Ladies of Letters is a comedy series that ran for 13 years on BBC Radio 4; based on the series of books of the same name written by Carole Hayman and Lou Wakefield, and starring Patricia Routledge and Prunella Scales. Routledge stars as Vera Small and Scales as Irene Spencer, two elderly ladies who share a sometimes rocky relationship conducted by correspondence.
The success of the first series of Ladies of Letters (broadcast in 1997) spawned adaptations of several sequels: Ladies of More Letters (1999); Ladies of Letters.Com (2000); Ladies of Letters Log On (2001); Ladies of Letters Make Mincemeat (2001 Christmas Special); Ladies of Letters Spring Clean (2004); Ladies of Letters Go Global (2006); Ladies of Letters Say No (2007); Ladies of Letters Go Green (2008); Ladies of Letters Crunch Credit (2009) and Ladies of Letters Go Crackers (2010 - this series features Anne Reid instead of Patricia Routledge as Vera Small, see below).
Each of the 15-minute episodes come as part of BBC Radio 4's long running magazine programme Woman's Hour. A ten-part television adaptation of the first radio series has been made for ITV3, which began on 3 February 2009.
Vera and Irene reveal their exploits and adventures to each other in their letters and e-mails, but sometimes their correspondence becomes fractious when one accuses the other of being an alcoholic or engages in too much one-upmanship. Nevertheless, when the chips are down and the going gets tough, each is instantly there for the other, like a charge of the cavalry but with a more sarcastic bugle call.
Other recurring characters include people we occasionally hear, as well as some we only hear about:
Vera and Irene always strive to outdo each other, whether with their recipes, holiday destinations or who has the best grandchildren. The humour is mostly derived from the lack of insight of the two main protagonists, but there is also a somewhat melancholic theme that lurks just beneath the surface at the way these two women are taken for granted by their respective families. By the end of 2004's Ladies of Letters Spring Clean it is implied that there has been something of a parting of the ways between the women and their kinfolk. Later series tend to heavily use malapropisms for comic effect.
Ladies of Letters Go Global (broadcast 2 to 6 January 2006) featured a somewhat bizarre and unlikely world tour undertaken by the two women, in contrast to the more naturalistic tone of previous stories. The BBC issued a CD collection of the first seven series as a special 'biscuit tin' release in October 2006. A short, newly written, episode was featured as part of the Woman's Hour 60th Anniversary concert in October 2006.
Ladies of Letters Say No was broadcast from 27 to 31 August 2007 and featured a broadly satirical take on the involvement of the private sector in the NHS, concentrating on the underhand dealings of the tycoon Alan Trumper. Ladies of Letters Go Green – the ninth series – was broadcast from 10 to 14 March 2008. Series 10 – Ladies of Letters Crunch Credit – was broadcast from 4 to 8 May 2009.
An eleventh radio series Ladies of Letters Go Crackers was broadcast at Christmas 2010 (27–31 December). Patricia Routledge was not available at the time of recording so Anne Reid, who plays Vera on television, stepped into the role.
A ten-part television adaptation of the first radio series was made by Tiger Aspect for ITV3, which ran from on 3 February 2009. It stars Maureen Lipman as Irene and Anne Reid as Vera. All episodes are on the series one DVD, released in July 2009. The second series was aired in two parts; the first airing in April 2010 and the second aired in October 2010.