1990s TV drama Band of Gold to return as stage show with world premiere in Leeds

It began with the chance sighting of a woman engaged in the oldest profession, beneath the glow of a street lamp in Bradford. It will end in the glare of a stage light, up the road in Leeds.

The original TV cast of Band of Gold starred Geraldine James, Cathy Tyson, Samantha Morton and Barbara Dickson
The original TV cast of Band of Gold starred Geraldine James, Cathy Tyson, Samantha Morton and Barbara Dickson

Band of Gold, the controversial but hugely popular 1990s ITV drama about tarts with hearts, negotiating the pimps and pitfalls as they ply their trade in the wild West Riding, has not been seen since its third series ended, more than 20 years ago.

But this November the red light will burn once more, as the characters return to their old stomping ground in a theatre production conceived by the show’s creator, Kay Mellor.

The stage version of Band of Gold will have its world premiere at the Grand Theatre in Leeds, Ms Mellor’s home town, its producers will announce today.

Kay Mellor

Its commissioning follows the record-breaking run of the stage version of another of her TV successes, Fat Friends, which premiered as a musical in 2017.

Band of Gold, however, is a darker production – a crime drama in which death stalks the seedy underworld of West Yorkshire in the late 1980s.

The original show was Ms Mellor’s breakthrough into mainstream drama. First aired in March 1995, it starred, amongst others, Cathy Tyson, Barbara Dickson and Samantha Morton as down-at-heel sex workers, drug pushers and police officers .

“We have the same characters as the original TV series, but some of the elements have changed. If you thought you knew who the killer was, you may be challenged,” said Ms Mellor, who went on to write a canon of TV work that includes Playing the Field and The Syndicate.

She had been invited, she said, to revive it for the stage following the reception of Fat Friends:The Musical, which also premiered at the Leeds Grand.

“The manager, Ian Sime, said to me, ‘If ever you have anything else, think of us first’. That’s all any writer wants to hear.”

Mr Sime said: “Kay knows Leeds and Yorkshire audiences like no other and is one of the great writers of our time. This is going to be pure gold.”

But the show’s origins are rooted in streets whose paving only ever glistened with tears.

Ms Mellor and her husband had been driving down Lumb Lane, in Bradford’s red light district, to a party when she caught sight of a young girl.

“She bent down to look at our car as we drove past and she had the face of someone the age of my daughter – about 13, 14 – and it burned into my brain. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“We went back the same way and I tried to find her. But one of the other girls said she’d had problems and she’d gone off to Birmingham,” Ms Mellor said.

The 10 months of research that followed set in motion a showbusiness juggernaut that made her one of the most powerful writers in TV. But Band of Gold was soon supplanted by other projects.

“When I started thinking about it again, I realised that poverty’s exactly the same – there are still women who are prostituting themselves and selling their bodies for sex.”

The appeal of theatre, rather than TV , for the revival was its immediacy, she said.

“You’re sat there and you can feel the mood of the audience. You know when you’ve got them and you know when you haven’t.

“We had an invited audience of 30 and the feedback from everyone was that they would pay to see it.”

The original ITV version, set and shot largely in Bradford, attracted more than 15m viewers a week and, in the words of one critic of the time, “redefined the outer limits of the word gritty”.

Ms Mellor revealed a year ago that she had been asked to revisit the idea for TV but today’s announcement confirms that it will instead return to life as a theatre production. The first tickets for its premiere run, from November 28 to December 14, go on sale today.

The show helped launch the career of the actress Samantha Morton, then 18, whose troubled character dies in the second series. Ms Morton went on to star opposite Tom Cruise in the film, Minority Report.