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Soaps Interview

Exclusive: Oliver Kent - 'Casualty' series producer

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Casualty Series Producer, Oliver Kent

© BBC

Casualty has a big few months ahead with the show's 25th anniversary celebrations fast approaching and a production move to Cardiff on the way. In the third interview of Digital Spy's Producer Season 2011, we recently caught up with the programme's series producer Oliver Kent to hear what the future holds for the BBC's flagship medical drama and to get some teasers on future storylines.

Which storyline are you most proud of from the past year of Casualty?
"The highlight for me has been the Ruth story and her descent into serious illness and then her recovery. I liked it because it took a long time to play out. I also think it surprised the audience because it wasn't quite what they were expecting, so when they saw Ruth getting married to Edward, they wouldn't have necessarily known where it was heading. But we knew all along and it was quite satisfying to see the audience going along on the journey. So that was probably my highlight, and I also liked the fact that Charlie was very involved in the story."

Do you have a favourite episode from the last year?
"I think it would be the one where we spent the whole episode in the psychiatric ward with Ruth. Partly because I think it was the best script that had been written in a long time, partly because it was very well directed, and also because Georgia Taylor, Derek Thompson and Matthew Kelly are such fantastic actors so it was lovely to see them have the room to take up a whole episode."

Georgia Taylor aka 'Ruth Winters' in Casualty
Does Ruth's journey still have some way to go?
"She's definitely on her way to recovery and she will get better. But it'll take a bit of time and it's important to show that people don't get better overnight, otherwise it would just look like we were doing it for cheap value."

It's Casualty's 25th anniversary in September, so can you tell us anything about what's in store for it?
"The 25th anniversary will give us a lovely chance to look at some of the favourite moments and characters in Casualty over the years, but I can't confirm any details at the moment. There's a lot happening at that time as we're also moving production to Cardiff, so our main priority is to achieve that with minimum disruption to everybody - including the viewers. The audience won't necessarily notice the change - the fictional hospital is staying in the same place - but there are some big episodes coming up towards it and just afterwards. And we have several new characters arriving and one or two departing, so there's going to be quite a bit of change heading towards and just after the 25th anniversary."

Is there any pressure to live up to the big anniversary celebrations that we've seen on Coronation Street and EastEnders in recent times?
"Well, we knew that there were certain things that we didn't want to do. We didn't want to do a live episode because everybody else had already done it. There is a certain amount of pressure, but there always is. There's always pressure to compete with The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent and all those other shows, so the pressure for this actually isn't that different than normal! But everybody is very aware of it."

Will there be a sense of nostalgia for the anniversary or is it more about the here and now? Could any former cast members return?
"There's a bit of both, actually. There's always a certain amount of nostalgia that fuels what we do, because the show has got such a prominent history. We're not necessarily bringing back old characters, but I wouldn't want to give away too much just yet about what we're doing for the anniversary."

When you get to 25 years, is there a part of you that stops and considers how to keep the show strong for the next 25 years and beyond?
"Well the funny thing is, whenever we ask ourselves that question, the answer is always to look back at the original series and the original format. All of the things that have made the show run for 25 years are in there, so it's never about trying to do anything that's radically different or trying to be something else - it's about staying true to what Casualty has always been."

Over on Holby City, there's been lots of stylistic changes in recent times and there's been comparisons to big US shows like Grey's Anatomy. Do you ever keep that in your thinking for Casualty?
"Well, I think the root of Holby City is very different from Casualty. We tend to be inspired predominantly by British drama - particularly the dramas of the '60s, the kitchen sink dramas. Inevitably there is some inspiration from American dramas, but we very consciously don't base our style on anyone else because we have a very long history and a very established format. The most important thing is to be true to that."

You mentioned new characters - can you tell us who the new signings are?
"We've got two new nurse characters and one new doctor. We felt that it was time to bring back some youth, and over the last few years we brought in junior doctors, although we did bring in Mads last year. Now we're bringing in two new nurses at the start of the new series - Lloyd Asike and Scarlett Conway. We're very excited about the castings. Scarlett is played by Madeleine Mantock, and it's her first job out of drama school and she's incredible. And Lloyd is played by the brilliant Michael Obiora, who viewers will probably know from Hotel Babylon, EastEnders and Grange Hill. He's phenomenal. And then there's the doctor coming in a bit further along the line, who you'll hear more about at a later date."

Omar (Dhafer L'Abidine) and Tamzin (Gemma Atkinson) from Casualty
It's also recently been announced that Gemma Atkinson is joining Casualty as new paramedic Tamzin. What can the viewers expect from her?
"She'll certainly ruffle some feathers! She and her paramedic colleague Omar, played by Dhafer L'Abidine, will definitely keep Dixie and Jeff on their toes. Dixie and Jeff are used to being the top dogs and suddenly they'll have to compete with this other glamorous pair of paramedics! Also, later on, there's another thorn in their side in the form of Louise, the ambulance dispatch, who unexpectedly pushes Dixie even further. So what starts out as quite a light-hearted story eventually turns a little bit darker."

Do you have any more big-name guest appearances on the way?
"Yes, we do! We have Anita Dobson, Andrew Sachs and Tina O'Brien. We also have Julian Glover who was in Star Wars and Gary Kemp who was in Spandau Ballet. There are quite a few coming up."

Are there any plans on the horizon for Casualty to be broadcast in HD?
"Yes! Just before the move to Cardiff, it will start being filmed and broadcast in HD. For the super-vigilant fans, episode 15 and 16 of the new series will see the start of filming in HD."

Some of the fans seem to be slightly concerned about the move to Cardiff and whether it could result in cast departures. Can you give any reassurances over that?
"There will be some changes in the make-up of the cast leading up to and after the move to Cardiff, but the heart of the show will remain exactly the same. The show won't look that different - it's still set in Holby. All the road signs will still be in English and it will still be the same show. It may look slightly different and the set will be slightly bigger, but the vast majority of the cast are staying. Some are not, but most are staying."

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