The Calendar Girls and Bloodwise

How a group of WI members from rural Yorkshire raised over £5 million for blood cancer research.

Beginnings

The story of the Calendar Girls began in 1998 when John Baker was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. John sadly passed away aged 54 after just a few months of treatment. In the months following John’s death, his wife Angela looked for something to focus on during this difficult time. Her friend Tricia Stewart and fellow Women’s Institute member suggested they find a fun way to raise money for a new sofa on the ward where John was treated. They soon settled on the idea of a nude calendar.

Angela's husband, John BakerRead Anglela Knowles' blog about the origins of the Calendar Girls

The calendar

Tricia's idea was to produce a playful twist on traditional WI calendars. These typically featured hills, sheep and village greens. Eleven members of the Rylstone and District Women's Institute took part in a nude photoshoot with a local artist. The calendar launched on 12 April 1999 and sold 88,000 copies that year alone.

The Calendar Girls stood holding a photo from their original calendar in a field in the Yorkshire Dales.

Impact

The story was in the national newspapers for three weeks. The group were voted Women of the Year and asked to take calendars to Buckingham Palace for the Queen and the Queen Mother. In 2000, the calendar was published in America and sold 240,000 copies.

The girls posed for further calendars in 2004, 2005 and 2007, as well as a recipe calendar in 2008 and a ten-year anniversary edition in 2010.

Film

In 2003, a film adaptation of the story was released. The cast included celebrated screen actors including Helen Mirren, Julie Walters and Celia Imrie. The film has grossed over £15 million dollars.

Play

2009 saw the girls’ story adapted into a hit stage show. Anita Dobson played the role of Chris, based on Tricia. The show played at the West End’s Noel Coward Theatre and went on to tour the world.

Musical

In 2012, childhood friends Gary Barlow and Tim Firth began writing songs for a musical based on the tireless fundraisers. The Girls opened at the Leeds Grand in 2015 and toured the UK. The show received widespread acclaim and the cast were asked to open the 2017 Olivier Awards. The musical continues to tour the UK throughout 2019, with a cast featuring Fern Britton and Anna-Jane Casey.