James Corden says Kay Mellor 'changed his life' as he leads tributes

‘She saw something in me that no one had before’: James Corden says Kay Mellor ‘changed his life’ when she cast him in Fat Friends as he and Ruth Jones lead tributes after TV writer’s sudden death age 71

  • Kay Mellor wrote many of the most loved TV dramas of the past three decades for the BBC and ITV
  • Band of Gold, Playing the Field, Fat Friends and The Syndicate launched the careers of many TV stars 
  • Survived by her husband Anthony and two daughters, actress Gaynor Faye and TV producer Yvonne Francas
  • James Corden today said that Kay Mellor ‘changed his life’ when she cast him in Fat Friends 
  • Ruth Jones, who said today: ‘British television has lost one of its greats’

James Corden today said that Kay Mellor ‘changed his life’ when she cast him in Fat Friends – as he and Ruth Jones led tributes to the TV writer following her sudden death aged 71.  

Yorkshire-born ‘luminary’ Mellor, one of Britain’s finest TV writers and a trailblazer for British working class drama over the past three decades, passed away on Sunday, having written hit series after hit series including Band of Gold, Playing the Field, Fat Friends and The Syndicate.

She earned an OBE in 2009 and was awarded the Writers Guild Award for Outstanding Contribution to Writing in 2014. Her work helped transformed the careers of many young British stars including James Corden, Jude Law, Samantha Morton and Ruth Jones, who said today: ‘British television has lost one of its greats’. 

The cause of her death, just days after her 71st birthday, has not been revealed by her family, but her production company described it as an ‘untimely and sudden passing’.

James Corden today wrote on Instagram: ‘Kay Mellor sadly passed away today. She was the most generous, kind and loving person. An exceptionally gifted writer.

‘She changed my life when she cast me in Fat Friends on ITV. She saw something in me that no one had before that point. She gave so many people their first chances.

‘I have the fondest memories of being on set with her. She will be missed by so many. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this time x.’

Ms Mellor’s gritty and often hilariously funny northern dramas mirrored her own extraordinary life, which began in poverty in Leeds. She had her daughter Yvonne aged 16 and then Gaynor at 19. It was only in her late 20s that she went to night school, doing an A-Level in theatre studies that would inspire her to write.

Her tutor saw her talent and encouraged her to go to university, where she would forge ideas that would become much loved TV hits watched by millions each week, after stints paying the bills by acting in commercials and writing scenes for Coronation Street.

Her own daughter Gaynor Faye, a celebrated actress in her own right and star of Corrie and Emmerdale, appeared in her mother’s drama The Syndicate and recently helped bring Band of Gold to the stage.


Kay Mellor, who wrote hit series including ITV ‘s Girlfriends, Band of Gold and The Syndicate, has died aged 71. She was awarded an OBE in 2009 (right)


James Corden (pictured left with Ruth Jones) wrote on Instagram: ‘Kay Mellor sadly passed away today. She was the most generous, kind and loving person. An exceptionally gifted writer. She changed my life when she cast me in Fat Friends on ITV. She saw something in me that no one had before that point. She gave so many people their first chances’

Gaynor Faye and her mother Kay Mellor at the premiere of the film, ‘Ravenous’, at The Odeon West End cinema, London

Gaynor Faye with her mother Kay and father Anthony, together on holiday in 2020

Fiction Jury members Moritz Polter, Mans Marlind, Anders Tangen, Kay Mellor, Joeystarr and Arnaud Ducret at the 60th Monte-Carlo TV Festival last year

A spokesman for her TV production company, Rollem Productions, said: ‘It is with profound sadness that we announce the untimely and sudden passing of our beloved friend, mentor and colleague Kay Mellor on Sunday May 15. We have lost a phenomenal talent and a true luminary. We ask that you please respect the privacy of the family and friends at this time.’ 

Mrs Mellor is survived by her husband Anthony, who she married in 1968. They have always lived in Leeds, where many of her TV shows were set. They have two daughters, actress Gaynor, and television producer Yvonne Francas. 

She also leaves behind her beloved dog Happy, a shih tzu she recently admitted she and her husband are ‘obsessed with him’. She said last year: ‘I think we talk about him more than we did our kids’. Happy even inspired her owner to write the fourth series of The Syndicate – a show where friends or colleagues win the lottery – all about a team of exploited kennel-workers.

Kay, pictured here in her 20s with her two daughters, went to university after a recommendation from her tutor

Mellor began her career writing plays, worked on Coronation Street and created the award-winning children’s drama Children’s Ward. 

Her big breakthrough came in 1995 when ITV made Band of Gold, a drama about a group of prostitutes with Barbara Dickson, Geraldine James and Cathy Tyson.  Playing The Field, Fat Friends, The Chase, In The Club and Girlfriends followed in a prolific 27 year TV career. The Syndicate had a long run on the BBC, with the most recent series going out last year. 

Band of Gold, which ran from 1995 to 1997 was a ground-breaking drama and a huge hit, with critics hailing it as one of the first major drama written by a woman, for women.

Millions watched as Ms Mellor brought to life the often grim, and sometimes darkly funny life of a group of sex workers in Bradford.

One of its breakthrough stars was Nottingham-born actress Samantha Morton, who would soon star alongside Tom Cruise in Minority Report and she also played Alpha in The Walking Dead.   

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2017, she hinted that Fat Friends was perhaps her favourite show. She chose The Beautiful South’s Perfect 10, the Fat Friends theme tune, as one of her sound tracks, admitting: ‘Every time I heard that I used to get excited and get butterflies’.

She added: ‘It was such a lovely time of my life, it was a drama that was really important to me because I thought I had something to say about weight and body image.’

Speaking last year, Kay described her own personal journey – and how she would give the money away if she won the lottery.

She told the Sunday Express: ‘I had nothing at all. We didn’t even have enough money to buy a pushchair, but we were lucky because we both came from working class families that were there for us. I worry for young people out there who don’t have a family to support them. There are more mental health issues today.

‘In my day and age, if somebody wanted to be cruel to you, they’d do it to your face and you’d call them a bully, but nowadays, these trolls can do it under a cloak of anonymity and I think that’s so harmful for young people’.

She added: ‘In the late 1970s when I was in my 20s. My husband and I were living in a council flat with our two little children and we scrimped and saved to buy a tiny terrace house for £3,000.

We could afford the mortgage but the first month the rates bill came in – the then equivalent of council tax – it was a surprise and we couldn’t pay it. It was around that time that my father came back into the picture. I remember crying and being upset because I couldn’t see a way out. I thought we were going to lose the house. It was a bill for something like £37.

But my father gave me £50 and said: ‘Keep the change, go out for a meal and I’ll look after the kids’. And so my father, who had been remiss and not been a part of my life, suddenly came good’.

Despite becoming a millionaire in later life, she shunned a new life away from Leeds, staying in the family home with their dog and driving around in a Mini.

She said: ‘All I want to do is tell stories, entertain and absorb people and I’m passionate about helping new writers get their voices heard. I drive a Mini and live in a detached house in Leeds. My main luxury in life is my imagination’.

She went on: ‘What would I do if I won £27 million? I’d give it away. I’d pay off my family and friends’ mortgages, give money to the NSPCC, animal welfare and care for the elderly. I’d make sure my family was all right. I’d want my grandchildren to be set up for life. I do worry about them. 

‘I’m so fearful when my granddaughter Lily goes on social media. I’m forever saying things like, ‘Don’t put anything like that on Twitter.’ I’m also forever telling them how lovely they are to try and counteract some of the negative things on social media’.

Describing lockdown she said on the Zoom call: ‘I haven’t had time to be bored. This table I’m sat at now is my editing suite. We’ve had to get this series out fast, so I’ve been sat here editing’.

She added: ‘One thing I’ve thought about, but haven’t done, is some sort of big community show and I like the idea of setting up a writing/ acting academy for young people. Every time I drive past the right kind of property I think ‘That would be a great place for it to happen’.’

Kay Mellor with her daughter Faye and actor and singer Shayne Ward as they launched the Band of Gold theatre show last year

The stars of ITV’s Band of Gold: Geraldine James, Barbara Dickson, Cathy Tyson and Samantha Morton. The drama made Kay Mellor’s name


Fat Friends helped make a star of James Corden (pictured with Janet Dibley on the show). He also met Ruth Jones there, before they wrote Gavin and Stacey. Jude Law appeared on Families, which ran between 1990 and 1993

Fay’s hit Fat Friends launched many careers, including Ruth Jones (bottom right) and James Corden (top left)

Kay Mellor also wrote and directed the film Fanny and Elvis, starring Ray Winstone and Kerry Fox

Tributes have poured in from the world of showbiz, including from Ruth Jones, who said ‘British television has lost one of its greats’.

The Welsh actress and comedian, who starred as Kelly Chadwick alongside James Corden in her series Fat Friends between 2000 and 2005, said: ‘I am completely shocked to hear the news of Kay’s untimely death.

‘Her contribution to British television was outstanding and I feel privileged to have worked with her. Such a down-to-earth, funny, big-hearted person whose brilliance lay in seeing the extraordinary in the day to day.

‘She was a great mentor to me when I first started writing – and always hugely encouraging of new writers – a real testament to the idea of paying it forward. Her series Fat Friends was a massive turning point in my career and I will be eternally grateful to her for what she did for me. British television has lost one of its greats. Thank you Kay for all that you gave us. I cannot believe you’ve gone.’

Sir Lenny Henry, who starred in Kay Mellor’s hit TV series The Syndicate, based on a group of lotto winners, tweeted: ‘I was saddened to hear that Kay Mellor has died.

‘I was lucky to work with her on the Syndicate and found her to be incredibly creative , funny and instinctive.

‘She knew what she wanted and knew how to get the best from us as actors. She will be missed. Condolences to her family.’

Corrie star Antony Cotton tweeted : ‘I’m totally shocked to hear that Kay Mellor has died. I can’t imagine how her family feel. Devastating. She was a real trailblazer for women in this industry. Rest In Power, Kay x’. 

It’s A Sin and Queer As Folk writer Russell T Davies described Mellor’s ‘unshakeable belief in story, story, story’, adding: ‘I think of her always when I’m writing.’

In an Instagram post, he wrote: ‘Kay Mellor has died. Creator of Band Of Gold, Fat Friends, Children’s Ward, The Syndicate, and so much more. I adored her. She taught me so much. And she was hilarious!

‘I was invited on her This Is Your Life, she walked through the double doors, saw me and said ‘What are you doing here?’ ??.

‘She mentored so many. She had an unshakeable belief in story, story, story, I think of her always when I’m writing. I went to Fat Friends The Musical last year; sold out, an audience laughing and roaring and sobbing, an audience that gets left behind by everyone else.

‘I once saw A Passionate Woman in the West End. There’s a line where the mum says that now her son’s leaving home, she doesn’t know how much milk to order. And a sigh went round the auditorium.

‘I’ve never heard anything like it; 800 people recognising that thought. What a talent. What a power. What a joy. Christ, she was funny. I love you Kay’.

West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin paid tribute to the Leeds-born writer on Twitter, saying: ‘Just dreadful news & difficult to take in. Sending all our love from everyone in £westyorkshire to Kay’s family, friends & colleagues.

‘Our voice of the North, she put working class characters at the centre of her brilliant compassionate, moving & funny stories. Such a loss.’

Mellor, who was awarded the Bafta Dennis Potter award in 1998 for outstanding writing for television, was also remembered by the independent arts charity who tweeted: ‘We’re saddened to hear that Kay Mellor, the hugely influential BAFTA-winning writer, actor and director whose hit TV series include Fat Friends, Band Of Gold and Playing The Field, has died.

‘Our thoughts are with her family and friends’.

Actress Katherine Rose Morley, who led the cast of series four of The Syndicate, the drama series from Mellor about different betting syndicates that win the lottery, said she was ‘heartbroken’ by news of the scriptwriter’s death.

She said on Twitter: ‘I am in complete shock and utterly heartbroken to hear about Kay Mellor.

‘She showed me so much kindness from the moment we met and she made everyone’s lives that bit brighter.

‘I’m honoured to have known her and even more grateful for the opportunity she gave me. Always in my (heart).’

Lisa Riley, who played Rebecca Patterson in Fat Friends in series two to four, described Mellor as ‘the best boss’.

She said on Twitter: ‘DEAREST KAY REST IN PEACE……..what a massive shock to hear this news, you have been taken far far far to young. You were the best boss to work for, you embraced all that is good about our industry, believing in talent.’

Actor Kenny Doughty, who starred in Mellor’s 2003 film Gifted, tweeted: ‘Absolutely shocked & saddened to hear that Kay Mellor has passed away.

‘Such an inspiration & force of nature & wonderful soul. Will miss her dearly. Sending love & prayers to her family.’

Emmerdale actor and I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! winner Danny Miller also paid tribute to Mellor, tweeting that she was: ‘An incredible talent in the TV world and someone who always had a warming smile on offer with open arms.

‘Sending all of my love to Gaynor and the rest of the beautiful family during this difficult time.’

Kay Mellor was also an actress herself, pictured here in ‘A Good Thief’ with Angel Coulby (left) and Liz Smith (right)

She also wrote BBC One’s women’s football series Playing The Field and in 2010 received an OBE.

The BBC’s chief content officer, Charlotte Moore, paid tribute to Kay Mellor following her death.

In a statement, Moore said: ‘I’m shocked and deeply saddened to hear that Kay Mellor has suddenly passed away.

‘Kay was an outstanding writer and the creative force behind many of the nation’s best-loved television dramas.

‘She wrote with such heart, humanity, humour and passion with strong female characters often taking centre stage.

‘She will be missed and our thoughts are with her friends and family at this difficult time.’

West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin paid tribute to Leeds-born screenwriter Kay Mellor on Twitter.

She said: ‘Just dreadful news & difficult to take in. Sending all our love from everyone in £westyorkshire to Kay’s family, friends & colleagues.

‘Our voice of the North, she put working class characters at the centre of her brilliant compassionate, moving & funny stories. Such a loss.’

Shameless and Emmerdale actress Hayley Tamaddon tweeted: ‘Such sad sad news about the wonderful kay mellor.. She was always so lovely and kind to me.. a truly brilliant lady.

‘My thoughts and love and strength to @MsGfaye and all her family at this difficult time.’

From council estate to darling of the small screen: How Kay Mellor couldn’t afford a pram when she had her daughter aged 16 but put herself through night school before becoming TV writer famed for working class dramas who launched James Corden’s career

Kay Mellor’s art imitated her life after she built an extraordinary career from the humblest of beginnings.

The Band of Gold creator’s gritty and often hilariously funny northern dramas mirrored her own extraordinary life, which began in poverty in Leeds.

Born on May 11 1951, her father George ran off when she was young and left her Jewish mother Dinah to bring up Kay and her two brothers.

Kay had her first daughter Yvonne aged 16, and married the little girl’s father, Anthony, then 17, and the couple enjoyed more than 50 years of marriage until her ‘sudden and untimely’ death on Sunday. 

When Mrs Mellor was 19, their second daughter Gaynor arrived – and under her stage name Gaynor Faye, she would go on to be an actress herself and star in some of her mother’s biggest TV hits.

Speaking last year, Kay described her own personal journey and said: ‘I had nothing at all. We didn’t even have enough money to buy a pushchair, but we were lucky because we both came from working class families that were there for us. I worry for young people out there who don’t have a family to support them’.

It was only in her late 20s that Kay went to night school, doing an A-Level in theatre studies that would inspire her to write, although she said at the time she feared she was already ‘too old’ to be a success.

But her tutor saw her talent and encouraged her to go to university, where she would forge ideas that would become much loved TV hits watched by millions each week, after stints paying the bills by acting in commercials and writing scenes for Coronation Street. The rest was history.

Writer Kay Mellor pictured in 1995 on the set of Some Kind of Life, one of her first big hits after working writing scenes for Corrie

Gaynor Faye with her celebrated writer mother Kay, who died on Sunday aged 71, and father Anthony, together on holiday in 2020

Kay, pictured here in her 20s with her two daughters, went to university after a recommendation from her tutor. First she did an A-level at night school

Kay Mellor, after being crowned Yorkshire woman of the year, with daughters Yvonne and Gaynor

Her lack of money inspired many of her stories.

She told the Express: ‘In the late 1970s when I was in my 20s. My husband and I were living in a council flat with our two little children and we scrimped and saved to buy a tiny terrace house for £3,000.

Kay Mellor revealed that going into education again at the age of 27 is what transformed her career path

‘We could afford the mortgage but the first month the rates bill came in – the then equivalent of council tax – it was a surprise and we couldn’t pay it. It was around that time that my father came back into the picture. I remember crying and being upset because I couldn’t see a way out. I thought we were going to lose the house. It was a bill for something like £37.

‘But my father gave me £50 and said: ‘Keep the change, go out for a meal and I’ll look after the kids’. And so my father, who had been remiss and not been a part of my life, suddenly came good.

Despite becoming a millionaire in later life, she shunned a new life away from Leeds, staying in the family home with their dog and driving around in a Mini.

She said: ‘All I want to do is tell stories, entertain and absorb people and I’m passionate about helping new writers get their voices heard. I drive a Mini and live in a detached house in Leeds. My main luxury in life is my imagination’.

She went on: ‘What would I do if I won £27 million? I’d give it away. I’d pay off my family and friends’ mortgages, give money to the NSPCC, animal welfare and care for the elderly. I’d make sure my family was all right. I’d want my grandchildren to be set up for life. I do worry about them. 

‘I’m so fearful when my granddaughter Lily goes on social media. I’m forever saying things like, ‘Don’t put anything like that on Twitter.’ I’m also forever telling them how lovely they are to try and counteract some of the negative things on social media’.

Describing lockdown she said on the Zoom call: ‘I haven’t had time to be bored. This table I’m sat at now is my editing suite’.

She added: ‘One thing I’ve thought about, but haven’t done, is some sort of big community show and I like the idea of setting up a writing/ acting academy for young people. Every time I drive past the right kind of property I think ‘That would be a great place for it to happen’.’

Kay Mellor in 2001, when her career had really taken off in TV. She also acted as well as wrote

The stars and writer of Fanny and Elvis at its premiere at the Leeds Film Festival (left to right) actress Gaynor Faye , writer Kay Mellor, and actors Kerry Fox and Ben Daniels in 1999

Mellor began her career writing plays, worked on Coronation Street and created the award-winning children’s drama Children’s Ward. 

Her big breakthrough came in 1995 when ITV made Band of Gold, a drama about a group of prostitutes with Barbara Dickson, Geraldine James and Cathy Tyson.  Playing The Field, Fat Friends, The Chase, In The Club and Girlfriends followed in a prolific 27 year TV career. The Syndicate had a long run on the BBC, with the most recent series going out last year. 

Band of Gold, which ran from 1995 to 1997 was a ground-breaking drama and a huge hit, with critics hailing it as one of the first major drama written by a woman, for women.

Millions watched as Ms Mellor brought to life the often grim, and sometimes darkly funny life of a group of sex workers in Bradford.

One of its breakthrough stars was Nottingham-born actress Samantha Morton, who would soon star alongside Tom Cruise in Minority Report and she also played Alpha in The Walking Dead.   

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2017, she hinted that Fat Friends was perhaps her favourite show. She chose The Beautiful South’s Perfect 10, the Fat Friends theme tune, as one of her sound tracks, admittingL ‘Every time I heard that I used to get excited and get butterflies’.

She added: ‘It was such a lovely time of my life, it was a drama that was really important to me because I thought I had something to say about weight and body image.’

Bafta-nominated series Fat Friends focused on the members of a slimming group in Leeds, and starred James Corden, Ruth Jones, Alison Steadman and Mellor’s youngest daughter, Gaynor Faye.

Faye has also starred in Coronation Street, Emmerdale and The Chase on BBC One, a series which she co-wrote with her mother.

Kay Mellor, the star maker! How late screenwriter’s shows helped launch the careers of some of Britain’s biggest names – from Stephen Graham’s first TV role to giving Suranne Jones a post-Corrie break

  • Kay Mellor wrote many of loved TV dramas of the past 30 years for BBC and ITV 
  • She helped to launch the careers of many A-list stars including James Corden 
  • Jude Law and Theo James also landed big break after starring in her shows
  • Other stars including Stephen Graham and Suranne Jones were cast by writer
  • Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies got early career break on Children’s Ward 

From A-listers to Hollywood heartthrobs, celebrated screenwriter Kay Mellor, who has died suddenly aged 71, had a hand in launching the careers of some of Britain’s biggest stars.

The Yorkshire-born TV heavyweight wrote hit series after hit series including Band of Gold, Playing the Field, Fat Friends and The Syndicate, many of which gave big breaks to rising stars – both on screen and behind the camera.

Her work helped transformed the careers of household names including James Corden, Jude Law, Samantha Morton and Ruth Jones, who said today: ‘British television has lost one of its greats.’

Some stars, like BAFTA winner Stephen Graham, landed their first ever TV roles in a Mellor drama. He appeared as a teenager in popular children’s drama Children’s Ward, which was created by Mellor in the early 1990s while she was working as a staff writer at Granada. 

Leading light: From A-listers to Hollywood heartthrobs, celebrated screenwriter Kay Mellor, who has died suddenly aged 71, had a hand in launching the careers of some of Britain’s biggest stars. Pictured, Mellor on receiving her OBE at Buckingham Palace in 2010

Big break: Mellor wrote hit series after hit series including Band of Gold, Playing the Field, Fat Friends and The Syndicate, many of which gave big breaks to rising stars – both on screen and behind the camera. Pictured, the cast of Fat Friends including James Corden and Ruth Jones

Doctor Foster and Gentleman Jack star Suranne Jones was given a chance to prove herself as something other than a popular soap star when she was cast in Mellor’s series Strictly Confidential shortly after quitting Corrie. 

Mellow was also a mentor for aspiring writers, with Russell T. Davies recalling the support she gave when he was taken on as a writer on Children’s Ward early on in his career. 

Here, FEMAIL takes a look at the stars who have Mellor to thank for helping to launch their glittering careers…

STEPHEN GRAHAM

First role: Children’s Ward, 1991 (ITV children’s drama conceived by Mellor)


Starting young: Stephen Graham’s named TV role came in Kay Mellor’s children’s drama series Children’s Ward, which followed the staff and patients of the fictitious South Park Hospital

Breakthrough role: After appearing in Snatch and Gangs Of New York, Graham landed what he describes as his ‘breakthrough role’ as skinhead Andrew ‘Combo’ Gascoigne in Shane Meadows’s critically-acclaimed This Is England (pictured)

From The Irishman to This Is England; Broadwalk Empire to Line Of Duty, Stephen Graham’s résumé glitters with blockbuster roles in some of the biggest film and TV hits of recent decades. 

But the 48-year-old’s first named TV role came in Kay Mellor’s children’s drama series Children’s Ward, which followed the staff and patients of the fictitious South Park Hospital. 

Graham was just a teenager when he appeared in two episodes in series three as Mickey Bell, a young man admitted to the hospital.

Following a string of smaller roles – including one on Coronation Street – Graham was given his big break when he was cast in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000). 

Graham had gone along with another friend who was auditioning for the film when he was spotted by Ritchie and asked to audition – then given a role on the spot. 

After a small part in Gangs Of New York (he continues to work with director Martin Scorsese), Graham landed what he describes as his ‘breakthrough role’ as skinhead Andrew ‘Combo’ Gascoigne in Shane Meadows’s critically-acclaimed This Is England. 

Hollywood star: Graham, right, alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Gangs Of New York (2002)

He reprised the role in three subsequent TV miniseries: This Is England ’86, This Is England ’88 and This Is England ’90. 

Graham has appeared as Al Capone in Broadwalk Empire, a rogue undercover officer in Line Of Duty and as a Machiavellian pirate in the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise. 

Most recently Graham appeared opposite Jodie Comer in the Bafta-nominated miniseries Help and Sean Bean in the critically-acclaimed prison drama Time. 

In 2022 he was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance as a chef on the brink of a breakdown in Boiling Point.  

Line Of Duty: Graham played renegade undercover officer John Corbett in Line Of Duty (pictured right, opposite star Martin Compston as Steve Arnott) 

Critically-acclaimed: Graham starred alongside Sean Bean in 2021 miniseries Time

Award nominee: Graham won widespread praise for his performance as a chef in Boiling Point

SURANNE JONES

Post-soap big break: Strictly Confidential, 2006 (miniseries written by Mellor)


Post-soap break: Suranne Jones was cast in Mellor’s TV series Strictly Confidential, about a sex therapist (left) after quitting Coronation Street. Right, the actress on the BAFTA red carpet

Getting serious after soaps: Suranne spent four years as Karen McDonald on Coronation Street

When Suranne Jones left Coronation Street in 2004 after four years as the mouthy, scene-stealing Karen McDonald, twice married to – and divorced from – bad boy Steve McDonald, there was surely trepidation as to whether she would find success after so long on a soap. 

But Jones landed back-to-back roles after quitting the cobbles: first, as private investigator Beth in Ray Winstone-helmed TV series Vincent, and then as sex therapist Linda Nelson in Kay Mellor’s Strictly Confidential, which ran for a single season in 2006.  

Three years later she won a Bafta nomination, for her performance in ITV’s Unforgiven as a teenage murderer released from prison after 15 years, confirming that she wasn’t about to go the way of many ex-soap stars.

Building her career: After appearing in Strictly Confidential, Jones landed a number of well regarded television roles, including as DC Rachel Bailey in ITV’s Scott & Bailey

Instead she opted for serious work: another well-received role was in BBC1’s consecutive-night drama Five Days (2010), in which she played a stressed police officer trying to tackle a terrorist threat against a background of family problems, alongside anensemble cast that included Anne Reid (as her mother) and David Morrissey.

Then came the role of hotheaded DC Rachel Bailey in hit show Scott & Bailey, which ran for five series from 2011 to 2016. 

In the last 10 years she has established herself as one of the nation’s most renowned television actresses, winning nominations for her performances in smash hit Doctor Foster and period drama Gentleman Jack. 

The actress, 43, who prefers to keep her private life out of the spotlight, recently appeared in BBC submarine drama Vigil, alongside Line Of Duty star Martin Compston and Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie.

A woman on the brink: Suranne Jones wowed audiences in domestic thriller Doctor Foster

Getting gritty: Suranne appeared in hotly anticipated submarine miniseries Vigil 

Awards darling: The actress has won nominations for her role in BBC One’s Gentleman Jack

JUDE LAW 

Early role: Families, 1991-93 (ITV daytime drama written by Mellor)


Schoolboy star: Academy Award nominee Jude Law, 49, was in his teens and breaking into the industry when he was cast in Families, Kay Mellor’s daytime ITV soap opera about the relationship of two families, the Thompsons (in England) and the Stevens (in Australia)

Academy Award nominee Jude Law, 49, was in his teens and breaking into the industry when he was cast in Families, Kay Mellor’s daytime ITV soap opera about the relationship of two families, the Thompsons (in England) and the Stevens (in Australia). 

The main storyline concentrated on Mike Thompson leaving his family to move in with Diane Stevens and the complications that ensued. 

Law was cast as Nathan Thompson, a good looking schoolboy caught up in his family drama. 

A few years after Families wrapped, Law appeared in his first major leading film role with the British crime drama Shopping, which also featured his future wife, Sadie Frost. 

Young star: A few years after Families wrapped, Law appeared in his first major leading film role with the British crime drama Shopping, which also featured his future wife, Sadie Frost

A-lister: He won his first Academy Award nomination for his performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley. This was followed in 2003 with a Best Actor nomination for Cold Mountain (pictured)

Charming: Jude Law took on Michael Caine’s iconic role in the 2004 adaptation of Alfie

In 1999 he won his first Academy Award nomination for his performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley. This was followed in 2003 with a Best Actor nomination for Cold Mountain. 

Yet for many years Law made more headlines with his scandalous personal life. After splitting with Frost, with whom he shares three children, Jude appeared to get his life back on track when he found love with his Alfie co-star Sienna Miller.

For a time, the beautiful actress and the heart-throb actor were London’s golden couple.

They were happy to show off just how in love they were in public and within months the pair were engaged. But the romance came crashing down when it emerged that Jude was sleeping with his children’s nanny behind Sienna’s back.

The actor also has daughter, Sophia, with model Samantha Burke, and another daughter called Ada, with singer-songwriter Catherine Harding. 

He shares his sixth child with wife Phillipa Coan. 

Law stars in a number of big budget franchises, including the Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts series and the Sherlock Holmes film adaptations, with a third installment slated for release next year.

Big names: Law stars in a number of big budget franchises, including the Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts series (pictured) and the Sherlock Holmes film adaptations

THEO JAMES 

First role: A Passionate Woman, 2010 (BBC miniseries written by Mellor)


Setting pulses racing: Theo James was given his first role in Mellor’s miniseries A Passionate Woman, starring opposite Billie Piper as a married man who falls in love with a neighbour

He is currently on screens in The Time Traveler’s Wife and had young audiences swooning in The Divergent film trilogy, but English heartthrob Theo James got his start in Kay Mellor mini series A Passionate Woman, which aired on BBC One in 2010.

The series starred Billie Piper as Betty Stevenson, a married mother-of-one living in Yorkshire in the 1950s who falls in love with her Polish neighbour, Alex Crazenovski, played by James. 

The pair embark on a passionate affair that ends in tragedy when Crazenovski’s pregnant wife shoots him dead after discovering his infidelity. 

Teenage pin-up: Following his screen debut, the actor, now 37, landed a role in Downton Abbey and Sky Living HD drama Bedlam, opposite fellow up-and-coming star Gemma Chan. He is best known for the Divergent film series (pictured)

The show, written and directed by Mellor, had just two episodes was enough to put James on the map. 

Following his screen debut, the actor, now 37, landed a role in Downton Abbey and Sky Living HD drama Bedlam, opposite fellow up-and-coming star Gemma Chan. 

He has since appeared in ITV period drama Sanditon and in Hollywood blockbusters alongside Shailene Woodley and Naomi Watts. 

Next, he is set to appear in the second series of critically-acclaimed US TV series White Lotus, a sure sign that his star is firmly on the rise. 

On screen: James is currently starring opposite Game Of Thrones star Rose Leslie in the new Steven Moffat adaptation of beloved novel The Time Traveler’s Wife

JAMES CORDEN 

Breakthrough role: Fat Friends (written by Mellor)


Turning point: James Corden was cast in Fat Friends (left) after being spotted in a Tango advert by Mellor 

Connections: It was on the set of Fat Friends that Corden (right) met his Gavin & Stacey co-creator Ruth Jones (left) and future cast member Alison Steadman

He became a household name as Essex lad Smithy in British sitcom Gavin and Stacey, but it was Mellor’s ITV drama Fat Friends that launched James Corden’s Career.

The presenter, who had roles in Hollyoaks and comedy drama Teachers early in his career, was still making a name for himself when he was cast in Mellor’s hit series about a slimming club. 

The screenwriter had spotted Corden – now best known for Gavin & Stacey and his Late Late Show in the US – in an advert for Tango and asked her casting director to track him down, believing his was perfect for the part of Jamie Rymer.

It was on the set of Fat Friends that Corden met his Gavin & Stacey co-creator Ruth Jones and future cast member Alison Steadman. 

Strength to strength: When Gavin & Stacey finished, Corden landed a role in the West End production of The History Boys and went on to star in the 2006 film adaptation.

Here comes Hollywood! Corden starred alongside Emily Blunt in a film version of Into The Woods

When the show finished, Corden landed a role in the West End production of The History Boys and went on to star in the 2006 film adaptation. 

The Gavin And Stacey star first cracked America when his stage show One Man Two Guvnors transferred to Broadway in 2012 after a successful stint in the West End.

He was then catapulted to worldwide fame after he made his debut as the presenter of The Late, Late Show in 2015, taking over the role from Craig Ferguson.

Talk show host: Now Corden is best known as the host of The Late Late Show in Los Angeles. He announced earlier this year that he is quitting the show to return home to the UK

Royal friends: James has been close friends with the Duke of Sussex, 39, for a decade, with the presenter previously revealing they met ‘out and about’ in London

With the immense popularity of segments like Carpool Karaoke, James has become one of America’s most beloved late night presenters. 

And thanks to his success on The Late, Late Show, James has landed a number of roles in Hollywood films like Into The Woods and The Prom, and he has also hosted the Tony Awards.

Thanks to his Stateside success, Corden and his interior designer wife Julia, have a roll-call of Hollywood royalty – and actual royalty – on speed-dial after carefully cultivating connections with the industry’s biggest movers and shakers.

RUTH JONES

Career ‘turning point’:  Fat Friends


Paying tribute: Gavin & Stacey co-creator Ruth Jones has said Fat Friends was a ‘massive turning point in her career’, setting her on the path to stardom

Gavin & Stacey co-creator Ruth Jones has said Fat Friends was a ‘massive turning point in her career’, setting her on the path to stardom.

Her character, Kelly Chadwick, suffered setbacks on her weight loss journey because she worked in a fish and chip shop. 

Together with co-star Corden, Ruth write Gavin & Stacey and went on to star as Nessa. 

The Welsh actress and comedian paid tribute to Mellor, who she described as a ‘mentor’ and an influential force on her early career. 

Comedy queen: Ruth Jones with Matt Lucas on the set of Little Britain. She thanked Mellor for the support she gave when she was establishing herself in her career

TV powerhouse: More recently, she wrote and starred in TV comedy Stella about a single mother living in South Wales. Pictured, in Stella with co-star Patrick Baladi

She was a great mentor to me when I first started writing – and always hugely encouraging of new writers – a real testament to the idea of paying it forward,’ Jones said in a statement today. 

‘Her series Fat Friends was a massive turning point in my career and I will be eternally grateful to her for what she did for me. British television has lost one of its greats.

‘Thank you Kay for all that you gave us. I cannot believe you’ve gone.’

As well as Gavin & Stacey, Ruth has appeared in Little Britain and Saxondale. 

More recently, she wrote and starred in TV comedy Stella about a single mother living in South Wales. 

LUKE THOMPSON 

Big TV break: In The Club, 2014-16 (created by Mellor) 


From pregnancy to Regency! In 2014, Luke Thompson was cast as Simon in Mellor’s series In The Club (left, with Hermione Norris), about a group of expectant parents who bond at pre-natal classes and the lives of the couples leading up to the births. Right, this year

Bridgerton babe: Thompson’s big break came in the Netflix Regency romp Bridgerton, in which he plays Benedict, the second eldest of the Bridgerton siblings

Bridgerton heartthrob Luke Thompson, 33, has Mellor to thank for his break into the competitive TV industry so early on in his career.

The Southampton-born star made his professional debut in 2013 as Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe Theatre, which earned him Evening Standard and Ian Charleson Award nominations.

This was followed by a turn as Mark Antony in Julius Cesar, in a production of the Shakespeare play that was filmed for the Globe On Screen series.

In 2014, Thompson was cast as Simon in Mellor’s series In The Club, about a group of expectant parents who bond at pre-natal classes and the lives of the couples leading up to the births. 

Co-stars included Katherine Parkinson and Hermione Norris. 

In 2017, he appeared in Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk. 

Thompson’s big break came in the Netflix Regency romp Bridgerton, in which he plays Benedict, the second eldest of the Bridgerton siblings. 

There was fan outrage this week after it was revealed that the next installment of the hit series will not focus on Benedict, as was planned, but will instead focus on his younger brother, Colin. 

SAMANTHA MORTON 

Breakout role: Band Of Gold 


Into the spotlight: One of the breakout stars of Mellor’s hit series Band Of Gold was Nottingham-born actress Samantha Morton, who at the time was just a few years into her acting career

One of the breakout stars of Mellor’s hit series Band Of Gold was Nottingham-born actress Samantha Morton, who at the time was just a few years into her acting career.

The hit series told the story of a group of sex workers making a living on the streets of Bradford and made stars of its leading ladies. 

Samantha played Tracy, a teenage runaway who spiraled into drug addiction and killed two former punters, an ex pimp and her father before taking her own life. 

After Band Of Gold, Morton appeared in period dramas Emma and Jane Eyre before appearing opposite Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

Hollywood blockbuster: After Band Of Gold, Morton appeared in period dramas Emma and Jane Eyre before appearing opposite Tom Cruise in Minority Report (pictured) 

She has been nominated for two Oscars – Sweet and Lowdown (1999) and In America (2003) – and has played real-life characters from serial killer Myra Hindley to Mary, Queen Of Scots. 

The 45-year-old has also appeared in some of the biggest shows on TV on both sides of the Atlantic, from Rillington Place to Harlots and The Walking Dead.

In 2008, Samantha suffered a stroke when a piece of plaster fell on her head. She spent 18 months out of the spotlight while she re-learned how to walk. 

TV star: Samantha Morton as Alpha in hit zombie series The Walking Dead

RUSSELL T. DAVIES 

Early career break: Children’s Ward

Learning his craft: In the early 1990s, while a staff writer at Granada on Coronation Street, Mellor branched out into children’s TV, creating Bafta-winning drama Children’s Ward (pictured). Writers included Russell T. Davies, who has gone on to have a successful career 

Pioneering: Davies, who credited Mellor as a ‘mentor’, later wrote Queer As Folk

Groundbreaking: More recently Davies has penned Years And Years and It’s A Sin, pictured

In the early 1990s, while a staff writer at Granada on Coronation Street, Mellor branched out into children’s TV, creating Bafta-winning drama Children’s Ward. 

TV heavyweight: Screenwriter Russell T. Davies

The show, set in the children’s ward of the fictitious South Park Hospital (known as Sparky’s) was co-written with Paul Abbott and gave an early career break to a number or writers including Russell T. Davies, who wrote and produced a number of episodes. 

Then less than 10 years into his career, Russell was cutting his teeth on shows like Corrie, Dark Season and Century Falls. 

He credited Mellor with supporting him and other young writers coming up in the industry. 

‘I adored her. She taught me so much. And she was hilarious!,’ Davies wrote in an Instagram post today. 

‘She mentored so many. She had an unshakeable belief in story, story, story, I think of her always when I’m writing … What a talent. What a power. What a joy. Christ, she was funny. I love you Kay.’

Five years later, Davies penned the groundbreaking Queer As Folk. 

In addition to reviving Doctor Who, the screenwriter has also produced hits including dystopian miniseries Years And Years and the awards darling It’s A Sin. 

 

From council estate to darling of the small screen: How Kay Mellor couldn’t afford a pram when she had her daughter aged 16 but put herself through night school before becoming TV writer famed for working class dramas who launched James Corden’s career

  • Kay Mellor wrote many of the most loved TV dramas of the past three decades for the BBC and ITV 
  • Band of Gold, Playing the Field, Fat Friends and The Syndicate launched the careers of many TV stars 
  • Survived by her husband Anthony and two daughters, actress Gaynor Faye and TV producer Yvonne Francas 
  • Couple had two children by the age of 20 and were living in a council flat with little cash for rent or a buggy 
  • Kay went to night school and then university in late 20s and early 30s, before writing for Coronation Street 
  • By the mid-1990s she was one of the most influential working class voices in TV shows watched by millions 

Kay Mellor’s art imitated her life after she built an extraordinary career from the humblest of beginnings.

The Band of Gold creator’s gritty and often hilariously funny northern dramas mirrored her own experiences and early years, which began in poverty in Leeds.

Born on May 11 1951, her father George ran off when she was young and left her Jewish mother Dinah to bring up the little girl and her two brothers.

Kay had her first daughter Yvonne aged 16, and married the father, Anthony, then 17, and the couple enjoyed more than 50 years of marriage until her ‘sudden and untimely’ death on Sunday. 

When Mrs Mellor was 19, their second daughter Gaynor arrived – and under her stage name Gaynor Faye, she would go on to be an actress herself and star in some of her mother’s biggest TV hits.

Speaking last year, Kay described her own personal journey and said: ‘I had nothing at all. We didn’t even have enough money to buy a pushchair, but we were lucky because we both came from working class families that were there for us. I worry for young people out there who don’t have a family to support them’.

It was only in her late 20s that Kay went to night school, doing an A-Level in theatre studies that would inspire her to write, although she said at the time she feared she was already ‘too old’ to be a success.

But her tutor saw her talent and encouraged her to go to university, where she would forge ideas that would become much loved TV hits watched by millions each week, after stints paying the bills by acting in commercials and writing scenes for Coronation Street. The rest was history.

Writer Kay Mellor pictured in 1995 on the set of Some Kind of Life, one of her first big hits after working writing scenes for Corrie

Gaynor Faye with her celebrated writer mother Kay, who died on Sunday aged 71, and father Anthony, together on holiday in 2020

Kay, pictured here in her 20s with her two daughters, went to university after a recommendation from her tutor. First she did an A-level at night school

Kay Mellor, after being crowned Yorkshire woman of the year, with daughters Yvonne and Gaynor

Her lack of money inspired many of her stories.

She told the Express: ‘In the late 1970s when I was in my 20s. My husband and I were living in a council flat with our two little children and we scrimped and saved to buy a tiny terrace house for £3,000.

Kay Mellor revealed that going into education again at the age of 27 is what transformed her career path

‘We could afford the mortgage but the first month the rates bill came in – the then equivalent of council tax – it was a surprise and we couldn’t pay it. It was around that time that my father came back into the picture. I remember crying and being upset because I couldn’t see a way out. I thought we were going to lose the house. It was a bill for something like £37.

‘But my father gave me £50 and said: ‘Keep the change, go out for a meal and I’ll look after the kids’. And so my father, who had been remiss and not been a part of my life, suddenly came good.

Despite becoming a millionaire in later life, she shunned a new life away from Leeds, staying in the family home with their dog and driving around in a Mini.

She said: ‘All I want to do is tell stories, entertain and absorb people and I’m passionate about helping new writers get their voices heard. I drive a Mini and live in a detached house in Leeds. My main luxury in life is my imagination’.

She went on: ‘What would I do if I won £27 million? I’d give it away. I’d pay off my family and friends’ mortgages, give money to the NSPCC, animal welfare and care for the elderly. I’d make sure my family was all right. I’d want my grandchildren to be set up for life. I do worry about them. 

‘I’m so fearful when my granddaughter Lily goes on social media. I’m forever saying things like, ‘Don’t put anything like that on Twitter.’ I’m also forever telling them how lovely they are to try and counteract some of the negative things on social media’.

Describing lockdown she said on the Zoom call: ‘I haven’t had time to be bored. This table I’m sat at now is my editing suite’.

She added: ‘One thing I’ve thought about, but haven’t done, is some sort of big community show and I like the idea of setting up a writing/ acting academy for young people. Every time I drive past the right kind of property I think ‘That would be a great place for it to happen’.’

Kay Mellor in 2001, when her career had really taken off in TV. She also acted as well as wrote

The stars and writer of Fanny and Elvis at its premiere at the Leeds Film Festival (left to right) actress Gaynor Faye , writer Kay Mellor, and actors Kerry Fox and Ben Daniels in 1999

Mellor began her career writing plays, worked on Coronation Street and created the award-winning children’s drama Children’s Ward. 

Her big breakthrough came in 1995 when ITV made Band of Gold, a drama about a group of prostitutes with Barbara Dickson, Geraldine James and Cathy Tyson.  Playing The Field, Fat Friends, The Chase, In The Club and Girlfriends followed in a prolific 27 year TV career. The Syndicate had a long run on the BBC, with the most recent series going out last year. 

Band of Gold, which ran from 1995 to 1997 was a ground-breaking drama and a huge hit, with critics hailing it as one of the first major drama written by a woman, for women.

Millions watched as Ms Mellor brought to life the often grim, and sometimes darkly funny life of a group of sex workers in Bradford.

One of its breakthrough stars was Nottingham-born actress Samantha Morton, who would soon star alongside Tom Cruise in Minority Report and she also played Alpha in The Walking Dead.   

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2017, she hinted that Fat Friends was perhaps her favourite show. She chose The Beautiful South’s Perfect 10, the Fat Friends theme tune, as one of her sound tracks, admittingL ‘Every time I heard that I used to get excited and get butterflies’.

She added: ‘It was such a lovely time of my life, it was a drama that was really important to me because I thought I had something to say about weight and body image.’

Bafta-nominated series Fat Friends focused on the members of a slimming group in Leeds, and starred James Corden, Ruth Jones, Alison Steadman and Mellor’s youngest daughter, Gaynor Faye.

Faye has also starred in Coronation Street, Emmerdale and The Chase on BBC One, a series which she co-wrote with her mother.

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