How Kay Mellor's hit drama In The Club has given birth to new characters... but it's not happy families
As the brilliant and touching In The Club returns to our screens, Susan Griffin catches up with acclaimed writer Kay Mellor and her leading women to talk complicated relationships, labour scenes and cash woes
Kay Mellor has always put women centre stage. "That's where they belong, in my world," says the acclaimed Bafta-winning writer of Band Of Gold, Playing The Field and Fat Friends.
"My mother was such a strong influence, and my aunties. There are a million and one things that women have to do, whereas men are more single-minded."
But it's not always been easy to forge ahead with female-focused series, she admits: "Sometimes I've had situations where I've had to say to the casting director, 'He is her husband. She's the lead'."
In The Club, her drama about pregnancy, birth and the changing nature of relationships that babies bring about, is another fine example of her efforts paying off. Before it returns for a second series, here's what you need to know.
The first series followed six very different couples who bonded in their local parentcraft class; each dealing with their own unique issues - from paternity fears to debt, divorce, and even death. It was a ratings hit, and Leeds-born Mellor was soon asked to come up with ideas for a second run. She remembers the meeting she had with Polly Hill, the BBC's controller of drama commissioning.
"She said it would be really nice to have a sense of a new series, rather than a retuning one, so I said, 'What about some new characters?'," reveals Mellor, who turns 65 next month. "I think she would've been happy with one new character, but I decided to have four."
The new faces are pregnant surrogate Shelly (Gemma Dobson), who's rented out her womb to gay couple Andrew (Andrew Buckley) and Nathan (Paul Nicholls), believing it's the perfect way to make some easy money, but her mum Maxine (Sandra Huggett) isn't so sure.
"This is something that's happening more and more, and it's interesting because there are emotions, there are insecurities," says Mellor. "Can you let a child go if you've given birth? What does that do to you? What rights do the men have who've provided the sperm? What legal status do they have? It's a whole new area to mine. I found it fascinating exploring those themes."
The original cast appear too, when the series opens 10 months since the last outing, including Hermione Norris who returns as business woman Roanna.
"We hit the ground running," says the 49-year-old actress, also known for her roles in Spooks and Cold Feet. "She (Roanna) is living with her younger lover Simon (Luke Thompson) in a damp, old cottage, struggling to get back into the workplace and needing to earn money to pay rent, now that she's waiting for her divorce settlement to come in. So she goes to seek help from an unlikely quarter."
Mum-of-two Norris laughs as she admits she's "exhausted" from filming. "It's tiring when you're playing a heightened emotional state. I'm just relieved I don't have Roanna's life. I know people thrive on drama and chaos but, no, I'm looking for an easy life." The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson was expecting her second baby during the first series. "I was quite far along and I was genuinely concerned - because it's very hard to (act that you're) pushing and not actually push," says the 38-year-old, laughing.
"But all the research paid off, as she had a 'flawless' second birth. "It was like I had the longest training," she jokes.
In the new series, Parkinson's character - bisexual blogger and teaching assistant Kim - has her love life complicated by her ex-partner Susie (Tara Fitzgerald), while her relationship with Neil, the father of her baby, is in jeopardy and she struggles to be the perfect mum.
"She's very proprietorial and doesn't even let Neil have her (the baby) on her own until she's 10 months old. I think a lot of women go through that."
Kim might be going through a tough time, but it soon dawns on her life could be worse. "She's got this gorgeous man, who's exemplary and such a good father and so attentive. She's got an easier set-up than Rosie."
Indeed, Mellor has admitted she has a soft spot for schoolgirl Rosie, played by Hannah Midgley, because she was a young mum herself - and "against all odds, we stuck together".
"Rosie's still with Jude (Danny Breeze) and they've moved back into her dad's flat," explains Midgley (22), who's also appeared in Emmerdale.
"She's found it really difficult, harder than she thought, but she's got her family unit and that's important to her, and she still has the support of Kim."
The actress believes it's an important storyline. "There are so many girls out there who, at 15, have fallen pregnant and do not known what to do. It's a terrifying situation to be in, so it's important to portray it sensitively."
Things are better for spirited Jasmin, played by Taj Atwal, and her husband Dev (Sacha Dhawan) although their overbearing mothers have moved in and are refusing to leave.
"I'm obviously pregnant, which she's shaky about," says Atwal, sporting a prosthetic bump. "It's not something she wanted but it's happene, so they're going to go through with it and the mums are interfering, much to Jaz's dismay."
Although she doesn't have kids of her own, the actress isn't fazed by the labour scenes. "In the first take, you're like, 'Oh, is anything showing?', and then by the third take, you don't care who's in the room, who's watching, where the camera's angled."
While Jasmin's struggling with too much support, housewife Diane needs all the help she can get, since her husband Rick (Will Mellor) was sent to prison.
"She's coping on her own with four children and decides she needs to earn some money, so she starts child-minding for other people," explains mother-of-one Jill Halfpenny (40).
"She's waiting for Rick to come home and hoping things will get a bit better, and then he does come home and things get a little bit worse."
She's unsure their situation will ever improve. "I think they're going to be that couple, where they have money assigned each month and if something comes in that is unexpected, like a parking ticket, it can send them into some sort of panic. That's really frightening, but that's how most people live."
Midwife and new mum Vicky is also juggling a lot.
"Vicky's fella's not around, so she's coping as a single parent and still working long hours," reveals Christine Bottomley.
"She's exhausted and frazzled and something happens at work, which raises the question how good she is at her job and whether she should still be doing it."
The 36-year-old recalls spending a lot of time with midwives in preparation for the role.
"They're brilliant women, brilliant multi-taskers and I totally salute them," she says.
"It's a massive responsibility bringing new life into the world."
And a certain programme continues to be must-see TV in her household...
"I still watch One Born Every Minute," Bottomley admits. "I'm an addict."
In The Club returns to BBC One on Tuesday, May 3 at 9pm