Summers loving: Sheffield's Brief Encounters undercover story on TV tonight

Summers loving: Sharon Rooney as Dawn, Penelope Wilton as Pauline, Sophie Rundle as Steph and Angela Griffin as Nita
Summers loving: Sharon Rooney as Dawn, Penelope Wilton as Pauline, Sophie Rundle as Steph and Angela Griffin as Nita
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Set and filmed in the city in 1982, Penelope Wilton, Sophie Rundle, Angela Griffin and Sharon Rooney star as four women striving to find happiness and fulfillment in the form of lingerie parties.

The frank, fresh and funny six-part drama opens as married mum of one Stephanie sees an ad in the local paper ‘Ann Summers Demonstrators required to run parties selling exotic lingerie. FOR LADIES ONLY. Earn £30-£40 for an evening’s work’. This could be what she’s looking for.

Sophie Rundle (Peaky Blinders, Dickensian, Happy Valley, Episodes) plays Steph, who feels invisible until Ann Summers party planning comes into her life. It ignites the ambition she didn’t know she had and grows her confidence. Married to Terry, Steph strives to make something more of her life via new friendships and the excitement of her new-found career.

Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) plays Pauline. She jumps in at the deep end when Steph, her cleaner, introduces her to the parties as a way to salve her loneliness. Pauline‘s sunny disposition hides a secret sadness. She and her husband, local butcher Brian, played by Peter Wight (Our Zoo, The Paradise) deeply love each other but their relationship has suffered whilst he’s concentrated on building his business. Through her relationship with the Ann Summers girls, Pauline steps out from the shadows.

Angela Griffin (Lewis, Mount Pleasant, Waterloo Road) plays Nita. A chance meeting between Nita and Steph in the school playground kickstarts a sequence of events that will change both their lives. Nita is a mix of grit and warmth, struggling to run a household with a husband, Kieren, whom she adores but who frequently strays onto the wrong side of the law, despite his devotion to his family.

Sharon Rooney (My Mad Fat Diary, Hector) stars as young hairdresser, Dawn who has a lust for life. Although bubbly and outgoing, since her mother died she has been trapped into looking after her father and three brothers who take her for granted. The buzz of earning serious cash with the other women gives Dawn the incentive to finally realise her dreams with fiancé, Russell, the butcher’s apprentice.

We caught up with star Angela Griffin

What was your initial reaction to Brief Encounters?

I was so excited about a project landing on my table with four female lead characters followed by lots of amazing female supporting characters. It was written by two women and produced by a woman from a female production company.

Then, after reading it, I saw how complex, interesting, entertaining and moving the story was. I saw how three-dimensional these women were; they are characters in their own right. They’re not just wives, mothers and lovers. They’re working, thinking women. It was genuinely exciting. You get tricked into thinking it’s about Ann Summers and it’s not.

These women are really well-drawn characters who all go on their own separate journeys that intertwine. It’s a lovely piece. Ann Summers is simply the initial hook to tell these women’s stories. It gave a lot of women economic independence. The early 1980s feels like such an important time in terms of a sexual revolution for women. They were no longer expected to give up their careers, stay at home and cook.

Can you explain who Nita is?

Nita is a feisty family woman with four kids. She started going out with her husband Kieren when they were 15 but they’ve known each other since they were 10. It’s a true deep love and something Nita defines herself by, or has done up until the point the party planning comes along. She’s really committed her life to her family and her husband.

Then Ann Summers arrives and she needs the money.

How would you describe the relationship between Nita, Steph, Dawn and Pauline?

Ordinarily, under any other circumstance, these four characters would never have been friends. This is the joy of their friendship, they found each other through this common interest in making money and starting a business and once they met, they realised they have more in common than they think.

I think friendships for women are as important as marriages – we really need them. I’m still best friends with Lisa Faulkner and Nicola Stephenson from years ago when we filmed Holby City. Those friendships are as important as my marriage. You can never underestimate the power of a female friendship. I try and imprint it on my daughters.

Did you do any research before you started filming?

We met two women who started doing the parties in the 1980s. It was so interesting listening to them. We all take it for granted today but in 1982 there was nothing like that about. So when these women, no matter how open minded they were, went to these initial meetings, they were just so shocked. And it wasn’t out of prudishness; they just didn’t know things like this existed.

One of the ladies talked about what it did to her relationship. One of the relationships survived and one of the other ladies’ didn’t - because she gained her independence it changed the dynamic. It was really interesting listening to their stories and what their reactions were.

Was 1982 such a different time to today?

There were no big hen parties in the early ‘80s. Men had stag parties and women didn’t. It’s bizarre. The whole filming process has just been one big nostalgia trip. It’s aged me because there are a lot of people on set who don’t remember some of the references. But I remember all of them. There’s a picture on Pauline’s dining room wall that we had in the living room of our house. When viewers watch it, especially if they’re my age, they’re going to have to watch it twice. It’s a case of, ‘Oh my God, I remember that!’ You could watch it just for the nostalgia. The props department’s eye for detail is just incredible. Plus the music is amazing - A-Ha, Depeche Mode, Spandau Ballet and so on.

You end up wearing a French Maid outfit in the opening episode. How was that to film?

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be! It was specially made to make sure things weren’t hanging out where they shouldn’t be! I was definitely worried. I’m turning 40 this year so I built it up and built it up in my head. I exercised, put creams on my backside, and all sorts to try and make sure that if anything did fall out it looked the best it could. It was actually a load of fun to play in the end. Not as much gets seen as you would expect.

Brief Encounters starts tonight at 9pm on ITV.