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Caroline Aherne 'inspired' BBC bursary winner Sophie Willan to perform

Caroline Aherne and Sophie Willan Image copyright PA/BBC
Image caption Willan said like Aherne, her comedy was "full of vivid characters"

The first winner of the BBC's Caroline Aherne Bursary has said the late comic "inspired" her and made her believe being a comedian was "attainable".

Sophie Willan beat hundreds of entrants to take the prize, which launched in 2017 in memory of the creator of The Royle Family and Mrs Merton.

Aherne died in 2016 after battling cancer for a number of years.

Willan said she wanted to continue Aherne's legacy with her "take on the Northern, working class experience".

A BBC spokeswoman said the bursary was "designed to find, develop and support great new comedy talent" and would see Willan receive £5,000 to "support development of her work".

The Bolton comedian will also receive a BBC mentorship to develop a comedy script which it is hoped will be performed at the Salford Sitcom Showcase 2018.

Image caption Willan said she "discovered Caroline as a child when I watched her as Mrs Merton"

Willan, who won the Magners New Comedian of the Year in 2015 and has appeared on Dave's As Yet Untitled and Channel 4's The Last Leg Correspondents, said she was "honoured and absolutely over the moon to have won".

She said she had dreamt of being a comedian ever since she "discovered Caroline as a child, when I watched her as Mrs Merton and instantly fell in love with her".

"Seeing the super talents of Northern women I related to, like Caroline and Victoria Wood, made me feel like [being a comedian] could be a very real and attainable achievement for a girl like me," she said.

"Like Caroline, my comedy is full of vivid characters that depict authentic and naturally funny people."

BBC Comedy Commissioning Controller Shane Allen said she was "a really fitting and very exciting talent".

"She embodies all that was wonderful about Caroline - sharp writing, natural Northern feistiness and extreme likeability," he added.

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