About Tipping the Velvet

With a script by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice) and based on the book by Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet hit our screens in a blaze of publicity. Find out more about this controversial drama...

Keeley Hawes (Kitty) and Rachael Stirling (Nan)

Keeley Hawes (Kitty) and Rachael Stirling (Nan)

Writing the Velvet

Sarah Waters was inspired to write Tipping the Velvet when she was working on her dissertation on gay and lesbian historical fiction from 1870 onward, while studying for a Phd in English Literature at Queen Mary and Westfield College. She decided to write a novel she wanted to read.

Pride and Prejudice with dirty bits

Given the task of adapting the book for the television was Andrew Davies (A Very Peculiar Practice, House of Cards, Bleak House). He was attracted to the story as it explored themes that he loved (a girl on the cusp of womanhood, Victorian erotica). Davies humorously described it as like his hugely successful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice but ‘with dirty bits’. Somehow, we can’t imagine Elizabeth Bennett being quite so fruity with Darcy!

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

Waters was surprised that the BBC had commissioned a drama that stuck to so religiously to the action of the novel. The corporation had previously adapted a sanitised version Oranges are Not the Only Fruit.

Filming Tipping

Rachel Stirling, despite her heterosexuality, enjoyed filming the racier scenes between Kitty and her character Nan. "To counteract any hard-core sex within it, there's a huge sense of humour and a huge sense of fun and frivolity and joy of life. It was so utterly believable that you never for a moment thought, F***, there's no reason why I'm standing here naked."

On song

Andrew Davies worked on the compositions for the music hall numbers, as Waters had supplied the titles but not the lyrics.

Directing Tipping

The director of Tipping the Velvet was Geoffrey Sax. Among his other credits are Spitting Image and The New Statesmen and the 1996 TV Movie of Doctor Who starring Paul McGann. A year before Tipping the Velvet, he helmed a modern retelling of Othello for ITV, also written by Andrew Davies and starring Keeley Hawes.

It’s a scandal

The press, once it heard of the drama’s depiction of swearing and sex, tried to suggest the public were up in arms about it. The BBC stuck to its guns however and said it was no more explicit than Moll Flanders which ITV had recently aired.

See also

The BBC screened a two-part adaptation of Waters’ novel Fingersmith. Screened in 2005, it told the tale a young girl who becomes involved in an elaborate scheme to rob an heiress of her inheritance. Sally Hawkins, Imelda Staunton, Elaine Cassidy, Rupert Evans and Charles Dance starred.