Sally Wainwright ’emotional’ to receive OBE after success of Gentleman Jack

Sally Wainwright attending a photocall for 'Gentleman Jack' during the BFI and Radio Times Television Festival at the BFI Sou
Sally Wainwright attending a photocall for 'Gentleman Jack' during the BFI and Radio Times Television Festival at the BFI Southbank, London.

Sally Wainwright has said it feels “emotional” to receive an OBE following the success of her drama Gentleman Jack.

The screenwriter behind some of the most popular British dramas of the last decade has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to writing and television.

Among her acclaimed dramas are Happy Valley, Last Tango In Halifax, Scott & Bailey and Gentleman Jack, about Regency-era landowner Anne Lister, who is regarded as the “first modern lesbian”.

House of Fraser British Academy Television Awards – Press Room – London
Wainwright (second left) with the cast of Happy Valley at the Baftas (Ian West/PA)

She told the PA news agency: “It’s not the kind of thing people in my family would ever normally expect to receive.

“I’m pleased that it’s come on the back on Gentleman Jack because I’ve been working on that for 20 years.

“It’s been the highlight of my career to be able to write about Anne Lister so I feel quite emotional, I didn’t expect that.

“So for it to come on the back of that has been really quite beautiful actually.”

Gentleman Jack
Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack (Jay Brooks/BBC One)

She added: “It had good viewing figure and it had very good reviews and it went down well in America too (where it aired on HBO) but on top of that there was this thing called the Gentleman Jack effect (visitors to Anne Lister’s Yorkshire home trebled and many viewers from the LBGT community contacted stars Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle to say they felt represented in a way that had not before).

“When you write dramas you hope you touch people in lots of different ways, as well as entertaining them, but to have written something that so many people said ‘it’s changed my life’, to have written a TV show that has changed people’s lives, it’s just never happened before.

“Even with Happy Valley being really successful and Last Tango is very well loved, to have written something that has actually changed people’s lives…it’s kind of a unique project in so many ways because she was a unique person, a unique character and it’s like everything she does becomes special and complicated.

“I just feel very privileged and lucky that I was the person who was in the right place at the right time to be the one who ended up dramatising her life.”

The Yorkshire-born writer, 57, said she was been writing the second series of the BBC drama throughout lockdown, finally completing the final episode two weeks ago.

She said: “It’s taken me 13 months to write it.

“I think people do assume that (lockdown) was a great time to get your head down but I actually found it really difficult to concentrate, particularly in the early months.”

She added that production is due to start “very soon” and that she hopes the second series will air next year.

Wainwright continued: “I’m writing Happy Valley 3 now, that is the next thing on the list.

“I’ve only just started, I’m getting all the research together but we have got some good storylines in mind.”

Asked about the future of Last Tango In Halifax, she said: “It’s there, I thoroughly hope and intend to come back to it, it’s just finding space and time to do it.

“I’m not directing Gentleman Jack this time which I’m very sad about but I made that choice because I wanted to get on with Happy Valley 3 and I hope I will be directing that but we will see, it’s just very time consuming.

“All the time I’m directing I’m not writing so it’s a big decision.”


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