AFTER God's Own Country and Dark River, here comes a third Yorkshire film of the new "kitchen-sink" generation, this one set against the Seventies' social club scene. Emma Clayton talks to producer Kevin Proctor.

“WOMEN aren’t funny,” In the film Funny Cow, released this Friday, a washed-up comic, peddling his tired stand-up routine in 1970s' clubland, insists that comedy is a man’s world. But Maxine Peake’s character, a feisty working-class woman we know only as Funny Cow, has other ideas.

The film – about a female comic trying to make it on the tough social club circuit – is a funny, brutal, touching nod to the terraced streets, smoky bars and domestic battles of the north half a century ago. Shot largely in Bradford, Saltaire and Shipley, it’s a slice of social history that many Yorkshire people will recall.

In an early flashback scene, a group of children race through a 1950s' Saltaire backstreet. One of them, a young girl with a cheeky grin, faces the wrath of her father back home. “What’s up Dad? You seem angry,” she says, dodging under the kitchen sink as he takes his belt to her. Fast forward a decade and she’s a young wife, whose husband turns out to be yet another angry man.

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A camera crew takes to the streets of Saltaire to film Funny Cow

Her sense of humour saves her, leading her into the male-dominated club circuit. It’s a tough gig, the social club crowd, where jaded chain-smoking comics take to the mic once the stripper has left the stage, but tough-talking Funny Cow might just win them round.

Set in Rotherham, but filmed around West Yorkshire, Funny Cow is an unflinching depiction of working-class family life, but producer Kevin Proctor emphasises it isn’t a “grim up north film”.

“It’s about a dying aspect of society – the working men’s club – but it’s also about humanity and community," he says. “Funny Cow had a tough childhood, and her parents had it tough too. They cope in different ways. There’s a conflict, but there is also love and humanity amidst all that.”

Adrian Shergold's film doesn’t hold punches in its portrayal of the comedy of the 1970s' club circuit. "It was a time of post-war comedians and mother-in-law jokes," says Kevin.

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Re-creating a 1950s' kitchen in Saltaire for Funny Cow

"The most important thing we discussed from that era was the racism in acts at working men’s clubs. In this Brexit era, if you single someone out you’re being racist, but back then comics used 'English, Irish and Scots' jokes largely as funny stories, without pointing the finger.

"On stage, Funny Cow turns hardship into comedy. People can relate to what she’s talking about. In the 1980s, comedy became more politicised, and later it went rock'n'roll and entered arenas, but long before that there were clubs on street corners where the Sunday afternoon bill would be a stand-up comic, a ventriloquist and a stripper."

Kevin continues: "We’re not taking the mick out of social clubs, we’re highlighting a piece of social history. They were a big part of life, much more so than today, and we show people having a good time. Clubland has been under the radar for many years, but it’s something many people remember fondly. A mini-bus driver I met when we were filming said, ‘I can’t wait to see this film. It’ll remind me of my childhood’. This story is our love letter to the working men’s club."

Maxine Peake gives a soul-stirring performance in the title role. “She’s told ‘the world of comedy is not open to you’ and she doesn’t accept that. She’s a contradiction, but some of the most wonderful films are about misfits," says Kevin.

The cast also includes Paddy Considine, Stephen Graham, Alun Armstrong, Christine Bottomley and Tony Pitts, who wrote the script. There are appearances too from comedians Vic Reeves and John Bishop, Leeds singer Corinne Bailey Rae, Emmerdale actor Dominic Brunt and Dexys frontman Kevin Rowland.

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David Wilson, Bradford City of Film director, left, with Funny Cow location manager Gary Barnes and producer Kevin Proctor

"So many acts started off in little clubs," says Kevin. "It’s a world Vic Reeves and John Bishop know well. Corinne’s dad played the clubs."

Yorkshire landscapes unfold against a haunting soundtrack by Sheffield's Richard Hawley. Locations include Bradford Playhouse, the Midland Hotel, a house in Saltaire’s Mary Street, Shipley town centre and a café in Bradford’s Oastler market.

"We didn’t need to build sets; it was all there. This film spans 1950s-80s and it’s all preserved in Bradford. That was the reason we went there," says Kevin, who worked with Bradford’s City of Film team.

"These were incredible places to film, everyone was so open, kind and happy to have us, with all the disruption that comes with a film crew. People moved their cars so we could film street scenes. Places like the Playhouse and the Oastler Market were so accommodating. I’d love to film here again, with the same crew and locations.

"This is a film about the beauty in humanity. And that’s what we found in Bradford, with its strong working men’s club heritage. We’re saying, to the people who helped us make it in Bradford: 'This is your film'."

Funny Cow (15) opens at City Screen, York, on Friday.