Wednesday 29 Oct 2014
The world's longest-running primetime medical series Casualty celebrates 25 years of ground-breaking, blood-spurting, gut-wrenching drama from the heart of Holby City Hospital's emergency department, on 6 September 2011.
Launched at a time when the NHS was under increasing pressure, Casualty featured the working lives of the staff in the emergency department of a large, inner-city hospital. The first series consisted of just 14 episodes. Now a quarter of a century on, Casualty runs for 47 weeks a year and is still a stately staple of BBC One's Saturday night schedule, regularly pulling in over six million viewers in a much-changed TV landscape.
"Very few television shows last two or three series and only a tiny handful last 25 years," says BBC Controller of Continuing Drama John Yorke. "During that time hundreds of medical dramas have come and gone, but Casualty has outlasted all of them. For more than one generation it's been a must-see on Saturday night and the children who used to watch it now write for, act in and run the show. Jeremy Brock and Paul Unwin's idea was a very simple one; to reflect the truth about Britain through an Accident and Emergency department. By staying true to that vision Casualty has nurtured a whole generation of British talent – both on and off screen."
The first ever episode of Casualty, Gas, saw patients filter into Holby hospital with burn wounds, all tight-lipped about the details of their accidents. Meanwhile the medical personnel on the A&E ward dealt with management's justification of the threatened night-shift routine. The episode starred Casualty favourites Brenda Fricker (Megan), Cathy Shipton (Duffy) and Derek Thompson, still an integral member of the cast today, as the indomitable Charlie.
"When I started on Casualty we were just heading West. It was the pioneering spirit!" recalls Derek Thompson. "We didn't know what it was going to look like or sound like or feel like – and there was a great excitement that went with that. We just got up and gave it our best shot every day!"
The original programme was devised by script editor Jeremy Brock and theatre director Paul Unwin. They researched the show at the Bristol Royal Infirmary with a charge nurse from the emergency department, Peter Salt. Still Casualty's nursing advisor today, Peter became the inspiration for the character of charge nurse Charlie Fairhead, Casualty's best-loved and most recognisable character.
"I was very excited about the first show," recalls Peter, who has advised on every single episode since the show started. "It felt different and very current although it may seem relatively tame by today's standards. There have been a few manifestations of the show since, but the main theme of a close knit team supporting each other against all odds has always been at the forefront".
Reaction to the first series was mixed. There were complaints from within the medical profession and from the government. The show was considered by some to be irresponsible and inaccurate and there was serious talk of it being axed. But the viewers loved it and Casualty survived its early health scare to become the world's longest-running primetime medical drama. Today, Casualty starts its 26th series in fine health with a move to a new home in Cardiff, several exciting new cast members including Michael Obiora, Madeleine Mantock and Charlotte Salt and a great long term prognosis.
"The brand new purpose-built studio in Cardiff is a fantastic show of faith in both Casualty's resilience and its future," adds John Yorke. "We hope it will continue to provide top class entertainment – a drama that's in the top five watched every week – for many years to come".
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