Kay Mellor is one of the UK’s most prolific and successful TV dramatists. She cut her script-writing teeth on Coronation Street and Brookside before going on to pen her own series including Band of Gold, Fat Friends, Playing the Field and, more recently, The Syndicate and In The Club.
In 1997 she won the BAFTA Dennis Potter Award for Outstanding Writing for Television and, in 2009, was awarded an OBE for services to drama – for writing ‘some of the most powerful and successful television drama series in recent years’.
As part of the Manchester Literature Festival, Mellor took part in a Q&A session at Salford University’s MediaCity site where she was in conversation with Kate Rowland (creative director of new writing at the BBC). Here are just a few of the topics they covered.
The one piece of advice bandied about to all writers – whether book, stage or screen – is ‘write what you know’. It’s a piece of advice Leeds-born Kay Mellor has taken to heart. She freely admits that, for her, writing TV drama “is like therapy”, before going on to reveal that the schoolgirl mum in latest drama In The Club is based upon…herself (Mellor fell pregnant at 16 and managed to keep it secret from family and friends for almost six months).
Even when she has no direct experience of the world she’s writing about, her interest is often piqued by a real-life incident. The inspiration for the 1995 series Band of Gold (about girls on the game in Bradford) came from a chance encounter.
Mellor was on her way to a party when the car she was travelling in stopped at some lights. A face appeared at the window. A young girl, aged about 14, bobbed down and quickly looked inside the car to see if it was carrying any punters.
“When we got to the party I couldn’t get that image out of my head,” Mellor recalls. “I can still see her to this day. She looked about the same age as my daughter at the time. I just kept on thinking about her, wondering.
“Band of Gold came from a place of wanting to say something, wanting to do something about that.”
“My earliest memory is of being in Littlewoods with my mum and three aunties and them all talking over each other non-stop. They just seemed so different to the men in my family – the most you’d get out of them was a ‘n’ then – whereas the women seemed so multi-layered.
“They juggled lots of different roles too. Mother, wife, sister, daughter, home-maker and often went out to work as well. To a dramatist that’s incredibly interesting.”
By putting women centre stage, Mellor feels that she’s telling stories other people aren’t. And, as the viewing figures show, it seems her stories – about weight-watchers, female footballers, prostitutes, lottery winners and expectant mums – are ones people want to hear.
Mellor also has connections with some other fine TV writers from the North. During her stint at Coronation Street she teamed up with a fellow storyliner to develop their own project – the other storyliner was Paul Abbott (Clocking Off, State of Play, Shameless) and the project went on to become long-running ITV children’s series Children’s Ward. She then went on to write for Brookside at the same time as Jimmy McGovern (Cracker, The Street, Accused) and later hired Sally Wainwright (Scott and Bailey, Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley) to write for her show Playing the Field.
Mellor notes that herself, Burnley-born Abbott, Halifax-born Wainwright and Liverpudlian McGovern are all working class Northerners, who all write about the North and have all, more or less, stayed here because “they realise how great it is”.
She’s even set up her own production company – ‘Rollem’ – in Leeds and now directs too.
“I reached a point where I was getting frustrated by everything [TV-related] happening in London. I kept thinking ‘why am I having to explain things to people who just don’t get it? Why’s it not happening in Manchester or Bradford or Leeds?’
“I set Rollem up in 2000 to get around that and to give myself more control. And I think things really are changing.”
Listening to her talk, in Salford University’s shiny MediaCity building, nestled between BBC North (which includes Children’s, 6 Music, Breakfast and Sport), ITV Studios and the new Coronation Street set, it seems that Ms Mellor could very well be right.