Happy Valley showed why broadcasters should back northern productions and talent - Jayne Dowle

I came late to Happy Valley, the outstanding, BAFTA-award winning BBC drama which shone a searchlight on West Yorkshire and turned my assumptions about formulaic cop dramas on their head.

When I discovered the series, at the beginning of the third season, in January 2023, I felt an immediate connection, with the bleakly beautiful landscape around Hebden Bridge and the Calder Valley, and the formidable form of police sergeant Catherine Cawood, a middle-aged woman who has battled more than her fair share of tragedy – and villains – and speaks as she finds.

Played by former Coronation Street actress, Oldham-born Sarah Lancashire, who deservedly won a Best Actress BAFTA on Sunday evening – with Happy Valley also picking up the ‘P&O Cruises memorable moment’ award for the final kitchen table confrontation between the long-serving officer and her nemesis, serial killer Tommy Lee Royce - Catherine Cawood will remain one of the most memorable characters ever created by Huddersfield-born creator writer Sally Wainwright, who is gifted with the ability to create pitch-perfect Yorkshire dialogue.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Whilst Happy Valley did not always show our region at its very best – covering as it did serious and violent crime, disaffection, poverty and addiction – it certainly showed northern talent at its best, and explored serious subjects without patronising or paying strangulated lip service to fashionable ‘causes’.

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley. PIC: BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire.Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley. PIC: BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire.
Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley. PIC: BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire.

If anyone was in doubt that the UK produces some of the most accomplished actors in the world, direct them towards the ensemble cast. Happy Valley is so much more than a sum of parts; Siobahn Finneran as Catherine’s vacillating sister Clare, who struggles with her own mental health and just wants everyone to be happy, and Adeel Akhtar’s Faisal, a dodgy pharmacist selling Diazepam with tragic consequences, are just two of the outstanding characters enmeshed in the tentacles of small town life.

Collecting the award, Ms Lancashire said: “I feel very, very privileged to have been surrounded by these brilliant actors and I thank each and every one of you.”

She also thanked the BBC’s chief content officer Charlotte Moore and the broadcaster “for giving this very British drama a very British home”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Let us hope that this genuine and heartfelt response from the star of the show sends a very strong message to decision makers, not just at the BBC, but other broadcasters too – we need more dramas like Happy Valley.

According to official figures, the opening episode of series three was watched by at least 11.3m viewers, making it one of the UK’s biggest on-demand shows across all platforms in 2023.

It was made very clear by Ms Wainwright that the third series would be the last, despite the teaser at the very end, when Catherine’s teenage grandson, Ryan is mistaken for a young police recruit, prompting fans to speculate over the possibility of a series four.

Ms Wainwright’s latest TV drama series, Renegade Nell, following the adventures of a young highwaywoman played by Derry Girls’ Louise Harland, debuted on Disney+ in March, but the BBC and other mainstream broadcasters should take note.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Believable and enthralling drama like Happy Valley restores our faith in public broadcasting, and where better to set it, write it and film it than Yorkshire?

Screen Yorkshire, supporting and promoting the film industry in our region, is proactive and positive, so let’s build on that.

Speaking to this newspaper in December 2023, Caroline Cooper Charles, said that Yorkshire has a range of locations which can be used by productions set across history and cities around Europe.

For example, Little Germany in Bradford provides a backdrop for scenes in Six Triple Eight, a Second World War film starring Oprah Winfrey and Kerry Washington.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Being seen on TV has wider benefits, particularly for tourism and the visitor economy. When the third series of Happy Valley aired in January 2023, councillor Tim Swift, then the leader of Calderdale Council, said fans had flocked to Hebden Bridge from all over the world, to track down the backstreets and find the cafes and takeaways that appear on screen.

He also said how the success of the show, starring Sarah Lancashire, had seen several other major TV production companies contact the council wanting to film there too.

Turn over any stone in our region and you’ll find a story. What is also needed is far more support for emerging creative talent in our towns, cities and villages. We should build on the legacy of Happy Valley and empower people of all ages the confidence to know that given the right channel, their voice could be heard.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.