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'Female friendship keeps me sane'

It's been the TV series with everything: love, betrayal and sore nipples. Yes, BBC's In the Club, which concluded its second series this week, has had millions of us glued to the set

    The buggy brigade: The mums and babes of In the Club by Kay Mellor
    The buggy brigade: The mums and babes of In the Club by Kay Mellor

    It's been the TV series with everything: love, betrayal and sore nipples. Yes, BBC's In the Club, which concluded its second series this week, has had millions of us glued to the set, watching the exploits of a group of women and their partners as they struggle to overcome the challenges of pregnancy, childbirth and all the accompanying chaos they bring.

    This must-watch drama is the creation of Kay Mellor, whose work has included the popular series Fat Friends, The Syndicate and Playing the Field. Kay's trademark is putting ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances, showing their strength and weaknesses. In the Club's scripts skilfully mixed drama with comedy, as the storylines tackled everything from over-protective mothers, infidelity, teenage sex and life or death deliveries. Next Monday both series are released on DVD.

    Kay drew on her own life experience when writing the storyline featuring schoolgirl Rosie's unplanned pregnancy. Kay had her first daughter, Yvonne, when she was only 16.

    This particular tale had its own happy ending as she eventually married Yvonne's father and they have been together ever since. Their other daughter is actress Gaynor Faye, who played the Jewish character, Lauren, in Fat Friends. Kay wrote Lauren as "a positive image of a young Jewish girl", but we shouldn't hold our breath for a series devoted solely to a group of Jewish characters, as Kay prefers to create a diverse range of people in her stories. Her ensemble casts are invariably a wide mix of characters that would, under other circumstances, be unlikely to meet.

    Brought up in a single parent family on a harsh housing estate in Leeds was not easy and it shows in Kay's writing: her female characters are smart, gritty and show resilience when the going gets tough. But then, true grit runs in the family. "My mother was extremely strong and I am quite strong," she says. "My mother believed women were equal to men long before feminism."

    Along with strength, there was comedy, something Kay feels is a particularly Jewish trait. "We are great at humour and we don't take ourselves too seriously. My mother used to make me howl with laughter because she was so wonderful and funny, and a great storyteller."

    Resilience is certainly something Kay has had to develop to make it in the male-dominated world of writing for television. It took her eight years to see her series Band of Gold reach the screen. "It is less hard now. When Carla Lane [the comedy scriptwriter who died last month] was out there, there was hardly anybody doing it. It's up to those female writers who get through to give a leg up to the other writers if they are good…if they are not good, don't bother! Female writers out there need other female writers to champion them, and that's what I do."

    For women contemplating a career in television, she has some simple advice: "Watch it! Watch your favourite programme, watch what you admire, then record it, watch it back again and see how they structure a scene. You could do a whole course in television writing, but basically you have it in your front room. Analyse it, see how they impart the information about the characters; see how they move the plot on."

    She says aspiring writers should note: "How many scenes there are, how you get a sense of place, all that sort of thing. How are you ever going to be a writer if you don't do those things?"

    Perhaps because of her upbringing, Kay sees herself as an outsider, something, she believes is common to many writers. "I couldn't describe myself as Jewish, I couldn't describe myself as Christian, I am right in the middle. I am Kay Mellor, I am a writer. I am my own person."

    Kay Mellor
    Kay Mellor

    If her Jewish upbringing was somewhat lacking - "I believe in basic goodness" - she is nevertheless very aware of her heritage. "I recognise my bloodline and I am very fast to defend the Jewish faith if anyone ever criticises it. There are times in my life I have felt instantly drawn to the Jewishness in me."

    Kay's next venture leaves behind the world of leaky breasts and dirty nappies for a closer look at the other end of a woman's reproductive life: the menopause. It will also examine the relationships women develop with each other over a lifetime.

    "It's about female friendship. I have a very tight-knit group of friends, most of whom I have known all my life. Female friendship is something that is very powerful; it kept me sane in times of immense pressure. I take a lot of strength from my friends."

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