rumours that he is moving to Suffolk, but I have not seen him yet!
Best piece of advice you have been given?
When I started developing and producing documentaries I was not sure what the outcome would be, as commissions are difficult to achieve, but I was told by an experienced television editor that I had tenacity and that age should never be a barrier to achievement!