HER gritty, passionate and funny TV shows helped launch the careers of big-name stars such as James Corden, Samantha Morton and Ruth Jones.
Now tributes from the world of British telly have flooded in for hit writer Kay Mellor after news of her sudden death at the age of 71 was announced yesterday.
Tributes from the world of British telly have flooded in for hit writer Kay Mellor after news of her sudden death at the age of 71 was announced yesterday.PA:Press Association
The actress, screenwriter and director was behind critically acclaimed shows including Fat Friendsrollemproductions.co.uk
Mellor was also behind Band Of GoldRex Features
The actress, screenwriter and director was behind critically acclaimed shows including Band Of Gold, Playing The Field, Fat Friends and The Syndicate and helped change the face of drama on the small screen.
But the stories she created could not match her own personal experience of overcoming adversity.
Born and raised on a Leeds council estate, her violent dad left the family home after beating her mum unconscious when Kay was three years old.
At 16, she became a teen mum, giving birth to daughter Yvonne. She and the father, Anthony, married the same year and stayed together for the rest of her life.
Read more on Kay Mellor
But she was determined not to allow motherhood to stifle her ambitions, and after having second daughter Gaynor three years later, Kay returned to education when her children went to school.
She studied drama aged 27 and began writing for soap operas Coronation Street, Brookside and the short-lived Albion Market.
Ruth Jones, who starred in Fat Friends alongside James Corden in 2000, said: “British television has lost one of its greats. Thank you Kay for all that you gave us. I cannot believe you’ve gone.”
Kym Marsh, who appeared in the fourth series of The Syndicate last year, wrote: “A huge talent, a huge personality, a wonderful lady”.
‘I found my mother bleeding on the floor’
Most read in TV
Former Emmerdale actress Lisa Riley said: “You were the best boss to work for.” And ex-Corrie star turned Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin described her as, “our voice of the North”.
Fellow writer Russell T Davies, known for Queer As Folk and Doctor Who, said: “I adored her. She taught me so much. And she was hilarious.”
During her four-decade career, Kay battled depression, stress and sexism, including an assault by a TV executive.
The socially aware writer put months of intense research into each project, was driven by a quiet rage and never forgot her past when she became wealthy.
In 2006, she explained: “It’s a class thing going on — comfortably off, middle class in some ways as a writer these days — but from a very, very working-class background.
“Single-parent family, lived on a council estate, born and bred, married at 16, pregnant, all that. That’s a real conflict within me.”
Kay’s dad George, a war veteran, had been infected by a parasite while serving in India and became an increasingly volatile heavy drinker.
At the age of three Kay witnessed his departure after he beat up her mum Dinah.
She said: “We found my mother bleeding on the floor. We knocked on a neighbour’s door and they patched her up. I looked out of the window and saw my father, in a hat and with a suitcase, leaving.”
For the next eight years Dinah, who worked as a tailor, brought up Kay and younger brother James single-handedly before meeting her second husband Alan. At that stage there seemed little prospect of the then 11-year-old becoming a writer.
At Iveson House primary school on the Ireland Wood council estate in Leeds, a teacher said a story she had written was worth only four out of ten because it was “very silly”.
Having failed her 11-plus, Kay received a confidence boost from an English teacher at West Park secondary school who praised her creative skills.
But before taking her O-level exams, she met motor mechanic Anthony on a blind date when she was 15, in 1966.
They first had sex the following year when she was babysitting “for ten shillings”. But a second bunk-up changed everything.
She said: “Literally the second time I’d had sex I was pregnant because I’d never heard of the Pill, and then for ages I was missing my periods and I didn’t even realise I was pregnant.”
‘YOU’VE RUINED YOUR LIFE’
On hearing the news her mum told her: “You’ve ruined your life, you were so clever.”
Kay was so “terrified” by the prospect of motherhood that she considered throwing herself in a quarry.
Fortunately, Anthony was delighted about the prospect of being a father, even though he was only 17 himself, and asked Kay to marry him.
Shortly afterwards, in 1968, the young lovers tied the knot by special licence at Leeds Register Office and held their reception in the Co-op.
But further emotional turmoil was caused by the return of Kay’s father, a vacuum salesman, into her life.
She recalled: “I didn’t see him until I was 21. He told me he was full of shame and guilt.”
Kay went on to keep a promise to her mum to return to education once she had the chance.
She took her O levels and A levels and earned a degree at Bretton Hall College, West Yorks, in 1983.
With college pals she founded the Yorkshire Theatre Company and by 1986 was writing for the ill-fated ITV soap Albion Market.
She soon graduated to the channel’s top show, Coronation Street, and the kids’ TV series Children’s Ward — starring a young Danny Dyer — both made by Granada Television.
Kay revealed: “In those days most scriptwriters were men and I was this young woman coming up with ideas, which were shouted down most of the time. It was depressing.”
While working for Granada, an unidentified executive assaulted her after inviting her to discuss a potential script in his office.
She said: “He sat down very close to me, which made me uncomfortable, and then lunged at me and tried to kiss me.
“I pulled away and said, ‘I’m sorry this is not what I’m doing here’, and he replied, ‘Oh really, what did you come up here for then?’.” Kay then left Granada.
Her big breakthrough came with 1995’s Band Of Gold, her own critically acclaimed tale of Bradford prostitutes, starring Samantha Morton.
In order to understand her subject, Kay spent time with street workers, gradually winning their confidence.
In 1997 she was given the Dennis Potter Bafta award for television writing and in 2010 she received an OBE.
Success after success meant that commissioning editors were always calling to ask what she had for them next.
Her ideas sprung from the problems she saw in everyday life — society’s obsession with body image led to weight-watching series Fat Friends.
But the demands of the job proved too much and in 2000 she collapsed from stress.
Kay said: “I recall being in an ambulance, thinking I’d had a heart attack or stroke. Then a doctor came in and said, ‘You are suffering from extreme mental exhaustion’.”
Seven years later, when her mum died aged 82, Kay suffered a breakdown.
She said: “It was like losing everything. She was both mother and father to me. My doctor gave me some antidepressants.”
Throughout everything, her devoted husband, who later worked with special needs children before running an art gallery, had been by her side.
With great candour Kay told how their marriage had experienced ups and downs, but had grown stronger.
In 2002, she said: “His willingness to change with me is what has kept us together. My life with him is still getting better. On my 48th birthday, he went down on one knee and proposed to me and gave me a ring.
“He had never properly proposed the first time. He said, ‘Would you still marry me if you had the chance again?’. I said, ‘I most definitely would’.”
The couple stayed living in Leeds, with Kay resisting the opportunity to work in the US and refusing to spend any more than four days in a row in London.
Both their children followed Kay into television, with Yvonne working as a producer and Gaynor starring in Emmerdale, Corrie and several of her mum’s shows.
The announcement of Kay’s death was made by her company Rollem Productions. A cause of death has not been given.
The statement read: “It is with profound sadness that we announce the untimely and sudden passing of our beloved friend, mentor and colleague Kay Mellor on Sunday May 15, 2022. We have lost a phenomenal talent and a true luminary.”
When Kay was once asked how she would like to be remembered she answered, with great modesty: “She wrote about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.”
Her legacy will surely be far greater than that.
Actress Gaynor Faye and her mother Kay MellorPA:Press Association/PA Images
Kay Mellor with her husband and daughterInstagramThe Sun