IT is 30 years since a young mother-of-three called Andrea Dunbar collapsed and died in The Beacon pub in Buttershaw.

In her brief but defiant life, Andrea made a huge impact for her unflinching, often darkly comic portrayal of working-class life in the North.

In her acclaimed novel Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, Adelle Stripe writes of how, aged 15, Andrea’s writing career started with a punishment for failing to bring in the ingredients for a domestic science lesson. She was told to spend lunchtime writing the words ‘Why I Don’t Like Cookery’.

What Andrea wrote instead was a witty essay on how baking cakes was a middle-class pursuit and joints of meat were more practical for big families on Buttershaw estate. “When the essay was passed around the staffroom, to howls of laughter, head of drama Tony Priestley was astonished at what he saw,” wrote Adelle in her novel, inspired by Andrea’s life. “It was obvious to him that she had a gift for saying the right thing. And she was funny. He asked if she’d like to join his class. It would change Andrea’s life forever.”

Andrea wrote her first play, The Arbor, as a CSE assignment in 1977. The play, about a schoolgirl who falls pregnant, premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1980. Andrea, the youngest playwright to have work staged there, was hailed ‘a genius from the slums’. The Arbor was later performed in New York and Andrea was the subject of a BBC Arena documentary.

Commissioned for a second play, she wrote Rita, Sue and Bob Too, aged 18. The bawdy comedy, about two teenage babysitters and a married man, was another Royal Court hit. Alan Clarke’s 1987 film version was largely shot on Buttershaw estate where Andrea lived.

Now the play will have its third revival on stage in recent years. Originally due at Halifax’s Victoria Theatre this month, the Diva Productions tour has been put back to October 2021.

Last year Rita, Sue and Bob Too was performed professionally in Bradford for the first time. Out of Joint’s production ran at St George’s Hall, with an audience Q&A addressing themes of the play 40 years on, in light of grooming scandals and #MeToo. The cast visited Andrea’s former home on Brafferton Arbor, where a blue plaque hangs in her memory.

Andrea wrote about what she knew. Straight-talking and unsentimental, she didn’t offer judgements or solutions to social inequality - she presented life as she saw it on Buttershaw estate.

Her life was explored in another drama performed in Bradford in 2019. The stage adaptation of Black Teeth And A Brilliant Smile featured an all-female cast and was presented by Bradford-based Freedom Studios. Staged at the Ambassador pub on Sunbridge Road, it was a fictionalised version of Andrea’s life, set in Buttershaw in 1990 as she struggled with “her latest work, her aching head full of voices, stories from her past which have to be heard”.

Andrea wrote one more play, Shirley, before her death from a brain haemorrhage, aged 29, in 1990. She collapsed in The Beacon pub on Buttershaw estate, where she often retreated to write. Shirley, about a girl’s stormy relationship with her mother, was, like Andrea’s other plays, semi-autobiographical. Andrea had three children, the first two in her teens. Fleeing an abusive relationship, she spent months in a women’s refuge.

But she became one of her generation’s most significant dramatists. The blue plaque on Brafferton Arbor is a reminder of how a Buttershaw girl made it to the Royal Court - and how 30 years after her death, her legacy lives on.

Actress Alyce Liburd, who played Rita in Out of Joint’s acclaimed production of Rita, Sue and Bob Too, said Andrea’s “honest and raw” writing remains relevant. “She wrote about poverty and escape, in a way that’s brutal but funny,” said Alyce.

Adelle Stripe describes Andrea as “one of Yorkshire’s greatest female writers”. She said much of Andrea’s drive came from fighting stereotypes of where she came from: “Buttershaw was built to house post-war families as part of slum clearance. Within 20 years many of the buildings had fallen into disrepair. When a Guardian journalist visited Andrea in 1980, the article was peppered with descriptions of social deprivation: ‘It’s the worst street on the worst estate in Bradford’. This condescending style would continue throughout her life, Andrea constantly fought against media misconceptions of Buttershaw.”

It is said that Andrea was friends with Maureen Long, one of Peter Sutcliffe’s surviving victims, and had intended to write about her. “The shadow he cast across women in the North at that time was vast. This was a period of anxiety, intimidation and violence. Women had to be chaperoned between work and home, and in West Yorkshire,” said Adelle. “Andrea wrote The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too during this time. Her work provides an insight into Bradford in the late 1970s.”

TV screenwriter Lisa Holdsworth, who adapted Adelle’s novel for the play, said: “I don’t think Andrea was an easy person - Adelle says she could start an argument in a graveyard - but she was an exceptional talent. If there was a young talent like that in Bradford now, would it be spotted? With so much emphasis on SATs and exam results, I think the answer is no. A girl like Andrea wouldn’t have chance to shine in that environment.

“You wonder what she’d have gone on to do. If she had lived, I think she’d be writing for television now.”

In 2010 Bafta-nominated director Clio Barnard explored Andrea’s life in her powerful film, The Arbor, a mix of interviews with her family, documentary footage and dramatised scenes shot on Buttershaw estate, with locals as extras. Andrea’s sister, Pamela Dunbar, told the T&A she felt emotional watching scenes she remembered from real life. “People didn’t like her work because they said it pulled the estate down, but Andrea wrote about what she knew, “ said Pamela.

Bradford actress Natalie Gavin played Andrea in The Arbor. She has since been in hit TV dramas including Line of Duty and Gentleman Jack. “I went to the same school as Andrea. It was where I found my passion (for acting) and where she found hers,” said Natalie. “When Rita, Sue And Bob Too came out, there was hostility on the estate - she had to live there and face all that.

“I admire her honesty. She’s a big inspiration.”