Alan Plater tells Charles Hutchinson why he was drawn back to the Blonde Bombshells.

REMEMBER Dame Judi Dench in Alan Plater's television film The Last Of The Blonde Bombshells two years ago?

The Hull playwright has revisited that blonde world for Blonde Bombshells Of 1943, a new musical set in wartime Leeds, which opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

"There is a connection with the television piece. It's a second cousin or, that awful word, a prequel," Alan says. "The play covers the early years of the story, and to do it all on telly would have needed an old cast and a young cast, and that would have been expensive and tortuous."

Instead, he has written a musical that looks back to the early years of the Blonde Bombshells, the most glamorous swing band in the land.

"If I had one reservation about the television version, it was that it short-changed the young people in the story, but then if you have Judi Dench and Olympia Dukakis in the cast, you want to look at them!" he says.

The story of Blonde Bombshells Of 1943 centres around Elizabeth, now a grandmother (played by Dilys Laye), but then a nave Leeds schoolgirl (Karen Paullada). She is soon to enter the most exciting, yet frightening time in her life as a saxophone player in The Blonde Bombshells, an all-female swing band (all female bar the male drummer in a frock and wig).

"This play gives me the chance to look at the role of women in the war, the expanded role they had, and in this case women playing music in what was a golden era for music with Fats Waller and Glenn Miller," Alan says.

The play is coloured by his own wartime memories in Hull.

"I was a kid in the war - I was four in 1939 - and so my memories were of going to the air raid shelter each night when Hull was being bombed. I was talking to my sister about this, and we don't remember being frightened. Instead we remember that my parents made it an adventure and to this day I don't know how they did it," he says. "I know it sounds strange when people say it,, but it is true. They did feel like the best days of our lives."

Yet amid the nostalgia, Plater's musical makes a more serious point. "Not being able to live out their full potential is one of the things that makes people frustrated, especially when they have been heroic in the war and are then told to be dull again," he says.

"In wartime, there was a release of imagination and energy and courage, and so there is an implied criticism in this play about what happens in peacetime."

Blonde Bombshells Of 1943, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, until May 22. Box office: 0113 213 7700.

Updated: 16:33 Thursday, April 22, 2004