Kay Mellor was the epitome of A Passionate Woman who gave the ignored people all the best lines - Christa Ackroyd

Of all of Kay Mellor’s ground-breaking works A Passionate Woman is my favourite. I suspect it was hers too, because it was the story of her roots.

Kay Mellor, who has died aged 71.
Kay Mellor, who has died aged 71.

And she passionately kept true to them all her life. Set in Yorkshire, as were all her dramas, it was based on Kay’s own mother, who worked several jobs to keep food on the table, and like her daughter became a strong independent woman who made her own way in life.

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Kay’s mum, Dinah, was a battered wife who raised her family on her own after her father left and waited thirty years to tell of a love affair with a Polish neighbour which ended when her lover died. And so the secret at the heart of A Passionate Woman was hers.

I was honoured to host the question-and-answer session with Kay at its premiere in the much cherished Hyde Park Cinema which had played such a part in both the drama and her life. I asked her why she had chosen to reveal her mother’s secret then, three years after her death. Her answer was simple. “Because here is a story worth telling. It is a story of resilience and in telling it, it pays my respects to a woman who raised me to become who I became”. And for those who have been told she waited those three years until her mother had died to write it, she didn’t. Her mother knew of her telling her story. She saw it performed and approved. Because it was written with love .

Kay Mellor was an extraordinary woman. I always said if Kay had met Kay she would have turned her into a six- part series. But then in a way she did. Fat Friends was a tribute to her struggle with her weight which I may add she always won. A Passionate Woman, as I have said, was about her childhood growing up in poverty in Leeds. The Syndicate was about real people whose lives were changed. As indeed hers was , not by winning a fortune, but by making her own through her determination to succeed.

Kay Mellor was pregnant aged 16 and when she married her motor mechanic husband Anthony, the person who officiated told them the marriage would never last. But it did. She remained married to him until the day she sadly died, too young, still working and with so much more to give.

Despite that inauspicious start Kay always knew she was capable and was never ashamed to work hard to demand the respect she eventually earned. When her two daughters were old enough she took herself back to school, did her exams and went to university.

She never doubted herself or her ambition and in doing so became a tour de force in British television, turning down the chance to go to Hollywood because she wanted to remain in charge of her own words, so carefully penned until they sounded as though the whole process had been easy, when it was far from it.

She penned Band of Gold after being deeply affected as we all were during the Ripper years. But unlike so many other writers at the time she identified not with the horror of the story but with the women forced into prostitution.

One day when she and her husband were on their way through Bradford she found herself in the heart of the red light area where the lost and the desperate were selling sex on the streets. It moved her. So she met them. And she talked to them. And she told their story in Band of Gold.

But getting it on screen was not easy either. Turned down by the BBC, whom she later worked with many times, the series was made for ITV and it was as ground- breaking for 90s as Room at the Top and Billy Liar had been for the North in the 60s.

Only where they had centred on Northern men, Kay Mellor became the champion of Northern women. She had a unique ability of putting our voices on the page. Her scripts were genuine, often funny and always moving. Because that was what she found us, and she was one of us. She was also an incredible spotter of new talent.

This week after the terrible sad news of her passing so many household names have told how she gave them their first break because she saw something in them that she always demanded in her actors, honesty. Samantha Morton, Alison Steadman, Siobhan Finneran and indeed James Corden, and many more, brought her beloved characters to life because she carefully chose each and every one.

Every part she wrote she wrote because she believed in the character she had imagined. She knew how they should look and how they would sound. That is why she not only wrote but directed. She knew the people she had created and each one was precious to her.

In 2013 I was lucky enough to be asked to play a journalist in one of her series of The Syndicate. “Please do it” she said “And do it how it would be done in real life because I can’t write it. I am not a journalist. I will give you the words you just be you and the scene will work.”

And she was right. I so often cringe at how reporters are portrayed screaming and shouting their questions instead of cajoling and empathising with those they are interviewing. But she got that and it was a joy and something I will always be proud of.

Whenever you met Kay, her passion, her enthusiasm, her belief in the power of women was intoxicating. I can’t tell you how often she told me to write my story and the story of the women in my life, the woman who gave birth to me and the woman who adopted me.

I haven’t but I should because like all of Kay’s work it is a story worth telling and that is all she believed in.

Seventy one is too soon, when she had so much more to give. But too soon especially for her family whom she worshiped.

If her legacy is anything, hers is a belief that the little people so often ignored in drama are the ones with all the best lines. I can’t believe the life force that she was has gone.

But let us remember her as a champion of women, a champion of the North, a woman who was excited every day about who she would meet and who would inspire her next chapter. The very epitome of a passionate woman.