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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media


£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: DBA, London,...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

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

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game