The Calendar Girls Story

In February 1998 John Baker, husband of Angela – Tricia’s friend and fellow WI member – was diagnosed with non Hodgkins Lymphoma.

A few years earlier Tricia had thought it would be really amusing to do an alternative version of the traditional WI calendar, which usually featured pictures of hills, sheep and village greens, featuring the crafts of WI, but in the nude. It was a joke for all that time, until touched by the serious illness of a friend; Tricia wanted to raise money for research into blood-related cancers.

John knew about the calendar and thought it was a very amusing idea, but said they would never do it. When John died from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in July 1998, Tricia determined to go ahead with the calendar in memory of John and to raise funds for Leukaemia and Lympoma Research.

Eleven women aged between 45 and 65 were involved in the calendar. There was no difficulties recruiting models because they were all friends of John and Angela’s. The photographs were taken by Terry Logan, a famous local artist.

The Alternative WI Calendar was launched in April 1999. Tricia’s name and number went out with the press releases and she was on three phones for weeks! For Tricia, the calendar was like running another business; using the skills she had learnt from running the office of her own company.

The media coverage was huge. The story was in the nationals every day for 3 weeks. They modelled at the Savoy in London fashion week, were voted Women of the Year, baked a spotted dick on Thames TV and took calendars to the palace for the Queen and the Queen Mother. Oldie magazine awarded them “The Oldie Exposure of the Year”.

In 1999, the calendar sold 88,000 copies in the U.K. The calendar proved inspirational and touched people’s hearts. It changed the image of the WI forever, the perception of the older woman and sold thousands of copies.

A year later the calendar was published in America, selling a further 240,000 copies, promoted by two tours of the US and in 2001 her book “Calendar Girl” was published by Pan Macmillan.

In 2004 the book “The Calendar Girl’s Story” was published and, since then, it has been reprinted many times and translated into different languages including Japanese. This was followed by the 2007 calendar which was published in April 2006.

The aim had been to raise £5,000 for the then-named Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research and to have a calendar dedicated to John’s memory. The effect of the calendar was expected to last 3 weeks, but 18 years on it has raised almost £5 million for Bloodwise, the new name for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research to reflect the charity’s focus on beating more than 137 different types of blood cancers.

In September 2003, the blockbusting film “Calendar Girls” based on the story of the Alternative WI Calendar, was premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square. In the film, Tricia’s character was played by Helen Mirren. June 2003 saw the launch of a second calendar featuring the 6 actresses from the film and the six original WI members.

The stage version hit the West End on the 4th April 2009 at the Noel Coward Theatre with Anita Dobson playing the role of Chris, the character based upon Tricia. The stage show played all over the world including Australia, Canada, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, Denmark, Israel, Brazil and Greece, as well as two UK national tours and a stint in London’s West End. The original girls were invited to many of the premieres including the one in Russia, where they dressed appropriately for the weather!

Three years later, childhood friends, film producer Tim Firth and singer songwriter Gary Barlow always felt the girls’ story would work as a musical and started working on songs in 2012.

From this work was born, The Girls…

Click the image below to find out about the latest chapter in the WI calendar girls’ extraordinary story.