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Sally Wainwright

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Sally Wainwright
Wainwright in 2018
Sally Anne Wainwright

1963 (age 60–61)
EducationUniversity of York
Years active1991–present
Austin Sherlaw-Johnson
(m. 1990)

Sally Anne Wainwright OBE (born 1963) is an English television writer, producer, and director.[1][2] She is known for her dramas, which are often set in her native West Yorkshire, and feature "strong female characters".[3][4] Wainwright has been praised for the quality of her dialogue.[3]

Wainwright began her career as a scriptwriter on the long-running radio serial drama The Archers, and worked on the television soap operas Emmerdale and Coronation Street in the 1990s. Her first original drama, At Home with the Braithwaites, aired between 2000 and 2003. After two self-described "flops" in the mid-2000s, Wainwright found success with Unforgiven (2009), for which she won the Royal Television Society's Writer of the Year Award.[5] Her work since includes Scott & Bailey (2011–2016), Last Tango in Halifax (2012–2020), Happy Valley (2014–2023), and Gentleman Jack (2019–2022).[6][7] Last Tango in Halifax won the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series in 2013, and Happy Valley won the same award in both 2015 and 2017.

Early life[edit]

Wainwright was born in 1963[3] in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, to Harry Wainwright and Dorothy Wainwright (née Crowther).[8] Wainwright was brought up in Sowerby Bridge, where she attended Triangle Church of England Primary School and Sowerby Bridge High School.[9] She attended the University of York, reading English and Related Literature.[10] She has one sister.[11]

Wainwright said that she had always wanted to write, had started writing from the time she was nine years old, and wanted to write for Coronation Street.[12] She said that when she was 16 years old, she saw a play called Bastard Angel by playwright Barrie Keeffe at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and was impressed by its short sentences and naturalistic approach to dialogue.[13]


While at the University of York, Wainwright took an original play called Hanging On to the Edinburgh Festival and in the process found an agent, Meg Davis, for her writing.[10] Meanwhile, she worked as a bus driver.[10] When she was 24, she left the driving job after she started writing for the Radio 4 series The Archers.[12] One of her contributions was to write an atypical story for the long-running radio soap in which the village shop was robbed. After that she wrote for Coronation Street, developing her writing skills, from 1994 to 1999. She has since said that working on continuing drama was "a great education in discipline and a lesson that great stories are hard work".[14] She was mentored by Kay Mellor, who encouraged her to stop writing for soaps and to concentrate instead on original work. She created the TV series At Home with the Braithwaites about a woman who had secretly won the lottery. The programme was nominated for multiple awards.[15] In 2006, she wrote the drama series Jane Hall, which depicts the life of a female bus driver in London. Wainwright drew on her own experiences in scripting the series.[16]

She won the 2009 Writer of the Year Award given by the RTS in 2009 for Unforgiven, which took several awards including best TV series.[17]

Wainwright says that her strong yet flawed female characters are "almost real" to her and arrive "fully formed" in her imagination. She likes to control the television that is created and has done some directing and producing of her own work,[15] partly to ensure the scenery and dialogue reflects Yorkshire.[18]

In 2011, she wrote Scott & Bailey, a series about two female police officers. The idea for the series came from the actresses Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay and former Detective Inspector Diane Taylor, who assisted with bringing the series to air.[19]

Wainwright based the plot of her series Last Tango in Halifax on the story of her mother, who was widowed in 2001.[10] Her mother, Dorothy, moved to Oxfordshire to live with her daughter and rediscovered a lost love via Friends Reunited.[10] With her mother's permission, Wainwright developed the story of how she remarried so rapidly, showing extracts from the series to her mother before broadcast.[15]

When she told the story to Nicola Shindler, she suggested she turn her mother's experience into a television series. Shindler became the series' executive producer.[citation needed] Both Last Tango in Halifax and her crime series Scott & Bailey were turned down by both the BBC and ITV before being accepted retrospectively. The former was voted by BAFTA to be best series in 2012 and Wainwright was given the award for best writer.[20]

Happy Valley, which was shot in Yorkshire's upper Upper Calder Valley and Hebden Bridge,[21][22] stars Sarah Lancashire, whom Wainwright had in mind as she wrote the role.[23] Wainwright made her directorial debut with episode 4 of the first series.[23] Wainwright had previously said that she was willing to write a third series of Happy Valley, but had commitments to work on other projects, and in 2016 producer Nicola Shindler indicated that the third series would not air until 2018 at the earliest.[24] In 2022 it was announced that a third series would debut on 1 January 2023.[25] The final episode was broadcast on 5 February 2023.

In 2016, Wainwright was made a Fellow of the Royal Television Society.[26]

Wainwright wrote and directed a two-hour drama special for BBC One entitled To Walk Invisible, which aired on BBC One in 2016 and in the US in 2017. Its subject is the Brontë family, particularly the relationship the three sisters, Anne, Emily and Charlotte, had with their brother, Branwell. While working on the drama, Wainwright said "I am thrilled beyond measure that I've been asked by the BBC to bring to life these three fascinating, talented, ingenious Yorkshire women."[27]

In 2019, Wainwright's Gentleman Jack, a drama about the 19th-century Yorkshire landowner, diarist, and open lesbian, Anne Lister, played by Suranne Jones, and Lister's courtship of Ann Walker, played by Sophie Rundle, premiered on both BBC One in the UK and HBO in the US.[28]

Personal life[edit]

Wainwright, who lives in Oxfordshire, is married to Ralph "Austin" Sherlaw-Johnson, an antiquarian sheet music dealer, son of the composer, pianist, and music scholar Robert Sherlaw Johnson.[29][30][31] They have two sons and, as of 2023, a Maine Coon cat Wainwright claims is the largest in the world.[15][3][32]

Wainwright was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2020 Birthday Honours for services to writing and television.[33]

Wainwright has said that she has "decided that [she is] slightly autistic" and that social interaction is quite painful for her.[34]



Year Work Credited as Notes
Writer Creator Producer Director
1991 Emmerdale Yes No No No 2 episodes
1992–1995 Children's Ward Yes No No No Staff Writer
1994 The House of Windsor Yes No No No 1 episode
1994–1999 Coronation Street Yes No No No 57 episodes[1]
1994–1995 Revelations Yes No No No 5 episodes
1999 Bad Girls Yes No No No 1 episode
1999–2000 Playing the Field Yes No No No 5 episodes
2000–2003 At Home with the Braithwaites Yes Yes Yes No Writer, creator and associate producer
2002 Sparkhouse Yes Yes Yes No Wrote all 3 episodes; credited as co-producer
2003 The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath Yes No No No 1 episode
2005 ShakespeaRe-Told: The Taming of the Shrew Yes No No No 1 episode
2006 Jane Hall Yes Yes Yes No 6 episodes as writer, creator and co-producer
2006 The Amazing Mrs Pritchard Yes Yes Yes No 6 episodes as writer, creator and associate producer
2007 Dead Clever Yes Yes No No Television film
2007 Bonkers Yes Yes No No 6 episodes
2009 Unforgiven Yes Yes Yes No 3 episodes as writer, creator and executive producer
2011–2016 Scott & Bailey Yes Yes Yes No 31 episodes, 19 as writer. Co-creator Diane Taylor
Based on an idea by Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay
2012–2020 Last Tango in Halifax Yes Yes Yes No 24 episodes as writer, creator and executive producer
2013 The Last Witch Yes Yes Yes No Pilot episode/Television film
2014–2023 Happy Valley Yes Yes Yes Yes 18 episodes as writer, creator and executive producer, 5 as director
2016 To Walk Invisible Yes Yes Yes Yes Television film
2019–2022 Gentleman Jack Yes Yes Yes Yes 8 episodes as writer, creator and executive producer, 4 as director
2024 Renegade Nell[35] Yes Yes Yes No



  • 2003: Best Short Drama Banff Festival for The Wife of Bath's Tale
  • 2009: RTS Awards, Best Drama Serial for Unforgiven
  • 2011: RTS North West Awards, Best Writer for Scott & Bailey
  • 2013: Sky WFTV Awards, Technicolor Writing Award
  • 2013: BAFTA TV Craft Awards, Best Drama Writer
  • 2013: BAFTA TV Craft Awards, Best Drama Series for Last Tango in Halifax
  • 2014: Broadcast Awards, Best Drama Series for Happy Valley
  • 2014: British Screenwriters’ Awards, Best British TV Drama Writing for Happy Valley
  • 2014: Crime Thriller Awards, Best TV Series for Happy Valley
  • 2014: TV Choice Awards, Best New Drama for Happy Valley
  • 2015: Broadcasting Press Guild Awards, Best Drama Writer
  • 2015: BAFTA TV Craft Awards, Best Drama Writer
  • 2015: Edgar Allan Poe Awards, Best Television Episode for Happy Valley (episode 1)
  • 2015: WGGB Awards, Best Long Form TV Drama for Happy Valley
  • 2015: Edinburgh TV Awards, Best Programme of the year for Happy Valley
  • 2015: BAFTA Awards, Best Drama Series for Happy Valley
  • 2017: RTS Programme Awards, Best Drama Writer for Happy Valley
  • 2017: RTS Programme Awards, Judges' Award
  • 2017:BAFTA Awards, Best Drama Series for Happy Valley[36]
  • 2017: BAFTA TV Craft Awards, Best Drama Writer for 'Happy Valley'
  • 2020: Royal Television Society Awards, Best Drama Series Winner for 'Gentleman Jack'[37]
  • 2020: Freedom of The Borough of Calderdale [38]
  • 2020: Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2020 Birthday Honours for services to Writing and Television.[39]


  1. ^ a b Wainwright, Sally; Costigan, George; Holt, Judy (22 November 2015). "Sally Wainwright in conversation with George Costigan & Judy Holt" (Video interview). Square Chapel.
  2. ^ Williams, Zoe (13 August 2016). "Sally Wainwright: 'I don't set out to instruct people. I want to entertain'". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d Anthony, Andrew (6 February 2016). "Sally Wainwright: the titan of genuine reality television". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  4. ^ Himelfield, Dave (10 January 2023). "Happy Valley's Sally Wainwright's life from bus driver to TV script genius". Yorkshire Live. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  5. ^ Nicholson, Rebecca (17 May 2019). "From The Archers to HBO: how Sally Wainwright conquered TV". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  6. ^ Gilbert, Gerard (30 April 2014). "Happy Valley, BBC1 – TV review: Homegrown, Yorkshire-set drama is better than Fargo". The Independent. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  7. ^ DeWolf Smith, Nancy (14 August 2014). "In Yorkshire's Green but Not Pleasant Land". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  8. ^ "Last Tango In Halifax: Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid lead cast in a new drama series for BBC One. Interview with writer, Sally Wainwright". BBC One. 11 January 2012.
  9. ^ "Sally Wainwright: My Yorkshire". Yorkshire Post. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  10. ^ a b c d e Williamson, Charlotte (22 December 2013). "My mother's late-life love is charming the nation". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  11. ^ Raphael, Amy (15 January 2023). "Happy Valley creator Sally Wainwright on the "definite climax" of season 3". RadioTimes.com. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  12. ^ a b "2012 Manchester Literature Festival: Q&A with... Sally Wainwright". BBC writersroom. 2012.
  13. ^ "Sally Wainwright: BBC Writersroom interviews TV writer and playwright, Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax, Scott & Bailey, Happy Valley)". BBC writersroom. 19 March 2015.
  14. ^ "Sally Wainwright meets Matthew Barry". BAFTA Guru Encounters. 30 September 2015. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  15. ^ a b c d "Sally Wainwright Desert Island Discs" (Broadcast). BBC Radio 4. 5 October 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  16. ^ Lockyer, Daphne (1 July 2006). "In the driving seat". The Times. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  17. ^ "Programme Awards 2009". Royal Television Society Yorkshire. Archived from the original on 12 March 2012.
  18. ^ Frost, Vicky (6 June 2014). "Sally Wainwright: 'I like writing women, they're heroic'". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  19. ^ "TV cop dramas irritated me, so I made my own, says the former Detective Inspector behind Scott And Bailey". Manchester Evening News. June 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  20. ^ Graham, Alison (2013). "Can't "bold and memorable female characters" be part of any drama?". Radio Times. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  21. ^ Howe, Liz (30 April 2014). "Sally Wainwright's Happy Valley showcases Yorkshire". Holdsworth House. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  22. ^ "Last Tango in Halifax writer Sally Wainwright set to start filming new drama in Hebden Bridge". Halifax Courier. 25 September 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  23. ^ a b Jones, Hannah (28 May 2014). "Happy Valley: Writer Sally Wainwright on TV's most talked about show". Wales Online. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  24. ^ Doran, Sarah (25 November 2016). "Sally Wainwright delays Happy Valley series three to work on new drama project". Radio Times. Immediate Media Company Limited. Retrieved 5 February 2017. Though by the time I get round to writing the next series of Happy Valley, the year will have expired."
  25. ^ "The release date for Happy Valley season 3 has finally been confirmed". 2 December 2022.
  26. ^ "RTS Fellows | Royal Television Society". rts.org.uk. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  27. ^ "BBC One announces new drama by award-winner writer Sally Wainwright". BBC Media Centre. 18 May 2015. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  28. ^ ""Gentleman Jack: The Life and Times of Anne Lister – The Official Companion to the BBC Series"" (PDF). London: Ebury Publishing. 31 January 2019. p. 32. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  29. ^ "Reporter 459, 20 November 2000". reporter.leeds.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  30. ^ "Sally Wainwright: "My younger self willed being a top writer into happening"". 21 February 2020.
  31. ^ Calkin, Jessamy (9 February 2016). "Behind the scenes of Bafta-winning drama Happy Valley". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  32. ^ "Happy Valley and Gentleman Jack writer Sally Wainwright: My Yorkshire".
  33. ^ "No. 63135". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 October 2020. p. B15.
  34. ^ "Happy Valley creator Sally Wainwright on the "definite climax" of season 3".
  35. ^ Ritman, Alex (15 April 2021). "Disney+ Unveils First U.K. Scripted Slate From 'Happy Valley' Creator, 'Killing Eve' Producers". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  36. ^ "2017 Television Drama Series | BAFTA Awards". awards.bafta.org.
  37. ^ "Winners of the RTS Programme Awards 2020 announced". 17 March 2020.
  38. ^ "Sally Wainwright awarded Freedom of the Borough". 12 March 2020.
  39. ^ "Birthday Honours 2020: Marcus Rashford and Joe Wicks honoured alongside key workers". BBC News. 10 October 2020. Retrieved 10 October 2020.

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