Redmond's just taking Brookside back to its roots. Honest.

The video launch of Brookside, the movie,

featuring the return of Sheila Grant, may seem like a cynical ploy to milk the fans. Not so, says Phil Redmond, the Channel 4 soap's creator. It's a back-to-the-roots reward for their loyalty - and the testing bed for a grander plan, he tells Meg Carter

Phil Redmond's career is built on his desire to develop social realistic drama exploring real issues and real lives. He is the man who gave us Grange Hill and, of course, the soap with a social conscience - Brookside.

So why is he now bringing out a feature length, 18-certificate action- packed Brookside video, complete with a cocktail of strong language, high emotions and rape? Here's a tip: it is anything but a cynical marketing ploy.

Times have changed, and so has he. Redmond is now an astute businessman - head of one of the country's most successful independent production companies, Mersey TV, and vice chairman of the North-west's film commission. This is the man, remember, who put Trevor Jordache's body under the patio and a Lockerbie-style air disaster into the ITV soap Emmerdale. Is he guilty of using cheap gimmicks to boost his pension? No way.

"Something extra for the loyal fan" is how Redmond prefers to describe the feature length video, Brookside: The Long Weekend. He is down in London for the celebrity launch bash across town. Over black coffee and Diet Coke in the gloomy interior of the West End's Langham Hilton, he explains the difference between what he is doing and the cynical exploitation of viewers by many other programme-makers.

"I've never treated audiences like a bunch of cretins, as other producers do," he insists, referring to Granada's Coronation Street "movie" of Curly and Raquel's wedding. The feature-length episode was sold as exclusive to video, only to appear on ITV within months. Granada was deluged with calls from angry fans and had its knuckles rapped by the ITC. The Lost Weekend, however, comes with the promise that it will not be aired before 2000. "We're not cheating the viewer - we would be if we were going to transmit it on TV next week, but we're not," Redmond says. "The acid test is, if people want to watch it, they'll pay. It's no different from people making an active choice to see a film at the cinema."

Creatively, the idea behind the video is a clever one. The action picks up where last week's five-night special left off, following Lindsey Corkhill's trip to Norwich for her TV debut as a Cher lookalike, Barry Grant's gun- wielding pursuit of the gangster Finnegan and the brief return to the close of one of the show's favourite characters - Barry's mother, Sheila. When the next television episode is broadcast on Tuesday, viewers will know something has happened over the weekend, but not what. Repercussions from the video's dramatic climax will rumble beneath the thrice-weekly soap's broadcast action for many months to come.

The "something extra" comes with the return of Sheila Grant, played by Sue Johnstone, after a seven-year absence from Brookside Close, and from the creative freedom offered by the video format. "It enabled us to take emotions, language and the level of violence a bit higher - it's more a reflection of what Brookside used to be." In the beginning, the creative focus was post-socialist society, Redmond explains. "I came into TV drawn by its potential to be a strong force for social change. I was interested in juxtaposing the trade union movement, black economy and growth of Thatcherism. I was keen on tackling hypocrisy in society and on scatology - showing reality through the use of real language in real situations. Swearing is closely attached to strong emotions and powerful storylines." But practice proved tougher than theory. The dream was modified almost immediately, he sighs. "What happened over the first year was almost a siege mentality." Criticism of the rawness of the language led to self-censorship of storylines by the production team.

Subsequent changes, however, took the soap even further from its social realistic origins, with increasingly sensational plot twists. These were driven by shifts in society, Redmond insists. "With a lack of any `great vision' from the Conservative government and the arrival of the cult of the individual, our stories became more introspective." Social issues such as domestic violence moved centre-stage. And so did sex. The cocktail proved effective, boosting audiences to one million more than the current average of 6.5 million.

A similar volte face happened with Hollyoaks - Redmond's teen drama for Channel 4 set in affluent Chester, although the starting point was somewhat different. "My dream was to do something aspirational, something happy rather than doom and gloom. After 16 episodes, however, the reaction of the kids was cool. They thought: `OK, but where's the drugs?'." Storylines were spiced up, characters culled and audiences rose to more than three million. This talent has also been put to good use on ITV's Emmerdale where, following explosive surgery, audiences rose from 11 to 18 million.

All of which made Redmond very popular indeed with the broadcasters. It left some, however, with the feeling that the anti-establishment radical had sold out. So, was his apparent readiness to do anything for ratings a willingness to compromise? Absolutely not, he insists. "Everything we do is for ratings - that's my job. I don't ask, should this plot development be this issue, just, why not do it because it will be interesting. We've got to do this because we bring in the cash to Channel 4. Many other programmes are, commercially speaking, negative-value programmes. We generate advertising revenue that pays for everything else. And I like that. It's the buzz." It also puts both him and Mersey TV in a powerful strategic position. Which is just where he wants to be. "I'm one of the few people who can have an idea and put that idea on screen," he claims, referring to a recent meeting with the disability group 1 in 8 about including disabled people in Brookside. "I'm the supreme court." Behind this bravado, however, lies long-standing resentment of the industry's London-based power-brokers. Redmond is proud to be based in Liverpool and has long campaigned for more programmes to be made outside the South-east. He still sees himself as an outsider - especially since his unsuccessful attempt to out-bid Granada for its ITV licence five years ago.

And this despite the fact that at that time his own business, Mersey TV turnover was bigger than that of a number of smaller ITV companies. "I'm certainly not part of the broadcasting establishment," he insists, "I've tried and they wouldn't let me in." Not that it seems to bother him any more. "I'm more than happy with where I am today," he confides. He regularly speaks out against the BBC's lack of creative vision and its creeping commercialism, or broadcasters' lack of commitment to the regions. He is currently developing a futuristic six-part drama for Channel 4 examining a range of issues including the health service, education and law. And he still plots new storylines with Brookside's team of writers and producers. With a new family of old Labourites due on the close early in the New Year, expect more political storylines charting their hopes and disillusionment with Tony Blair. "I'm already working on the next general election," he smiles.

His real frustration, however, is with the conventions of prime-time television. "The concept of family viewing which has swept through TV has made broadcasters frightened of trying anything which is innovative before 10pm. By their good attempt to protect kids, they are squeezing out anything remotely challenging from the prime-time schedule." Which brings us back to Brookside, the video. It is more than a spin-off to boost his pension, you see. It's a way of breaking conventions - of testing the water for future creative opportunities thrown up by digital media.

"Eventually, people like me will be talking to on-line distributors about making movies, even soaps," Redmond believes. "We'd only need one million people willing to subscribe to a Brookside on-line to be able to fund the production, produce the programme and deliver it to them direct. From a creative point of view, that would certainly be more rewarding than fighting suits the other side of the country." The question is, would fans be willing to pay? All of which may seem a far cry from the early days of the soap with a social conscience, but there is nothing wrong with that in Redmond's book. "I'm no dreamer with a great cultural vision, just someone with an overriding sense of reality," he says. "I'm cursed with the gene of pragmatism."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Social Media Account Writers

£12000 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This social media management pr...

Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor (Magazine Publishing) - Wimbledon - £23-26K

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor - Wimbledon...

Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publishing) - Wimbledon - £26-30K

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publish...

Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past