Kay Mellor honoured at Writers’ Guild Awards

The award was presented by Sally Wainwright for Outstanding Contribution to Writing

“This year’s recipient of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Outstanding Contribution to Writing is the prolific talent behind some of the most powerful, engaging and successful British television dramas of the last 20 years.

Sally Wainwright, Kay Mellor and Sandi Toksvig
Kay Mellor (centre and above) receives her award from Sally Wainwright (left) Photo: WGGB/Guy Cragoe

“She’s worked in film, theatre and television, and has excelled not only as a writer, but also as a director, as an actor, and as a chief exec running her own production company. The variety of her talents is formidable. She is that rare, enviable, inspiring combination of a born storyteller and a real player: someone who truly knows how to make television, and the kind of television that people really want to watch.

“One of the biggest indicators of the quality of a script is the talent it attracts, and here the list is just as you’d expect: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Alison Steadman, Suranne Jones, Hermione Norris, Ray Winstone, Julie Walters, Geraldine James, James Nesbitt, James Corden, Samantha Morton, Billie Piper. And that’s just one or two.

“She predominantly writes about the female experience, exploring subjects like childbirth, obesity, love, relationships, money, power and sex, with candour, insight, warmth, clarity and humour. There’s always something new to learn from any one of her scripts: even when you think you’re in familiar territory, there’s always something deeper, darker, funnier round the corner. Whether it’s a story line, or a new way of telling a story, she writes about the vagaries of life and human relationships with complexity and compassion. And her final message is always positive, life-affirming, uplifting.

“Kay Mellor started her professional career 30 years ago. She’d set up her own theatre company – the Yorkshire Theatre Company – and was touring a play – Climbing Out – which she’d written, directed and was acting in, and which I was lucky enough to see when I was a student at York University. I met her in the bar afterwards and said, ‘I want to do what you do’, and Kay said ‘Well do it, just do it’. She didn’t say this flippantly, she meant it. To be in Kay’s orbit is to be blessed and energised by her absolute passion for drama and her belief that you really can do anything you set your mind to.

“I met Kay a number of years later at Granada. By that time, she was in the process of writing the groundbreaking Band of Gold for which, amongst other things, she was to go on and receive the 1997 Dennis Potter Screenwriting Award for outstanding writing. At the same time she was showrunning an afternoon drama called Families, she was also showrunning and writing the latest series of the phenomenally popular and successful Children’s Ward, she was developing Just Us (another wonderfully rich, beautifully written children’s drama, which she was also to star in), and she was in post-production on her first film Girls’ Night.

“Ever since then, I’ve never known Kay to be doing less than about 15 things at once. The level of her involvement with everything she was doing at that time – above and beyond the fact she’d created (as well as was writing) all those shows I’ve just mentioned – was staggering. Her clarity of purpose, her punishing work ethic, her energy, her perfectionism, her passion and excitement for creating drama is – it seems to me – as innate as her talent.

“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.

“Kay was and is one of those rare people who always tells you something brilliant that you didn’t know. One of the greatest things Kay ever told me was – typically – very simple, but endlessly useful: ‘Be bold’. It’s wonderful advice. It’s in my head every day when I sit down to write. As writers we often worry about second-guessing what other people want, and that’s pointless and we all know it is, but we don’t always have the courage to act on it, and to trust our own instincts. Kay gave me the courage to do exactly that. And she didn’t just mean with what you write, either. She also meant when you’re dealing with those people we’ve all come across who think they know more about your writing than you do. Directors, producers, executives. Kay taught me to stand up for what I wanted, whatever they thought they wanted.

“So thanks for that Kay, that’s got me into a right load of trouble over the years.

“Since those days at Granada, she has delighted and inspired us with a dazzling catalogue of original work: Playing the Field, Some Kind of Life, Gold, A Good Thief, The Chase, Between the Sheets, Gifted, Fat Friends, Strictly Confidential, The Syndicate, In the Club. Plus an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and her films, Girls’ Night, the delightful, beautifully shot Fanny & Elvis, and her stage plays Queen, and the uplifting – literally uplifting – A Passionate Woman, which has been staged across the globe.

“True to form – in tireless fashion – she is as we speak right in the middle of directing the third series of The Syndicate as well as writing a second series of In the Club, and she’s probably juggling about 36 other projects as well whilst taking phone calls from Steven Spielberg at the same time. She probably hasn’t really got time to be here tonight, but I’m delighted to say she is, and I’m delighted to be the one that’s been asked to say…

“…that the recipient of this year’s Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Outstanding Contribution to Writing…

is Kay Mellor.”

Photo: Guy Cragoe