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Sally Wainwright: Happy Valley creator says TV soaps have become unbelievable

Sally Wainwright at the Edinburgh TV Awards
Wainwright picked up the best drama prize for Happy Valley at the Edinburgh TV Awards

Happy Valley creator Sally Wainwright has said TV soap storylines have become more "crazy and unbelievable" because they have so many episodes to fill and an "obsession with youth".

Wainwright cut her teeth writing on Coronation Street in the 1990s.

She has become one of the UK's leading screenwriters with acclaimed dramas like Happy Valley and Gentleman Jack.

She said she got bored with watching soaps when "the stories got a bit samey and a bit similar, all about romance".

"Certainly that happened in Coronation Street. Or [they were] just a lot more obsessed with getting younger viewers and so making stories about younger people, and ignoring the fact that the key audience was older than that."

In its heyday in the 1980s and early 90s, Corrie was "proper kitchen sink drama" and "such a classy show", she said. "It was about the real things that happened to real people."

When she joined in 1994, there were two episodes a week. When she left five years later, it was about to go out four times a week, and there are now six episodes.

More from the Edinburgh TV Festival

"I think the problem with that is you just have so much turnover of plot that it inevitably becomes melodramatic," she said.

"When it goes out at that volume [of episodes], inevitably with the ravages of story it just becomes more and more heightened and crazy and unbelievable.

"I don't know if that's been a problem that is become less grounded."

She said she wasn't sure whether she had stopped watching soaps because they had changed or because her own tastes had shifted.

Clare Cartwright (SIOBHAN FINNERAN) & Catherine Cawood (SARAH LANCASHIRE)
The third and final series of Happy Valley was broadcast earlier this year

Wainwright was speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival, where Happy Valley won an award for best drama.

Her next show was also announced at the event. Hot Flush will follow a group of menopausal women from Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, who form a punk band to enter a talent contest.

'Catalyst for change'

The BBC said the six-part show would follow the women "as they deal with demanding jobs, grown-up children who still eat up their energy, dependent parents, husbands who've let them down and the menopause".

"The band becomes a catalyst for change in the women's lives, and it's going to make them question everything."

Hot Flush is Wainwright's homage to 1970s drama Rock Follies and sequel Rock Follies of '77, which followed a rock band called the Little Ladies, and which inspired Wainwright to become a writer when she was 13.

But the writer told the festival she had failed to convince TV channels to commission a drama about pioneering pilot Amy Johnson, who was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia in 1930. She died when her plane crashed into the sea in 1941.

"I can't get anybody to be interested in Amy Johnson and I don't know why," Wainwright said. "I think she's one of those fascinating people. And I think her story is extraordinary."

The writer also revealed she is also helping to write the storyline for a ballet. "Which I'm really excited about because it's just something different. It's exercising the same muscle but in a slightly different way."