KAY MEL­LOR TV’S FER­TILE MIND

KAY MEL­LOR

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BYSIMON ROUND

KAY MEL­LOR has made her name writ­ing TV shows which build tough themes into pop­u­lar drama, from Band of Gold to Fat Friends and The Syn­di­cate. How­ever, one of the sub­jects clos­est to her heart is only just now be­ing drama­tised. In the Club — which started on BBC1 on Tues­day night — fol­lows the ex­pe­ri­ences of a group of heav­ily preg­nant women and their part­ners in the run-up to the births. One of the sto­ry­lines con­cerns a 15-year-old school­girl who falls ac­ci­den­tally preg­nant. It is no se­cret that Rosie, played by Han­nah Mid­g­ley, is mod­elled on Mel­lor her­self, who gave birth to her first daugh­ter, Yvonne, when just 16. “Rosie isn’t me but the spirit of her is me,” she ex­plains.

A like­able, down-to-earth York­shire­woman who still lives in her na­tive Leeds, Mel­lor says she orig­i­nally came up with the idea to drama­tise the jour­neys of preg­nant women over a decade ago and kicked her­self when she saw Call the Mid­wife. Luck­ily, cor­po­ra­tion ex­ec­u­tives en­cour­aged her to pur­sue her idea.

When Mel­lor found out about her own preg­nancy, she was fear­ful of telling her mum.“I didn’t know any­body who had had a baby aged 16 and I had no one to talk to. Every­one else was on the pill but I fell preg­nant the sec­ond time I had sex with my boyfriend. I should have known bet­ter but I wasn’t street savvy. Writ­ing about it has been re­ally cathar­tic.”

Mel­lor adds that in 1967, at­ti­tudes were dif­fer­ent and knowl­edge, at least on her part, was sorely lack­ing. How­ever, her story had a happy end­ing. She de­vel­oped a com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship with her teenage boyfriend, An­thony. They mar­ried and are still to­gether. Three years af­ter giv­ing birth to her first daugh­ter, Mel­lor had a sec­ond, who grew up to be the suc­cess­ful ac­tress Gaynor Faye.

“It turned out re­ally well for us,” she says of par­ent­hood. “We both worked hard at it. An­thony prob­a­bly worked harder than me in some re­spects. I went to col­lege and he had to look af­ter things at home. It’s been a huge jour­ney and he’s been with me all the way.”

Mel­lor chose to drama­tise sev­eral other sto­ries for In the Club. An older cou­ple who re­alise they are go­ing to have a child years af­ter giv­ing up hope of con­ceiv­ing; a les­bian cou­ple who are hav­ing a baby thanks to a male friend who do­nates sperm; and a cou­ple in dire fi­nan­cial straits af­ter the hus­band is made re­dun­dant.

“There were so many sto­ries I wanted to tell,” she says. “I know a woman who got preg­nant at 46 af­ter hav­ing adopted two chil­dren. That was a re­mark­able and mov­ing story and one I wanted to use. The older woman be­com­ing preg­nant is a story of our time. The same could be said about

the story of two gay women hav­ing a fam­ily. I have lots of gay friends who co-par­ent. So I wrote about a cou­ple and the guy who’s a donor — that’s a dif­fer­ent fam­ily struc­ture, which is also a phe­nom­e­non of our time. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing that it seems to works re­ally well.”

Then there is the heart-rend­ing sit­u­a­tion where the hus­band of a woman preg­nant with twins feels un­able to tell his wife that he was made re­dun­dant months pre­vi­ously. “Peo­ple are des­per­ate — ab­so­lutely fright­ened by the prospect of be­ing made re­dun­dant and not know­ing where the next penny is com­ing from. There are lots of men, par­tic­u­larly in the north, who want to be the provider in their sit­u­a­tion, who want to care for their part­ner and the chil­dren. It’s stereo­typ­i­cal but in ar­eas like York­shire, men still feel this very strongly.”

Mel­lor her­self hails from a work­ing class York­shire fam­ily. She was born to a Jewish mother and a Catholic fa­ther who di­vorced when she was very young and she was raised on a tough es­tate. Be­cause of her fam­ily’s cir­cum­stances, she felt an out­sider in the Jewish com­mu­nity. “My mum mar­ried out and we didn’t live in the right part of Leeds. I knew very lit­tle about be­ing Jewish. I re­mem­ber some­one say­ing to me as a young­ster that I had killed Je­sus and me think­ing, ‘what? I killed Je­sus?’”

But although be­ing Jewish was not a big part of her life as a girl, her mother then mar­ried a Jewish man and moved to Moor­town “which is a more Jewish area. I learned lots about Jewish­ness and found it fas­ci­nat­ing but I wasn’t brought up in that way.”

Nei­ther was she brought up to ex­pect a suc­cess­ful ca­reer. “If you had said to me, ‘do you want to be a writer’? you might have well been ask­ing, ‘do you want to be the Queen of Eng­land or an as­tro­naut’? It was just to­tally un­reach­able for a work­ing class girl like me.

“I was a born per­former and I would tell sto­ries and act them out. I later went to col­lege to train to be an ac­tress.”

Even­tu­ally Mel­lor found act­ing work on tele­vi­sion shows but came to re­alise that scriptwrit­ing might be more her forte. “When I first saw a TV script, the first thing I thought was, ‘is this

‘I GIVE GAYNOR FEED­BACK ON HER ACT­ING, SHE READS ALL MY SCRIPTS’

it? I can do this very eas­ily.’ So I wrote a script on spec for Al­bion Mar­ket and I be­gan writ­ing from then on. It was a nat­u­ral slide for me.”

These days she has the added ad­van­tage of feed­back from her ac­tress daugh­ter, who has be­come one of TV drama’s most fa­mil­iar faces. “It works out re­ally well. I watch her in Emmerdale and I give her feed­back and she reads all my scripts and tells me what she thinks. So we are al­ways there for each other.”

She adds: “A while back, Gaynor made the de­ci­sion that she didn’t want to be in my work any­more. She got a lot of flak, even though she had done eight jobs be­fore she had been in any of my shows. But peo­ple saw it as nepo­tism and she was sen­si­tive to that. Now she can step back and look at my work more ob­jec­tively and has a bet­ter per­spec­tive, which is great for me.”

The re­la­tion­ship Mel­lor en­joys with her chil­dren means that the trauma and heartache of her own teenage preg­nancy was worth it. But par­ent­ing has been a long and dif­fi­cult jour­ney. “It’s def­i­nitely the most life-chang­ing thing that can hap­pen to most peo­ple. When you have a child peo­ple say that’s 18 years of your life ruled out. Well I say make that 40.”

PHOTO: KYTE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Kay Mel­lor and ( top), the stars of In the Club

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Kay Mel­lor with ac­tress daugh­ter Gaynor Faye

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