Bad Girls ran from 1999 to 2006 and spawned several memorable characters and controversial storylines. What made it such good TV was that it was current and relatable, yet set in a situation so different to what most of us had experienced, so that we as viewers, could distance ourselves from the more hard-to-stomach storylines.
When it began way back in 1999 it was brutal television. Who didn’t wince as Denny plunged her gloved hand into the large tub of margarine whilst Zandra was pinned down? And who didn’t recoil in shock and revulsion as Rachel was found hanging from the bars of her cell? But mixed in with all the grit were some humorous storylines to lessen the blow, such as the ‘Babes Behind Bars’ moneymaking scheme devised by Yvonne, and the continued misadventures of the Two Julies.
But for me, what made Bad Girls so compelling was that it made monsters likeable. Shell Dockley was the baddest of the bad, but there is no denying that we all felt insatiably sorry for her when she revealed her past torment at the hands of her father. Snowball Merriman was an evil, egocentric deviant, but all she wanted was to be with the person she loved, and who can’t relate to that?
The show hosted numerous gay and lesbian characters. From the predatory gay governor, Neil Grayling, to the captivating will-they-won’t-they storyline between Helen and Nicki (which thankfully resulted in one of the sparse happy endings on the show) there are plenty to choose from, and most of them were well-written and given equal prominence to the straight characters. They were shown to be equal to their heterosexual counterparts. Both the straight and gay characters alike suffered from relationship problems and self-doubt amongst various other ailments, and this helped show that there really isn’t any difference between sexual orientations deep down.
Bad Girls had it all. Lovable characters who we rooted for in the form of the Two Julies who fell out with each other on a near-weekly basis, Yvonne and her various escape attempts, and the Costa Cons and their numerous scams they pulled on inmates and screws alike. And then there where characters we loved to hate. Fenner was evil but there’s no denying that we loved to watch him torment the inmates. Natalie Buxton was initially dubbed a ‘nonce’ but she managed to turn the inmates, and the viewers, opinions about her around.
There were storylines that we could engage with such as Julie Saunders’ cancer storyline, the bullying and subsequent suicide of Rachel Hicks, and the sexual awakening of Roisin Connor. Then there were storylines that were so over-the-top that they were almost ridiculous, but they were always pulled off with glorious campness. Shell Dockley managed to escape with the help of a prison officer and returned dressed as a giant cock; Yvonne Atkins was locked in the bowels of the prison by the same prison officer and left to rot and die; Body Bag’s undertaker husband Bobby nearly cremated in his own coffin; And Jim Fenner, the aforementioned prison officer, finally getting his comeuppance as the result of Julie Johnson’s icy cadaver. All of them were ridiculously farfetched, but it was perfect escapist television and a show I dearly miss.
There is no denying that the first four series were the best, and if you haven’t already watched it I urge you to do so! (I would also urge you to watch the fifth series, just for the return of Shell, the introduction of the Costa Cons and the demise of Yvonne and then you can skip right to the end of the seventh series to see Fenner murdered). Bad Girls is vintage television at its best.