Writer Kay Mellor talks about her long-term love affair with Leeds
15:58 22 June 2012
Less than two minutes into the conversation and scriptwriter Kay Mellor is already professing her love for Yorkshire. But then, anyone who has seen her work will be familiar with her unapologetic fascination for her home county.
A writer of soap, theatre and drama, she has met with considerable success over the years, with TV shows like Band of Gold, Fat Friends and Playing the Field attracting big audiences and plenty of plaudits.
But Kay, born and bred in Leeds, has remained fervently grounded throughout and has not been tempted away from West Yorkshire by the bright lights of London and beyond.
‘The opportunity to leave Leeds has come up numerous times; in fact, it never goes away,’ she said. ‘But why would I want to leave? What keeps me in Leeds is the people. All my friends and family are here, so why would I move away from the very things that inspire me? As a writer and as a person I’d be crazy to do that.
‘There is so much to Leeds that I love. I love The Hollies, I love Roundhay Park, Golden Acre Park. I love the heart of Leeds. I love the fact that we’ve got a little independent cinema called Cottage Road on our doorstep. And I love the fact that people talk to you. In London it’s all about people rushing from A to B; the pace of life here is much better, much saner.
‘It’s not just Leeds either but Yorkshire as a whole; the north, in many ways. We are generally friendlier. It’s not a myth.’
Kay’s scripts often reflect this passion, with many set in her home city. But she sees this as a positive as it means she can stay in her comfort zone and write about what she knows.
‘Leeds is a perfect case study,’ she explained further. ‘It’s very near the countryside yet possesses an absolute heart of a city. It’s ten minutes from everywhere.
We’ve got the lovely big old houses of Swinton and Rudding Park, the town centre with its market, and beautiful old Victorian buildings. I love the way the architecture spreads from the traditional Civic Hall, university and Town Hall to a really modern blend of inspiring invention. Everything sits together really well. It makes me really proud.
It’s a beautiful city.’
Her BBC1 Leeds-based drama The Syndicate, she showed how a group of co-workers struggled to cope with winning the National Lottery. It attracted six million viewers at its peak.
In the Club, a drama following the lives of six pregnant women and their partners is also based in the city.
It’s safe to say then that people connect with her writing. But where does it spring from?
Born in 1952 and brought up on a council estate in Ireland Wood by her single mother (who would later provide the inspiration for her play A Passionate Woman), Kay has known her fair share of adversity. She was subject to considerable hardship in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and fell pregnant at 16. That put paid to any hopes of further education until the age of 27 when she started at Bretton Hall College, near Wakefield.
‘I was always creative, I just didn’t know it,’ she said. ‘Sometimes, as a child, you’re not allowed to fully explore your options. That happens even now. I soon realised I wanted to give my talent an outlet, whilst offering a voice to those many millions who don’t have one.’
It set the tone for her work that continues today, where the gritty realities of poverty and struggle are dealt with unflinchingly but with a strong underlying layer of optimism and infectious humour.
‘I don’t need to imagine what that’s like because half the time, I’ve lived it,’ said Kay. ‘But other people definitely inspire me too. I may now be a fairly successful writer but there are still members of my family that live in the same way that they’ve always lived, struggling to get by from week to week. They don’t have life savings in the bank.
‘I’m fortunate because I’m no longer in that situation, but I used to tour round in a clapped-out transit van on £90 a week as a playwright when I created the Yorkshire Theatre Company, so I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to worry that your house is going to be repossessed, and to wonder where you’re going to get the money to make it through to the end of the week. I’ve done that; I don’t have to imagine it.’
Her outlook has obviously struck a chord with many. Awarded an OBE in 2009, she is now one of Britain’s best-loved screenwriters, recently making the move on to one of Britain’s best-loved shows, producing scripts for Coronation Street, home to her daughter Gaynor Faye’s alter-ego Judy Mallett from 1995 to 1999.
‘I’m a storyteller, and I love telling stories,’ said Kay. ‘They pay me for stories and there are people out there who can’t even get a job. I must be one of the luckiest people living. People stop me in the street and tell me how much they like my work. I feel blessed.’
Kay is a passionate supporter of the National Media Museum in Bradford. For more details, visit nationalmediamuseum.org.uk