Can you fall in love at 75 Screenwriter Sally Wainwright on how her mother's sweet late-life romance inspired her new drama
22:31 GMT, 9 November 2012
My mother Dorothy isn’t someone who takes life lightly and she’s wary about anything improper.
But eight years ago my sister put her on the website Friends Reunited and she got back in touch with a school friend called Alec.
They’d grown up two streets away from each other and their mothers were friends, but they’d lost contact when they were 15.
'You don't think people fall in love like that so deeply and so quickly. But their love was so beautiful and uplifting that it inspired everyone around them' says Sally
After a few emails were exchanged he came for tea and they fell in love with each other there and then. It was like they’d known each other all their lives – even though they hadn’t seen each other for 60 years. Within six months these two widowed 75-year-olds were married.
You don’t think people fall in love like that – so deeply and so quickly. But their love was so beautiful and uplifting that it inspired everyone around them.
You couldn’t help but be happy when you saw them together. And when I told people about it they’d smile and say, ‘That’s amazing.’ I remember telling my colleague Nicola Shindler about it and she said, ‘That’s wonderful, you need to write that story.’ She became the executive producer of Last Tango In Halifax and we instantly sold the script.
I’ve used lots of details from my own experiences in it; it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It was surprising to see how much my mum Dorothy – who became Celia in my story – changed. She became so passionate and emotional; I’d never thought of her like that.
Her relationship with my dad, who she was married to for 50 years, had seemed unremarkable. She nursed him through dementia and seemed content as a widow. But with Alec – whose character I called Alan – she became so happy and was very articulate about how wonderful this romance was.
She became energised in a way I’d never seen. It was wonderful. I almost didn’t recognise her. She’d always had a fantastic sense of humour, but that became more obvious. She and Alec were always giggling together.
Her relationship with my dad, who she was married to for 50 years, had seemed unremarkable
I wrote one scene in the drama in which Celia and Alan are killing themselves laughing as they listen to her daughter Caroline having an awful argument with her husband. That was based on reality. Once when my husband Austin and I were having a real humdinger, we found them in hysterics in the next room.
In another scene the relationship has become physical and Celia tries to tell her daughter about it because she wants to share her happiness. I’ve written the scene exactly as it happened with my mum. I’m ashamed to say I covered my ears and said, ‘I don’t need to know that Mum. It’s good but don’t tell me.’ You don’t expect to be having that conversation with your mum.
This is, of course, a drama so there are some invented storylines. In real life we got on instantly with Alec’s family. We were all buoyed by their love for each other. But on screen Alan’s daughter Gillian, played by Nicola Walker, and Celia’s daughter Caroline, played by Sarah Lancashire, definitely start off on the wrong foot.
Alan himself is played by Sir Derek Jacobi. I never imagined getting someone like him in one of my dramas – I thought he was in a different stratosphere. But he was instantly like Alec and even looks a bit like him. He totally got what a happy, jokey man he was.
For Celia, I always had Anne Reid in mind. She’s so down to earth and compelling to watch. And she enjoyed this part so much. She told me she was fed up with getting parts where the character was old and not much else. This isn’t about being old; it’s about love, something new and exciting happening.
There was genuine chemistry between Derek and Annie. They became pals and went out for dinner every night. On set, which was in Yorkshire where I grew up, they’d sit together with their iPads. It was very sweet.
There was a special feeling on set – not like anything I’ve experienced before. There was so much laughter, and I hope it was because everyone found the story so uplifting.
The cast entered into the spirit of it and asked me to write more scenes. They wanted to have more fun. Annie found out Derek is a good dancer, so I put in a scene where they do a jive. And Derek came up with a storyline where two of his mates ask separately if they can be best man.
Mum and Alec thought everyone would think they were daft getting married in their 70s. Nothing could have been further from the truth and I’m so happy to be able to share their incredible story.
Sadly Alec died of a heart attack before I started writing this; their marriage only lasted three years. But Mum is delighted their story is being told. It’s a celebration of how fantastic the whole thing was.
Last Tango In Halifax, Tuesday 20 November, 9pm, BBC1.