Alexei de Keyser
Producer on BBC drama series from 'Casualty' to 'Waking the Dead'
Wednesday 04 August 2004
Alexei de Keyser was an executive producer for drama series at the BBC. An unorthodox character, both personally and professionally, who refused to have a desk on the grounds that "people will put things on it", de Keyser ended his short career as the executive producer of
Waking the Dead, one of the BBC's most successful current dramas.
Alexei Paul de Keyser, television producer: born London 21 September 1967; Executive Producer for Drama Series, BBC 2000-04; died London 28 July 2004.
Alexei de Keyser was an executive producer for drama series at the BBC. An unorthodox character, both personally and professionally, who refused to have a desk on the grounds that "people will put things on it", de Keyser ended his short career as the executive producer of Waking the Dead, one of the BBC's most successful current dramas.
Born in north London in 1967, the only child of the actor David de Keyser and his wife Fay Brooke, Alexei de Keyser attended St Christopher's School, a progressive boarding school in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, and William Ellis School in Highgate, London. He then ventured north to study drama at Hull University. Despite being dyslexic, he had a huge passion for creative writing throughout his school life. He admitted that his work would be "tragically sad poetically and hysterically funny grammatically".
After just a year at Hull, he decided that the academic route did not suite his "free spirit", so he left to become a barman at the Groucho Club in London. As well as being a great source of beer money, the Groucho gave him an opportunity to mix with - albeit in a drinks-serving capacity - some of the most influential people in the television industry, an opportunity that was not lost on him. The producer Verity Lambert, one of de Keyser's regulars, recognised his passion and talent for writing and offered him a job as a script reader (and personal dog walker).
Alexei de Keyser was 23 years old and this was his break. Dyslexia made the idea of a script-reading job seem comical, though to de Keyser now all seemed possible. He was the only man in an office of six women, something that, according to Lambert, "he used to his full advantage". She added: "Alexei's lack of organisation drove me wild, but his enthusiasm, sweet nature and, above all, his talent, more than compensated."
It was as a script editor at Cinema Verity that de Keyser first came to the attention of Jane Tranter, then Head of Drama at Carlton Television, London. Tranter made a concerted effort to "extract" de Keyser and bring him to Carlton - an offer he couldn't and didn't refuse. She installed him as story editor on London Bridge, then a late-night drama "experiment". De Keyser successfully turned the series around, driving it through strong story lines into a twice-weekly, peak-time soap.
In 1996 he turned down the producer position on London Bridge to follow Tranter to the BBC, where he took up the less senior post of script editor on the BBC1 Saturday-night drama Casualty. His phenomenal storytelling talent soon drew the attention of Mal Young, the Controller of Drama Series, who remained a close friend and mentor throughout de Keyser's time at the corporation.
At the BBC his rise was rapid. Within a year he became producer of Casualty - aged just 29. Another successful year saw him appointed series producer of Casualty, giving him his first chance to make a project truly his own. He set about re- inventing the series with a raft of new characters and story lines and restored the programme's fledgling ratings to its early Nineties heights.
Many attempts were now made by other production companies to lure de Keyser away from the BBC, though none was successful. He remained with the corporation and was given his toughest challenge yet when Young asked him to become Executive Producer of a brand new peak-time drama, Waking the Dead (2000).
His cast included Trevor Eve, Sue Johnston, Holly Aird, Wil Johnson and Claire Goose, who followed him from Casualty to the new cold-case police series. The show quickly became the BBC's highest-rating drama, currently showing its fourth series, and it was recently nominated for an International Emmy award in New York. Waking the Dead also established itself as the "place to be seen" for British character actors and boasted guest performances from Timothy West, Frances de la Tour and Warren Mitchell among others.
At the same time de Keyser was also the executive producer for another signature show, the comedy drama Grease Monkeys (2003), this time on the brand-new BBC3.
Alexei de Keyser was a workaholic. His unusual approach to drama producing included doing much of his work from the car park with a mobile phone stuck to his ear, fag in hand, or pacing the set, pushing people to their creative limits and lifting their spirits.
As his younger brother, my earliest memories of him include his forgetting to dress me before heading out on a camping trip - something which no one noticed until we were deep into the forests of southern France. He carried this eccentricity with him throughout his career, and it gave him the character that many came to love. As well as his father, Alexei leaves his stepmother Kirsten, three brothers and a sister, and his girlfriend, Muirinn Lane Kelly.
They say that no one would want their epitaph to read, "I wish I had spent more time at the office". For Alexei de Keyser, who had so much more he wanted to do, this was probably not the case.
Thomas de Keyser
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