Cardiff marks a new chapter for our drama, but it belongs to the nation, says Johnathan Young.
Tuesday marked the 25 anniversary of the first transmission of Casualty. Coincidentally, we have just finished shooting in Bristol, which has been our home for 24 years, and moved to premises at the BBC’s Roath Lock studios in Cardiff.
We are now working on a refreshed set that is ready for us to film in HD. For the first time, the interior and the exterior of the hospital are in the same place, and we have the office space to allow us to improve our workflow. While we loved Bristol, any sadness at leaving is mitigated by a real sense of excitement about the future.
Why is Casualty so compelling?
I think it’s partly the scale and range of the narrative; the fact that each week there is a new story about ordinary people at a moment of great crisis in their lives, and the drama as our team of medics battle to save them. It is also that special feeling that we are being given privileged access behind the scenes of an emergency department, and a chance to identify with real life heroes in action.
Casualty came out of a highly charged period in TV history. Roger Graef ‘s Police and Alan Bleasdale’s Boys From The Blackstuff in 1982 showed the real power of popular TV to engage in a debate about the nature of society.
In long-form drama, Brookside arrived in November 1982, followed by The Bill two years later,EastEnders in February 1985 and then Casualty in September 1986. All of these shows were about ordinary people trying to make sense of their lives, struggling with the system, trying to do the right thing.
Of these, Casualty was perhaps the most overtly political: the first series provoked questions in the House of Commons and was condemned by the Conservative government of the day. Casualty didn’t bring down the government, and softened its campaigning edge, but I believe that it remains a deeply political show because it holds a mirror up to society. The values of a society are defined by how it treats its sick and needy. The emergency department is the first point of contact between those in crisis and those whose job it is to try to help.
Our medical team is at the frontline and their attitudes help us understand and articulate our thoughts about our changing world. Above all, it is our team’s belief that they can make a difference that reassures us that there is such a thing as society, and that it is worth fighting for.
This all sounds a bit worthy, doesn’t it? And the show would surely fail if we didn’t deliver banter, adrenaline and a real emotional connection every week. But I do believe the success of the show is that it really is about something. That is quite rare, and it is something of which to be proud.
And whether it is shot in Bristol or Cardiff, the audience connection is with the fictional city of ‘Holby’. Holby belongs to the nation. As the current producers, writers, directors, actors and crew, our job is to respect the core values of the show and protect them for the next generation of viewers.
At 25, we are full of confidence. Our audience expects us to tell high-stakes stories that resonate with their experiences and reveal something about the world. If we can do that, then the show will continue to be as relevant and inspiring for the next 25 years as it has been up until now.
➤ Johnathan Young is executive producer of Casualty