Kay Mellor OBE has been an influential mainstay in British television drama for three decades – writing, directing and acting in stories that evoke her love of all the dynamics of human relationships. She is responsible for award-winning TV dramas such as Band of Gold, Fat Friends, Playing the Field, The Syndicate and In The Club.
She freely admits, though, that she could never have written her own life story: “I couldn’t have dreamt this in a million years; I couldn’t have written it. People wouldn’t believe it,” she says, when we meet up in her home town of Leeds where she has lived all her life. She always uses the city as a location for her filming.
Mellor is warm and down to earth, and appears unaffected by the accolades she has received, which include a BAFTA for Outstanding Writing for Television and a Royal Television Society Lifetime Achievement Award. She is fully appreciative of the life she now leads: “I live just 10 minutes away from where I was brought up, but it is a world away from my childhood.”
She grew up in a council semi with her divorced mother Dinah and then, later, her stepfather Abe Harris, an upholsterer. “My two brothers Robert and Philip and I had an idyllic childhood, really. We didn’t have a lot of money – we lived in a council house – but Mum let us daydream and encouraged creativity.”
She adds: “We didn’t live in a Jewish area, and there wasn’t much of a Jewish influence. Mum became more and more involved in Judaism when she married Abe. But we would have Passover every year. Mum would explain everything to us, and my abiding memory is of eingemachs! I just ate it and thought it was gorgeous. I do feel Jewish though, especially if there is an attack on the Jews in any way.”
When she was just 16 she became pregnant to her then boyfriend Anthony Mellor: “I remember thinking then, ‘Look what I’ve gone and done.’ I thought it was the end of my life.” This year, she will celebrate her golden wedding anniversary with Anthony.
In her twenties, Mellor became the first ever mature student at Bretton Hall College. Then, as an actress working on the early soap Albion Market, she thought she would have a go at writing a script for the show. This led to writing for Coronation Street, Brookside and then her own series Just Us and Families.
Her first huge success was the play A Passionate Woman, the story of a woman on her son’s wedding day who reveals a long-lost, secret love.
The inspiration came from her mother: “She told me a story one day over the washing-up about a man she’d really loved when she was younger.
I couldn’t believe it was my mother talking: the passion, the emotion. I had to write the story.”
A Passionate Woman was written 25 years ago, at the same time that Mellor’s ground-breaking drama about prostitutes in Bradford, Band Of Gold, was being broadcast on ITV. “I couldn’t walk down the street. Suddenly, I was nationally known. It was a very exciting time for me – I loved it. My world was completely opening up.”
Now in her 65th year, Mellor is busier than ever, working on three huge projects.
“I really thought I would be slowing down,” she says. “I intended to, but it just didn’t happen like that. It’s lovely in many ways that I still have energy to do it. I do have something to say.”
She is in the midst of filming Love, Lies and Records for BBC1, starring Ashley Jensen as Kate Dickinson, a registrar at Leeds Registry Office.
As usual with Mellor, a real-life incident triggered the thought process for the series. It took place after her mother died in 2007: “I registered my mum’s death at Leeds Town Hall. Then I was back there four days later for a wedding – a lovely wedding. As I was walking down the corridors, it occurred to me that this place was at the sharp end of what was going on in life; it sees everything. I was looking at the registrars themselves and thinking, ‘I wonder what their lives are like? What must it be like to register the death of a baby, and perhaps the same day perform a marriage ceremony?’”
As Love, Lies and Records finishes, she goes into filming Girlfriends, a six-part series for ITV: “Girlfriends came about because I felt women of a certain age needed a voice. My peer group is ageing and their mothers are ageing. Women are looking after their mothers, their daughters, their grandchildren. As such, they become more and more interesting, more multi-dimensional.”
Two major TV drama series would be enough for most people to deal with, but in November, Mellor’s first musical, Fat Friends, opens at Leeds Grand Theatre, prior to a UK tour and West End transfer. It is based on the TV series that was broadcast in 2000. “I’ve wanted to write a musical for a long, long time. I’ve sat in a theatre many times, being jealous to death, thinking, ‘If only I could do that.’”
The producer Josh Andrews approached Mellor to write a musical he was currently involved in, about a boy band. She told him she was writing her own musical, and he asked her to show it to him when she was ready.
She laughs out loud: “I thought, ‘I’d better do it then!’ Whenever I had a spare month or whatever, I worked on it. It became my guilty pleasure. Eventually a script happened, with lyrics for eight songs. I didn’t know whether I could write lyrics.”
Josh Andrews introduced her to Nicholas Lloyd Webber, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s son: “I saw this young man sitting there; he had a really lovely aura about him, sort of fragile in a way; he’s a very nice guy. He read the script and said he would like to try out to write the score. Nicholas Lloyd Webber was saying he would like to try out! He’s not got an egotistical bone in his body.”
It has become a marriage made in heaven: “I think he quite likes it that I don’t know anything about music,” says Mellor. “I’ll say, ‘Can we make this faster or bigger?’ He’ll say, ‘Oh do you mean an allegro?’ What do I know? I thought it was a car!”
It’s possibly the biggest gamble of her career, but Mellor is philosophical about it: “To be absolutely truthful, if it doesn’t work, I will have still learned such a lot and enjoyed the process and found it rich and fulfilling. It’s great at this stage to be learning, and taking a risk – otherwise what is the point?”
On opening night on November 7th, her husband Anthony will be by her side as usual. Mellor says she couldn’t have done any of it without him: “I wouldn’t know me or Anthony now. We were just a little lad and lass off the estate. Anthony was a mechanic. We were married on December 12th and by Christmas Eve, I wanted to go home. Fortunately, Anthony has always been more mature and he persuaded me to stay and work it out,” she says.
“More than anything he is a massive support for me; emotionally, he’s there for me. Juggling all these things, I need a lot of support.”
The marriage has produced two daughters: Yvonne Francas, who is a successful TV producer, and Gaynor Faye, who stars in Emmerdale as Megan Macey.
Mellor also has four grandchildren – Grace, Elliot, Oliver and Lily.
“I’m so lucky: each child is so different and individual and talented. It is gorgeous for me. They bring their own dynamic to this family life. We go on holidays together as a family. We went to Mablethorpe or Filey when I was little. I can afford to take them somewhere nice because of my job, which is fabulous – and that’s what it’s all for.”