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Actress, screenwriter and director Kay Mellor has died aged 71, it has been announced.

A spokesperson for her TV production company, Rollem Productions, confirmed “with profound sadness” that she died on Sunday.

She was known for creating and writing the ITV series Fat Friends – which helped launch James Corden’s career.

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Mellor also wrote comedy and drama series such as The Syndicate, Girlfriends and Band of Gold.

A Rollem Productions spokesman said: “It is with profound sadness that we announce the untimely and sudden passing of our beloved friend, mentor and colleague Kay Mellor on Sunday 15 May 2022.

“We have lost a phenomenal talent and a true luminary. We ask that you please respect the privacy of the family and friends at this time.”

Mellor began her career writing plays, worked on Coronation Street and created the award-winning children’s drama Children’s Ward.

She also wrote BBC One’s women’s football series Playing The Field and in 2010 received an OBE.

Fat Friends aired from 2000-2005 and gave a young Corden his first major acting role. It also starred Ruth Jones, Sheridan Smith and Alison Steadman.

The BBC’s chief content officer, Charlotte Moore, paid tribute to Kay Mellor following her death, saying she was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the news.

“Kay was an outstanding writer and the creative force behind many of the nation’s best-loved television dramas,” Moore said.

“She wrote with such heart, humanity, humour and passion with strong female characters often taking centre stage.

“She will be missed and our thoughts are with her friends and family at this difficult time.”

Band of Gold, which ran from 1995 to 1997 was considered a ground-breaking drama, bringing to life the lives of a group of sex workers in Bradford as they tried to take on police and gangsters in a bid to run their own street business.

It gave Hollywood actress Samantha Morton one of her first major roles, later going on to star in films such as Minority Report opposite Tom Cruise. She also played Alpha in The Walking Dead.

Mellor appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2017 and chose The Beautiful South’s Perfect 10, the Fat Friends theme tune, as one of her sound tracks, saying “every time I heard that I used to get excited and get butterflies”.

She explained: “It was such a lovely time of my life, it was a drama that was really important to me because I thought I had something to say about weight and body image.”

This is a breaking news story. Further updates to follow.