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Redmond, Phil (1949-)

Producer, Writer, Director

Main image of Redmond, Phil (1949-)

Despite passing his 11+ examination in 1960, Phil Redmond went to the Kirkby Comprehensive School in Liverpool, just as the local authorities began to 'phase out' grammar schools in favour of mixed-ability education. It was perhaps here that he began to nurture the idea that was eventually to develop into the controversial, award-winning Grange Hill (BBC, 1978-). Although he has admitted that some of the characters resemble his old school mates, he denies that the series' storylines were based upon his comprehensive experiences.

His first job was as a trainee quantity surveyor, and he began to specialise in assessing schools for local grants. He also began to write jokes for comedian Les Dawson and others, and, after some success, decided to try his hand at scriptwriting full time, giving up his surveying job in 1972. Meanwhile, he studied sociology at Liverpool University as a mature student.

After assorted writing credits on the likes of Doctor in Charge (ITV, 1972-73), Redmond was catapulted to the status of major television player with, unusually, a children's drama. Set in a fictional London comprehensive far removed from the worlds of Billy Bunter or Just William, Grange Hill introduced a new realism to the school drama genre, exploring difficult issues like bullying, truancy, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse from a child's point of view.

A spin-off series, Tucker's Luck (BBC, 1983-85), following the antics of Grange Hill favourite Tucker Jenkins (Todd Carty) and his friends after leaving school, attempted to highlight the tough reality of life for unqualified young people in Thatcher's Britain within a light drama framework. However, hampered by poor scheduling, the series failed to find a niche.

In 1981, he founded Mersey Television, effectively with a grant from the Department of Trade and Industry. It is now one of Britain's largest independent production companies and has spawned some of the country's most popular series.

Redmond developed probably his most successful creation, the television soap Brookside, for Channel 4. The first episode (2/11/1982) appeared in the channel's first evening's schedule, and in its early years the series regularly courted controversy while picking up accolades and awards. Pre-dating EastEnders (BBC, 1985-) by more than two years, Brookside was packaged as truthful, gritty, thought-provoking television that blended entertainment with contemporary social issues. The programme presented viewers with a 'slice of Liverpool life', its mix of people from different socio-economic backgrounds reflecting Redmond's belief that community, especially in Liverpool, was increasingly built upon diversity and that the shared lifestyles and values portrayed by more traditional soaps were dying.

The series generated controversy almost at once with its earthy language, which was quickly toned down when it became apparent that it was alienating the show's potential audience. From the outset, Brookside was determined to tackle contemporary social issues head on. Adultery, spousal murder, incest, drugs and TV's first lesbian kiss all featured in storylines which generated audiences and media debate. In its heyday, Brookside was Channel 4's flagship programme, with audiences topping 8 million. Although reportedly unhappy with the channel's decision to bring 'Brookie' to an end in 2003 after a run of 21 years, Redmond remained philosophical, acknowledging, "times do change and we all have to move on".

Three of the series' innovations are worth mentioning. First, its pioneering use of Steadicam and lightweight cameras, as used in news reporting. This, maintains Redmond, served to enhance the show's realism. Second, its casting policy, featuring many unknown, non-professional or untrained actors, which helped to engage viewers in the characters without the baggage that familiar actors might bring. Third, Redmond's decision to release feature-length videos of the show (and, in 1998, of Hollyoaks). These 'extensions' to the TV soap proved extremely successful, as devoted fans rushed to the stores in their thousands in a desire to view storylines not fully explored in the day to day broadcasts.

In 1993, Redmond was commissioned as programme consultant to Emmerdale (ITV, 1972-), and was responsible for the plane crash climax in that year which helped to reverse the rural soap's falling audience figures.

With Brookside increasingly dominated by its younger characters, Redmond returned to the youth drama genre he had helped to form with Hollyoaks (Channel 4, 1995-). Based on the lives of a group of twentysomethings living in and around Chester, thanks to a physically attractive cast and storylines carefully attuned to the preoccupations of its young audience. Notably more glamorous than Redmond's last venture into similar territory, the relatively low-key What Now? (BBC, 1986), the series proved immensely popular. In 2003, it began broadcasting five nights per week.

In 1995, Redmond was hired as a consultant to a Welsh teenage drama serial and Mersey TV also produced, in 1996, And the Beat Goes On, a series about a 1960s Liverpool family. In 1997, Redmond formed Conker Boy Films, based at Mersey Television, producing DIY series for Sky TV and others.

2001 saw the Hollyoaks spin-off Movin' On (Channel 4), and in 2002 Mersey TV and the BBC agreed another three-year deal for Grange Hill. Although Redmond sold part of his share in Mersey Television in 2002, the following year he set up Mersey Films, which has encouraged a new generation of drama talent with a writers' exchange with the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool.

Glen Jones

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Brookside (1982-2003)Brookside (1982-2003)

Early Channel 4 hit that changed the face of British TV soap

Thumbnail image of Brookside - The 1980sBrookside - The 1980s

The first, and most political, decade of the Liverpool-set soap

Thumbnail image of Grange Hill (1978-2008)Grange Hill (1978-2008)

Groundbreakingly realistic TV series set in a London comprehensive school

Thumbnail image of Tucker's Luck (1983-85)Tucker's Luck (1983-85)

Grange Hill's Tucker and his mates grow up

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