Today we chat to Alicia Ambrose-Bayly, who plays Amelia in the first of our Big Finish Originals, ATA Girl. Alicia shares with us what a unique experience and a different role it was, bringing forgotten heroines back to life on audio.
Big Finish (BF): Hi Alicia, thanks for chatting with us today. First of all, please tell us about your character Amelia – who is the anchor of ATA Girl – what was it like, bringing this ensemble cast together?
Alicia (A): What’s lovely with Amelia is she is accessing all these memories and stories for us. For example, she goes to an airshow where she sees someone very familiar to her past and suddenly it plunges you into all these brilliant and very affecting stories about what life was like for women in World War Two – and still is today, in many ways.
Specifically regarding ATA Girl, it was one of the first times women were on equal pay with their male counterparts. But they were still suffering with a number of sexist issues, fighting not to be housewives, and to go out and join the war effort… it was a real escape for them. It’s been wonderful to be the character that accesses all those stories.
BF: How do you feel about covering social issues that are still prevalent today and yet were so affecting to the lives of these women over seventy years ago. It must be strange having that juxtaposition of past and present?
A: It’s women’s stories, forever – there have always been these issues. It’s really nice to be in a cast doing scripts that have been written by women, produced by a woman, directed by a woman, and being surrounded by so many great female performers. It’s not very often that happens in the industry. Plus, to be in a project and talk about female issues, important ones that are still extremely relevant, is a double bonus.
Usually in casts women are outnumbered because of the way stories have been historically written, so to have it the other way round is an absolute joy. And it’s fun to do something so kick-ass! Playing an action woman is not normally my casting – it would be a man’s casting. In that sense it’s triply brilliant!
BF: These female pilots accomplished so much. How does it feel to bring back their stories, especially as the stories are based on true events?
A: It was great to learn about the Air Transport Auxiliary. I wasn’t aware of the ATA before nor that so many women were pilots in World War Two. My great aunt was in the Wrens which was the naval version, but I had no idea women flew Spitfires. To bring their stories to the forefront and learn how quickly they accomplished things – they completed their training in just nine days! I can’t get my head around parking a car let alone flying a Spitfire in under nine days – and then to go out to the front line flying planes through combat zones while getting shot at…
Some of these women had children. Obviously the men did as well, but being a mother and working on the front line must have been extraordinary and liberating. A lot of the language in the script has been descriptions on how it is to fly, and about how freeing it was to be in the planes. I suppose it’s symbolic of breaking out of that female role in society.
BF: Each of the scripts plunges you into the world of the ATA while also addressing huge issues – being a single mother in war, unwanted pregnancies, divorce, bereavement – how did tackling that feel?
A: What struck me about the dialogue was how unsurprised and how non-judgemental these women were of each other at the time. You would assume that the reaction and consequences would be worse for a woman who had an affair back then. And I suppose it was, but when you hear how the women supported each other in the scripts, it surprised me. And what’s lovely is that’s also how it feels today.
Throughout history women have had to come together as a community and support each other through times of hardship. The issues didn’t feel different, they’re still the same, but what struck me was how this strong female gang supported each other, and how that must have happened in wider society.
Women have each other’s backs. We have to. But they’re in the middle of a world war, in a tough and dangerous job. They have brothers, fathers and partners fighting and dying… but their resilience is tested in further ways. That was a real takeaway for me.
BF: And their endurance… there is no ‘happy ending’. We all know the ending to the war, terrible acts were happening and that sense of carrying on was so incredible, that level of perseverance.
A: For a lot of women, as strange as it sounds, the war was an escape for them. When the war ended the men would return, take their jobs back, – but the women would return to being housewives and caged birds.
Ironically, the character Pauline Gower – the real life Pauline who led the ATA and demanded equal pay – performed all these incredible duties and then sadly died from a heart attack while giving birth two years after the war. You just think, What an ironic waste of a life, for a hero. There are women in ATA Girl talking about not wanting the war to end, and I understand that.
BF: And how have the recording sessions been?
A: They’ve been brilliant, a lot of fun. There’s been a real sense of camaraderie in studio, in the same way there would have been in the mess hall during the war.
BF: In a way, because of the all-female cast, it’s been a more loving, organic and supportive environment – it’s felt a bit different to the usual recording sessions.
A: Well, when Louise said, “If we can get a wildtrack of you all talking”, i.e. that babbling that happens when women are chatting to each other – we only had to do one take, perfect! But that’s why it must have been a unique experience in the ATA – talking about boys, hanging together in the Dorchester drinking champagne, and later flying off in a Spitfire… it’s been a joy to recreate that energy.
ATA Girl is available now at £17 on download only from Big Finish. The complete Big Finish Originals range is also available in a pre-order bundle of £120, as well as each series being available as individual downloads.
Keep checking the Big Finish website for more details on this and other upcoming Big Finish Originals. And let us know what you think of this first series of our Big Finish Originals range on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.