By WGGB Chair Lisa Holdsworth
The sudden death of Kay Mellor at the age of 71 is a shock to everyone who knew her. A long-term and loyal WGGB member, she was always full of energy and always working. Indeed, she was working on several projects for TV and theatre at the time of her death. She simply loved telling stories.
Her own story sounds like something she scripted. She grew up in a working-class family in Leeds and was married with two children by the age of 19. After taking a Theatre Studies A Level at night school, she went to Bretton Hall in Wakefield and would initially pursue a career in acting. However, writing was her passion.
She started her career in the soaps, including Coronation Street and Brookside. She would go on to create her own soap, Families. However, it was Children’s Ward, the children’s medical drama she created with Paul Abbott, that won her acclaim and her first BAFTA.
She would go on to win another for Band of Gold, a show about sex workers in Bradford. She researched the show by paying the girls working Bradford’s notorious Lumb Lane for their time and their stories. Band of Gold not only cemented her reputation as a writer, but also her commitment to centring working-class women’s stories in her work. Playing the Field, Fat Friends, Between the Sheets and Strictly Confidential all focussed on women, and female viewers responded by watching in their millions. Her theatre work was inspired by the women she knew. A Passionate Woman was a frank account of her mother’s affair. Queen was a bittersweet story of a soap queen in her twilight years.
Kay was also an enthusiastic advocate for new talent and often gave other writers their first break in the industry. Sally Wainwright celebrated her generosity when presenting her with her WGGB Outstanding Contribution to Writing award in 2015:
“The other great thing that defines Kay is her boundless generosity towards up-and-coming writers. Her commitment not just to her own writing, but to writing. I am forever indebted to Kay for the time and trouble she took with me at that early stage in my career. She was selfless and kind and not just willing but eager to share her insight and knowledge.”
She leaves an enviable legacy.
Kay Mellor pictured above (centre) with screenwriter Sally Wainwright (left) and WGGB President Sandi Toksvig (right) at the 2015 Writers’ Guild Awards ceremony.
Photo: Guy Cragoe