At 15 years-old one of the greatest writers in British television believed her life was over. She had a secret. It was a secret that after five months she found impossible to hide. It was 1967 when Kay Mellor OBE (nee Daniel) discovered she was expecting a child with her apprentice motor mechanic husband Anthony. Married at 16, Kay remembers how at the time “it was a complete disaster, but in the end it was one of the best things that could have ever happened.”
Being a young mum enabled Kay to study while her two girls went to school and after studying drama at university she ran her own theatre company. It was in the eighties when her writing career began at Granada TV and 30 years later BAFTA winning writer Kay Mellor OBE, creator of The Syndicate, Playing the Field and Fat Friends, is back with her latest offering, In The Club on BBC One. Now in its second series it continues to hook the nation with its honest, funny and often painful insight into a group of women who have bonded through child birth. Their stories bring more secret and heartbreak as the couples juggle midnight feeds and nappy bags with strained relationships, hidden pasts and even death.
I caught up with Kay to discover how a young lass from Leeds went from flogging clothes to flogging stories. Her ability to weave story lines from a multitude of perspectives, her capability to smash stereo-types and to introduce humour in what can sometimes be a bleak story-line is a reflection of her character. She admits she owes her refreshing honesty and strong sense of independence to her mum, who divorced her father when Kay was just three years-old after he was violent towards her. “This was in a time that no one really got divorced and everyone I knew had a mum and dad. She went out to work and raised my brother and me single-handedly alongside Aunty Edna. She was amazingly strong and didn’t take any sh** and she brought me up to be like that.”
It’s plain to see that her strong working class ethics have also been instilled in that of her successful children, Yvonne Francas is a successful TV producer and actress Gaynor Faye (Megan in Emmerdale) who wrote the second episode in the latest series of In The Club.
I was curious to learn how her own parenting experience compared to that of being a grandparent now.
Attempting to stifle a roaring laugh, she answers, “being a parent you have all the responsibility, being a grandparent you have virtually no responsibility. You can play with them and spoil them. I’m in a really fortunate position because I’m comfortable. Whereas when we had our children we were skint, we had no money we were always worrying where the next penny was coming from. My husband was a motor mechanic. I worked part time selling clothes as a party planner and ran a play school. Never had any money really, just enough to get by. We never had any savings. So now I’m in a position where I can buy my grandchildren and daughters anything I want to.”
It’s no surprise to learn that Kay regularly tells her grandchildren stories, “I’m forever making up daft stories. I did the same with my two daughters as well.”
Can you imagine having Kay Mellor as your own personal storyteller?
Kay is a real woman of substance, and prides herself on her Yorkshire heritage. “I like it around Haworth and the surrounding areas, you can walk out on the moorland and at the same time you can visit the Parsonage, steeped in history. I love ‘Bronte land’. I also love Whitby. There are a lot of beautiful places in the north; you don’t need to go far.”
When it comes to casting for her work, Kay insists that actors audition for her up north. “There’s a complete snobbery that goes on, and it’s not just about northern accents, says Kay. “They say that any northern actor ‘worth their salt’ should live in London. Why? I’ll never understand it. There’s enough theatre and TV going on up here, that’s why I will never go to London casting. If they’re interested they should come up here! I make a complete stance on it.
“I go down for work, but I’m always so happy to get back, says Kay. “I think Yorkshire and the north is glorious. I’ve just been down in London for a week running workshops, but when I returned home I just couldn’t get to sleep as my lungs were literally wheezing. I intended to have a liein, but I just had to get out in the fresh air with the dog. Despite being absolutely shattered, I got up and after half an hour I was breathing normally again. If I’d have been down there another week, I’d have ended up with an inhaler!
“When I started writing there were hardly any female writers around. Lynda La Plant was the only female writer I knew at the time. She was a complete inspiration for me. The conversation weighs heavy when I mention the recent death of fellow northern writer Victoria Wood. “What a genius. It’s so sad, says Kay. “I was in my car listening to the radio when I heard the sad news, and
thought it was a sick joke at first. What a loss to our industry and life in general. She made me laugh, she made me cry. What a wonderful talent, she’s irreplaceable.”
Kay may have only one inspiration as a young writer, but fellow Yorkshire lass and writer Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax), holds Kay in very high esteem classing Kay as her mentor. Sally is quoted as saying “Kay told me to stand up for myself and not take sh** from people!”
“She came round to my house and she was absolutely mortified about something in a show that she had written. One of the characters had been dressed wrong and she’d even been banned from being on set. I just told her to tell them, it was her ‘baby’. I told her to stand up for herself and not to let people walk all over her. She’s such a gracious woman, but before she got strong, she had a terrible time. I always tried to encourage her and thank god I did, because look at the ‘body’ of work we have now. I used to say “You had the vision, you had the idea, and don’t let anybody take it away!”’
Kay sounds pretty ferocious at this point, not someone I would like to meet down a dark alley… she’s a formidable lady, who, in true Yorkshire style, delivers the truth, if you like it or not, but it’s that attitude to life that has certainly helped paved the way to a successful career.
In an earlier interview I’d spoken with her daughter Gaynor, I’d asked her to sum up her childhood in five words, her reply was: “Happy, warm, blessed, mischievous and loved.” It’s at this point in the interview that Kay’s tone softens as she squeezes out an “Aww…” When I ask Kay to sum her childhood her response didn’t come as any surprise, “poor, loved, educated, political and strong.”
At 65 years of age, Kay shows very little sign of slowing down and why should she? As she says in her own words, “It’s what I do.” And she does it very well.
She’s a disciplined lady who has a routine, up and out to walk the dog she returns for breakfast and begins writing at 10am. “I’ll write solidly until lunch at one o’clock. After lunch I look over what I’ve written. Then I’ll deal with any other business, go through e-mails, catch up on phone calls and go through any other business with my PA. Early evening I tend to go back and write for another hour. I generally write for five hours a day. It’s what I do,” she says candidly.
She’s currently working on her latest script which is about the menopause and for her, “it’s been a huge leap forward.” Oh, I can feel a hot flush coming on!