Holby City at 20

As the hit BBC1 med­i­cal drama cel­e­brates its 20th birth­day we chat to three of its stars about life on the set of Holby City Hos­pi­tal

YOURS (UK) - - Contents - By Kather­ine Has­sell ‘When­ever we do an op­er­a­tion there’s a real sur­geon with us’

Holby City knows how to cel­e­brate. Not con­tent with just one episode to mark its 20th birth­day, the med­i­cal drama has quite the party planned.

“We’re do­ing a whole year of treats,” re­veals Rosie Mar­cel, who’s played con­sul­tant car­dio­tho­racic sur­geon Jac Nay­lor since 2005. “There’ll be new char­ac­ters, old ones resur­fac­ing, crossovers with Ca­su­alty and much, much more.

“There’s a great episode that kicks off with me, Bob Bar­rett and Hugh Quarshie, the three long­est-serv­ing cast mem­bers,” she con­tin­ues. “Jac, Sacha and Ric go on this road trip to a con­fer­ence, get hor­ri­bly drunk and there’s a fight. It’s a very girlie fight, like the one Hugh Grant has in Brid­get Jones’s Di­ary.”

“I can’t wait for the view­ers to see that. It’s one of my favourite ever episodes. We had a ball. It was hi­lar­i­ous. A great kick off to the year,” chuck­les Bob (who plays sur­geon Sacha Levy).

So, what’s the se­cret to Holby’s rare

‘They are ab­so­lutely my sec­ond fam­ily’

longevity? “Clearly, peo­ple love hos­pi­tal dra­mas,” says Bob. “They love the life or death stakes. And what set Holby on its way was when they de­cided to not make it about the pa­tients, but more about the lives of the staff. You’re hooked be­cause you care about the char­ac­ters.”

“The fact we keep hold of long-run­ning char­ac­ters helps. The au­di­ence likes fa­mil­iar­ity. With char­ac­ters di­verse in age, class, eth­nic­ity and sex­u­al­ity, peo­ple are more likely to see some­one like them on screen,” says Rosie.

“That’s what makes TV work,” agrees Bob.

Cather­ine Rus­sell (who plays sur­geon Ser­ena Camp­bell) calls the con­stant flow of ex­cel­lent guest ac­tors ‘ab­so­lutely vi­tal’, too. Holby City is made at BBC El­stree Stu­dios in Hert­ford­shire – also home to East­End­ers. “We share the same can­teen,” says Rosie. “I often meet Kelly Bright (Al­bert Square’s Linda Carter) for lunch.” Asked what they love most about life on the show, aside from the act­ing, there’s no hes­i­ta­tion. It’s what Bob calls the ‘warm, nur­tur­ing, fam­ily at­mos­phere’ on set. A warmth repli­cated on screen. “They’re ab­so­lutely my sec­ond fam­ily,” says Rosie of the cast and crew. “I care deeply for ev­ery­body there.” You couldn’t man­age the long hours of a weekly se­rial – a full day is 7am to 7pm – if you didn’t love the work and peo­ple. Fun and friend­ship keep spir­its high. “Jaye Ja­cobs (se­nior staff nurse Donna Jack­son) and I can often be

‘We’ve had the oc­ca­sional di­rec­tor who’s wanted to faint’

found singing a show tune much to the de­light or hor­ror of the crew,” laughs Cather­ine. Holby would be noth­ing, of course, with­out the in­cred­i­ble team fak­ing those body parts. “The pros­thet­ics are the jewel in the crown of the show,” Cather­ine en­thuses. “When­ever we do an op­er­a­tion, we have a real sur­geon in with us. They al­ways say the pros­thetic is an ex­act replica of what they’re see­ing in re­al­ity.

“I don’t have a squea­mish bone in my body,” she adds, “but we’ve had the oc­ca­sional di­rec­tor who has to block off half the screen when she watches the mon­i­tor be­cause it makes her want to faint.”

“It does look real,” says Bob, “it just smells pla­s­ticky. They used to make the blood out of sugar and colour­ing.”

Cather­ine isn’t so keen on the­atre scenes. “I find them hard,” she ad­mits. “It’s like rub­bing your stom­ach and tap­ping your head hav­ing to do med­i­cal di­a­logue along­side pre­tend­ing to op­er­ate. Rosie

has be­come so deft with do­ing stitches her hands have sub­sti­tuted for those un­able to do a par­tic­u­lar stitch.” Be­tween them, they pro­duce great drama, but the team’s legacy is so much greater.

Holby has changed lives. The cast often re­ceive let­ters from those they’ve in­spired to en­ter the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion. Bob ex­plains: “I was on a train once and a guy said: ‘I want to thank you for get­ting me through med school. My friends and I used to watch the show and di­ag­nose as it went along’”

Sacha’s sui­cide at­tempt caused peo­ple to seek help for their own de­pres­sion

after see­ing how they felt mir­rored on screen. “That’s over­whelm­ing for me,” says Bob.

And then there’s ‘Ber­ena’. Re­ac­tion to the love story be­tween Ser­ena and her for­mer col­league Bernie Wolfe (Jemma Red­grave) took ev­ery­body by sur­prise. It helped women strug­gling with their sex­u­al­ity and even played Cupid to spark real-life ro­mances.

For some, fact gets jum­bled with fic­tion. “Years ago, we had a party at (Holby co-cre­ator) Tony McHale’s and some­one had… I don’t think it was a heart at­tack, but a heart tremor, and fell to the floor,” re­calls Bob. “It was aw­ful. In the end, he was fine, but nine or ten cast were there and ev­ery­one looked to us as if to say ‘Do some­thing!’ Thank good­ness, there was a real doc­tor there who helped.”

■ Holby City kicks off its an­niver­sary year with a spe­cial episode on Wed­nes­day, Jan­uary 2 on BBC1. If you miss it, you can catch up on BBC iPlayer.

Was it re­ally 20 years ago? It seems like yes­ter­day… Some of the orig­i­nal line-up of Holby City



Cast and crew mark the 20th an­niver­sary of the med­i­cal se­ries. Ac­tion-packed episodes are promised this month

Played by Cather­ine Rus­sell CON­SUL­TANT GEN­ERAL SUR­GEON HOLBY CITY Ser­ena Camp­bell

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