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The crucial role of tea in Happy Valley

A brew isn't just a prop in Sally Wainwright's BBC1 series — it actually means something, says Kasia Delgado

Published: Tuesday, 1st March 2016 at 8:40 pm

Happy Valley is awash with tea.


In every single episode of the BBC1 drama, someone is putting on the kettle, cradling a cup or offering someone else a brew.

For Catherine, Clare and everyone else in the Calder Valley, there is no crisis that can't be solved and no emotion that can't be tempered by a mug of tea.

Of course, this is just what Brits do — they drink tea constantly. But in Happy Valley the cuppa does more than just provide a realistic prop in the characters' daily lives. It's actually important to the story, often hinting at the thoughts and feelings of those who are drinking it, or offering it, or refusing it.

Once you notice how much tea features in the series, it's hard to ignore — it's almost a character in itself. Here are some of the key tea moments in series two...


Recovery tea

In episode two, Catherine brings trafficking victim Ilinka to her home and immediately says to the family, "she doesn't speak any English. So tea. Got any tea?". Before food or water or anything else, this Yugoslavian stranger gets tea. Clare says she's already put the kettle on — and with that, Ilinka is officially severed from her old nightmarish life and welcomed into a new, safer world. Unable to overcome the language barrier, Catherine even mimics the act of drinking tea for Ilinka's benefit. It's that important...


Distrustful tea

In episode three, Catherine says no to a cup of tea from Clare's new boyfriend Neil. For him, this is a sure sign that she doesn't like him. And he's not far wrong. She doesn't trust him and she's already voiced that to Clare, so her rejection of tea when she has never said no to a cup before in the show is significant. Later, Neil cites this incident as proof that Catherine isn't keen on him. See? In Happy Valley, saying no to tea MEANS something. It can't possibly be as simple as someone not being thirsty...



When Catherine's being questioned about Lynn Dewhurst, she cradles a cup of tea. She needs the cuppa to retain a sense of normality because her world is becoming stranger by the minute. Note that the detective doesn't have one — she's got the power and this isn't a chat between equals. Catherine is very much on the back foot...with only tea to help.


And if you want more proof that Happy Valley is gloriously tea-obsessed, here are just a few stills from the last four episodes...

Love brewing over a pot of tea


John seeming so preoccupied with what he's done that... he's forgetting to drinking his tea?


Tea as a source of comfort to the Nevisons as their grieving begins...


Sisterly morning tea...


Tea during long, stressful meetings...


Useful tea to get information about Sean out of Nevison...


A flowery cup of tea to reflect the lovely Joyce — next to the prickly Catherine cactus...


Sad birthday cups of tea after the Scalextric fiasco...


Yep, everyone is drinking tea. Except for... guess who? Tommy Lee Royce. Of course, it makes sense that he's not a cosy, tea kinda guy. Even in series one when he was hovering on the brink of death with septicaemia he was knocking back beer instead of warming himself with a brew. But it's poignant that the most sinister character in the show hasn't had a single cup of tea this series.

Look how empty this table looks in comparison to the images above...

No soothing styrofoam cuppa there, is there?


In next week's episode tea features even more when Daniel tries to distract Ryan from asking about his dad and mum by offering him a cup of tea. And in perhaps the most dramatic, earth-shattering scene of the series so far, the characters are having a brew just as their lives alter irrevocably.


Watch this (tea-stained) space.


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