Sally Wainwright is finally getting her own profile on the South Bank Show – and she reckons it’s about time. In fact, the Happy Valley screenwriter believes she has been “overlooked” for all these years simply because she’s a woman.
Wainwright is hugely respected for her work on Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley, Unforgiven and Coronation Street and has won enough Baftas to fill many trophy cabinets.
But she wasn’t ecstatic to find out Melvynn Bragg would be heading her way for the Sky Arts programme.
“No, I thought, why haven’t they done this sooner? The South Bank Show did Paul Abbott and Russell T Davies years ago, but I’ve been overlooked,” she told Radio Times.
Why is that? “I think it’s because I’m a woman.”
She added: “When I started out, it didn’t occur to me that I would ever be discriminated against.
“But later in life I experienced the difference between how men and women are perceived. Men are trusted more, it’s just assumed they’ll be good at something. Whereas women have to prove they’re going to be good at it.”
Having built up a reputation as a screenwriter for Corrie in the 90s when there were only three women out of 15 staff in the writers’ room, confidence was key.
“The whole atmosphere was overwhelmingly male and even now it’s tough,” she said. “There are so many fewer women writers and directors. A lot of it is to do with women’s confidence. Women don’t put themselves forward as writers.”
Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley
It’s not surprising, then, that Wainwright was proud of herself for getting a spot in the Corrie writers’ room in 1994. So proud that she ranks it above giving birth to her son.
“After I gave birth to my eldest boy, George, my mum, who was a massive Coronation Street fan, came to see me in the hospital,” she recalled.
“She was looking at the baby and said, ‘Isn’t that the greatest thing you’ll ever do?’ I said, ‘No, Mum, Being asked to write Coronation Street was the greatest thing I’ll ever do.'”
Still, the writer says she continues to feel overlooked by certain institutions: “Happy Valley won best drama and best actress [Baftas] this year. And the day after, it was on the news: ‘Happy Valley’s won two Baftas’. Two weeks earlier, I’d won the Bafta for best writer at the Craft Awards, so it had actually won three awards.
“This is a BBC show and the BBC news is saying ‘Happy Valley has won two Baftas’ How does that make me feel? It’s like the writing Bafta doesn’t count.”
Read the full interview with Sally Wainwright in the new issue of Radio Times magazine, available in shops and on the Apple Newsstand from Tuesday 25th July 2017