Meera Syal
Meera Syal is a woman of many talents. A successful writer and actress since the year she left university, Meera has written and starred in a wide range of television, radio and theatre productions. Most recently she has co-written and starred in the first Asian comedy sketch show to be broadcast on the BBC, 'Goodness Gracious Me', first heard on Radio 4. Following its success the programme was developed for television last year, and its popularity thrust the talents of the team into the public eye, with fresh, innovative comedy appealing to both mainstream and Asian audiences. The show was a huge success, and even beat The Fast Show and Harry Enfield and Chums for the title of 'Best Comedy Series' at the last British Comedy Awards. A third television series begins early next year and the team successfully toured the country in early 1999. Meera is very proud of her Indian roots and culture and was aware of her racial difference from an early age. At school however, Meera was not a victim of racism, but was picked on because she was ‘mouthy’. “I’d grown up with the lads in the yard, I’d hit anyone if they called me names… we were all at the bottom of the social pile. We had that in common.” Back at home she lived in a ‘little India’ – a world preserved by her parents and an extended family of ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ who weren’t blood relatives but connected by something deeper, India. As a child she always felt part of her this thing called family, and this place called India. From a young age Meera wanted to do something creative with her life but didn’t feel that she could. Her parents had hoped for her to become a doctor. When she told them at 15, that she didn’t want a career in medicine, her parents accepted it. But her father gave her some advice ‘Whatever you do, be bloody good at it, better than the white person next to you. That’s the way it is.' She went to a traditional, all-girls grammar school. "I may sound terribly stuffy but I think single sex schools are better for girls – I don’t think I want my daughter to go to a mixed school. Boys tend to hog the playground and the lessons.” She complimented her interest in music by learning to play the guitar, while worked hard academically which led to her achieving three A’s at A Level in English, French and Spanish. She could have gone to Oxford but felt she would be uncomfortable there. She instead studied English and Drama at Manchester University. She did very well there, and got a double first (gulp!). She didn’t do much acting at university, “I wasn’t picked for the good parts.” Therefore Meera decided to write a play for herself, 'One of Us’, scripted by her friend Jacqui Shapiro. The story was about a young Asian girl who runs away from home because she wants to be an actress. She rejects her parents and becomes intoxicated with her white friend, Carol. She says this is a trap she fell into herself. “There was a long time that I wanted to have blonde hair, be called Tracey and go out with boys.” At the end of the play the girl meets her mother again, who tells her something she’d never realised before. “I let you go because I knew, when you were ready, you would come back.” After the play was first performed at university, friends came up to her saying “We feel we haven’t known you.” Meera took the play to the Edinburgh Festival, and that same year it won the National Student Drama Award. A London theatre director saw her in the play, and offered her the chance of an Equity card. So Meera decided against her plans of going on to study for an MA, and started to act. Like a miracle, she says, she started to get thinner. She finds writing ‘lonely and hard’, but acting ‘pure joy’. For seven years after leaving university Meera acted in London at the Royal Court Theatre, before receiving a call from the BBC, who were looking for an Asian woman to co-write a script. They’d seen her in ‘One of Us’, and wondered if she’d give it a go. “I had no experience of television whatsoever. I suppose it just shows how few Asian women writers there were.” She took up the BBC’s offer, and wrote ‘My Sister Wife’, a 3-part BBC television series. “The pleasure of writing as an Asian woman is the pleasure of exploding stereotypes.” She didn’t want to write all the usual cliches, and didn’t. She next wrote a film for Channel 4, ‘Bhaji on the Beach’, which received mixed reviews. It was complimented for it’s realistic portrayal of the lives of British Asian women, while criticised for the apparent negative representations of Asian men, a few seen as controlling and dominant wife-beaters. She then went on to write her first novel ‘Anita and Me’ (1996), a fictionalised, nostalgic account of her childhood growing up in the Midlands in the 1960s, as a second - generation immigrant of Punjabi parents. Meera continues to be heard on BBC radio, in a variety of formats - of course comedy (Goodness Gracious Me; The World As We Know It, 1999) but also drama (Legal Affairs, 1996) and variety shows. She is also a journalist and writes for quality newspapers such as the Guardian (30/6/98). Meera has made guest appearances on a wide range of programmes, most recently Room 101 (August 99), Late Lunch (3/2/99) and 'Ruby' (1997) but has also had cameo roles in 'Absolutely Fabulous' ("New Best Friend", 1994) and 'Drop The Dead Donkey' (1996). She also recently starred in the BBC sitcom 'Keeping Mum' (1998, below). Television Credits: Goodness Gracious Me, 1998-1999 Room 101, 1999 The Book Quiz, 1998 Keeping Mum, 1998 Ruby, 1997 Drop The Dead Donkey, 1996 Band of Gold, 1995 Degrees of Error, 1995 The Brain Drain, 1993 Absolutely Fabulous, 1994 ('New Best Friend') Sean's Show, 1993 The Real McCoy Have I Got News For You, 1992, 1993, 1999 Filmography: Girls' Night, 1997 Beautiful Thing, 1996 Crossing The Floor, 1996 (TV) Flight, 1995 (TV) Gummed Labels, 1992 (TV) No Crying He Makes, 1988 (TV) Sammie and Rosie Get Laid, 1987 A Little Princess, 1986 (TV) Meera grew up watching ‘The Likely Lads’ and ‘ Steptoe and Son’ with her father. She says that it’s fantastic sense of humour and it’s irony is the best thing that England has given her. “You don’t get irony in India, you get parody.” “I do believe that you have a writing muscle like any other muscle. I think it’s really good to try to write every day, even if it’s crap, even if it’s a letter to somebody that you have to compose and use your emotions in, it’s all really good because it helps develop your voice and that is in the end what makes you want to read a book. It’s not necessarily that it’s the most fantastic story ever told. I mean what stories are original? We tell the same ones over and over again. It is the tone of a voice, a writing voice that makes you want to read something and that I think you only find through writing a lot.”
Meera and Me * Visit the BBC's Goodness Gracious Me website at the Comedy Zone

Also by Caroline Marshall

• Dawn French • Supergirly • Ruby Wax • Arabella Weir • Meera Syal • Gimme Gimme Gimme • Victoria Wood • Caroline Aherne
• Liza Tarbuck • Caroline Quentin • Lenny Henry • Pauline Quirke