Frances McNeil

Novelist, playwright and scriptwriter, Frances McNeil, taught at Bradford College from 1976 until 1981.

Frances McNeilFrances has written for radio, theatre and television. She spent a year collecting peace stories, poems and memories from the people of Bradford for Such a Journey (1997) compiled an enchanting history of Silverdale Holiday Camp in Now I Am A Swimmer (2004). Her novels include The Sisters on Bread Street (2003); Somewhere Behind the Morning (2005); Sixpence In Her Shoe (2006) and Sisters of Fortune (2007).

When (as Frances Hall) she started teaching at Bradford College in 1976, Frances had just finished an English & History degree at York University, after a Diploma in English Literature at Ruskin College, Oxford.

She would later complete an in-service PGCE course but began armed with “just two strands in my teaching experience: a WEA Literature class, at which I enthused about a different novel each week (a kind of early book group, on speed); and participation in my then husband’s trade union combat schools which involved negotiating with the crafty enemy.”

On leaving school Frances had worked as a shorthand-typist and secretary. Her first College appointment was a one year contract in Secretarial Studies. “Sylvia Gill started at the same time and we were shortly joined by Lesley Fowler. We were the ‘outsiders’ – Her Majesty’s Opposition of three, as Lesley put it – the trio who didn’t fit the mould in a department where deportment, plucking your eyebrows and wearing the correct girdle were part of the game-plan. Fortunately, Sylvia was able to explain the intricacies of schemes of work and registers. The bane of my life was the Banda or spirit duplicator, closely followed by the ink duplicator. I would go into classes with purple fingers, and hand-made teaching materials that left a lot to be desired.”

Frances has fond memories of the TSA classes – people who were returning to college after being made redundant or deciding on a change of direction. She later taught on the first Mature Students’ Certificate, becoming course tutor. “I loved that job – and creating a special GCE in English that fitted our interests. I still remember the students from that course, and often wonder how they are getting on.”

Frances always wrote – even when teaching full-time. “It was a period of great change. One of my plays was part of a BBC television series called A Woman’s Place? and explored the kind of situation some of my students found themselves in, when they had to make a major change of direction.

We had a women’s committee at College and dealt with lots of practical issues when the Equal Pay Act was still young. One woman on the ancillary staff came to us to complain that she had applied for a job in security and been turned down because that was men’s work. “Even though I used to be a lion tamer”, she added. I can’t remember whether we were of any help to her. I hope so, but somehow I doubt it.”

Photograph by Trevor Griffiths