BBC pins hopes on pounds 16m nanny costume drama

Berkeley Sq has been recreated in Bristol. Ivan Waterman reports
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The Independent Online
IF ANYONE should be interested as to whether a nightingale ever did sing in Berkeley Square, sit tight. All is about to be revealed.

The BBC is planning to put one of London's up-market landmarks firmly back on the map in a pounds 16m turn-of-the-century drama series.

BBC executives are pinning a lot of hopes on the new drama, which will probably occupy the key Sunday-night slot, after several indifferent predecessors. Producer Alison Davis says: "I am aware that we will be expected to make an impact. A lot of money's been spent on this."

Curiously, not one frame of film has been shot in Mayfair, where the famous square is located. When executives took a look at the Berkeley Square of today, they realised it was not the location, with its brash clubs and cafes, to create a classic period-piece atmosphere.

So they headed west some 120 miles to the chintzy backdrop of Vyvyan Terrace in the Clifton Park district of Bristol. It will be seen as the setting for the 10-part adventure about three feisty nannies.

Professionals allowed their homes to be transformed: burglar alarms and apartment bell buttons were unscrewed, TV aerials temporarily displaced and olde-worlde lamp-post inserted on paving stones.

Production designer Chris Webster also set about "adjusting" the green crescent vista beside the cobbled terrace, which will represent the quiet corner where the nannies gossip. A donation to the society that looks after the gardens - believed to be pounds 50,000 - eased residents' discomfort at being asked to live with TV folk for six months.

Berkeley Square, which has been created by Suzanne Van de Velde and Deborah Cook, has been three years in the making and will lead a new BBC ratings push in May. Because of the lack of success of glossy, expensive historic serials such as Rhodes and Nostromo, the BBC's drama department is understandably anxious.

Ironically, the brains largely responsible for Berkeley Square are no longer with the Corporation. The last senior executive to take a hand in the development of the series was Michael Jackson - now top man at Channel 4.

Cook is credited as the lead writer while Van de Velde, who came up with the idea, is one of the script editors. New BBC1 Controller Peter Salmon is putting his faith in producer Ms Davis (she cut her teeth on EastEnders and Casualty) in serving up a hard-nosed story which will captivate viewers.

The heroines of the piece are new faces, though millionaire's daughter Victoria Smurfit had a leading role in the historic romp Ivanhoe as Princess Rowena. She plays strong-willed single mother Hannah Randall. Clare Wilkie portrays street-wise East Ender Matty Wickham and Tabitha Wady the more simple country girl Lydia Weston.

Ms Davis says: "Our nannies are three ordinary girls with special qualities, and will, we hope, be seen in some quarters as quite glamorous. But of course this isn't sex, drugs and rock and roll. This is much more genteel, in the tradition of good, solid BBC drama."

And what of Berkeley Square in those days, and the nightingales later celebrated in Manning Sherwin and Eric Maschwitz's song? They did apparently, cheep away into the early hours from an aviary in the central gardens. The BBC, however,avoided that historic reference. Ms Davis commented: "Please, I had enough on my plate worrying about children and babies. Birds I can live without!"