In the first in a series exploring mother/daughter bonds, Sarah Freeman meets Kay Mellor’s daughter Yvonne Francas
This Sunday there will be an empty chair when Kay Mellor gathers with the rest of the family to celebrate Mother’s Day.
For the first time in years - possibly ever - eldest daughter, the television producer Yvonne Francas won’t be there. Instead she will be finding her feet in Guadaloupe where she is about to spend the next six months filming the new series of Death in Paradise.
“People keep telling me how wonderful it’s going to be, but they don’t mention the mosquitos... or the tropical storms, but mostly they don’t mention the fact that for me this is going to be strange, really strange,” says Yvonne, who is the spitting image of her screenwriter mum. “It’s going to be the longest I ever been away from the family.”
Along with younger sister, the actress Gaynor Faye, the Mellors, who all live in Leeds are a close bunch. Every Sunday they get together at one or other of their houses and while they have a pact not to talk about work, it’s one which is often broken.
“We try, honestly we try, but we rarely get through a lunch without something cropping up,” says Yvonne, who has been the producer on most of her mother’s projects and has just finished editing the third series of The Syndicate. “We are a really close family, we come as a set.”
Kay was just 16 years old when her eldest daughter was born in 1967 and she married her boyfriend Anthony. While fame and the financial security it brought was some way off, Yvonne has nothing but happy memories of those early years in Leeds.
“I guess my earliest memories of mum are of her being incredibly tactile. She was always squeezing me, always hugging me, I could never have been in doubt that I was loved.
“It’s funny, but when I was very little I wasn’t aware of how young mum was and how small the age gap between us was. It only struck me when I was in middle school. I remember being stood outside the gates at home time waiting to picked up and I saw a woman walking towards us. I turned to my friend and said, ‘Oh look, is that your gran?’ Of course it wasn’t, it was her mum, but compared to mine she looked so much older.”
By the 1980s, Kay who had returned to study drama at Bretton Hall College, was quietly establishing herself as a writer. Following a spell on Coronation Street, she worked on a number of children’s shows and in 1995, Band of Gold about a group of women living in Bradford’s red light district made her one of TV’s most sought after writers.
“I guess I was probably 12 or 13 when things really began to change for us as a family. We were able to move into a nicer house where Gaynor and I had our own rooms and I remember we went abroad for the first time to Majorca, which at the time seemed incredibly exotic.
“Throughout my childhood mum worked really hard and so did dad who had his own mechanics business. It sometimes meant that we had to fend for ourselves, but it didn’t do us any harm. If anything it helped make us more independent.
“Mum was and still is always fun. She was never one of those mums who would send us upstairs to tidy our bedrooms. I’m one of those mums, but she definitely wasn’t.”
While life was comfortable for the Mellors by the time Yvonne and Gaynor were teenagers, Kay was keen to impress on her daughters the importance of a good education and encouraged Yvonne to go to university.
“She knew how important education had been to her, how many doors it had opened and I guess how different our lives could have been if she hadn’t gone back to school. To mum, education was security.”
Initially, Yvonne wanted to become an actress, but after being told at an audition for RADA to come back in a year when she had more life experience, she got a job as a runner on Just Us, a children’s series written by her mum and filmed at Yorkshire Television. Having decided she would rather work behind, rather than front of the camera, Yvonne learnt all she could about production and by 2000 was developing Fat Friends with her mum.
Yvonne also worked as producer on Between the Sheets, Strictly Confidential and In the Club and says the working relationship between her and her mum is generally easy going.
“While Kay writes the scripts, we tend to develop the idea together and there’s a shorthand which comes with being mother and daughter. Kay will say something and I will know instantly what she means, there’s no need for lengthy explanation.”
With the third series of The Syndicate in the bag, later this year Kay, now in her 60s, will begin filming the second series of In The Club following a group of pregnant women who attend a local ante-natal class.
“The thing I most admire about mum is her energy,” says Yvonne. “She’s always working on something, but she’s also incredibly generous with her time and that’s something you don’t necessarily get a lot of in television. Often if someone makes a mistake on a production that’s it, they get struck off. Not with mum. She always wants to get them in, have a chat about where it went wrong and see if help them get to the next stage. She’s a great believer in giving people a chance.”