Casualty Producer Oliver Kent very kindly took some out of his busy morning schedule to answer some questions for us in this interview exclusive to holby.tv pending the start of the new Series 24. Here he talks to us about many things from what’s happened in the past and what’s in store for the future, to why he adores Charlie Fairhead, the vision regarding the Farmead Estate and the starring role of a frozen chicken…
Were you pleased with the results of Series 23? What feedback did you receive regarding the last series?
Yes, very pleased with it. I thought it was really successful and we got very good A.I. audience figures. We receive feedback in a number of ways, either by people writing in letters or sending emails, sometimes by press previews and reviews and sometimes by websites. For example, the writing team and I look regularly on holby.tv and Digital Spy as it is a good way of getting a direct response from the audience.
What storylines from last year were you most pleased with?
It’s hard to single them out so I’ll choose three. Jordan facing his own mortality, Adam growing up and the ongoing story about the Farmead Estate. The Farmead storyline has been about ‘our heroes making the world a better place.’ It gave a certain morality to the series and guest stories we told were informed by that.
Fans have been pleased to see and have enjoyed watching the storyline of the Farmead Estate with it running through the series, mainly because it isn’t just ‘one character specific’ but involves everyone at some point…
That’s good to hear. The Farmead Estate story helped bring a reality to the show where our characters were seen trying to make the world they live in a better one and it’s important that viewers see that.
What can you tell us about the opening double episodes that start Series 24?
They’re explosive, they’re very moving, the brilliant Mrs Bassey will be returning. There are tears, laughter, explosions, a frozen chicken and hopefully a sense that if a major disaster ever happened in your town you’d want the Casualty team to be there to look after you. It’s Adam’s first shift as Clinical Lead and perhaps it doesn’t go quite as smoothly as he would have imagined. But then it wouldn’t be Casualty if it did.
There are a number of new F2 doctors joining the show at the beginning of the series, how will they fit into the show? Will there be any more new cast joining after this?
As to how the F2’s will fit in to the show, we’ll have to wait and see. There won’t be any other new regular cast immediately. With so many regulars having started in the last couple of series we just don’t need any more and we love the ones we’ve got! So for the time being there won’t be any more new regulars, maybe semi-regulars though…
In the last few years there has been a gradual side-lining of the nurses who were once the show’s lynch-pin, with the doctors now getting more attention. With the addition of four new F2’s in the next series, this seems set to continue. Has it been a deliberate choice to shift the focus away from the nurses, and if so why?
No, there certainly isn’t an intention to sideline nurses. Each series is quite different and has to be. When I joined the show at the start of Series 22, my intention was to bring nursing and Charlie back to the heart of the series. The foreground characters in Series 23 were Adam and Jordan. But for Series 24 onwards, nursing is going to be massively important, involving Charlie, Jessica, Jay and Tess much more. It is a show fundamentally about nurses and always will be, but it doesn’t mean the doctors still won’t have big storylines because they will. They have always played an important part too – right back from Baz and Ewart in Series 1. In fact, when I took on the role as series producer I revisited series 1 because all of the things that make Casualty great and need to be used are there in that series. It is a show about nurses but also a team and it’s got something to say. It tells stories about the world we live in. But it’s always really important to look at what made Casualty great in the first series and I think if we ever took our eyes off those elements, the show would flounder.
There are a number of different romances hotting up from last series and all are quite different. How do you decide which characters could make a watchable or interesting pairing?
There isn’t any hard and fast method of doing that. Sometimes when we start characters we’ll know that we’ll put them together, so for example we knew when Jessica started the show we’d have her with Adam as a possible couple. Sometimes writers pick up on chemistry between characters and that feeds into storylines. That’s what happened with Zoe and Jordan. And sometimes it’s about putting people together who are most unlikely to be together such as Jay and Ruth. That often works well too.
What can you tell us about Adam and Jessica’s relationship, can we expect a ‘Casualty’ wedding this series?
Adam and Jessica’s relationship is that at the start of the series they’re together, they’re happy and they’re living as a family with baby Harry, Lucas and Emilia and for a while at least, things will be going well. We know from the end of Series 23 that they’re engaged. As for will there be a Casualty wedding, well – wait and see! But the course of true love never did run smooth…
As the only original cast member left, how would you describe Charlie’s position in the show? What do you have in store for him?
Charlie is the most important character by far. He’s the father of the department – the moral centre of the show and he is absolutely at the heart of Series 24. There’s some nice examples of how Charlie works best in the opening episodes, when things are going disastrously wrong. Charlie tells the junior doctors what to expect. He’s like the rock at the centre of the department. As for what’s in store for him, I don’t want to give too much away but we will be revisiting his turbulent relationship with Louis amongst other things.
A lot of fans will be pleased to hear that as they were worried Charlie is gradually being shown less and less, especially in more recent series… but everyone loves Charlie!
For me Charlie is very much the heart and centre of Casualty and his presence will be frequent throughout Series 24 and beyond.
We have learnt little about Receptionist Noel since he joined the show, will he be getting a bigger storyline this year?
Yes he will. We will be finding out a little bit more about Noel. We see Noel as the glue that holds the department together but this series we will learn a little bit more about him, what he stands for and what he believes in.
What other character storylines can you hint at this series?
Well, to start with there’s a figure from the past that reappears to rock Zoe’s world, sending her into a bit of a negative spiral. Ruth has to learn to adapt to the reality of having a boyfriend and as you’ll probably expect she doesn’t always deal with it brilliantly! Things become quite tricky for the idealistic Polly when she befriends Alistair and life as an F2 is never easy…
Are there any notable guest stars we can look out for?
Yes there are. In episodes 1 and 2 we have Clive Wood and Anthony Flanagan and from episode 1 onwards Joe McFadden. Also coming up are Joe McGann, Russ Abbot and Toyah Wilcox but there are others.
On the BBC Casualty website, a lot of the characters now have biographies detailing key events in their pasts. Is this the approach you now take when creating characters – do you write a ‘biography’ for each character to get a sense of what makes him or her tick and use these events for possible future storylines?
Yes, we always do that. We always write quite a detailed biography before we cast. Sometimes elements of that will become part of what happens on screen and sometimes they won’t. For example, we knew that when we created Adam his parents were dead, and he and his brother were left alone and that Adam was haunted by what had happened. We didn’t know necessarily that we’d use everything we had in his back story, but there’d probably be little clues throughout the series. For instance, every time we’ve had Adam deal with a patient who’s ‘coning’ it would always remind him of the accident involving his parents. And then sometimes when we cast we adjust the biographies to fit who we’ve cast. For the new F2s we had much looser biographies because we wanted to take a different approach to casting and that was to cast using workshops. This is very time consuming method but when it works, it’s a fantastic way of developing characters.
And is that a method you would continue to use in the future, time permitting?
If we had the time for it. But it depends on the circumstances at the time. There’ll be no more castings for regular characters certainly for a while yet anyway.
Are there any characters you’ve felt have never reached their full potential, and if so what would you have like to have happened?
If that’s ever the case its usually because there isn’t enough screen-time to show everyone having a massive story. There are also occasions when an actor will want to leave before we’re able to tell all the stories that we wanted to do with them. That’s always very sad.
So, would Kelsey be one of those characters?
With Janine it was her decision to go but there was always more to do with Kelsey. Yes, she was one we wanted to do more with.
Are there any plans to incorporate any of the current medical “hot topics” into Casualty storylines, such as swine flu or the newly imposed maximum working hours for junior doctors?
Yes, there are. Our regular stories are planned a year ahead and our guests stories six months ahead so it can be difficult to be as topical as we’d like to be by the time the show airs. But yes, we do like to use real life medical topics when we can. There is a guest story coming up in episode 8 that’s very current.
If you could bring back any past character, who would you love to see return?
(Straight away) Eve. I absolutely loved Eve! And Barbara Marten is a fantastic actress. That’s not to say of course I think there’s anything wrong with the company we have now, they’re all brilliant, but I loved Eve because she was absolutely terrifying yet warm and loving and sincere. And Megan. If I could chose someone else I’d have back, I’d love to bring back Megan.
How will the upcoming Cardiff move have an impact on the show (its cast, crew and production)?
On screen there should be no difference what so ever. It won’t look like a different hospital, it won’t suddenly be Casualty set in Wales and Holby will still be an English city. Probably the only difference on screen will be the set will be a bit bigger. Off-screen, it’s too early to say what the impact will be on cast, crew or production yet.
I think long standing fans, especially those who have been watching from day one have been wondering how it will work now we won’t see all the landmarks we’re used to on the external shots such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge, purely looking at it from a continuity perspective…
Bristol and Cardiff aren’t that far apart. If we really wanted to there’s nothing to stop us going to shoot a scene on the Clifton Bridge for example, if we felt we wanted it to be there.
Finally, what would be your fantasy ‘disaster’ if budget etc. were unlimited and who would you involve in it?
(Laughs) Certainly Charlie would be involved! I would have to give this some more thought but for me what’s more important is who’s there to rescue and be rescued. But it would be big and it would involve Charlie at the head of the team.