‘We stand on the shoulders of giants’

Those were the words of WGGB’s outgoing Chair Gail Renard, saluting six decades of wins for writers as she opened a special 60th anniversary AGM at the iconic Unicorn Theatre in London on Monday 24 June 2019.

She went on to remember union activists of the past “who fought hard to win us our rights” and to caution that “we need constant vigilance to keep those rights. Rock that boat both for you and others”.

She noted that WGGB was stronger than ever, in the face of a challenging industry landscape, not just in the UK but also for fellow writers in the USA and all over the world.

Equality was also firmly on the agenda as guest speaker Saskia Schuster, Controller for Comedy at ITV and founder of the Comedy 50:50 initiative, spoke about her recent announcement that she is insisting on diverse writing teams.

She credited the work of WGGB and its Equality Rights campaign as providing evidence that stronger action was needed in this area and driving the impetus for change. Taking part in an audience Q&A, she spoke on a broad range of topics, including how men could include more women in writersrooms, how writing projects were commissioned and distinctions between the different genres.

Writer, broadcaster, producer, comedian and actor Sandi Toksvig, herself a long-term member of WGGB and campaigner for equality, was announced as the union’s new President. She said she was honoured to take her “place at the end of such a long line of illustrious Presidents”, including JB Priestley, Maureen Duffy, David Edgar, David Nobbs and Rosemary Anne Sisson, and to “pick up the baton” from outgoing President Olivia Hetreed.

Hetreed, who was instrumental in union campaigns on equality, bullying and harassment and visibility of screenwriters at film festivals, spoke about the importance of WGGB as a campaigning force, giving collective voice to writers. She made special mention to the Writers’ Guild Awards, which she relaunched in 2015, as a celebration and endorsement of the value of storytellers. “It’s up to us to find interesting, unexpected, thought-provoking ways to assimilate what’s going on and integrate it into a story we all can own and recognise.”

In her closing remarks, she noted that “we represent our members in difficulty”, and that speaking as a union gave WGGB permission to “say difficult things to powerful people”.

WGGB General Secretary Ellie Peers continued the theme, emphasising that the union was “a voice that cannot be ignored”.

Policing and updating WGGB’s existing minimum terms agreements was just the tip of the iceberg, she added. Union staff and activists were also pursuing new agreements covering live streaming at the National Theatre and SVOD in television, as well as tackling the issue of proper pay for writers working in the videogames industry. Upcoming campaigns included a major focus on self-publishing for authors, while WGGB continued to represent its members in Parliament, most recently as part of inquiries into writers’ earnings and the lack of opportunities for working class writers.

The union would continue to brief MPs and Peers on the impact of Brexit on the creative industries, and to stress the urgent need for greater equality and diversity.

Peers concluded that the work of the WGGB was to keep writers “at the top of the agenda and on the top table” in all craft areas.

The AGM voted in favour of introducing a special membership tier for students. See the full list of motions that were carried or not carried.

Results of recent WGGB elections were announced, including the new Chair Lisa Holdsworth. The full list of WGGB Executive Council representatives can be seen in the Contacts section of our website.

The following vacancies still exist (members who are interested should email admin@writersguild.org.uk and put the relevant vacancy in the subject field).

  • Chair of the Videogames Committee
  • Chair of the Equality and Diversity Committee
  • Chair of the East Midlands region
  • Chair of the West Midlands region
  • Chair of the North West (Merseyside) region
  • Chair of the North West (Manchester and Lancashire) region
  • Chair of the Scotland region
  • WGGB Treasurer

You can read reports from all the WGGB craft, regional reps and officers in our annual report.

Photos: Em Fitzgerald