With hits such as Band of Gold and Fat Friends, Kay Mellor is one of television's leading dramatists. She talks to Paul Revoir about new series Between the Sheets and how she is putting home town Leeds on the TV radar.
Kay Mellor's peacefully secluded house in a leafy enclave of Leeds seems a far cry from the cacophony of clinking glasses and babbling luvvies in London's trendy media spots.But it is from here in her Yorkshire home that Mellor, one of television's most bankable drama writers, has continued to be a prominent force in UK television. She has shunned the invitations to uproot to London despite the potential advantages of being there.Indeed, when you ask her the reasons for staying up north she is defiant and proud about the need for her scripts, which are immersed in her own roots, to be produced locally, using local actors and local scenes. In the spirit of Yorkshire bloody-mindedness she even admits being angry when some of her programmes have been shot across the Pennines in Manchester.Mellor explains that the main reason for setting up her own company, Rollem Productions, was to ensure that her projects could actually be made in Leeds and stopping her scripts "sounding wrong" and "looking wrong" when they hit the screens. Her latest series, Between the Sheets, an uncompromisingly frank look at sex, has just started on ITV, hot on the heels of one-off outing Gifted, which aired last month and bagged 5.9 million viewers.Mellor, who also created Fat Friends, which has just been commissioned for a third series by ITV, and BBC1's Playing the Field, reflects: "I don't see the point of moving away from the very inspiration that creates and drives my creativity - that's what I feel, so what is the point of me being in London? There is no point."She adds: "Fat Friends was the first thing that was actually in its right place and I got so excited by that and I thought everything has got to be in its right place from now on."In Between the Sheets she even filmed scenes in the beck at the bottom of her garden. But this only happened after she convinced the council that she would not be endangering crayfish.She said: "The council got a bit uppity - but I just said please, this is really important for Leeds."For Between the Sheets, she brought in another of Yorkshire's finest TV talents, the Huddersfield-born former ITV director of programmes David Liddiment, to give her guidance and support on the series as an executive producer.Mellor explains: "When it's your own company it's quite frightening, you think to yourself: 'I bear all responsibility. Who is going to say to me this is not a good thing?' I rely on that."I needed somebody who had a lot of clout and somebody who could look me in the eye and say: 'I think you need to dig a bit harder.' So that's why I asked him."Mellor, who has also appeared in front of the camera in dramas Gifted and A Good Thief, is keen to use her success as a way of building Leeds up into a booming production centre for British television to rival Manchester and London. Indeed Yorkshire Television, assuming the merger does not adversely affect it, should remain a towering presence in British drama with Emmerdale, Heartbeat, The Royal and A Touch of Frost all coming out of it. There are also a group of independents such as True North and Chameleon that are on the up and based in Leeds.Mellor comments: "More and more, I find people saying: 'Oh, I am a cameraman and I live up here' or 'I'm a DoP' or 'I do sound and I live round the corner' and you start to wonder why you haven't met these people before.They say to me: 'I saw you once at an RTS do in London,' and you think to yourself that it's madness."Driven by the sense that the television people in Yorkshire are unaware of each other, Mellor is now talking to the Yorkshire Screen Commission about putting together a network of people that are available and live in the area.She says: "It doesn't mean to say we are not going to bring up a top director from London - but if there are top directors from Leeds we will probably consider them first."Mellor claims that there is now a strong movement by confident and determined writers and producers who want to stay in their regional bases and still be successful. She comments: "Paul Abbott lives up here and Jimmy McGovern hasn't moved and Nicola Shindler has stayed in Manchester.I think that has made an enormous difference."People have refused to go down to London and have said: 'No, this is where we are going to stay and this is where we are going to have our company.'"The aim is now to develop a new arm of Rollem Productions, which will encourage new writers in the north to make dramas that are slightly less mainstream than Mellor's current output. This will target channels such as ITV2, BBC3 and Channel 4. She is already talking with Leeds-based writers Andrew Kirk and Emmerdale and Fat Friends writer Lisa Holdsworth.Mellor chose Kirk as the winner of the Leeds section of the corporation's Northern Exposure writing initiative, along with judges BBC3 controller Stuart Murphy and BBC drama series head of development Serena Cullen.Clearly, Mellor is still fired up by the difficulties she faced as a young northern writer trying to break through the urbane elitism that exists in TV. She particularly remembers trying to convince Alan Yentob to commission Band of Gold.She says: "I would be near threatening people at the BBC to take it on and had my hands around Alan Yentob's throat and he would be going: 'Kay who? Where's she from, the north?'"Mellor, who is planning to sell the Fat Friends format to the US, said she felt the same when she first visited America to discuss some of her drama being taken up. She said: "Once again I felt like that northern girl begging Alan Yentob to take her programme. Like I know I am from Leeds but I am good really. I know I am from England but trust me I do know about drama."ON THE RECORDKAY MELLOROn working for ITV: 'I would like to do more for the BBC and I have had a meeting. I don't think it is healthy to keep working for just one channel'On her big break: 'ITV took Band of Gold when I couldn't get it away with the BBC so I have always felt indebted to them because they took me when I was an unknown and nobody knew who the hell I was'On her new show: 'I keep looking at it (Between the Sheets) and thinking God, is that going to be on TV? It's quite daring for the time and slot and channel that it's on. It might be uncomfortable for some people to watch. I think it is very near some people's lines. There will be a lot of looking at each other's partners while they are watching it'.