Happy Valley creator Sally Wainwright reveals real reason we had a seven-year wait for season 3

Our first look at Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley S3.
Happy Valley is coming to an end after three seasons. (Image credit: BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire)

The end is nigh. After three series of nail-biting cliffhangers and shocking twists, BBC One’s Yorkshire-set crime drama Happy Valley season 3 will bow out this Sunday, with the scene set for one of the most explosive finales in TV history!

Since the thriller began in 2014, viewers have been gripped as Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) investigated a kidnapping, drug-related murders, and gangland crime, all while dealing with constant grief and pain caused by her long-term nemesis, murderer, and serial sex offender Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton).

Now, things are set to come to a head as psychopath Tommy initiates his plan to kill Catherine and escape to Spain with his teenage son Ryan (Rhys Connah), Catherine’s grandson.

Sally Wainwright spoke to What to Watch about the thrilling conclusion and gave us a little more background into the series itself...

What originally inspired you to write Happy Valley?

Rob Hepworth and Faisal are neighbours in Happy Valley.

Rob Hepworth and Faisal Bhatti in Happy Valley. (Image credit: BBC)

"It was partly because I saw a documentary called Shed Your Tears and Walk Away [released in 2009] about drug and alcohol problems in Hebden Bridge.

"But the other influence was [BBC One’s 80s drama] Juliet Bravo, which was filmed in Calderdale and was about a female police inspector. It’s actually one of my top 10 TV shows, so Happy Valley was my attempt to revisit that!"

How would you describe the final season?

"It’s really all about Catherine and about what happened to her in the past and this weird, crooked relationship she has with Tommy, who has affected her life so badly.

"What I often think about Catherine is that she’s a good person to whom something very tragic has happened, and that informs the character that she is now. There’s a streak of tragedy that strikes through her."

Can you give us any hints about what happens to Tommy and Ryan?

Happy Valley star Rhys Connah as Ryan Cawood

Happy Valley star Rhys Connah as Ryan Cawood. (Image credit: BBC)

"I waited six years to write this series of Happy Valley because I wanted to get to a point where Ryan would be old enough to start making choices about whether or not he wanted to have a relationship with his dad and to see how Catherine would feel about that.

"Ryan is now 16, so he can travel places by himself and he can do things behind Catherine’s back! I really wanted to be able to explore that, and it’s been great that we got Rhys Connah back to play Ryan – he’s done a fantastic job."

Did you always have Sarah Lancashire in mind for the role of Catherine?

Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) looking up in her police gear in Happy Valley season 3

Sarah Lancashire leads the cast of Happy Valley. (Image credit: BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire)

"Yes, because we’d just done Last Tango in Halifax [Sally penned the popular BBC One comedy-drama, which began in 2012], where Sarah played [head teacher] Caroline so well — she really captured my imagination. She gets every little detail and she has this fantastic charisma and personality.

"So right from the start, I had Sarah in my head, which really helped when I was creating the character of Catherine. As Catherine, Sarah is an extraordinarily empathetic performer. I think she conveys the real subtleties and the tiny moment-by-moment thoughts in everything she does. The audience really engages with her. And I know that when I’m writing for Sarah, nothing will be wasted. She’ll push everything in the right way and will also get the humor across."

How has it made you feel to get so much positive feedback about the show?

"So many people talk about it in such a lovely way that I do now believe it’s pretty good! You know, the truth is, it’s just an alchemy where some shows somehow manage to press buttons with people, and I guess Happy Valley is one of those.

"It’s also about transgressive behavior and things that are on the wrong side of the law, and people are fascinated by that!"

Finally, is this really the end?

"Yes. The intention developed through conversations I had with Sarah to make it a trilogy. We always said this would be the final season, and it very definitely is the final season!"

The Happy Valley finale airs on BBC One at 9 pm on Sunday, February 5. Episodes are also available on BBC iPlayer.

Hannah Davies

Hannah has been writing about TV for national newspapers and magazines ever since the 1990s when she covered the soaps for Woman magazine — and she still prides herself on rarely having missed an episode of EastEnders. Since then she’s written for various publications, including What To Watch, TV Times, What’s On TV, TV & Satellite Week, Woman & Home, Psychologies and Good Housekeeping

Apart from EastEnders, her other favorite shows include Succession, Unforgotten, Line of Duty, Motherland and anything by Russell T Davies. When Hannah isn’t watching or writing about telly, you’re likely to find her enjoying London’s latest theatre shows, taking her campervan on a wet UK holiday or embarrassing her teenage kids.