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Phil Collinson (Producer, Corrie)

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Corrie Producer Phil Collinson

© ITV

Coronation Street has continued to go from strength to strength in its 50th anniversary year, culminating in this week's dramatic tram crash disaster. As the Weatherfield soap officially reaches its milestone this evening, it broadcasts an hour-long live episode, which is expected to feature explosive scenes as the situation on the cobbles remains at crisis point. Corrie's producer Phil Collinson recently chatted to DS about the drama's 50th birthday and more.

What changes do you hope Corrie fans have noticed since you took over as producer earlier this year?
"I don't really know about changes, because my brief to myself was to just deliver the very best Coronation Street - and that doesn't involve changing anything actually! It's just involved telling really brilliant stories well, and making sure this 50th anniversary worked."

How did your plans for the anniversary all come about?
"Well, the 50th could have just been one big flashy stunt and showing how marvellous we are, but it's not. Yes, there's been a big stunt at the beginning of the week, but the focus has just been brilliant drama which reminds you of how much you care about the characters and how much you don't want them to go through this - but you'll watch it anyway! That was what we wanted to do."

Was the tram crash solely your idea, or was it something you came up with as a team?
"I don't think you could say that it was any one person's idea. Coronation Street is a senate - there's a whole bunch of writers, a whole bunch of storyliners and we all meet every three weeks. We all knew that there had to be a cataclysmic event for the 50th - and the tram is buried in Coronation Street folklore as it's in our opening titles and sails across the end of the street. It just seemed like the right thing to do. In the end, it's just a device to put all of the characters under massive pressure and intense stress. In many ways, the disaster could have been anything!"

The residents of Coronation Street in the wreckage
Can we expect any big surprises in tonight's live episode?
"Oh yeah, the live episode is brilliant and astonishing. It's a real tour de force of acting and the whole week has really channelled towards that live episode. There's lots of big, significant events that will happen in it."

Is there a possibility that you could spring a surprise on the cast for the live episode?
"Well, I think the purpose of the live is to surprise the audience rather than the cast. I think that we've crafted a brilliant script that will very deliberately showcase what this cast can do, and also what we can do technically. It's going to be live like you've never seen it before. We're even hoping to do live CGI at the very beginning, which has never been done before. We've been trying to technically fine-tune it - and if we can do it, we will!"

Where will you be when the live episode is being performed?
"I'll be in the scanner - that's a great big caravan on set that's like a transformer, and basically it's a live broadcast mobile facility. It has 27 screens in it, as we'll have 27 cameras for the live episode. That's more than ever before, on any live broadcast. It's astonishing, and I'll be sat there with the director and the people queuing up the shots - right in the nerve centre of it!"

The tram plunges off the viaduct
Many people on our forum have been praising your stint at Corrie so far - is that something you've been aware of?
"I am aware of the forum and I've looked at it sometimes - of course I have. I'd be fibbing to you if I pretended that I didn't! It's a real pleasure to be able to look at that and to see how much people are appreciating the way the show is going. We've worked very hard over the past six months, and I was very fortunate to turn up when I did, really. The show has always been brilliant, but the last six months has given us this huge, dramatic event to work towards. That makes you work even harder and think even harder about where you want to get those characters to. Focusing on getting them to this night where everything changes has given us so many brilliant stories and brilliant drama. I feel like I've struck lucky by arriving at this time - I'm so glad that I did and I've loved working on the show so far."

You've confirmed in the past that you extended the Molly and Kevin story when you joined the show - do you enjoy crafting that kind of long-running plotline?
"I do! The best stories are the ones that you can tell over a longer period of time. As a producer, you always have to trust your instinct in picking what those stories are and wringing as much as you can out of them. I hope I've got a good instinct for that, and it's very much what I'm about. I like finding a story and knowing that it's one that you can run for a year. I think that you then make the audience care about the characters involved in those stories in a way that they wouldn't do if it was over in four or five weeks. For example, with Nick and Leanne's storyline, we had to make sure that the audience really believed Leanne's dilemma and explore her and Nick revisiting their teenage feelings. That's been a beautiful story to tell. It's just been about trying to wring every little last bit out of a story - I'm a great believer of that. But hopefully we don't drag stories on either!"

Molly tells Kevin she still loves him and that they should be together
What was your thought process as you extended Molly and Kevin's story?
"We had to make sure that Sally and Molly were really good friends when this tram crash happened - there was a huge chunk of story to tell in making them friends. We also had to make sure that Molly really wanted Kevin back, and that he might toy with doing that - again, in order for the night of the tram crash to have the significance and the impact that it does."

Corrie will be getting a mention on EastEnders tonight as Dot professes her love for the show - what do you make of that?
"I've heard that! That's really brilliant, funny and touching. I think it's a really nice thing for them to have done."

Looking to the future, the return of Tracy Barlow looks like the next big story for Corrie - what will she be getting up to over the next few months?
"Tracy is a brilliant character - she's one of the only characters who could start a fight in an empty room! That's the joy of having her back. But she's also funny - a very funny character. She's brilliantly cutting and very definitely Blanche's granddaughter in that sense. She arrives back on Christmas Eve and just causes mayhem for everybody. The lives of the Barlows and the McDonalds are not going to be the same again. She's back and she's back for a good while."

You've extended the Armstrong family by bringing in Katy - what's next for her, Izzy and Owen?
"We're going to see a lot more of Owen and the others next year. Owen's two daughters are both going to be involved with men who are in very significant families on the street. That's the secret with a new family when you bring them in - just chuck them in with other people who can move them along with their story. That's what this year has been about for Owen, Izzy and Katy - it's been about positioning them properly in the show, and that's what we've done. We'll see a lot more of them next year."

Fiz is furious at Charlotte
She may or may not be dead now - but Charlotte Hoyle has become quite a popular character, hasn't she?
"I think that Becky Hindley has done an amazing job. They're always great parts to play, the bunny boilers, and Becky has really embraced that. I think she's just played it brilliantly. I think what she's done so brilliantly is make us feel Charlotte's pain. She isn't just a bunny boiler - she's a really lonely, heartbroken person. Colin Fishwick dying in front of her eyes was probably the most perversely exciting thing that's ever happened to her! She became desperate to hang onto the drama that came from that night. I think it's been great telly: you take people like John and Fiz - who are really loved characters - and then you do something this extraordinary to them. I think you just want to watch it!"

In more general terms, after such a big event, where does Corrie go from here?
"The tram crash is very deliberately not the end of the story. It's the beginning of a lot more stories - the live episode marks the 50th anniversary, and then the double bill on Friday marks the beginning of the 51st year. The stunt very deliberately sets up Coronation Street's 51st year, as well as celebrating its 50th. So there's all sorts of great stories that you'll tune in on Friday and see. Friday is sort of the aftermath - people will be dealing with the death and the loss that they've had to come to terms with. All of those stories begin and shoot off into all sorts of different directions on Friday - they're going to take us right the way through 2011 and beyond…"

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