Casualty: In rude health

Jonathan Owen looks back over 25 years of the drama that launched so many stars

It has been the dramatic heartbeat of the NHS, full of gory emergency operations, fires, explosions and an ever more inventive array of gruesome accidents. For the past quarter of a century Casualty has fascinated and appalled fans while providing a launchpad for a generation of home-grown talent, including Oscar winners Kate Winslet and Brenda Fricker, as well as Minnie Driver, Orlando Bloom, Ray Winstone and Helen Baxendale.

Part of the series' appeal for fans has been its realistic depiction of the aftermath of major disasters. A catastrophic train crash that marked the start of the 18th series in September 2003 topped a poll of favourite episodes that was conducted to coincide with the show's anniversary.

The one constant on the show, set in a busy accident and emergency department, has been the reassuringly calm figure of laid-back charge nurse Charlie Fairhead, played by Derek Thompson.

The 63-year-old actor is the sole survivor from the show's original cast, somehow surviving being shot, run over, suffering a heart attack and almost drowning.

Now, with the Bafta-award-winning show celebrating its 25th anniversary last week, the real-life inspiration for Charlie has spoken out, warning that there are signs of the NHS returning to the state it was in a quarter of a century ago.

Pete Salt, 54, a former emergency nurse at Bristol Royal Infirmary who is the nursing adviser for the series, said: "The NHS was under huge pressure from all directions when Casualty started. From what I gather now talking to people around the country, those pressures are creeping back up again."

Recruitment freezes, cuts to clinical posts and pressure on staff to take unpaid leave or reduce their hours represent "insidious changes" to the NHS, he said. And patients' lives are at risk if people attempt to run the NHS as a business, according to Mr Salt, who remains an adviser to Casualty. "The NHS can't ever be run as a business because at the end of the day they are not getting that much money coming in at the other end. It's completely patient driven. If the quality goes down you don't end up with a duff product – you end up with dead patients if it's not maintained."

But he defends most hospital managers as "absolutely necessary" and is unconcerned by the closures of small A&E departments. "If you get seriously injured you want to be treated in an all-singing, all-dancing A&E department, not a little casualty department in the sticks somewhere."

Casualty was commissioned in 1986 for a run of only 14 episodes, but has gone on to become the world's longest running prime-time medical drama. It remains one of the BBC's highest-rated shows and pulls in more than six million viewers a week. Last night marked its 786th episode. It continues to reflect current issues in its storylines, with themes of gang culture, conflict and co-operation between the police and emergency departments, and racism towards NHS staff among those featured in the current series.

After 25 years, the show is no longer filmed in Bristol. Last week, the cast and crew moved to a new set in Cardiff, where the series will now be made. "The brand-new purpose-built studio in Cardiff is a fantastic show of faith in both Casualty's resilience and its future," said John Yorke, the BBC's controller of continuing drama. "Very few television shows last two or three series, and only a tiny handful last 25 years. During that time hundreds of medical dramas have come and gone, but Casualty has outlasted all of them."

Did you blink and miss them?

Some of Britain's most successful actors took their turn in blink-and-you'd-miss-them roles in Casualty. Take Alfred Molina. Now living in LA, he was a little-known actor when he popped up as a rogue journalist in the first series. Only one year later he starred alongside Gary Oldman in the 1987 film Prick Up Your Ears, and has gone on to appear in Spider-Man 2 and The Da Vinci Code.

Others who made brief appearances on the show include Christopher Eccleston, who played an Aids patient back in 1990, before making his breakthrough in the film Let Him Have It a year later; Pete Postlethwaite – a fireman in Casualty three years before he was nominated for an Oscar for In the Name of the Father in 1993; and Minnie Driver, who had a cameo role in 1991 – six years before she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1997's Good Will Hunting.

Only four years before she starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, Kate Winslet played a girl with an abusive boyfriend. Helen Baxendale appeared as a religious cult member involved in a car accident in 1993 and went on to star in BBC hospital comedy drama Cardiac Arrest before finding fame as Rachel in ITV's Cold Feet. Orlando Bloom and Ray Winstone both had small roles before becoming Hollywood A-listers.

Aaron Johnson was still a teenager when he played a small role in an episode five years ago. He is now hot property after playing the lead in last year's superhero hit movie Kick-Ass.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
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
Latest stories from i100
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

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Digital Project Manager / Web Project Manager

£45-50k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced ...

Account Manager

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager to join ...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home