Oldham’s Suranne Jones on creating Scott and Bailey

Suranne Jones as DC Rachel Bailey. Photography by Ben Blackall.

Suranne Jones as DC Rachel Bailey. Photography by Ben Blackall. - Credit: Archant

Oldham-born Suranne Jones talks to Paul Taylor about her idea for Lancashire’s answer to Cagney and Lacey. It proved so popular, it’s back for a fourth series.

The cast of Scott and Bailey
Photography by Ben Blackall.

The cast of Scott and Bailey Photography by Ben Blackall. - Credit: Archant

In the busy world of TV cop drama, Suranne Jones has created something never seen before - a female detective who is just like one of the lads.

We have seen plenty of women - from Miss Marple to Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect - who could out-sleuth the men. But none, until Scott & Bailey’s DC Rachel Bailey, could also outdo the men for boozing, ill-advised relationships, dishevelment and domestic chaos.

While Manchester-born Lesley Sharp is a wise owl as DC Janet Scott, DC Bailey is more a bull in a china shop. Does Suranne have an affection for this troubled but brilliant character?

‘Yes, I do,’ she says. ‘She’s multi-faceted. She’s very good at her job, but she has lots of issues, hormones flying everywhere. She’s emotionally stunted but yet very bright. She’s trapped by her history of her family and wanting to better herself.’

Suranne Jones (left) as DC Rachel Bailey, with Lesley Sharp as DC Janet Scott. Photography by Ben Bl

Suranne Jones (left) as DC Rachel Bailey, with Lesley Sharp as DC Janet Scott. Photography by Ben Blackall. - Credit: Archant

Much of what makes Bailey such a compelling character was envisaged right from the start by Suranne and her friend and fellow actor Sally Lindsay, who dreamed up the concept of the drama together.

‘We talked it through then put it on paper, wrote characters and their personality,’ says Suranne, who is 36. ‘Then we wrote a treatment about what we thought the programme should be about, and we felt it should be about their home life and work and how one affects the other, so that it’s a three-dimensional piece.’

This was then brought to life by writer Sally Wainwright, whose other recent successes have included Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax. A new series of eight episodes of Scott & Bailey began in September, and the drama is now so beloved that ITV’s director of drama Steve November said recently: ‘ITV Drama without Scott & Bailey would be unthinkable’.

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Aside from Suranne, Lesley and Amelia Bulmore as their boss DCI Gill Murray, Scott & Bailey’s other undoubted star is the moody locations - not just Manchester landmarks, but anonymous streets, with a liberal helping of old mills and factories, in towns such as Oldham, Bury, Rochdale and Ashton-under-Lyne.

‘Sally Wainwright does not just write on the page. The setting, the landscape, the buildings are a part of her writing,’ says Suranne. ‘Last Tango in Halifax, Unforgiven, Scott & Bailey - they all have a certain look and a certain feel.’

For Suranne, filming on location in Oldham was a simple matter of coming home. She was brought up on Foxdenton Lane in Chadderton - daughter of Chris, an engineer, and Jenny, a secretary - and one of her earliest memories is of cows from the nearby farm looking through the window as the family sat down to eat. She went to Cardinal Langley RC High School in Middleton. Childhood in Oldham was, she says, ‘very positive’.

‘I went to Oldham Theatre Workshop from being ten, and that was a blessing because it developed skills through singing lessons and going to auditions,’ she says. ‘I’d tried lots of things before that - tap-dancing, music, and none of it stuck. I thank Oldham Theatre Workshop for giving me the opportunity to develop in what is now my career.’

By the age of 16, Suranne was touring in the play Rita Sue and Bob Too, and by 21 she was a Coronation Street regular.

Today, she divides her time between homes in London and Manchester, with Scott & Bailey bringing her back home for five months of every year. ‘My family’s there. I love my area. It’s very friendly. People know me because of Corrie.

‘And because of Scott & Bailey, they feel I am a representative of Manchester. That’s a nice feeling, and it’s always lovely to go back.’

Though the love life of DC Rachel Bailey is up for discussion, Suranne’s own is not. (She has reportedly just got engaged to magazine editor Laurence Akers). Nor does she loom large in the gossip columns. Is it a conscious effort on her part to avoid the paparazzi haunts?

‘I just live a normal life,’ says Suranne. ‘I probably go to the same bars and coffee houses you do. There are not as many paparazzi opportunities in the Co-op in south Manchester.’