If there's one thing Kay Mellor OBE does brilliantly, it's writing people.
From Band Of Gold (1995) and Fat Friends (2000) through to the first series of The Syndicate (2012) and last year's In The Club, the characters she creates are flawed, as all the best characters are, but are also likeable, relatable and it's that that makes people tune in in their millions to see what happens next.
For some writers, a third series with yet another new cast could be a daunting prospect, but I feel like for Kay, this comes naturally to her. This is ever more evident in the latest, third series of hit BBC One drama The Syndicate.
For those who have never seen a series of The Syndicate, the first series (2012) followed a group of people who work in a supermarket in Leeds, and explored how their lives changed as the result of a joint £18m lottery win, through a syndicate. This included secrets being revealed which they wished had been kept just that, secret. The series starred Timothy Spall (Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), Joanna Page (Gavin & Stacey) and Lorraine Bruce (Benidorm).
The second series (2013) contained the same premise, this time centred around a group of hospital workers in Yorkshire This time the brand new cast was headed up by Alison Steadman (Gavin & Stacey), Jimi Mistry (East Is East) and Siobhan Finneran (Downton Abbey).
Two year's later, Kay has returned to the idea of a group of people winning the lottery through a syndicate and yet again has secured a fantastic cast including Anthony Andrews (The Kings Speech), Elizabeth Berrington (Stella), Melanie Hill (Cilla) and Lenny Henry (The Lenny Henry Show).
This time the series has been set it in Hazelwood Manor, a once impressive stately home overlooking all of Scarborough. However, the Hazelwood's family home has fallen into disrepair and Lord Hazelwood (Anthony Andrews) and his second wife Lady Hazelwood (Alice Krige) are falling deeper and deeper into debt, £6.5m to be precise.
Lady Hazelwood is more concerned however with maintaining the lifestyle she's become accustomed to and stepson Spencer (Sam Phillips) seems set on spending his inheritance as quickly as possible... all behind the back of the ailing Lord Hazelwood.
There used to be over 30 staff at the house but now just 5 remain after Lord and Lady Hazelwood were forced to let the others go. Housekeeper Sarah (Cara Theobold), cleaner Dawn (Elizabeth Berrington), cook Julie (Melanie Hill), gamekeeper-cum-groomsman Sean (Richard Rankin) and gardener Godfrey (Lenny Henry) all have to pitch in and do more than one job just to keep the estate going.
But yes, you guessed it... with the future of Hazelwood and their jobs in question, the unthinkable happens and the staff win the lottery!
The Syndicate 3 follows the highs and lows of the staff’s journey from downstairs to upstairs... Life for the staff of Hazelwood Manor is about to change forever.
What I especially loved about Elizabeth Berrington's performance, was the way she was able to feel complete and utter elation at the moment she finds out she's won the lottery and seconds later something happens (I don't wish to spoil it) that sends her whole world 360, and the contrast between the two emotions in such a short space of time is rare for television and Elizabeth provides a great masterclass in The Syndicate.
For me, the biggest surprise of the series was Lenny Henry, someone we all know and love for being a comedian, from The Lenny Henry Show to Red Nose Day, Lenny has been on our TV screens for the past 40 years making us laugh. In 2009 Lenny Henry starred in Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and critics could not have praised his performance any more, and now in The Syndicate, TV viewers are about to get an indication as to why that was.
Lenny's character in The Syndicate is Godfrey, Hazelwood Manor's gardener. He's been there for the past 20 years and is the only gardener looking after the manor, except for the occasional volunteer or contractor, but working this is exactly how he likes it.
Godfrey has Asperger's Syndrome and is most at home when looking after his plants, as opposed to interacting with people, who he finds harder to understand. This is where I really have to commend Lenny Henry for the way in which he plays him, his natural performance ensure the character isn't played for laugh, and whilst there are times when you do raise a smile, or even laugh, you are never laughing at him. You're smiling because you appreciate the character for who he is, a fundamentally nice guy who has made a living for himself whilst many with his condition would have shied away from interacting with other people.
Aside from gardening, Godfrey loves mathematics and is forever jotting his formulas and equations down in his notebook, which is what leads him to believe that he has the winning formula for this week's lottery draw - the least possible combinations with the most numbers. So instead of the usual one line each, Godfrey instructs the rest of the staff to pay for three lines this week, a gamble perhaps, but Godfrey is so sure that he's worked it all out that he assure them this week is the week they will win millions.
He’s the one who set up the syndicate, and has been working on the number sequences for seven years and this time he’s sure he’s finally worked it out.
Unfortunately the staff don't believe him, and after much debating, they each decide to pay £6 and play three lines each, mainly to keep him quiet. It's always been down to Dawn to buy the lottery ticket each week, and if it wasn't for the shopkeeper reminding her, she very nearly didn't play the 15 lines that will guarantee them a win.
It's no spoiler to say that they do indeed hit the jackpot, but was it all down to Godfrey's mathematical system?