Producer Gareth Phillips on tracking down the talent for a drama series with a musical twist.

In July last year, choreographer Arlene Phillips and theatre impresario David Ian came to ITV Productions with an idea for a musical drama series called Britannia High. They had secured the talents of one Gary Barlow to write the music. I was brought on board by ITV Productions to produce the show and was instantly hooked - this show had the potential to be the kind of high-quality family drama ITV1 had been lacking.

I set to work creating possible characters and storylines for the pitch document. I know from experience how painfully slow the development process can be. So imagine our delight when just over a month later ITV's director of entertainment and comedy, Paul Jackson, and Michaela Hennessy-Vass, ITV commissioning editor, comedy gave us the go-ahead. Britannia High was born. And we didn't even have a script.

Securing the scriptwriting talents of Jonathan Harvey, Damon Rochefort, Kirstie Falkous, John Regier and Julie Jones was my next task. Although this was a drama about teenagers, it had to have mass-audience appeal - tell big emotional stories while being smart, witty and fun. Following a recommendation from Arlene, my executive producer Kieran Roberts had secured Brian Grant as the show's series producer and lead director. Brian was the ideal choice to work alongside me, having directed hundreds of music videos and innovative dramas such as Sinchronicity and As If. Mark Wells, who has tremendous experience within ITV Entertainment, and Anita Land, from Globe Productions, the TV arm of Universal Music, would also executive produce.

As we continued to develop the storylines, we set about casting the show. Normally on a drama you would have a number of scripts completed by the time you cast. But with Britannia High we needed to be in production by summer 2008 which meant we had to cast and record the music while we were still developing it.

Most productions require great acting. We were looking for great acting, incredible dancing and brilliant singing. And it was vital the cast were good-looking. The plan was to secure the entire main cast by Christmas 2007. Everybody was in a state of panic when we had only cast Georgina Hagen and Mathew James Thomas by that time.

So in January we picked up our search in earnest. We hunted high and low - but by the time the songwriting workshops were upon us at the end of January we had only managed to secure two additional cast members (Sapphire Elia and Rana Roy). Nonetheless, we were in our element in Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios in Wiltshire, writing and recording songs with Gary Barlow and his team.

With all the songs now written for the series, we were under pressure to complete the casting process - but finding two more incredible boys who could sing, dance and act seemed impossible. Then, at the last minute, we came across Marcquelle Ward and Mitch Hewer. We put them through their paces in all disciplines and they delivered. Our dream cast was complete.

By this time, we were alarmingly close to starting production. We had set up our production at the Blue Shed in Salford. As our hugely talented heads of department set to work creating Britannia High's distinctive looks, the cast began choreography and drama rehearsals. I have often likened the job of producer to one of those circus plate-spinners. You have to keep all those plates spinning at any cost - and, boy, were we spinning them. Scripts were being rewritten, songs still had to be recorded, there were dance injuries and a last-minute swap of parts for two of our lead actors.

The unsung hero of Britannia High was line producer Howard Ella. Brian and I pushed the boundaries of what we could achieve creatively and Howard almost always made it possible. Without him, this production would not be half as good as I believe it is.

As I write this, we are still shooting our fourth block and Jonathan Harvey is penning the script for the series finale. It still feels as if we are climbing huge mountains every single day. It has been a horrendously difficult show to pull off on an impossibly tight budget but we have done all we can.

For all of us, it has been the most rewarding experience of our professional lives. Like all programme-makers, we will soon hand our baby over to the public and it is they who will decide whether or not we've done a good job. Whatever -happens, we have made a show I am hugely proud of.
Britannia High is a co-production between ITV Productions and Globe Productions. It airs on Sunday evenings on ITV1

Gareth Phillips: My tricks of the trade
Coke-spray. Wherever we went we would always take a bottle of coke with us and spray it on the floor to prevent the dancers from slipping over. Believe me, a simple bottle of coke has saved many a dancer from injury.

Tit-tape. All that energetic singing and dancing also causes lots of wobbly bits. On a family show, it's important your cast are always strapped in.

Umbrella. Though set in London, Britannia High was filmed in Manchester. And, as everybody knows, Manchester is very, very, very wet.