Sally Wainwright: My Yorkshire

SALLY Wainwright was born in Huddersfield in 1963, went to Sowerby Bridge High School and the University of York. Sally is a BAFTA-nominated television writer and playwright and her creations include At Home with the Braithwaites and Scott and Bailey currently on ITV.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

Going to look round a house in Elland that my parents were buying. Number 37, Jepson Lane. I think I was probably about two or three years old at the time. We lived there for about five years, and the thing that I distinctly recall was a huge cupboard in the sitting room, which was full of crockery. When we moved in, it became our toy cupboard.

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What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

West Yorkshire. A lot of my school friends are there. I work in Manchester a lot, and there’s nothing nicer than popping over and catching up. I’ve known a lot of them since we were 11 or 12 years old and that’s pretty rare these days. Some, well, we lost touch for a while, but now it’s a bit like Friends Reunited.

What’s your idea of a perfect day or a perfect weekend out in Yorkshire?

Catching up with my friend Tabitha, going out with her to feed her horses, going out walking her dogs, calling on her neighbours, going out for supper up at the Blue Ball, which is below Ripponden. I got my cat Merlin from her neighbour Sharon. Merlin’s a Maine Coon and he’s the biggest cat in the world. He’s a metre long.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

Looking across the moors from Tabitha’s house where we filmed Unforgiven. I’ve been going up there since I was 12. I love it. It’s wild and beautiful. I find Flamborough Head very compelling too. My mum Dorothy, who is now in her 80s, lives in Bridlington, so whenever I visit her I always try and get to Flamborough. A new screenplay I’m writing has mum as one of the central characters… and that’s all about Friends Reunited, as well.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take out for lunch?

I’m ahead of you – I’ve already done it. Well, it wasn’t lunch, it was actually a cup of coffee at a motorway service station. And it was Eric Boocock, speedway rider. When we were little, my late dad Harry took me and my sister Diane to the Shay on Saturday nights to watch the Halifax Dukes. We used to knit our own red and blue scarves to stick badges on, then go and get the riders to autograph our programmes before the races. Ivan Mauger and Eric Boocock were the out and out favourites. A few years ago, Stone City Films asked me to write a drama about speedway, and they fixed up for me to meet Eric by way of research. I spent a very entertaining couple of hours with him at this motorway service station halfway between where he lives and where I live. He was a real proper larger-than-life character, full of colourful anecdotes.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take out for dinner?

I wouldn’t particularly want to embarrass her by asking her out for dinner, but Nicola Burley, who plays a rape victim in episode three of Scott and Bailey is a real up and coming star. She’s from Leeds. When we were casting the role, Beverley Keogh, the casting director, said: “You want to watch out for this girl, she’s going places.”.

If you had to name your Yorkshire hidden gem what would it be?

Shibden Hall Folk Museum. I love Shibden Hall anyway, but the folk museum that was put together there in the 1950s is extraordinary. It’s genuinely like stepping back in time and into another world. It has a beautiful atmosphere. One of my happiest moments and memories was getting locked in there quite recently, with the director Robin Sheppard. Robin and I were sitting in the museum area, chatting away so happily that she and I hadn’t noticed that they’d shut up shop for the day.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

The accent and the landscape, varied as both these things are within the county. Look at everything there is here – wild countryside, rugged coasts, the softness of the land south of York, the industrial and the rural. And look how the accent varies – Rotherham is distinctly different from Richmond, and yet both are from Yorkshire. Do you find all that anywhere else in the UK? I think not.

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so what?

Sadly, no. Not since the decline of the Halifax Dukes. When they were at the top of their game they were a force to be reckoned with.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?

When I was at university in York my three best mates Ilga, Wol and Sarah and I spent far too many a happy hour(s) in Walker’s Bar on Micklegate drinking Old Peculier. I also have a soft spot for The Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge just because it’s got such a great name. When I was 18 I spent an hour and a half on my own in there waiting for someone who never turned up... I was“proper stood up”.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

When I was in the sixth form at Sowerby Bridge High School, I used to go out at lunch time and buy chips from what seemed the smallest chip shop in the world at the bottom of Claremont Street. And as well as being the smallest chip shop on the planet, it was triangular shaped as well. Also the chips were fabulous,.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or worse, in the time that you’ve know it?

Better. It’s a big question, so I’ll just give you one example: when I was at Triangle CofE Primary School, we had outside toilets. The toilet paper was always slightly damp. The toilets didn’t have seats, they just had bits of curved, bleached wood to perch on. But would conditions like that be allowed today?

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

Anne Lister (1791-1839) who owned Shibden Hall in Halifax. She was a fascinating, eccentric woman with boundless energy and a very astute, inquiring mind. She studied brain surgery in Paris, made the first recorded ascent of Mount Vignemale in the Pyrenees, wrote vast diaries (partially in a secret code) and – in 1832 – got married to another woman, a neighbouring heiress, Ann Walker. In an age where women didn’t have much clout, and where society had very rigid rules, she pushed the boundaries as far as they’d go, yet maintained her respectability. She’s the person I’d really like to take out for dinner. Can I have a second choice in Amy Johnson?

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Emphatically, yes. I always write dialogue in my own vernacular whenever possible. The Yorkshire accent lends itself so nicely to dry wit. The landscape has been important in several of my dramas. Sparkhouse and Unforgiven were both set and filmed on the moors above Ripponden in West Yorkshire where I grew up. Equally three writers I feel I’ve been most heavily influenced by are Yorkshire women: Emily Bronte, Kate Atkinson and Kay Mellor. Now I’m thinking about it, I feel like my writing is like Yorkshire itself; full of comedy on the surface but with something very dark going on underneath.

Name your favourite book/author/artist/CD/performer.

Kate Atkinson. The woman’s a genius. You finish reading one of her novels and you think, “I wish I’d written that”. Her latest novel Started Early, Took My Dog (which is set in Leeds) is first and foremost vastly entertaining, often laugh-out-loud-funny despite the fact that it’s about the darkest things in human nature, and then it’s massively insightful, and beautifully, brilliantly written. Utterly compulsive. Genius plotting. You can’t believe someone’s clever enough to write like that.