I pitched the idea for 32 Brinkburn Street in November 2009 as part of a brainstorming session in Newcastle held by the Writersroom. We met Phil Collinson, Hilary Martin and Simon Judd who were interested in daytime drama ideas. I'd just been co-writer in residence for Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival and the theme was the family, so that was very much in the back of my mind, plus I had other family things going on at the time. I wanted to do something where the audience knew more about the family's history than the family did itself. This meant doing something historical but I knew the costs involved might make that a non-starter.
Initially I pitched the idea of three generations living in one house over a century but quickly cut it down to two timeframes. Our pitches then went to Liam Keelan, Controller of Daytime in December 2009, but a couple of months later I got an email to say although he'd been really keen on the idea it wasn't going to go any further due to lack of slots and finance.
I was trying to work out how to turn Brinkburn Street into a play when I got a call in March 2010 to say that the idea might have some life after all; a series of programmes were being planned around the census and there was a chance of a tie-in. It was one of those times when luck really plays a part and suddenly there was a chance to move forward. Between April and June we started mapping out a potential series and I started work on the first episode. We chose 1931, not only because it was within living memory but also because in many ways it's our parallel decade historically.
The first draft went through a lot of changes, partly because we kept discovering things about the characters and partly because the shape of the series was changing as well. A draft of episode one went with the final outline for the series to Liam in August 2010. The show was greenlit in September; by then Alice Nutter had joined us to write two episodes. All five scripts were finally locked off by the 25th October to give the director, Dan Wilson, the chance to shoot the contemporary stuff first and then go on to the period material. We always knew our deadline for transmission had to be census week so time was always going to be an issue. I was thrilled when we got such a strong cast, absolutely delighted. Shooting was finished on 17th December, one year after the initial pitch in Newcastle.
It's wonderful seeing it on the screen; I'm still getting over the surprise of having it commissioned never mind seeing it finished. The past fifteen months have been intense, no doubt about it; sometimes it was fantastic and other times you'd be tearing your hair out, but then, that's what families are all about.
Watch 32 Brinkburn Street at 2.15pm on BBC One from 28th March - 1st April.
Read the script for Episode 1 of 32 Brinkburn Street in the BBC writersroom script archive.
Andrea Hughes, set designer for 32 Brinkburn Street, has written a blog post about her work designing the set for the series on the BBC TV blog.