Realistic, relatable female characters is what makes Scott & Bailey a hit with viewers. And Manchester, her home town, also plays a starring role, actress Suranne Jones tells Keeley Bolger
Ask actors about having to travel or commute for work, and it’s often met with a grumpy response, especially if taking a role means being miles from friends and family.
Ask Suranne Jones about filming Scott & Bailey in Manchester, however, and the response is nothing but cheery.
Admittedly, it’s because the 36-year-old is a born and bred Mancunian, brought up in Chadderton, and for a large chunk of the year, reaps the benefits of visiting her roots.
“I split my time between London and Manchester, but, for five months, I get to be at home in Manchester, which is wonderful, because that’s where most of my family is,” says the actress, who rose to fame aged 21 as gobby seamstress Karen McDonald in Coronation Street. Jones has spent much of her working life up north.
Most recently, she’s been back filming the upcoming fourth season of detective series Scott & Bailey, and being so close to her family means she’s had plenty of visits on set.
There’s her engineer dad Chris, who has popped by at least once a series, as well as her nephew, who at six is “just old enough to figure out” what his auntie does for a living.
Whether or not there are any actual relatives around, however, the actress insists there is always a family atmosphere on set, which she attributes to having largely the same cast and crew from the start.
This series opens with Jones’ character, DC Rachel Bailey, and her partner DC Janet Scott, played by Lesley Sharp, competing against each other to land the job as sergeant, with the final decision resting with DCI Gill.
“It’s a really healthy competition, which I think is quite unusual,” explains Jones.
“Usually, when there are two women who want the same thing, there’s a lot of rivalry, where actually, in Scott & Bailey, it’s set up as healthy competition.”
It’s this grounding in reality that Jones, who came up with the idea for the series while chatting with her former Corrie colleague Sally Lindsay at the pub, believes has been key to the show’s success.
“There are three different women there, three different generations, they’ve all got different family lives,” she says.
“Rachel’s a wild card, Janet started off married and then had an affair, so now she’s divorced, Gill was divorced and had a son at home; these are recognisable women.
“They’re very three-dimensional, they have great jobs and they’re complicated. It’s set in Manchester, which is a bit grey and misty and moody at times, so it’s not Sex And The City – it’s reality and it’s Manchester. That’s the beauty of it, it’s real women.”
The formula clearly worked, with an average of 7.1m people tuning in to watch the last series.
No wonder then that the atmosphere at work is sweet.
“We have bake-offs on set,” reveals Jones, laughing. “Oh God, we had 50 cakes at the last bake-off, because all the crew joined in as well, it was just brilliant.”
And the Scott & Bailey cast and crew had a very illustrious judge for their last sweet showdown.
“Russell T Davies came to judge our competition; it was very, very swish,” explains Jones, who worked with the famed Doctor Who writer in the enduring BBC One sci-fi series.
“I think Russell was off his head on sugar, because he tasted 50 cakes!” says Jones, whose banana, blueberry and chocolate chip muffins failed to scoop the main prize.
“He was having a sugar rush when I saw him.”
Scott & Bailey returns to ITV on Wednesday, September 10