After receiving praise from viewers and critics alike, Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango in Halifax returns to BBC One on Sunday. The third series catches up with newly married Alan and Celia as Alan’s daughter Gillian heads out on a date with a mystery man and Celia’s daughter Caroline makes big plans with partner Kate. We were lucky enough to grab some time with Sally to discuss the new series as well as her massive success of Happy Valley and ITV’s Scott & Bailey.
The first series of Last Tango in Halifax was based on a relationship your mother had, are you still telling that story?
No, it’s gone into a completely new area. We’ve moved the story on and I think my mum would be annoyed now if she thought it was still autobiographical. We’ve taken all of the relationships further in this new series. We’ve had to introduce some new characters.
As this is the third series, is writing it any easier?
It’s nice that you feel confident who everyone is, but you’re also conscious that it’s a third series and it would be easy to get into a rut and become a soap. You don’t want to just tell the audience what happens next you want to find a whole new reason for the third series. Whenever I get another series of anything I always try and think of it as a first series. You have to give any new series a new breath of life.
What is the main theme of the series this year?
I think one of the most important elements this year is that we examine the fact that when Alan and Celia got married they didn’t actually know each other terribly well. They knew each other sixty years ago and they knew that they loved each other, but actually there’s a whole sixty years of each other’s lives that they know nothing about.
Last Tango mixes the warm relationship story with much darker tones. How do you tend to balance those two?
For me that’s what good writing is all about. Being able to mix two different tones is what makes writing rich. Life has its light and dark moments and I think it’s the balance that makes the show feel more human and authentic.
Catherine’s relationship affects her career in this first episode. What can we expect for her this year?
A lot of drama!! Caroline’s story this year is huge. I can’t tell you too much without giving the plot away but yes she has a big story this time round.
There’s a lot of humour in Last Tango how important is that to you?
For me it’s a drama but it’s a drama that people like because it’s very warm and funny. I think the humour is one of the great appeals of the series is the fact that it’s essentially very uplifting and it’s about the good side of human nature.
Do you feel like it’s a series that could run and run?
I think so. I think I’ll know when the time comes to end it as that’s usually fairly obvious. At the moment everybody loves making the show so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t continue.
How do you feel about the new Sunday night slot?
I think it’s the perfect slot for Last Tango. I think we’re going out after Call the Midwife so it’ll be a good Sunday night’s viewing.
I’ve got to ask you about Happy Valley. You must be delighted with how that was received. It’s still my favourite drama of the year.
Yeah! I think we were all a bit overwhelmed. When we were making it we knew it was being well made. We knew it was a good piece and that it was beautifully acted but I don’t think we were quite prepared for how huge it went and how people responded to it. I was aware after the first few episodes had gone out that people were really excited about it and it’s been an amazing year as a result of it.
I’ll admit to being slightly sceptical about a second series, were you always thinking of continuing the story?
Not really no. I’m in two minds. We are doing a second series but I am quite nervous because the first one was so successful. I normally love getting a second series of anything and everyone’s really excited about continuing something, but this is the first time I’ve actually been nervous about doing more. I’ve got some fantastic stories lined up for series two. It’ll be very different, but I’m hoping it’ll be just as exciting and people will enjoy it.
You were less involved in the most recent series of Scott & Bailey, how did it feel watching your series as an outsider?
I absolutely loved it! It was delightful and I really enjoyed watching it. I was slightly nervous before it went out and I was worried about not liking it. I watched every episode as it went out and I thought it was wonderful. What really struck me as well was how well acted it is. I’ve always known that but it was great being able to see it fresh. Particularly the last two episodes were absolutely perfect.
Those episodes felt quite final to me. Can you see it continuing?
I think there’s a number of things we could still do with the characters on that series.
What are your hopes for this new series of Last Tango in Halifax?
I hope they aren’t disappointed and love it as much as they loved the first two series. I hope it’ll be as well received as it has been in the past, but I think the last three episodes this year are stunning.
Last Tango in Halifax returns Sunday 28th December at 9.00pm on BBC One