Scott & Bailey: 'This isn't Sex and the City... it's real women'
Realistic female characters are what makes Scott & Bailey a ratings hit. And Manchester, her home town, also plays a starring role, actress Suranne Jones tells Keeley Bolger.
Ask actors about having to travel or commute for work, and it's often met with a grumpy response, especially if taking a role means being miles from home.
Ask Suranne Jones about filming Scott & Bailey in Manchester, however, and the response is nothing but cheery.
Admittedly, it's because the 36-year-old is a born and bred Mancunian, brought up in Chadderton, Greater Manchester, and for a large chunk of the year, reaps the benefits of visiting her roots.
“I split my time between London and Manchester, but obviously, for five months, I get to be at home in Manchester, which is wonderful, because that's where most of my family is,” says the actress, who rose to fame aged 21 as gobby seamstress Karen McDonald in Coronation Street.
Jones, who was also in BBC One drama The Crimson Field earlier this year, has spent much of her working life up north. Most recently, she's been back filming the upcoming fourth season of detective series Scott & Bailey, and being so close to her family means she's had visits on set from familiar faces.
There's her engineer dad Chris, who has popped by at least once a series, as well as her nephew, who at six years old is “just old enough to figure out” what his auntie does for a living, and visited Jones during the school holidays.
Whether or not there are any actual relatives around, however, the actress insists that there is always a family atmosphere on set, which she attributes to having largely the same cast and crew from the start.
There is one notable change in the new series, though; original writer Sally Wainwright, the award-winning talent behind shows like Last Tango In Halifax and Happy Valley, takes on a producer role, and instead, Amelia Bullmore, who plays straight-speaking DCI Gill Murray, has written four episodes, with two new writers, including former Corrie actor Lee Warburton, taking on the rest of the eight-part series.
How does Jones think viewers will respond to the new writing?
“It's a different feel and yet the same feel,” she says. “[It] respects Sally Wainwright's wonderful format and writing. I think the audience will let us know [if they don't like it].
“If it's great and they still love it, they'll tune in and maybe we'll make some more. And if they don't, we'll go, ‘All right, we get that'. We've got a relationship with the audience, which is beautiful.”
She is certain the juicy storylines will chime with viewers. This series opens with Jones' character, DC Rachel Bailey, and her partner DC Janet Scott, played by Lesley Sharp, competing against each other to land the job as sergeant, with the final decision resting with DCI Gill.
“It's a really healthy competition, which I think is quite unusual,” explains Jones. “Usually when there are two women who want the same thing, there's a lot of rivalry, where actually, in Scott & Bailey, it's set up as healthy competition,”
It's this grounding in reality that Jones, who came up with the idea for the series while chatting with her former Corrie colleague Sally Lindsay at the pub, believes has been the key to the show's success.
“There are three different women there, three different generations, they've all got different family lives,” she says. “Rachel's a wild card, Janet started off married and then had an affair, so now she's divorced, Gill was divorced and had a son at home; these are recognisable women.
“They're very three-dimensional, they have great jobs and they're complicated. It's set in Manchester, which is a bit grey and misty and moody at times, so it's not Sex And The City — it's reality and it's Manchester. That's the beauty of it, it's real women.”
The formula clearly worked, with an average of 7.1million people tuning in to watch the last series.
No wonder then that the atmosphere at work is sweet.
“We have bake-offs on set,” reveals Jones, laughing. “Oh God, we had 50 cakes at the last bake-off, it was just brilliant.”
While most offices enlist a neutral colleague to name the winner, the Scott & Bailey cast and crew had a very illustrious judge for their last sweet showdown. “Russell T Davies came to judge our competition; it was very, very swish,” explains Jones, who worked with the famed Doctor Who writer in the enduring BBC One sci-fi series.
Davies was also working in Manchester at the time and, by the sounds of it, probably left the Scott & Bailey set feeling a wee bit giddy.
“I think Russell was off his head on sugar, because he tasted 50 cakes!” says Jones, whose banana, blueberry and chocolate chip muffins didn't scoop the main prize. “He was having a sugar rush when I saw him.”
Although there are no cakes around to give Jones a similar high today, she nevertheless fizzes with pride when she talks about building on the success of the series.
“We have to remember that we're letting people switch off,” she says. “We're entertaining them and giving them a slice of life that isn't theirs, which is great.”
- Scott & Bailey, ITV, Wednesday, 9pm
Other successful series made in Manchester
- Coronation Street (1960-) No TV show has greater links with Manchester than Corrie. The long-running ITV soap has stood the test of time, and the characters’ Northern accents and the street’s famous cobbles are as much a part of the programme as the dramatic storylines.
- The Royle Family (1998-) Warm-hearted and realistic, this well loved comedy focuses on the Royles, a Mancunian family (with Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston at the helm) whose world revolves around their living room settee.
- Queer As Folk (1999-2000) Channel 4’s landmark series focuses on a group of three gay friends living in Manchester in the late Nineties.
- Life On Mars (2006-2007) John Simm stars as Sam Tyler, an officer from Greater Manchester Police, who steps back in time after a car accident and finds himself in the Seventies, where he is often at odds with DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), a man very much of the time.
- Shameless (2004-2013) This long-running drama put the ‘grit’ in gritty, starring David Threlfall as pub philosopher Frank Gallagher, the patriarch of a large and often unruly family who live on a Manchester estate.