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Exclusive: 'Holby City' gossip from producer Justin Young - interview

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Justin Young - Holby City's consultant series producer

© BBC

Holby City remains one of BBC One's most successful shows, and fans can look forward to more exciting times ahead at the hospital with new characters on the way along with stories which delve deeper into the lives of existing favourites.

Digital Spy recently caught up with Holby's consultant series producer Justin Young to hear his take on recent storylines and what's ahead in upcoming episodes.

Read the first part of our interview here, and click through the link at the bottom of the page for some more exclusive character teasers in part two.

After another big year, which storylines and episodes stand out for you as Holby City at its best?
"There's a few that I'm really proud of. It might sound slightly immodest because I wrote it, but I was really pleased with the Christmas episode that we did in Kiev. It was really fun and ambitious for us to take on, and it meant that we were able to make a Christmas movie within the Holby format. Audiences responded brilliantly to it, as we had some wonderful feedback from viewers.

"I was also really proud of Sahira's exit episodes, and Greg's story with the young girl who was being abused by her father. More recently, I loved Dan coming out to his dad, and Mo giving birth with Jac a few weeks ago. The Luc and Eddi story has also worked out really well, and I'm very pleased that audiences have got behind it.

"In general, I think Holby is at its best when you're laughing your head off at one moment and you're crying the next. That balance of humour and emotion is absolutely crucial to the show."

As there has been a producer changeover at Holby in the past year, is there anything in particular you were aiming for in terms of changes?
"Well, I've been head writer on the show since January 2010, when Myar Craig-Brown was series producer. When Myar left a year or so ago, I moved into the role of series producer. Sharon Bloom was senior producer at that time, and then later on Oliver Kent took on that role. We've also had two different executive producers in that time - Belinda Campbell and now Johnathan Young. All of those different people bring a different taste and energy into the show, but generally speaking, the writing team has stayed pretty consistent during that time.

"When I first started, one of the things we were keen to do was to update the show's look, so we brought that in two years ago. I also wanted to introduce more truthful and complicated characters, so I've overseen the arrival of people like Hanssen, Malick, Serena, Jonny, Mo, Chantelle, Luc and Eddi.

"Since I became series producer proper, I've been generally trying to build on the work that I did before. In terms of specifics, one thing that I've pushed is phasing out the montages, as I felt that they had run their course slightly, so viewers might have noticed that we use less music than we used to. I've also encouraged more grown-up and sophisticated storytelling, which I think our writers have really responded well to."

Frieda Petrenko from Holby City

© BBC

Adam Astill as Dan Hamilton in Holby City

© BBC



There have been quite a few characters leaving Holby in the past year. Is it challenging for you as a team when lots of characters bow out in quick succession?
"Only when characters leave at very short notice. For example, for personal reasons, Olga Fedori who played Frieda had to leave the show quite quickly. We loved the character, so that was a shame as storytellers because we couldn't make her exit story as big as we would have liked to.

"Generally when characters leave, it's always sad to say goodbye to our friends and colleagues, but from a storytelling perspective it can actually be quite helpful. It usually means that we can play that character's story and not hold anything back, which can make for really fantastic episodes.

"For example, Dan coming out was the best work that Adam Astill did and the best story that we told for that character. However, we couldn't play that until we knew that he was going to leave, because it completed his story. So it's actually much harder trying to think of new stories for characters who have been in the show for years, than it is to come up with exit stories."

Is the cast now looking more stable for the foreseeable future?
"I think the cast is looking pretty stable now, but at the same time, it's vital to keep bringing in new energy on a long-runner like Holby. So there will be new characters coming in."

Can you tell us anything about the new characters who are joining the show in the next couple of episodes and beyond?
"There's a fantastic new character that you're going to see very soon called George Binns, played by Leander Deeny. He's a very, very baby manager, who's got his whole head full of managerial technique. He's a bit like something out of The Apprentice, so he's going to be incredibly irritating in a brilliant way! There'll be a fantastic double act between him and Hanssen, and you'll see him creating quite a lot of serious difficulties for the existing characters.

"We've also got Max coming in, who is played by John Light. Max is a really fascinating character. He's very sexy, he's dangerous and he's really going to shake things up. He's exactly the wrong character to walk into Eddi's life at the moment when she's feeling a little bit vulnerable post-Luc.

"Looking to Christmas and beyond, we're also going to be bringing in some more younger characters. We love Tara and Ollie, but it's great to have more junior doctors to keep that youthful energy in, so keep your eyes peeled for them later in the year."

Joseph Millson, Luc Hemingway, Holby City

© BBC Pictures

Sarah Jane Potts

© BBC



We recently saw Luc Hemingway disappear from our screens. Can you tell us if he'll be back, and what the future might hold for him and Eddi?
"I think it's the nature of Luc's character that you're never quite sure when he's going to appear and when he's going to disappear! He'll probably be back at some point, and he'll probably appear at the most awkward moment possible for Eddi!

"In terms of whether or not he's going to be back for good, I don't think that's Luc's style - he doesn't stay anywhere for long. He's got a fear of being trapped, so he'll keep moving on. I think he'll always come and go, and you'll never be sure whether he's going to hang around for long. But I think we haven't seen the last of Luc…"

Are you aware of how popular the Luc and Eddi pairing has proved among the online fans?
"Yes, I do get a sense of how popular they are. I don't look on the forums, but a few people have told me about 'Team Leddi'! I'm absolutely delighted about that."

Luc has a real air of mystery about him. Will more be revealed about his character, or does it work better if some of those things stay a secret?
"It's a really good question, and it's a funny balancing act for us. I know that when Joseph Millson first started at Holby, he said in an interview that we'd agreed to keep him a mystery, but I know that some viewers were then worried that we didn't know where we were going with the character.

"In actual fact, we've always had a very clear idea of what we wanted to do with Luc, but I always like to leave room to discover a character along with the actor. You have to see what an actor brings to a character, and discover those stories as you go along. I don't like clumsy, expositional backstory, so I like to drip-feed these things.

"I think characters like Luc and Hanssen are so intriguing because we know so little about them, but with that said, we are going to reveal more about Luc. We are going to tell the audience a little bit more about what makes him tick and where he comes from. This is assuming that he comes back!"

Sarah-Jane Potts, who plays Eddi, said a while ago that she might not have a long-term future on the show because she'd like to play other roles. Should fans brace themselves for an exit story for Eddi?
"I've always said that I would rather have a brilliant actor for a short stint, than a less good actor for a longer stint. One of the downsides of attracting the calibre of actors Holby now has is that, at some point, you know that they're going to want to go off and do other work.

"I think Sarah-Jane is brilliant and I love having her in the show, so we will hold onto her for as long as we can. Along with the viewers, I really want to see what happens between Luc and Eddi. But Sarah-Jane is an actress, she's a mum, and at some point, she'll understandably want to go off and do other things."

Chizzy Akudolu as Mo Effanga in Holby City

© BBC

Michael Thomson as Jonny Maconie in Holby City

© BBC

Michael Thomson as Jonny Maconie



If we can talk a bit about the newer characters, can you tell us where things are heading next for Mo?
"Mo is a really brilliant combination of being an excellent doctor but a chaotic person! Her idealism means that she sometimes makes difficult decisions without really thinking them through. For example, offering to have Sorcia's baby was a wonderful thing to do, but she hasn't really thought through what the emotional consequences of that might be. I think that we haven't quite seen the end of that story yet - there's a little bit more to come.

"Viewers should also look out for Mo's friendship with Jonny - it's something that's vitally important to them both, and I think it's great having that dynamic in our cast. It's not about romance or a love story, it's two people who have a really close friendship. We'll see that friendship challenged a bit, particularly when it comes to Mo's dubious taste in men!"

How about Jonny?
"Jonny seems to be doing a pretty good job of standing up to Jac, which many people wouldn't be brave enough to do! I think it remains to be seen whether he's really going to be able to tame her. I'm not sure if anyone can tame Jac, and it's also a question of whether Jac can really trust anyone."

What's ahead for Serena?
"Serena is a very tricky customer. I've really enjoyed the fact that our viewers aren't quite sure what to make of her, as that's absolutely intentional. She's very slippery, very smart and very funny. She's prepared to make difficult decisions, but sometimes those decisions will backfire.

"You'll see Serena get into pretty hot water by the end of the series. There'll also be some pretty tricky political stuff between Serena and Hanssen. Whether Hanssen has her full confidence as director of surgery is something we'll be examining…"

Henrik Hanssen from Holby City

© BBC

Sahira Shah from Holby City

© BBC



Fans still speculate over Hanssen and Sahira's backstory, and whether it was fully resolved or not. What are your thoughts?
"Well, I always assume that our viewers are really smart and intelligent, so I always encourage our writers to be ambiguous and go for subtext and nuance. For me as a viewer, there's nothing more annoying than when I feel I'm being spoonfed by a TV programme. It's much more satisfying when I'm having to work things out for myself.

"I thought Sahira and Hanssen's story resolved in a way that was totally true to their characters. Some people may have been hoping for a big, soapy, 'I'm your long-lost dad' moment, but for me that would have been insulting to the viewers and would have cheapened the brilliance of Hanssen's character, who is enigmatic, elusive and full of contradictions.

"I'm actually really proud that people are still debating the Sahira and Hanssen relationship. Some people think he was in love with her, others say that he saw her as a daughter, while some fans have suggested that it was just a very intense mentor/mentee dynamic. It's so rare to get a moment in soap or continuing drama which is open to interpretation like that. For me, I think we answered it, but I also quite enjoy that people still have questions about it."

Sahira was a popular character, but there was some discussion and debate about how prominent she was on screen. Do you think Holby works better when one single character isn't pushed to the forefront?
"I think it's a valid criticism - we're an ensemble show so it should never be about one character or story above all of the others. In all honesty, I think we did perhaps focus too much on the Greg and Sahira story for a while at the expense of the other characters. Then again, we knew that we only had Laila Rouass for a finite period, so we had to play the story out within a compressed timeframe.

"We plan stories a year in advance on Holby and start writing episodes six months in advance, so we work really hard to pace stories and make sure that they're neither rushed nor stretched. But it's really hard to know until those scripts are finished - or even shot - whether a story is feeling repetitive or not.

"You can't please everyone all of the time, and I was really pleased with the Sahira and Greg story as it gave us our best ratings and AIs [audience appreciation index] for the series. But I totally accept that for some viewers we perhaps put the story too much at the forefront for too long."

How easy or difficult is it to strike the right balance between the weekly guest stories and the longer-term story arcs for the regulars?
"I don't think it's that difficult, as our format is really clear. The weekly stories are there to inform and motor the longer-term story arcs of our regular characters. I never like it when we leave our guest characters alone on screen without one of our regulars there, because those are the characters the viewers really care about.

"The key difference between us and Casualty is that we have far more focus on the longer-term arcs of our regular characters, while they are more focused on the guests. Having said that, I still want our guest stories to be compelling, witty and truthful."

There's been some great guest stars coming into the show recently. Are there any more notable ones on the way?
"We've got a few coming up. We've got a really lovely guest appearance from John McArdle at the end of the series. There's also a terrific guest appearance by Amanda Barrie, playing a wonderful actress whose career has seen better days. As well as that, Susannah Corbett is coming back for an episode, Ben Hull is coming back, and Susan Jameson is coming in.

"They're probably best known to theatre audiences, but we've also got a really terrific appearance by David Troughton and his son Sam Troughton. They play a father and son in the series, but they're not actually in the same episode, which is a bit of fun! That's in a really, really exciting story which the viewers will see in about ten episodes' time towards the end of the series.

"Heading towards Christmas, there are also a couple of really exciting names who have just started filming with us, which we'll reveal at a later date."

After the Christmas episode in Ukraine worked so well, would you ever take Holby on-location abroad again?
"It can sometimes be difficult to get multiple characters abroad without it seeming really contrived. I think the reason that Kiev worked was that Frieda is Ukrainian, so there was an organic and logical reason for us to go there. So I think episodes which go abroad for the sake of it don't really work and can look a bit self-indulgent. Because Holby is so much about what happens in the hospital, you need a really compelling and dramatic reason for our characters to be abroad.

"Having said that, I think we might have just come up with an idea for another foreign episode, which has the potential to be even better than Ukraine! We're at the early stages of the planning, but you might possibly see it a short while after Christmas…"

> Want to know what's ahead for Sacha, Chrissie, Malick, Hanssen and more? Read the second part of this interview in Soap Scoop.

Holby City continues tonight (August 7) at 8pm on BBC Two, before moving back to its usual place on BBC One next week. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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