The inspiration for my Passionate Woman

Monday 12 April 2010, 10:38

Kay Mellor Kay Mellor Writer

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I must have been about 28 when my mother told me. She was at the sink washing up at the time and I was drying the pots. It's hard to remember what's fact and what's fiction now, but I'll try.

"We had a bit of a thing," was how she described her affair with the Polish neighbour that lived in the two-roomed flat below her. I thought I was hearing things. One minute we were talking about me and my husband having a bit of a fall out and somehow the conversation turned to Mum telling me how she'd committed adultery with a Polish fairground worker.

Billie Piper as Betty and Theo James as Craze dance with each other

Now you'd have to have known my mum to realise how shocking that was. She was the most ordinary woman, very mumsy, not a vain bone in her body. She wasn't one to show her emotions, she was strong but affectionate with me and my brothers. She wasn't a man's woman, she had three sisters and was, in her own way, a bit of a feminist - way ahead of her time.

My dad had a violent streak and she divorced him when I was three, refused to wear a wedding ring, wouldn't accept money off him and refused to take 'handouts' from the state, preferring to work full time as a tailoress instead. It sounds nothing now, but you've got to remember this was the 1950s, people didn't get divorced. You married and that was it - for better or worse. I remember the other kids off the council estate making fun of me and my brother, saying we didn't have a dad.

Anyway I digress.

"His name was Craze and I loved him with every breath in my body," she continued. She'd mentioned a man and the word love in the same breath - it was unheard of for her to say that; even her second marriage had not been successful.

But even more shocking than that, I realised that tears were falling from her eyes into the washing up bowl. I tried to reassure her.

"I'm happy for you Mum, I'm glad you found someone to love."

"He was murdered."

"What? In Leeds?"

"In a fairground brawl. I've never been able to tell anyone."

It was hard to take it all in and then I realised that not only had Mum never told anyone about this affair, she'd never been able to grieve properly for the man she'd loved and lost.

For the best part of thirty years she'd held onto this grief - it had been locked in. No wonder her marriages hadn't worked and she found it difficult to show emotion. She had no trouble showing emotion now - 30 years of tears cascaded into the washing up bowl as she continued with her story. At the end of it she was exhausted.

"You won't ever tell anyone will you?" She made me promise. And I didn't - for 10 years. Then it was my younger brother Philip's wedding and I could see this really pained her as she faced a life alone with my stepfather Alan.

He was a good man and the marriage should've worked. He was the same religion (my dad was a Catholic, Alan was Jewish) and he was political - a strong socialist, but they clashed.

Billie Piper as Betty holds a gass of wine and a pint of beer in A Passionate Women

The look in my mother's face reminded me of the day she told me about Craze. Somehow these two events - my mother's affair and her youngest son getting married - were linked.

A play was burning inside of me and I started to write it for the West Yorkshire Playhouse. I called it A Passionate Woman - because I realised that's what my mother was.

I set it on the day of her son's wedding. Betty climbs into the loft to escape from all the arrangements and chaos and drops the flap shut! Her dead lover Craze comes to her and she relives her time again with him. Her son and husband realise she's in the loft and try and coax her down to the wedding, but she's not going anywhere - except up!

The play went into rehearsal with the glorious Anne Reid playing the middle-aged Betty. Two days before press night, I thought I should take Mum to see the play. It was essentially Mum's story, but I'd changed loads of things and I was interested to see if she realised it was her story. She absolutely loved it, wanted to see it again.

The second time she saw it, she turned to me at the end and with tears and bewilderment in her eyes she said: "This is my story."

I reassured her. "Yes, but I'm not going to tell anyone and you're not, so who's going to know?"

Then came the opening night of the show. All the press were there. The play went well and as is customary with a new play, the cast, myself and the director David Liddiment all sat on the stage to answer questions. One particular journalist kept asking me where I got the idea for the play - "Did something or someone inspire it?"

I could see my mother sat in the middle of the audience - I had to protect her and keep my promise. I replied: "Yes, someone did inspire me to write it, but I'm not at liberty to say who it was."

And then from the middle of the auditorium came -

"It was me!"

I looked up. My mother was waving her hand in the air; her eyes were gleaming with pride. "It's MY story!"

And as the press turned to interview her, I watched the years of shame and secrecy drop away. My mother came out publicly - she'd had an affair, she'd known love, she had a sexual awakening, she was A Passionate Woman.

Two years later the play opened in the West End to rave reviews. The play ran for a year at the Comedy Theatre and has toured extensively all over the world. Film rights were fought for, but I held on to them tightly as I didn't want Cher playing my mum on a rooftop in Detroit.

It's still running in Poland I think.

Kay Mellor is the writer of A Passionate Woman. The first episode is available on BBC iPlayer until Sunday, 25 April. Part two will be broadcast on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday, 18 April

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    A Passionate Woman - an absolute triumph. The BBC at it's very, very best.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I would like to say I enjoyed this play very much, apart from the fact it has been very well written. The acting was superb. I will admit I shed a tear at the end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I loved both episodes and thought Sue Johnston and Billie Piper were excellent, where can I get the names of the old tunes that were played through out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    im only 33 but i have been married for 11 years , my marriage was so boring, a passionate woman made me feel alive again.........its changed my life. thankyou xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I loved this story!! Who cares if there were parts that appeared unreal ! That is what romance is all about!! How exciting as well to know that the drama unfolding before us was based on real life events! Fantastic! Thank you Kay for the perfect Sunday evening viewing!

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    Comment number 26.

    I have found out that Johnny Mathis sang 'A Certain Smile'. The choice of song was sheer brilliance and I agree both Billie Piper and Sue Johnston played superb parts and congrats to the person who chose them to play the parts in the first place. The song 'A Certain Smile' will stay with me forever and reminds me of my own past lovelife.

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    Comment number 27.

    I have to say that I absolutely loved this. Yes, the second episode was a little whimsical, but the first episode was so emotionally powerful that this makes up for any misgivings of the second episode.

    Billie Piper and Theo James were perfectly cast as their characters, and when I think that this is based on a real life love story, it did tug at my emotions. To lose somebody you love so much is completely heart wrenching!

    I really really hope that Kay Mellor will consider releasing A Passionate Woman to buy on dvd, because I could watch the first episode again and again and again.

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    Comment number 28.

    What a delightful drama this is.

    It was beautifully written, sensitively and intelligently directed, produced with sublime attention to detail, and acted with the professional skills I have come to admire from Alun Armstrong and Sue Johnston.

    The casting was also insightful, complementing the moving story with a cast of surprises and delights - Billie Piper showed her acting skills as I have never seen before and using Alun's son Joe for the role of the young Donald was a master-stroke.

    I had never seen Theo James before but thought he was perfect for the role of Craze.

    Kay Mellor did a fantastic job telling this story - the writing reminds me of Victoria Hislop. I must also say a big thank-you to Kay's Mum for sharing her story with us; I was in tears watching the play and the tears flowed again when I read the above blog.


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    Comment number 29.

    I thought this drama was sensitively written, wonderfully acted and directed and I really enjoyed watching it. Speaking as someone who was 7+ in the 50s, I don't remember the houses being quite as dreary as those in the first part. It looked more 40s to me.

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    Comment number 30.

    My husband and me so loved this wonderfully written drama. We were in tears and sadness , hope and happiness with the conclusion.
    I could realy understand betty. We were thinking she would fall from the roof. Then we thought Donald would. We were so happy with the baloon scene. It was interesting from start to finnish.
    Iam a little ashamed that we had so much plesure from what I now know was someone elses sadness. Thank you for a great end.


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    Comment number 31.

    This story was ultimately about a sin for which in the real version of events of Kay Melor's mother there was no happy ending and in the fantasised story portrayed all the guilty parties paid a high price for it, death and much pain.

    For me the story was equally about the wronged husband Donald (played by the always excellent Alun Armstrong and his son) as well as the adulterous Betty and Craze. I enjoyed the second part very much and Donald got the girl in the end and maybe for Betty he had become a man that she now wanted and could be passionate about too.

    Sue Johnston and Billy Piper were great as was Theo James and the rest of the cast. Why don't we see more of the lovely Sharon Duce on the telly?

    I thought this was a very well written tale by Kay Mellor inspired by an equally interesting true story.

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    Comment number 32.

    A wonderful bitter sweet story that lots of women can relate to. The acting was brilliant,it was sad and happy a typical Kay Mellor story.

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    Comment number 33.

    What a huge disappointment! Episode 1 was excellent but what a letdown episode 2 was. This had gone from a serious beautiful drama to a silly far far fetched comedy, there were times when I thought I was watching a 'Carry On' movie.
    Billie Piper was so convincing as she beautifully played the part of the young, bored, vulnerable, married woman in the 50's. Although Sue Johnston is also an excellent actress also, I was disappointed with her performance in this role. The writer should have stuck to the original ending and not created some silly slapstick comedy.

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    Comment number 34.

    Absolutly loved the second episode of a passionate woman. Sue Johnston, alun armstrong, billie piper and theo james played there parts fantastically, aswell as other characters including bettys sister margaret, mark and moira. I have to admit i enjoyed the first episode a little more than the first, it was like a leaning curve to see what it was like to live during the 50's and to see what the 80's was like, even better as i was born in the 80's. I sat though both episodes transfixed and never moved just waiting to see what would happen next. Such a beautiful story thankyou to kay mellor for this heartwarming story and thankyou to your mother, it must have been so hard to live after such emotional upheaval. I cried during the second episode at many points and was so glad when donald said he knew about bettys affair, that he loved her and was scared to say anything because he thought she would have chosen craze. Such a happy ending, well done to all envolved. Hope it will be out to buy on DVD. Jem.

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    Comment number 35.

    Wife says to me "Oh let's watch the second part of A Passionate Woman this evening." "Yes", I reply, "I enjoyed the first part last week......." After about 30 minutes I was beginning to wonder if I was actually watching the second part of the same drama! It all began to go wrong when everybody seemed to be finding about about everything that had happened. There was no mystery or suspense any more. Also there was no drama any more as far as I could see - the plot had descended into utter farce. What had been a very believable and quite moving tale last week had become a story that was frankly ludicrous. My wife accused me of being a grump (not for the first time!). Maybe I should see the stage version. Had I been watching on my own I would have turned it off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I really enjoyed Passionate Woman having managed to miss the 'spoilers' that masquerade as trailers. What a great ensemble of actors who didn't just have a script to rely on. They had to act too. Loved it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Unlike a few of the other comments, I felt that the second part of this series was superior to the first. Any viewer who felt that it was comical has (fortunately for them) not witnessed a family member break-down.
    I have and this brought back some poignant memories.
    Sue Johnston's portrayal was absolutely captivating. What a talent she is.
    Of course, a little creative licence was allowed at the end with the balloon scene. Having saved both from the roof I think it's unlikely I'd allow them to go up in a balloon on the same afternoon! It was a touching end though, realising the extent to which the husband had really loved and also suffered.
    A wonderful production with some first-rate performances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    A Passionate Woman was an absolutely fantastic two-parter and I am so glad I watched it. All the actors were first class with Billy Piper and Sue Johnstone quite exceptional. Both episodes equally brilliant and so poignant. Music fantastic and almost too nostalgic to listen to!! Well done! A pleasure to watch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    We need more Drama like this, Kay Mellor deserves an award. Fantastic!!!
    So well written and well needed from the endless tripe on tv at the moment.
    10 out of 10 Kay

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    Comment number 40.

    The second part covered many issues that are so very relevant today! I'm sure there were lots of mothers out there who have children who have moved away and understood the loss she was trying to get her head round and the feeling of being isolated before it had even happened. And the bit on the rooftop had me in hysterics and when she said she felt better sat there on the roof I'm sure there were thousands of women out there watching who completely understood what she meant! Once again casting superb. Brilliant enjoyed every minute.


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