Home Written work ‘She changed the way TV was written’: Zoe Williams on Kay Mellor | Television

‘She changed the way TV was written’: Zoe Williams on Kay Mellor | Television


OWhen you name what you think is the ultimate Kay Mellor show, whatever you name is your own vintage. For the screenwriter and director, who died suddenly on Sunday at the age of 71, there was no “ultimate”.

Mellor brought the same urgency, liveliness, and deceptively light social critique to every project. You could never guess the tone of his subject. For example, the children’s TV drama Children’s Ward – co-created with Paul Abbott in 1989 and set in a Bolton hospital – sounds like a classic teardrop, a triumphant tale of adversity with intermittent dignity in its face. of the tragedy. It was anything but caustic and edgy, constantly causing friction with Granada’s leadership for including such adult themes (sex offenders, HIV) in a young adult drama.

The kennel season of BBC lottery drama The Syndicate, which would be the last thing she would write (and starring her very own shih tzu, Happy) should have been child’s play, full of fluff and fur and children rolling in an unexpected dosh. In fact, it was zero hour life scrutiny. She never overworked an idea, but neither did she back down from its implications; she never used 10 words where five would suffice. As a result, she covered much of the human condition and changed the way television was written – its scope, depth and ambition.

Born in Leeds, Mellor had her first daughter, producer Yvonne Francas, aged 17, and her second, actor Gaynor Faye, three years later. Her formal education barely started until her daughters were of school age, when Mellor was able to complete her O and A levels.

It was anything but a story of teenage pregnancy disaster: the marriage she entered into at 17, with Anthony Mellor, lasted; the journey from drama school to fringe theater, as a writer, actor and director, to writing soap operas and dramas, was fast and seemingly fluid. But her fast-paced responsibilities left her with little patience for writers’ rooms full of powerful, wealthy, utterly inept men trying to conjure up the lives of working-class women from a bag of cliches.

She got her first TV break writing for Coronation Street in the mid-’80s. She used to say you could tell an all-male writing staff if a female character with kids was casually doing some activity other than to take care of the children.

‘She had a huge influence that would be hard to put into words with an award’… Kay Mellor wearing her OBE at Buckingham Palace after the investiture ceremony. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

After Corrie, as an editor in Grenada, she wrote for Dramarama, the episodic children’s show that gave birth to Children’s Ward, starting with an episode that was too good to go as a single. At the beginning of the 90s, she was given carte blanche to create a soap opera of the day, Families, which largely marked by the careers it launched. This was Jude Law’s first recurring television role; Russell T Davies wrote for him (having worked on Children’s Ward). This pattern was repeated in Fat Friends, which aired in 2000, and followed a weight-loss group with a spirit and humanity that made Ruth Jones and James Corden stars. She had spotted Corden in a Tango commercial and loved his energy — which, if you look at the commercial, is something.

Band of Gold, which Mellor created in 1995 and wrote with Mark Davies-Markham and Catherine Johnson for the next five years, was an ensemble piece about female friendships, dressed as a gritty crime drama about sex workers, and drew fine performances, particularly from Geraldine James and a then-unknown Samantha Morton.

Mellor acted on occasion throughout his writing career, for example in his adaptation of Jane Eyre in 1997 and the comedy-drama Stan the Man in 2002. In those early days they started a theater company and did everything from directing to acting to chance (by his account) budgeting, stuck with her in a marked lack of grandeur or preciousness, as well as her themes and interests. She wrote A Passionate Woman as a play about her mother’s unhappy marriage and doomed affair, which became a BBC mini-series and – like much of her work – was partly a letter d love in Leeds. Steven Spielberg once praised her for a season of The Syndicate, her sense of community and place, and she replied, “I think even when I write dark stuff, it has a hidden warmth and it is perhaps the Yorkshireness. This north side of people.

Mellor was highly recognized – a Fellow of the Royal Television Society with an OBE and Writers Guild awards, but she had enormous influence that would be difficult to express in the form of an award. She never left Leeds and she never forgot, she said last year, ‘what it’s like not having enough money to make it to the end of the week. I experienced this first hand, so it’s easy for me to write this. Without this perspective, the drama can seem rather thin. Needless to say, this is not a problem Mellor has ever suffered from.