Pics: Chris Bull UNP, Matt Frost ITV
As every Happy Valley fan knows, Sarah Lancashire’s Sergeant Catherine Cawood is a big-hearted, tough cookie who’s good at her job. And retired officer Lisa Farrand has a lot in common with her…
For years she’s pounded the real-life beat of the beautiful West Yorkshire patch where the popular BBC1 drama is set. And as a police advisor for the award-winning show, written by her old primary school friend Sally Wainwright, she’s helped actress Sarah pull off a gripping and realistic performance as Catherine. “As a police officer watching a police drama you often want to shout at the TV!” admits Lisa (52), who lives in Huddersfield with husband Richard (55); also a retired police officer. “Sally’s a real perfectionist who wanted everything to be as realistic as possible, which involved me spending time with Sarah explaining how to hold handcuffs, use a baton or get into a police car. She even wears my old police hat.”
Lisa advised Sarah to spend time getting to feel comfortable in a worn, not pristine, uniform. And in one scene from the last series, when Catherine gets out of breath chasing a criminal, stops and tells herself: 'You’re getting too old for this', it was Lisa who suggested the line after being asked what she would do. “Jargon has to be realistic too,” she adds.
So is feisty but kind and compassionate Catherine actually based on Lisa, who’s one of only a few officers of her rank to be awarded the prestigious Queen’s Police Medal for her work? Lisa laughs in a way that suggests it’s not the first time she’s been asked that question. “I did ask Sally if she’d been following me around when she wrote the part of Catherine! But I think so many police women who joined the service at a certain time will see elements of themselves in her character,” admits the gran of two.
At 18, Lisa was a single mum to son Sam (now 34), and later began working in the education sector. But at the age of 26, when married to the father of her second son Tom (now 27), a local newspaper article caught her eye: West Yorkshire Police wanted more married women in the force.
“I thought I could make a difference,” Lisa recalls. “As a passer-by I’d seen people arrested for shoplifting and thought the police were being a bit heavy-handed. Being older and more mature, I thought I could be compassionate with people without having the wool pulled over my eyes. I’ve always been one of those people who fights for a cause. Mum and I delivered food parcels during the 80s miners’ strike.”
After playing no sport since school netball days, Lisa spent six months training to pass the necessary physical fitness test. Following all the exams and assessments, she joined the force in August 1989. “I was sort of thrilled; not anxious but apprehensive,” she recalls. After 18 months as a probational constable based in Halifax, she realised she’d found her true vocation. “I didn’t want to be a sergeant or a detective, I just wanted to be a community beat officer,” she says.
Based in a predominantly Muslim ward, she threw herself into the culture, even learning Urdu at night classes and organising award-winning community projects in a deprived area. “I’m a firm believer that you go out and give 100 per cent, and it was a brilliant time, absolutely brilliant,” says Lisa. “I loved the way the community looked after each other. “If you cut me down the middle, I’m sure it would say community beat officer like a stick of rock!”
In 2002, Lisa received the Queen’s Police Medal from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace for services to the police, which she hopes is testament to her original ambition to make a difference.
However, a year later, a serious attempt was made on her life – a terrifying repercussion of the Bradford riots of 2001. “I thought I was going to die,” says Lisa, recalling how four young Asian men tried to run her over then force her into the back of a car. A local Halal butcher saved her life by locking her in his shop while he raised the alarm. “I felt as if I was drowning; it’s the only time I’ve tried to scream when no sound was coming out,” she adds.
‘I’ve spent time with Sarah explaining how to hold handcuffs and use a baton’
Eventually the men were brought to justice and Lisa took an office-based training job for three years. But by 2006, the urge to be back on the beat got the better of her. “I helped start up a town centre team in my home town of Huddersfield - on a beat covered by CCTV, so I felt safe,” she says.
Lisa’s work involved improving student safety with innovative comedy awareness films, which she also enjoyed. “It sounds a cliché but I honestly like to help people,” says Lisa. “My gran and grandpa used to drill it into me that you reap what you sow; to treat people as you expect to be treated and always smile!”
However, after being seriously injured making an arrest, which left her with a permanent brace on her right arm, Lisa was retired from the force on medical grounds in April 2013, a decision she’s contesting certain issues of.
Months later, thanks to a mutual friend, she got a call from former schoolfriend Sally, who she’d lost touch with at the age of 11. “I was big for my age and got bullied for being overweight,” says Lisa. “Some of the other children were horrible to me but Sally and her sister Diane were lovely friends who saw me for who I was. I’d always remembered her being this really kind person – and when we met again all those years later she hadn’t changed, despite her success.”
Soon Lisa had taken on her exciting new role for the TV drama, and a new series of Happy Valley is due to return to our screens early next year. “It’s not going to make me rich and it’s not glamorous at all! I had so many layers on when we were filming on the freezing moors that I could hardly walk!” she laughs. “But it’s great fun and it’s given me the opportunity to meet people I would never have met.”
Old police habits die hard though... Lisa’s not giving any clues away about the next series. “Even if I could, I wouldn’t!” she laughs. “You’ll just have to watch!”
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