Enter the new drama queen

Nicola Shindler raised hackles with Channel 4's Queer as Folk. Now the BBC is hoping her new prime-time drama, Linda Green, will be the hit of the season. She talks to Louise Jury
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Though just 33, Nicola Shindler is the producer behind some of the most acclaimed drama on British television in the three years since she founded her company, Red.

First there was Queer as Folk, which exploded on to Channel 4 in a blaze of headlines with its "controversial" tale of young gay men in Manchester. It was immediately followed by Love in the 21st Century, six stories about sex, love and relationships under titles such as Masturbation and Threesomes.

Less explicit, though sometimes equally controversial, series have followed – notably Bob and Rose for ITV, about a gay man who falls for a woman. And now Shindler has a prime-time BBC1 series, Linda Green, starting tonight. It stars Liza Tarbuck as a working-class girl with a string of ill-fated relationships and no intention of settling down. Inspired by American comedies such as Roseanne and Rhoda, which are based on strong central women, it has a more immediate mainstream feel than some of Shindler's previous productions. But what it shares with them is the writing.

If Shindler is prepared to take any credit at all for her successes, it is in her attention to words. When she left Cambridge University, she went to work at the Royal Court Theatre in London and initially wanted to be a theatre director. But she realised she enjoyed working on scripts, so she became a script-reader at the Royal Court and then at the BBC. Since then, the writing has been the thing. "I will work only on something I think is good, and then I work very hard to make it as good as possible," she says.

"It is, to me, the most important thing to get right. If you don't, the production will suffer. Everything comes from the script. When you're a script-reader, most of what you read is absolute dross but the BBC was a great learning experience. Everyone should be made to do that before they are allowed to work on anything good."

From this starting-point, she is always on the look-out for people whose writing she admires. "I'm not a great originator of original ideas; I work with writers I like."

Russell Davies, who wrote Queer as Folk and Bob and Rose, was someone she met briefly when she was working at Granada on programmes including the award-winning Hillsborough by Jimmy McGovern and Prime Suspect V. And Linda Green has been created by Paul Abbott, whom she also first met at Granada and later worked with to create the award-winning series Clocking Off.

High hopes are riding on Linda Green. BBC1's controller, Lorraine Heggessey, inherited the project from her predecessor, Peter Salmon, but extended the proposed run after viewing the early episodes. With Jane Tranter, the BBC's drama commissioner, now publicly proclaiming the show an "important step forward" for BBC drama, Linda Green looks likely to confirm Shindler's reputation even further.

So in an industry where her capacity for spotting a script and making it happen is making her a hot property, what is her recipe for success? "It's 80 per cent instinctive – though it doesn't mean my instincts are right and other people's are wrong," she says. "I've got to believe in the script. Lots of scripts are written in telly language – people have watched the telly and have got their language from there. But it's got to be real, something set in a very real world, which may be extreme sometimes, but everyone watching it would recognise it."

Shindler is delighted to have made it on to prime-time BBC1 and is slightly scared, too. But she will not have too much time to think about it. She has just started the pre-production on a 90-minute film, Flesh Blood and Magic, about an adopted man who traces his real parents and discovers they were mentally disabled. "It's a really tough subject," she says.

She is also working on a sitcom called Having It Off, set in a hairdressers, which will star Frances Barber. And she and Russell Davies are working on a musical version of Queer as Folk.

Just in case anyone thinks Nicola Shindler has a charmed life, she does have her disappointments. She was upset when ITV moved Bob and Rose to a late-night slot for the final episode after it recorded a disappointing four million or so viewers. But she rarely seems down for long. "I love everything about what I do. I love the fantastic feeling where you've had a good script meeting. I love looking at the rushes," she says. "I'm really lucky."