Acclaimed TV writer Debbie Horsfield (third from left) has returned to Manchester for a new series set in the Northern Quarter and showcasing the city to the world. Simon Donohue met her on behalf of Marketing Manchester.

If one television writer more than any other has helped to put Manchester’s Northern Quarter on the map in recent years, it’s Debbie Horsfield.

Back in the early noughties, it was Debbie’s hit hairdressing drama, Cutting It, which helped to introduce the burgeoning bohemian district to millions of BBC TV viewers.

Providing salon space for the likes of Sarah Parish, Jason Merrels and Angela Griffin, the Henshall Ferraday boutique served as the backdrop for four series of intrigue under the strapline 'Hairdressers At War In Work & Love'. The salon doors closed for the final time in 2005.

More recently, Debbie’s focus has been further afield. Cornwall to be exact. She’s so far helped to adapt four TV series of Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark novels for the small screen and is currently working on what could possibly be the fifth and final instalment.

But before becoming consumed by small screen period drama, Debbie had started writing a new drama set in her beloved Manchester.

Three years in the writing, production started on Age Before Beauty in the summer of 2017, picking up where Cutting It left of. Well, kind of.

The Mirrorbell is a down-at-heel and fictional beauty salon which has provided Debbie with a platform to explore society’s growing obsession with slowing down the ageing process and what it’s appropriate for people to do at specific ages.

“Age Before Beauty isn’t a successor to Cutting It,” Debbie insists when Marketing Manchester meets her at the Lowry theatre, Salford, ahead of a premiere screening of episode one. “The only similarity is that it’s a workplace drama, set in a salon and it involves family.

“The theme I was exploring was around ageing and appearance and the assumptions we have of what it’s OK to do at what age. At one stage, we were thinking, 'well it’s set in the beauty industry, will we be focusing on any treatments?'

“But we don’t focus on any treatments really. We focus much more on what the expectations are of people acting a certain way, dressing a certain way, going to certain places at a certain time of their life and whether there are any rules about that, or whether there should be any rules.

“The salon needs updating itself and the great thing about the Northern Quarter is that there are some bits which are really glitzy and there are other bits that are in need of some updating themselves. In a way that does reflect the story. The Northern Quarter has had a makeover in our story, but the question is ‘is a makeover the answer to everything?’ And the answer is, ‘probably not!’”

Beyond the storyline and plot twists, Age Before Beauty provides a brilliant opportunity to showcase Manchester to the millions of potential visitors watching at home. Judging by the response on social media, people like what they see.

“I think Manchester looks amazing in Age Before Beauty – it looks beautiful. Because the Northern Quarter is really photogenic,” agrees Debbie. But then she admits to being biased.

The Lowry is only a mile or so from Ellesmere Park in Eccles, Salford, where Debbie grew up, the eldest of six children. She cut her teeth as a writer after university in Newcastle, taking plays she had written to the Edinburgh Festival. That became her “calling card” when opportunities to work in TV drama arose.

Today Debbie lives in beautiful Broadbottom, near Glossop, on the outskirts of Manchester, and says that the city has been a vital ingredient in pretty much all her work.

“Everything I have ever written, other than Poldark, is set in Manchester,” she adds. “Poldark is what I have been doing for the past five years, and that’s all Cornwall and we film it in Cornwall and Bristol, so this does feel like coming home.

“Working on Poldark has been great. It’s been a bit of a departure for me because I’vd never done a period drama before and I’d never done an adaptation, and nobody had any idea how it would do, so it’s been amazing, and I’ve loved every minute of it. But it is great to be back in Manchester and writing about my home territory.

“Manchester’s where I set everything because I have this need to visualise in my head where things are taking place. So I naturally set them where I know and I set them where I have a connection.

“I have lived in London for a while but I have never felt that great a connection. I don’t think that there’s great a sense of identity to it in the way that there is in Manchester, although that may be because it’s my home.”

Debbie’s breakthrough TV work was Making Out. Set in Manchester’s fictional New Lyne Electronics Factory, it appeared on screen between 1989 and 1991. A few days after we meet it emerges that she has been selected to work on another high-profile period adaptation, The Count of Monte Cristo.

But she still gets a buzz out of making TV drama in Manchester and relishes the opportunity to update viewers’ impressions of the city. The freedom of writing about a contemporary city after years in the eighteenth century was also refreshing, she adds.

“We did Cutting It in the Northern Quarter and even then, the character of it was different. It was just being developed and it’s much more bedded itself in now. It has much more of a sense of its own identity – amazing paintings, murals everywhere, visually, in Age Before Beauty, it almost looks a bit like New York, you know with some of those fire escapes. It visually looks very exciting.

“A period drama has more challenges. There are a lot of scenes set in bars in Age Before Beauty. You don’t even have to build a bar. Locations are there. What you don’t have to do is make them look like the 18th century. And costumes are an issue too. If you get caught in a rain shower while filming Age Before Beauty) then you nip to Primark. If you get wet in 18th century Cornwall, the chances are you haven’t got a second costume.”

What does she think people will feel about Manchester having seen Age Before Beauty on screen?

“I think people will love how the Northern Quarter looks,” she adds. “There are some characters they will hope not to meet on a dark night. There will be some that they will fall in love with.”

Filming for Age Before Beauty took place directly after the Manchester Arena attack, a tragic event which brought out the best in the city’s character, Debbie feels.

“We were filming just after the arena attack and because a lot of the cast and crew are from Manchester, I think that had a big impact on them. Everyone is proud to be from Manchester and they really have a sense of that identity and that was probably more so then. The eyes of the world were on Manchester and for us to start to film at that point, it was quite emotional I think.

“Manchester has always been really welcoming. Everything I have ever written, other than Poldark, has been written in Manchester, and it’s welcomed drama with open arms. It’s a really creative city, actually, not just for drama, but music, art literature. It’s kind of in our DNA and so the idea that creativity of any kind wouldn’t be welcome… it wouldn’t occur really.

“Manchester has completely got behind any drama that I’ve been involved in.”

Age Before Beauty is a six-part drama shown on BBC One at 9pm, Tuesday, from July 31.

For other cast interviews click here