Media: The old firm can still pull a cracker: Michael Leapman meets an in-house producer who gives independents a run for their money

When I arrived at her London house near Kew bridge, Sally Head, Granada Television's head of drama, was on the phone in the cluttered kitchen, reading from a long continuous fax that was curling round her calves. Although Cracker, Robbie Coltrane's hit series on ITV, was well into its stride, she and the producer, Gub Neal, were still settling details of the later episodes.

An eight-week-old kitten, one of a litter of four, chased after the flapping fax paper, then wailed plaintively when its mother imposed discipline. I had come to ask Head how successful television series are made. Was this the answer, this tableau of order within chaos?

Perhaps not, but it is a symptom of the time pressure imposed by the new ITV central commissioning system. Only in January was Head given the go- ahead to make the series, about a criminal psychologist who seems to need help more than his clients.

That did not leave much time to get seven hours of prime-time drama ready for a September launch. In the old days, when Granada was able to command an agreed quota of programmes on the network, she would have been allowed to start much earlier.

Cracker, already attracting 10 million viewers, is one of the hits of a mixed autumn for ITV. 'Marcus (Plantin, the chief ITV scheduler) phoned me after the first episode and congratulated me,' says Head. 'I'm still euphoric about it because I think I've got it right. If the British audience didn't respond it would make me want to pack it all in, I love it so much. If you're passionate about a programme you expect everybody else to watch it.'

The success of Cracker has been especially welcomed by executives of the established ITV companies because it is made in-house by one of their number. Those who continue to resent the intrusion of independent producers on to their traditional terrain see it as proof that there are no ways like the old ways. Nick Elliott, managing director of LWT Productions, points out that the two new franchise-holders that make no programmes of their own - Carlton and Meridian - have yet to commission a palpable hit.

'They've commissioned Full Stretch, Head Over Heels, Frank Stubbs Promotes and Brighton Belles: no real hits,

and Frank Stubbs is the only one that's been recommissioned. I think it's because there's a greater awareness in-house of what the schedule needs. The independents are to some extent disconnected from the schedule and its requirements.'

The poor ratings performance of BBC 1's independently produced Harry reinforces that view. But Jonathan Powell, head of drama at Carlton (and controller of BBC 1 when Harry was commissioned) disagrees. 'It's a real nonsense to say the independents aren't making good drama. It's codswallop, a real ITV Old Boys' Club line. The people who sit in the television establishments - the BBC as well - don't want change, so they look at the downside. They forget that Inspector Morse was an independent production and, anyway, a lot of the same directors make the shows for the independents as well as the networks.'

Head, who has run Granada's drama department for five years, declines to get involved in any such debate. 'Life's too short to be politicking the whole time,' she says. 'It's hard to knock other people's programmes, because you know the time and energy spent on them at every level.' The idea for Cracker began to be formulated about 18 months ago, when she was looking for something to match the success of her Prime Suspect. (Since then we have had Prime Suspect 2, and Prime Suspect 3 is due to be aired before Christmas.) She asked some producers to come up with ideas and Neal suggested a series about a criminal psychologist.

When they came to discuss writers, Neal suggested Jimmy McGovern. 'We knew the power and depth of his writing and his humour. He's strong on sex, religion and sexual politics and the dark side of life and the soul.' Once the first script had been written, everyone was certain that Robbie Coltrane was the man for the part of Fitz.

Although unwilling to criticise independents, Head does think there is a special atmosphere at Granada that allows creative people scope for their initiative, and allows her to follow her instincts about what makes good drama.

'My fear was that when David Plowright left (after disagreements with the senior management of the group) all that would change, but it hasn't. I haven't been leant on to do anything I don't want to do. Nobody has asked me to make it more commercial. My other fear was that with the new central scheduling office things would change yet again. But we got Cracker through and I can only say I am grateful for that. What the future holds I have no idea. I'm waiting to hear from central scheduling.'

The future almost certainly holds another series of Cracker and, more immediately, Prime Suspect 3. The first of Lynda La Plante's Prime Suspect series, in which Helen Mirren plays a put-upon policewoman, dealt with sexism in the police force and the second with racism.

'I was told Prime Suspect 2 would never pull an audience because of its subject, that having a lot of black people in it would turn off the British audience. That was nonsense. It won an Emmy and 14 million viewers - as many as the first.'

The series continues to tackle controversial issues. Prime Suspect 3 is about homophobia - an aversion to homosexuals - among the police. And Head is confident that we shall eventually watch Prime Suspects 4, 5 and 6. More evidence for those who believe that the old firms make the best shows.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?