In 'Gentleman Jack,' Sally Wainwright brings Anne Lister to life

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The new BBC-HBO series ‘Gentleman Jack’ begins in the Britain of 1832--the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. Anne Lister, a well-traveled student of everything--returns home to Shibden Hall: her uncle’s sprawling property in West Yorkshire.

With the estate’s fortunes in decline, Lister, played by Suranne Jones, scandalizes the community by setting out to collect rents and revive the family's coal business. Imagine a woman doing that.

In the series, Lister is a prodigious writer--as she was in real life. She kept an extremely detailed diary though the part about her affairs with women--which obviously had to be kept secret in 19th century England--is written in code.

Early in ‘Gentleman Jack,’ Lister states her intention to depart for Europe--but then she meets Ann Walker, a wealthy younger, woman. Lister muses audaciously about her new friend as she writes in her diary, desiring to make Walker her wife.

The creator of ‘Gentleman Jack’ is Sally Wainwright who, like Anne Lister, hails from West Yorkshire.

Fans of good British TV should know some of Wainwright’s other shows: ‘Scott & Bailey,’ ‘Happy Valley,’ and ‘Last Tango in Halifax.’ Wainwright also wrote and directed ‘To Walk Invisible’--the 2016 film about the Brontë sisters, who famously called the Yorkshire Dales home.

Lister--and her relationship with Ann Walker--is something Wainwright has wanted to write about for years. Wainwright tells us how she finally got her Anne Lister series to air, and also talks about some of the lessons she learned while writing British soaps early in her career.



  • Sally Wainwright - creator of ‘Happy Valley,’ ‘Last Tango in Halifax,’ and ‘Gentleman Jack’


Kim Masters


Kaitlin Parker