From saucy stage role to TV’s toughest female cop… Sarah Lancashire’s long journey to Happy Valley


As Sergeant Catherine Cawood, she has millions of viewers on tenterhooks ahead of this Sunday’s Happy Valley finale.

And for Sarah Lancashire, the gritty role in BBC1’s crime drama has marked a change of pace from the characters that made her a household name.

The Oldham-born actress, 58, is perhaps still best known for playing barmaid Raquel in Coronation Street, but has had a varied career since leaving drama school.

Her first major role, as a beauty contestant in swimwear and high heels, was on stage in 1986 in Manchester Library Theatre Company’s The Beauty Game.

Stage role: Sarah Lancashire (centre) in The Beauty Game in 1986

Stage role: Sarah Lancashire (centre) in The Beauty Game in 1986

Road to fame: Lancashire with Bill Tarmey as Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street in 1986

Road to fame: Lancashire with Bill Tarmey as Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street in 1986

Lancashire in 1991

Lancashire in 1994

Actor: Lancashire with Mark Wingett in The Bill in 1991 and back in the Rovers as Raquel in 1994

She then had a fleeting appearance in Coronation Street as Jack Duckworth’s prospective lodger, and also in an episode of The Bill, before returning to Corrie as Rovers Return barmaid Raquel, becoming one of the ITV soap’s best-loved characters.

Her character left the Street in 1996, walking out on hapless husband Norman ‘Curly’ Watts. 

Ms Lancashire said that quitting was ‘like jumping off a cliff at midnight’ but her desire to pursue other kinds of acting led to roles as a nurse in ITV’s Where The Heart Is, as a factory worker in BBC1 drama Clocking Off and as a lawyer in the BBC comedy series Chambers.

She signed a deal with ITV worth a reported £1.6million, which saw her star in an adaptation of D H Lawrence’s novel Sons And Lovers. A return to theatre saw her appear in the West End in musicals Guys And Dolls and, in 2011, Betty Blue Eyes.

Lancashire in 2000

Lancashire in 2003

Versatile: With James Fleet and John Bird in Chambers in 2000, and with Rupert Evans in Sons And Lovers in 2003

Lancashire in 2011

Lancashire in 2014

Talent: On stage in Betty Blue Eyes in 2011 and in Last Tango in Halifax in 2014 

Lancashire in 2022

Lancashire now

Cooking up a cliffhanger: As a TV chef in Julia in 2022 and as cop Sgt Catherine Atwood in Happy Valley 

Ms Lancashire then starred in BBC1 comedy drama Last Tango In Halifax, which would run until 2020. 

It was written by Sally Wainwright, who also created Happy Valley, which first aired in 2014.

Before filming the final series of the crime drama, Ms Lancashire, who is married to TV executive Peter Salmon and has three children, began playing TV chef Julia Child in the HBO series Julia.

Happy Valley has gained a cult following in the US through Netflix. 

Upcoming: A trailer for the final episode of Happy Valley was released this week ahead of the upcoming finale on Sunday

Upcoming: A trailer for the final episode of Happy Valley was released this week ahead of the upcoming finale on Sunday

Fans there and in the UK are gearing up for an explosive final episode, with a trailer suggesting a fiery showdown between Sgt Cawood and villain Tommy Lee Royce, played by James Norton.

A trailer for the final episode of Happy Valley was released this week ahead of the upcoming finale on Sunday.

The 16 second clip teases the final showdown between Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) and Tommy Lee Royce (James) after his daring escape from court before the police sergeant is shown breaking down in tears.

The trailer opens with Tommy’s son Ryan (Rhys Connah) being questioned by police about when he last had contact with his dangerous dad.

A series of scenes of the police moving in on Tommy follow as Catherine is heard saying ‘he’s still out there, he’s going to be angry and he’s going to be even more desperate and dangerous’.

The short clip ends with a bloodied Tommy appearing to hit somebody on the ground and a final shot of Catherine in tears. 

Viewers tuned into the breathless penultimate episode of the BBC drama on Sunday evening as Tommy revealed his grand plans.

Tommy escaped at the end of the fourth episode of this series with fans learning in Sunday’s fifth instalment that he planned to run off to Marbella, with his son Ryan in tow.  

Viewers admitted they could barely watch the dramatic episode as everything lined up for a dramatic showdown between Tommy and Sargent Catherine, as he revealed he plans to kill her before jetting off to Spain.

Producers are said to be so desperate to keep the show’s climax a secret that they have filmed five different endings.

More than six million viewers are expected to tune in on Sunday to learn how the cat-and-mouse game will be resolved.

Villain: More than six million viewers are expected to tune in on Sunday to learn how the cat-and-mouse game will be resolved (Tommy Lee Royce pictured)

Villain: More than six million viewers are expected to tune in on Sunday to learn how the cat-and-mouse game will be resolved (Tommy Lee Royce pictured) 

Why was Neil REALLY taking Ryan to see Tommy and will villainous Rob be framed for murder? Five outstanding issues we want resolving ahead of the explosive Happy Valley finale

  • WARNING: CONTAINS SERIES 3 EPISODE 4 SPOILERS 

It has so far been an explosive ride from beginning to end, with so many different interlinked plots running it is almost impossible to keep up.

Episode four saw Tommy Lee Royce’s grand escape from a Leeds courtroom, Rob Hepworth’s discovery of his wife’s lifeless body and Sargent Catherine Cawood’s many mentions of her impending retirement, deeming it just too good to be true.

But as the final series of Happy Valley draws to a close, with just two episodes left to air, viewers have been discussing the issues fans simply need the answers to.

Why? It has been the question on viewers' lips since it was shockingly revealed during episode two that Neil Ackroyd [Con O'Neill] was the person taking Ryan Cawood [Rhys Connah] to see his father Tommy Lee Royce [James Norton] in prison

Why? It has been the question on viewers’ lips since it was shockingly revealed during episode two that Neil Ackroyd [Con O’Neill] was the person taking Ryan Cawood [Rhys Connah] to see his father Tommy Lee Royce [James Norton] in prison

Why was Neil REALLY taking Ryan to see his dad Tommy? 

It has been the question on viewers’ lips since it was shockingly revealed during episode two that Neil Ackroyd [Con O’Neill] was the person taking Ryan Cawood [Rhys Connah] to see his father Tommy Lee Royce [James Norton] in prison.

During a heated confrontation with Ryan’s grandmother Catherine Cawood [Sarah Lancashire], Neil weakly explained that he was taking Ryan to visit Tommy because he ‘would have done it anyway’, with or without his help.

However the explanation hasn’t been enough to satisfy viewers, who have predicted that there is more to the relationship between Neil and Tommy. 

Neil’s involvement in the series had previously gone no further than being Clare Cawood’s [Siobanne Finneran] boyfriend, who she had known years previously and then rekindled her relationship with.

Looking back at Neil’s mysterious arrival in the show in series two, some have wildly suggested that Neil could have been planted into the family by Tommy in order to gain their trust, especially Ryan’s, to deliver messages and bring him to the prison.

They have even gone as far as to suggest that the strong link between the pair is due to the fact that Neil is Tommy’s father and that is the only viable reason for him putting Ryan at risk by taking him to Sheffield prison for visits.

But will the link be revealed during the finale two episodes of the show? 

Reaction: Looking back at Neil’s mysterious arrival in the show in series two, some have wildly suggested that Neil could have been planted into the family by Tommy in order to gain their trust, especially Ryan’s, to deliver messages and bring him to the prison

Why did Tommy ask Ryan to come and see him in court?

Happy Valley viewers watched in horror as Ryan bunked off school to watch his dad’s court appearance, where he was standing trial for the murder of Gary Gaggowski.

During their previous prison visit, Tommy had insisted that Neil bring Ryan to the court in Leeds to watch the trial from the public gallery.

Although Neil declined to take Ryan this time, the youngster managed to make his way their alone in order to see his father stand trial.

Once again when quizzed by Catherine, who asked why Tommy would want Ryan there, Neil asked that it was ‘so he could see him’.

He's out of here! Fans had also been scratching their heads at the invite, until it was revealed during the explosive hour-long extravaganza that Tommy had made his Great Escape

He’s out of here! Fans had also been scratching their heads at the invite, until it was revealed during the explosive hour-long extravaganza that Tommy had made his Great Escape

Unsatisfied with the answer, Sergeant Cawood dug deeper into why Tommy would want Ryan at his hearing, especially once she learned of his grand plans to take him bungy-jumping, despite his lifetime jail sentence.

Fans had also been scratching their heads at the invite, until it was revealed during the explosive hour-long extravaganza that Tommy had made his Great Escape.

After Knezevic heavies Matija and Ivan caused a ruckus outside the courtroom to distract security officers, Tommy seized the moment and jumped out of the dock.

He was later seen diving into Nico’s newsagents, where he picked up a bike and some cycling gear which had been left to aid his escape.

Some have mused that Tommy invited Ryan in a twisted attempt to impress him.

One person said: ‘It didn’t seem like Richard being there saved Ryan. So did Tommy just want Ryan there to see it? Did he think he would be impressed?’

Riding into the sunset: He was later seen diving into Nicos newsagents, where he picked up a bike and some cycling gear which had been left to aid his escape

Riding into the sunset: He was later seen diving into Nicos newsagents, where he picked up a bike and some cycling gear which had been left to aid his escape

However others have suggested that the criminal wanted his son close by – and more importantly away from supergran Catherine – in order to kidnap him.

A different person guessed: ‘He’s gonna go, they are gonna break Tommy out and then he’s gonna ‘kidnap’ Ryan – BETS.’

It came to light that Tommy had struck some sort of deal with the Knezevics in order to escape prison, with the Speak Spanish in 7 days dvd he was listening to suggesting that he could be heading for sunnier climes, possibly with Ryan in tow.

Others have noted that Ryan’s catchphrase throughout the series has been ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’, leading them to believe that in a shocking twist Ryan is actually out to get his dad and will turn on him later in the series.

Will PE teacher Rob Hepworth be framed for murder?  

Things took a murderous turn during episode three when rogue pharmacist Faisal Bhatti [Amit Shah] bashed Joanne Hepworth [Mollie Winnard] over the head with a rolling pin after she threatened to expose his pill-pushing secret.

After striking her over the head, Faisal injected Joanne with air, which was originally intended for her husband Rob Hepworth [Mark Stanley] as they plotted his demise.

She was later discovered by her husband after the police were alerted to her disappearance, but not by Mark, who appeared less than concerned by her absence as he repeatedly told everyone he was ‘too busy with work’.

Oh no! Things took a murderous turn during episode three when rogue pharmacist Faisal Bhatti [Amit Shah] bashed Joanne Hepworth [Mollie Winnard] over the head with a rolling pin after she threatened to expose his pill-pushing secret

Oh no! Things took a murderous turn during episode three when rogue pharmacist Faisal Bhatti [Amit Shah] bashed Joanne Hepworth [Mollie Winnard] over the head with a rolling pin after she threatened to expose his pill-pushing secret

Following a visit from two officers, Mark noted a suitcase in his garage, which he opened to discover his wife’s lifeless body inside.

Rob’s abusive behaviour has been noted throughout the series, including by Sargent Cawood, who had been in touch with Joanne and was trying to help her.

It’s not looking good for the PE teacher, who now has the body stashed in their family home and a very likely motive for murder.

Faisal appears set to get away scot free, but who knows how the storyline will continue to unravel as we reach the final two episodes.

Throughout the series there has also been emphasis on Rob and Joanne’s youngest daughter’s refusal to take her coat off inside the house.

One person wrote: ‘Desperate to know why the little sister won’t take off her coat though #HappyValley,’

Smells like trouble:  It's not looking good for the PE teacher, who now has the body stashed in their family home and a very likely motive for murder

Smells like trouble:  It’s not looking good for the PE teacher, who now has the body stashed in their family home and a very likely motive for murder

Another person added: ‘Yes, it’s almost midnight and yes, I’m still thinking about Happy Valley. Those two big storylines peaking: the choreography of the writing and direction! But also, still, the details. The breadcrumbs being laid. TAKE THAT COAT OFF.’ 

A third person added: ‘Also, the kid with her coat on is gonna be a huge part of their story I reckon,’. Another called the coat ‘significant’.

While Rob has not been shown being physically abusive towards his daughters like he is towards his wife, some have suggested this may be the reason why.

Others have heartbreakingly suggested that it so she feels a sense of security when he is near.

Viewers are no doubt aching to know the answers to the Hepworth drama.

Is Tommy the REAL big boss of the drugs gang? 

Some fans have even done a deep dive into series one and two to look at loose ends and revealed there are some characters who have made an unexpected return.

One user harked back to a storyline from series two, which involved a Croatian woman who was trafficked named Ilinka Blazevic [Ivana Basic].

The storyline appeared to hit a dead end, until the Croatian gang – the Knezevics – returned in series three and were most recently seen helping prison escapee Tommy.

However some viewers have suggested the Tommy is really the one in charge of the gang.

The Knezevics went to a lot of trouble to get Tommy out of jail but it is currently unclear why they went to such an effort. 

Evidence so far includes thug Ivan stating that the ‘big boss’ would be attending his wedding on Wednesday, which happens to be a day after Tommy’s release.

Will Sargent Cawood make her retirement do?

Fans have predicted the ultimate showdown between Catherine and Tommy following his daring escape from the courtroom during his murder trial.

Tommy’s escape signalled a final showdown between him Catherine, but with it being the final series some viewers are beginning to worry that the lead won’t make it to the retirement she has been counting down to.

It has not gone unnoticed by viewers that Catherine has mentioned several times she is looking forward to winding down when she leaves the force in a matter of days.

Watch out Catherine! Tommy's escape signalled a final showdown between him Catherine, but with it being the final series some viewers are beginning to worry that the lead won't make it to the retirement she has been counting down to

Watch out Catherine! Tommy’s escape signalled a final showdown between him Catherine, but with it being the final series some viewers are beginning to worry that the lead won’t make it to the retirement she has been counting down to

Her retirement do has also been noted more than once, as well as the pot of money that has been raised for her leaving present, currently standing at more than £2,000.

However the lighthearted nod to Catherine’s happy ending has spelt trouble for some viewers, who predicted she would instead meet a sticky end.

‘If bad things happen to Catherine at the end of this series I’m not sure I will be able to forgive Sally Wainwright and co.’ tweeted author JoJo Moyes.

Another viewer predicted a ‘Thelma and Louise’ style ending for the enemies, tweeting: ‘Catherine will take Tommy out, with the perfect Thelma and Louise ending.’

 ‘Catherine or Tommy are going to die, aren’t they?’ asked another

The end: Tommy's escape signals that a final showdown is building, but with it being the final series some viewers are beginning to worry that Lancashire's lead won't make it to retirement

The end: Tommy’s escape signals that a final showdown is building, but with it being the final series some viewers are beginning to worry that Lancashire’s lead won’t make it to retirement 

‘#Happyvalley Calling it now.. That retirement collection pot will be used at her funeral. Her and Tommy both getting killed off in the last episode,’ the viewer decided.

Another fan singled out another scene in episode four, suggesting that Catherine’s beloved Land Rover, bought for her retirement trip, could have a part to play.

‘Please let Catherine run Tommy Lee Royce over in the landrover, with Alison’s newly installed alternator, on the way to the ferry taking her on her retirement travels. That’s the happy ending to #HappyValley we all want. #saveCatherineCawood’

Others have more hopefully suggested the ending would be relying on an obvious trope if Sarah’s character was to die after repeatedly mentioning her retirement.

Fingers crossed Catherine lives to enjoy her trip to the Himalayas with Ryan.

Read MORE about Happy Valley

Happy Valley continues on Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.



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