Sally Head executive produced two of the hardest-hitting dramas of recent times in Prime Suspect and Cracker. Now with her own indie, the Granada and LWT veteran has high hopes of Plastic Man, airing this week on ITV.
There's a neat symmetry to life as Sally Head now leads it. It's two years since she left LWT to set up Sally Head Productions and she's got her first two indie dramas airing on ITV. The first, Plastic Man, a two-parter starring John Thaw, started on Wednesday (12 May), to be concluded next week, while Four Fathers, appropriately in four parts, transmits in June.

Summing up, Head confesses to being a little disappointed. 'I would have hoped we'd have more (projects). But then everybody kept saying to us well done, it's amazing. So that rather bucked me up and I'm happy now.'

With three gruelling months in the cutting room behind her and ideas lodged with Channel 4 and ITV - including the delayed Mayor of Casterbridge, held up by costume drama congestion at Network Centre - Head can afford to be philosophical (the BBC recently turning down a project). She's just spent the weekend in Cornwall, celebrating a floral day last Saturday (8 May) with friends and family - a well-timed break and confirmation, if it were needed, that she can combine real life with her work.

But despite the quiet calm that pervades the Sally Head Productions offices at Twickenham Studios, there is a sense of anticipation in the air. On mentioning that I have seen the first half of Plastic Man thanks to a preview tape, I am grilled for a critical reaction (it's very good, despite a slightly predictable storyline). And Head's long-time, right-hand woman Gwenda Bagshaw - now one of four partners in the company - is quick to point out the next preoccupation for the fledgling indie. 'The next step is to get another commission,' she says.

Meanwhile, life isn't too hard at Sally Head Productions. Head, Bagshaw, finance director John Howard and production executive Sarah Simpson each took hefty cuts in salary in order to get back to the coal face of programme-making - but they've won back a better quality of life. Head adds: 'It's not about money and buying Rolls Royces, it's just about having a huge enthusiasm for what we're doing.'

With offices that are more comfy, terracotta-toned living rooms than conventional workplaces, Head and Bagshaw relish the freedom and slower pace of life they have created, albeit with a few 'hairy moments' in the first 18 months of full-on operations.

Both can walk to work from their towpath Twickenham dwellings and neither would return to life as a broadcaster - not for anything.

Head explains: 'I love it here because I don't have to go up to Manchester once or twice a week, I don't have to bash over London and I don't have to go to board meetings.' But the principles of good drama-making remain the same. 'Spiritually and practically I've set this up as I set up a new drama department at Granada because when I joined there wasn't really a drama department - or it was very small - and as I set up what was effectively a new drama department at LWT.'

Given that 'it takes a hell of lot of time to get those cogs going, to get ideas', the indie is doing well with more than 20 projects commissioned from various quarters, some of them new.

Contrary to popular opinion, Head says there is no dearth of writing talent about. 'Quite the reverse - it's coming from theatre; The Bill, which is always fantastic; some from novels,' she says. By touting the new company's credentials around many an agent's office in the past year-and-a-half, Head and Bagshaw - who've been working together on scripts since the early days of their careers at the BBC - have flushed out several new writers all 'new' to them.

And waiting for the next green light only means holding so much breath.

Head is used to the passage of years before a new venture really consolidates. 'The Granada drama department took off in the third year, and it was in the third year that we made Prime Suspect and Fay Weldon's Joanna May. But in the fourth year we'd got Prime Suspect and Cracker and we had El Cid before that.

It just takes such a long time to get scripts,' she muses.

Head is evidently experiencing a huge creative release, after the final years within the Granada Group when internal politics began to weigh heavy. 'This is a complete joy,' she admits, adding: 'I don't regret my time at Granada at all and neither do I regret working at LWT. But it was all becoming a bit too political for me and I'm not a political animal. I'm quite a maverick and I think (eight years) is a long time to do a job like that for.

'I wanted to be more hands on. When I was at LWT, taking on London's Burning was a very, very big thing. It took so many hours up of our quota.

And also you had to be very careful with London's Burning not to throw the baby out with the bath water, except I felt the baby did need a bit of cleaning up.'

London's Burning may have left her temporarily burnt out, but Head doesn't allow for any myth-making about a fall-out with the hard-headed management of the group. She talks candidly about the departure of David Plowright, former chairman of Granada TV. 'I was devastated. He was my hero figure and I hated Gerry Robinson, having never met the poor bloke.' Taking the story full circle, she adds: 'To be absolutely fair - and it makes me feel disloyal to David to say this - eventually I got on really well with Gerry and Charles Allen.

I'm not saying that as a political thing, I'm being dead straight about it. They were fantastically good to me.' What got her in the end was the accumulation of years in the job, when the thrill of jet-setting began to wane.

So it's on with the business in hand, which is nothing to do with the international market, despite a distribution deal with Pearson and the knowledge that Prime Suspect sold to more than 60 countries despite being dubbed 'too dark'. 'You've got to be pure. The only way I can over be involved in the process of making a programme is to make it for myself. Otherwise it loses its fun and I'd rather be a gardener.'

NAME: Sally HeadPOSITION: Executive producer/director, Sally Head ProductionsPOTTED CAREER HISTORY: Worked as a scriptwriter at BBC before Jonathan Powell, then head of drama, promoted her to producer. Worked on Life and Loves of a She Devil. Poached by Steve Morrison to join Granada TV in 1989 where she became controller of drama, executive producing Prime Suspect and Cracker. Moved in 1995 to LWT in the same position. Left in 1997 to set up as an indie after six months offON ADVICE FROM JONATHAN POWELL: 'He gave me a long speech about not being too passionate - my problem was I was terribly emotional and I had to be more responsible'

ON THE NEW ITV SCHEDULE: 'I was very much on board the let's change News at Ten bandwagon. As a drama-maker, it's so much better - it was always a nightmare where to schedule a two-hour Cracker'

ON DAVID LIDDIMENT AS ITV DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMMES: 'I've always though he would be marvellous. When he was Granada head of entertainment he used to sit in Morrison's office working out schedules. He's got such an appetite and he loves programme-making'

HOW SHE RELAXES: 'I'm terribly good at relaxing. I love gardening and cooking. I've got lots of friends and family, not my own children but other people's, who live at my house'.