Guinevere Jones: articles

Guinevere Jones: An Arthurian Queen Down Under

Beth Stewart is at the peak of her children's television writing career. She earned her stripes working on series like Caitlin's Way, Madison, The Magician's House and The Adventures of Shirley Holmes. Now she's headwriter and executive producer of Guinevere Jones, a Canada-Australia co-production about a contemporary 14-year-old girl who is the reincarnation of the legendary Queen Guinevere of Arthurian fame. The show's first episode aired May 4 on YTV.

On Guinevere Jones, Stewart is heading up a story department that includes 23-year-old Jesse McKeown-who was hired straight out of UBC's creative writing program to work on Da Vinci's Inquest before going on to Guinevere Jones. No matter what he says, I bet his classmates were green with envy…

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Born in Oshawa, Ontario, Stewart graduated from the University of Toronto, worked for the CBC as a researcher and associate producer and then moved to Vancouver with documentary filmmaker husband John Thomson. "A lot of women experience a surge in creative impulses and energy just after childbirth," she says. "While my daughter Kim was napping, I wrote a really bad novel then a really bad screenplay, but I kept writing and was fortunate to hook up with people who mentored me: Susin Nielsen, Peter Mitchell from Cold Squad and Rick Drew from Northwood-who took a chance and gave me my first professional job." Stewart credits her mentors with helping her "to reach a critical point when I was able to understand the notes I was being given and to self-critique."

As executive story editor and writer on The Adventures of Shirley Holmes-a teen series whose main character is Sherlock's great-grandniece Stewart "mastered the craft of writing a half-hour mystery series," says Helena Cynamon, one of the Shirley Holmes producers. "She ensured that there was a labyrinth of twists and turns and a fun payoff to the sleuthing adventures." No wonder that when Shirley Holmes producer Kim Todd wanted to develop a new series, Stewart was the first person she called. "YTV were interested in another series from us," says Stewart, "and we knew that strong girl protagonists were the way to go." "We brainstormed and came up with an idea," says Todd. "Then Beth went away and wrote and developed the idea and we took it to YTV."

From the 6th Century to the 21st

"Initially we thought Guinevere was problematic," says Stewart. "She had that affair with Lancelot and brought down Camelot single-handedly, but it's interesting to work with a flawed character. YTV had no interest in doing a period piece, so that opened doors. Who might this bird in a gilded cage in the sixth century have been if she lived now-when women are empowered? We were intrigued by the Buddhist idea that you keep coming back until you get it right. So she does have this fatal flaw and the question is: will she get it right in this lifetime?"

The show plays with the Guinevere-Lancelot-Arthur triangle. Stewart says: "We've constructed a love triangle in the arc of the series. These two characters are not the reincarnations of Arthur and Lancelot but are inspired by them. Josh is the boy your mother wants you to date and Michael is the bad boy Gwen can't resist. Merlin projects himself from the past to teach her magic, but he expects her to foul up. This is a constant thorn for Gwen, because she's not Guinevere. Like any teenager, she says, 'Don't tell me who I am! I am unique!' So the reincarnation plays against a teenager's struggle towards individuality too."

Stewart's two daughters went to high school in the middle-class Vancouver district of Kitsilano, where Guinevere Jones was originally set and which-according to the March 2001 funding round for the Canadian Television Fund's Licence Fee Program-was not Canadian enough.

Unable to finance the show entirely in Canada, Stewart and Todd used their commitment from YTV to make a deal with Australia's Network 10. Then they formed a co-production partnership with Australian production house Crawfords and moved the production to an abandoned convent complex in Melbourne under the supervision of showrunner Lynn Bayonas. On the Canadian side, showrunner Tim Williams supervises post-production in Toronto. Kim Todd is the creative and executive producer from her offices in Winnipeg and Toronto, and Stewart heads the story department in Vancouver. Stewart and Todd are used to geographical challenges because of Shirley Holmes, but Guinevere Jones' early financial difficulties did cause problems for the story department.

"No one is willing to put up money until the deal is absolutely solid," says Stewart. "Then as soon as the deal is solid we're shooting in three weeks and we're doing 26 episodes and we're shooting three episodes every 10 days. It's just staggering! As an executive producer I could write on spec, so I had eight episodes written before the financing finally came together. That gave us the leg up we needed. Initially we had hoped to assign more scripts to a smaller number of writers who could become more familiar with the series, but because we need to keep people working all the time, it's basically one per outside writer."

Keeping the Canucks and the Aussies Happy

Although she isn't writing scripts, Gwenda Marsh is Guinevere Jones' Australian story editor on the ground in Melbourne. "Besides coordinating between the two continents and passing on director's notes to me," says Stewart, "Gwenda is the 'Canadian-ism' police. She catches culturally inappropriate dialogue for the Australian characters. For example, Australians would say 'the shop down the street' instead of 'the store down the block,' or 'biscuit' instead of 'cookie.' To a large extent, teen talk is teen talk around the English-speaking world, but there are still differences."

Disappointed by the Canadian Television Fund last year, Stewart is celebrating now. "We've just been awarded LFP for our second season so we're very pleased about that," she says. "They've adjusted the rules so that now, if the writer of the series is Canadian, you get it."

Building the Story Department

This is the first time that Stewart has built a story department from scratch, but she's quick to learn from previous experiences, noting, "With Shirley Holmes the story department was skewed very female so we had to seek out male writers." For Guinevere Jones, she wanted a young male writer/story editor working in-house. This is where Jesse McKeown re-enters our story. With a snowboarding hat over messy dark hair, he could almost pass for a teenager himself.

Da Vinci story editor Alan Di Fiore gave McKeown his first break, hiring him as an intern while he was still a UBC student. "You're always hoping to come across somebody who has that extra little bit of spark and talent that you want to nurture along," Di Fiore says. "Jesse has that ability to jump in there and put a new spin on it. I think he's going to go on to great things."

"I was sitting at Da Vinci's Inquest and the phone rang," remembers McKeown. "It was Beth, who I'd never met before. She just said, 'Hi. Susin Nielsen gave me your number. We're looking for a young story editor to come onto this new show.' I had a little interview, then they called me a month later and said, 'We'd love to have you.'" "We saw Jesse's material and we both saw that imagination," says Todd. "Obviously the ability to craft a story-but beyond that he was displaying a delight in character. That's what Beth has."

McKeown began working with Stewart and Todd in November 2001. "We just locked ourselves up in a hotel in Winnipeg," he says. "And for two long days we just worked out the season's character arcs and beat out a few stories. It was very intense all of a sudden. It was just right into it right away. From then on we've done everything in Vancouver."

Apart from what Stewart calls his "raw talent," McKeown also brings first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of acontemporary high school.

"Beth and Kim Todd are really interested in the machismo that goes on in high school and how guys act towards each other and the unwritten code of guys in high school and how that works," McKeown says. "There's an episode we're doing where there's a gang thing going on that escalates into almost-violence and they were really interested in hearing my take on that and how that sort of stuff erupts. I have a really good memory of that. It wasn't that long ago."

Finding the Stories-Fast

By the time he came aboard, McKeown says, "the bible was in good shape and there were about five drafts and eight outlines already written. So I read through all that and got to know it, then Beth gave me a choice of three or four outlines. I chose the one I liked the best and then in January I started writing. That first one didn't take long-like a week or a few days-because I'd been staring at the outline so I had mentally planned it. She was quite happy with the first draft. She gave me notes. After that I did another pass. She said 'Great.' Then a little while later I saw the actual released script. She had made some changes but it was pretty close to what I had written, thankfully. I was very happy because it was my first shot and gave me confidence."

By March 2002, McKeown had finished his second script, started a third and was writing notes on the other scripts that came in. "Beth and I conglomerate our notes," he says. "Then the writer will give us another draft and we'll make any changes that need be." When the second draft of a script comes back from an outside writer, the story department usually has less than a week before it goes into production. "It goes through a couple of stages once it's in-house," says Stewart. "It goes through these stages at every level, with the pitch, with the outline, with the second outline. Then, once the producers are satisfied, it has to go to YTV for approval. Network 10 is only taking scripts at final draft. The trick there is anticipating what is required."

By the time production started, Stewart says, the arc of the show "was pretty much in place" up to the end of episode 26. As a result, she's not looking for pitches or spec scripts from freelancers. "We're not taking pitches because it's fairly serialized with complex character arcs winding through the stories each episode-so it didn't make sense to have writers pitch to us. And you know as a freelance writer, I always find it's a mug's game anyway. The show knows what they want, so you're just shooting arrows in the dark. So our approach has been to give stories to writers we know will deliver for us-Rick Drew, Susin Nielsen, Thérèse Beaupré.

"Some episodes are more stand-alone than others," continues Stewart. "So in those situations we give the writer a couple of paragraphs, meet with them for a few hours and flesh out the story and ask them to go away and think about an outline. But in other episodes where it's really more the ongoing story, we just write the outline, or beat-sheet, in-house. The writer's paid from outline regardless. The writer has a week to polish that outline then turn it into a script. It's an odd quirk of the way our contract is structured. Any working writer will tell you the real work is in the outline stage and that's where you need a couple of drafts to get it right. I find there's far less benefit between the first and the second draft and I would far sooner trade off on a writer to get two drafts of the outline and one draft of the script and then take it in-house because I find there's very little increment between the first and second draft. They're never going to achieve the voice exactly the way you need."

The complete article can be found in the Summer 2002 Issue of Canadian Screenwriter.

Katherine Montagu is a screenwriter, producer and winner of a 2001 Praxis fellowship. She grew up in England and now lives in Vancouver, BC.

Katharine Montagu
Summer 2002
Canadian Screenwriter

Me and Ms Jones

Tamara Hope

THERE is not much Ted Hamilton hasn't done.

The Australian has acted in TV series including Division 4, M*A*S*H, Mission: Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man, Hawaii Five-O and he even played Captain Thomas Ford in The Love Boat.

Hamilton has also tried his hand at film production, international business consulting, political lobbying, singing, songwriting and international sport.

However, when Hamilton recently returned to Australia, he was reticent to go back in front of the camera. But Guinevere Jones producer and old friend Lynn Bayonas persuaded him.

"She remembered me from the days we worked together on Division 4 and she called me up and said 'There's a wonderful new children's series and we can't find a Merlin'," he says. "I said I didn't really want to do a kids' show but she said it was very well written and very clever so on her reputation I went down and read for it."

His interpretation of the show's senior character left producers of the joint Australian/Canadian production wanting more.

Merlin is a mentor to the show's heroine, Gwen Jones, the reluctant reincarnation of Guinevere Jones, who caused the downfall of Camelot.

Through magic, Merlin guides Gwen to accept her position and fight evil.

"Every time we see Merlin he's a doddering old guy with a funny cap, but in King Arthur's time he was a robust young man so I decided to play him as a robust older man with a strong masculine presence," he says.

Hamilton describes the series as "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer for high-school kids" and says the show has already unearthed two very talented young actors in Greta Larkins and Tamara Hope.

Guinevere Jones, Channel 10, Friday, 4pm.

Jennifer Dudley
The Courier Mail (Australia)
May 30, 2002

Girl Power

TV Times cover

A legendary character gets a modern-day makeover in Guinevere Jones

For centuries the name Guinevere was synonymous with the downfall of King Arthur's Camelot. Now, there's a new take on the Celtic legend and, this time around, it's the mythic beauty who gets to be the hero.

Guinevere Jones is a new half-hour series for young viewers (ages eight to 14) that stars Canadian actress Tamara Hope as Gwen Jones, a 14-year-old girl who discovers that she is a modern-day reincarnation of the legendary Queen Guinevere.

"Every now and again, I think, 'Wow!' When I got into acting, if you'd said, 'What kind if role do you think you'd like to play in the next couple of years?', this is what I would have [wanted]." says Hope, a charismatic Toronto native who as a voracious reader spent many hours engrossed by the legends of Kind Arthur. "She's a powerful girl and interesting," the actress says of her character. "It's really exciting."

Filmed in Australia, Guinevere Jones is an Australian/Canadian co-production, When viewers first meet Gwen, she seems like any other Canadian teen, except that she ad her Australian-born mother are on the run. For reasons Gwen doesn't understand, they've fled to Australia. In Melbourne, her mother falls ill and is confined to hospital. While she's being treated, it becomes apparent to Gwen that there's a link between her mother's condition and the danger that has been nipping at their heels.

Events unfold to reveal Gwen's true identity, and she is forced to confront her destiny and the fact that she has unusual powers and a role to play in the battle of good vs. evil. The sudden appearance of the legendary magician Merlin (played by Ted Hamilton) helps Gwen ease on down that road. "As time goes on, she becomes well versed in magic and used to the idea of the responsibility," Hope says. "It's interesting. Gwen doesn't know Merlin, yet he knows her, he does know her very well and understands her. And he has a fatherly affection for her, but she betrayed him [in the past]… In the legend. she destroyed the whole Camelot idea that Merlin has always wanted."

As played by the talented Hope, Gwen is a wondrous mix of strength and introversion. At times seeming like a younger version of the ethereal Sarah Polley, Hope is magnetic when she is on screen. It's hard to take one's eyes off this actress, who has been performing for barely four years.

As the series lead, much is riding on Hope's young shoulders. She has appeared in several TV-movies and, last year, was honoured in Los Angeles with a Young Artists Award for a movie called The Sandy Bottom Orchestra. Hope was just finishing her final semester of high school when she landed the role of Gwen/Guinevere . As the years began, she and her mother were on a plane to Melbourne, where the series started filming in January. The rest of the Hope clan has remained in Ontario.

"I like this character," Hope says of Gwen. "I like that she's complicated. I like that she really cares about things and that she can really be hurt and bounce back and keep on trying."

A charismatic cast of Australian actors rounds out Gwen's world. Hamilton is delighted as the chagrined Merlin, whose eyes are often rolling as he observes the teen before him. "Well, at least your name is close this time," Merlin says in the first episode as she introduces herself.

Briony Behets and Denis Coard co-star as Louise and Harve Rosen, the aging hippie couple who take Gwen into their home. And Greta Larkins and Damien Bodie appear as Tasha and Josh Meyers, the sister and brother who befriend Gwen and become her allies after they learn her secret.

With an appealing mix of reality and fantasy, Guinevere Jones is sure to hold its audience's attention. Its scripts, many written by the series creator and co-executive producer Elizabeth Stewart, are imaginative, fast-paced and taut. Although an epic battle is at the core of Guinevere Jones, the series pays equal attention to its central character' relationships. The show's tone respects its audience's sophistication, and (yippee!) the good guys have lots of powerful tricks up their sleeves, too.

Guinevere Jones has lots to offer — including state-of-the-art special effects that make it easy for viewers to happily immerse themselves in her magical world.

The appeal of Guinevere Jones may be explained by the fact that Stewart and creative partner Kim Todd aren't strangers to girl power on TV. They were the team behind The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, which aired for four seasons and starred Meredith Henderson as the teen descendant of the great detective who shared his acumen for crime solving. "We naturally wanted to do a girl hero — one ho is a real character," Todd says. "And not necessarily one that conforms to a television idea of what a girl hero is."

Adds Stewart: "When we first thought of Guinevere, we did a lot of thinking. Originally [Guinevere] wasn't a hero, she was responsible for bringing down Camelot. But the more we thought about it, we thought it was interesting. It fits so neatly with the idea of reincarnation — with the idea that we keep coming back until we get it right."

It seems Todd and Stewart keep coming back too — and getting it tight.

Alison Cunningham-McMillan
TV Times (Canada)
May 03-09, 2002 issue


Original Pictures and Ibis Entertainment announced today, the premiere of their epic 26-episode live-action TV series, Guinevere Jones. This modern-day tale of myth, magic and romance launches on YTV Saturday, May 4th, 8:00 - 8:30 p.m. (r) Friday, May 10th, 8:30 - 9:00 p.m. EST/PST.

Guinevere Jones stars TAMARA HOPE as Gwen Jones, a reluctant heroine who discovers that she is the modern-day reincarnation of the legendary Queen Guinevere. Hand-picked by the great wizard Merlin (TED HAMILTON), like Guinevere before her, teenage Gwen is an old soul. Her birthright and destiny is to use magic to save the world from evil, but try telling that to a 14 year-old who's dealing with a new school, new friends and all the usual pressures of teen life.

"With its fantasy based story line and dark, eerie imagery, Guinevere Jones is a perfect fit for Dark Corner, YTV's Saturday night line-up of fantasy and scare-fare programming," says Joanna Webb, Director of Programming, Children's Television, Corus Entertainment. "Joining viewer favourites such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Scariest Places on Earth, Guinevere Jones is set to add Arthurian magic and mysticism to YTV's popular Saturday night line up."

Guinevere Jones reunites the creative team of Kim Todd and Elizabeth Stewart who were behind YTV's award-winning series The Adventures of Shirley Holmes. A Canada/Australia co-production between Winnipeg-based Original Pictures Inc., Vancouver-based IBIS Entertainment Inc. and Australia's Crawford Productions Ltd. in association with YTV, the series is executive produced by Kim Todd, Elizabeth Stewart, Tom Parkinson and Bruce Gordon. Producers are Tim Williams and Lynn Bayonas.

"It's about magic and destiny. Combining the flavour of Celtic mysticism with the pressures of today's modern world creates a wonderful backdrop to this story of a young girl's attempt to make sense of her life," said Elizabeth Stewart, Executive Producer.

"This series offers a refreshing and unique take on the contemporary teen," said Kim Todd, President of Original Pictures Inc. "We are thrilled that YTV is showcasing this series so prominently."

The series was shot for spectacular high definition television (HDTV) making it available for the new technology. The special effects, said Todd, "are thrilling, including the projection of Merlin from the past." Each episode is highlighted with 15 to 20 breathtaking visual effects.

Canadian actress TAMARA HOPE (Sandy Bottom Orchestra) plays Gwen, a young Canadian whose world falls apart when, on the run in Australia, her mother is hospitalized with mental illness. Gwen finds herself in foster care in a strange country at a strange school. Things become a lot more bizarre when Gwen discovers that her mother isn't mentally ill, but possessed by a demon. Somehow, Gwen and her mother are caught in an evil plot launched by the infamous sorceress Morgana La Fay (MERCIA DEANE JOHNS). No matter how reluctant she may be, Gwen realizes she has no choice but to learn magic from Merlin and use it to try and save her mother.

Along with a myriad of demons and magical beings, Gwen also encounters her own Arthur (DAMIEN BODIE) and Lancelot (Canadian actor, YANI GELLMAN) as she fights to establish her modern identity against the legendary Guinevere. One difference is clear: Gwen is no damsel in distress. This time around, the girl gets to be the hero.

Creative producer Kim Todd and series creator Elizabeth Stewart have combined the thrill of magic with the relationship drama of teen life, exploring the battle between good and evil in the epic realm of Merlin and Morgana, as well as in the hallways of a typical high school.

A second season of 13 episodes has already been ordered by YTV. In Australia, the Channel Ten Network will air the 26 episodes in a single season.

This summer, Random House will release the first in a series of Guinevere Jones books as part of the market launch of Canada's newest TV character.

YTV, Canada's #1 youth network, is seen in over eight million homes across Canada. As a major force in Canadian kids' entertainment, YTV has triggered over $819 million in Canadian independent production; developed a Web site that averages more than 2.1 million page impressions each week; published a successful kids' magazine, Whoa!; and conducts a highly respected annual survey, The YTV Kid & Tween Report. YTV is owned by Corus Entertainment, a Canadian-based media and entertainment company. Corus is Canada's market leader in both specialty TV and Radio. Corus also owns Nelvana Limited, one of the world's largest international producers and distributors of children's programming and products. The company's other interests include music, television broadcasting and advertising services. A publicly traded company, Corus is listed on the Toronto (CJR.B) and New York (CJR) Exchanges. Corus' Web site can be found at

April 8, 2002