Holby City Hospital’s Emergency Department is 25

Today Casualty celebrates 25 years since the doors first opened to the Holby City Emergency Ward to BBC One viewers, ATV Today looks back and celebrates the landmark date and looks at the move from Bristol to Cardiff.

Casualty has become the world’s longest-running prime time medical series with its ground-breaking, blood-spurting, gut-wrenching storylines which have seen millions of viewers tune in for the latest dramas. 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.

“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.

Casualty is now just one of a long line of productions that has become a ‘casualty’ of the BBC’s political correctness, which is to see the show move from its studios in Bristol to Cardiff, to tick some regional production boxes. ATV Today readers have been little impressed with this current trend for moving shows around the country. [Pictured right, Duffy and Charlie in episode one]

  • “If the show is moving to Wales but the producers are going to pretend it’s still England that’s bonkers.”
  • “The people who come up with these ideas really do not deserve to be in paid employment. They obviously life on another planet entirely.”
  • “Ashes To Ashes was also produced in Wales, but set in London! That cannot be economic for essential location filming. But then, the BBC regards the UK as “nations” (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and “regions” (the country formerly known as England – although the only area allowed a referendum on political regionalisation, the North East, voted a resounding NO!) and seems intent on moving high profile stuff out of the “regions” and into the “nations”.”
  • “Well, looking at the number of high profile BBC shows being filmed in Scotland and Wales – an absurdly large amount and some of them puzzlingly so since they are set in England – I can only assume that the BBC is pursuing some bizarre agenda of its own. And I’m only a licence payer, so what do I matter?”
  • “Has the difference between the very busy and built-up A&E Dept (Bristol) and the main hospital building which is surrounded by trees and fields (Elstree) ever been explained? Cardiff isn’t even a convincing stand-in for London. There were episodes of Doctor Who supposedly set in inner city London, especially the one with Mona Hammond guesting, and I thought “that doesn’t even look anything like London”, the style of the terraced houses clearly being particular to south Wales.”
  • “Well, looking at the list of high profile shows being moved out of England, no matter how practical it, I can only assume it is the BBC being all PC and pandering to the UK nations. England is not regarded as a nation, there is no BBC England, and the BBC would hate to see England as a nation. Mind you, I’ve known that the BBC aren’t very keen on England for a long time – it regards us as being totally responsible for everything from the British Empire to the hole in the Ozone Layer!”
  • “I wonder how long before EastEnders moves to Northern Ireland!”
  • “Wales, Scotland and NI still get a budget from Westminster, a lot of which is funded by the most populated part of the UK, namely England. That’s why they can afford free prescriptions, reduced tuition fees at university, etc. So the BBC might as well shaft ‘England’ as well.”
  • “I think we should start a new campaign to get River City and Pobol Y Cwm moved to England!”

John York has a more optimistic view of the 26th series of the show and beyond, “The brand new purpose built studio in Cardiff is a fantastic show of faith in both Casualty’s resilience and its future,” he adds, “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”.

It isn’t the first time a BBC medical drama has relocated, Angels originally was based at the BBC in London, but in 1980 moved to BBC Pebble Mill, however within the show the switch from London to Birmingham was also part of the storyline, this isn’t happening within the storylines of Holby.

A quarter of a century on from the first episode Casualty runs currently for 47 weeks each year and is still a stately staple of BBC One’s Saturday night schedule regularly pulling in over 6 million viewers in a much-changed television landscape.