Back in May 2015 the cast and crew of Doctors went out on location in Birmingham city centre to record scenes for a special hour long episode to celebrate the milestone of reaching 3,000 episodes of the popular BBC daytime soap. With the special hour long episode due on screen on 10th September it won’t be long now before we all get to see what happened
The official press release is cloaked in secret but does give a hint of what to expect in what promises to be an exciting climax to an ongoing story of police corruption in Letherbridge.
A shooting in a city centre, A dance with a whiff of romance, A damaged child saved…and corruption exposed.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with a few of the cast in between scenes. My second cast interview of the day was with the soon to be departing, Ian Kelsey, who plays The Mill’s Practice Manager, Howard Bellamy.
Ian is no stranger to TV soap drama, having played Dave Glover in Emmerdale for 6 years in the 1990s, so I started by asking Ian how the filming schedule on Doctors compared to other serial dramas he’s worked on.
Ian was very clear on the pressures of working on the BBC daytime show, “The speed, I’ve never worked on anything as fast as this, never. It takes you a while to get used to it, well actually you never get used to it. Even after three years there are still scenes that slip by that you could have done a lot better but because of the speed your quality content just drops, you have to drop your level of acceptance of what has just been filmed because you can’t say can I have another take, it just doesn’t work on a show like this.”
“On other jobs you do have time to get it right, I’m not saying we get it wrong but there are sometimes when it’s a situation that if all the right words are in the right order and the boom [microphone] didn’t show then we’re moving on. It’s tough because you are against the clock, but it’s also the content you have to learn. Once you’ve finished a big day you’ve got to go home and put another fifteen scenes in your head.”
The five times a week show films on a triple banking shooting schedule with three different crews filming different stories across multiple episodes at the same time, so I asked Ian how much this contributed to the busy workloads the cast often find themselves under.
Ian explained, “There are three of four of us that get hit every year, when the extra director steps up, carrying three episodes himself, so at any point during a triple strand you’ve got nine episodes in your head and you are crisscrossing all day long onto different blocks. You’ve really got to be on your game and know, have I had an argument with that person, have I kissed her yet, have we fallen out yet and even has she had her baby yet, it’s ridiculous and it’s tough. It’s mainly me and the receptionists, when it’s that time of year, we get hammered, because it’s just like working in the Queen Vic, you’ve got your fingers in everybody’s pies as our position in the show means we know about everybody’s goings on.”
Playing Practice Manager, Howard, means that Ian has to work with most of the other cast on a regular basis, so I asked him how he prepared for all the different relationships he needs to maintain throughout the show.
Ian gave huge credit to the writers in his response, “Sometimes you have to make it up yourself and eventually the writers pick up on, very quickly on this show I may add, if I put a character trait in, and keep my eye on how often I can do that, then the writers will grab hold of that and you’ll find within weeks or months, what you’ve developed somebody will have put in for you. It’s like when I read a script the other day, I’d got a scene with Ian Midlane who plays Al, and that writer has absolutely nailed his rhythm, everybody has different rhythms, and when I was reading it I could just absolutely hear him talking and that writer has obviously paid attention and nailed Ian Midlane’s delivery.”
With Ian completing over 400 episodes as Howard, I asked if there was any particular one that stood out as a personal favourite of his and after a bit of thought he said, “Well, the one I wrote myself, that was [a] brilliant [experience]. It was such an interesting learning curve having to write to the perimeters of a budget. Only having three people, other than cast members, to tell your story, and you can’t have a fourth, and you realise just how difficult it is to tell a story with just three people. You are always needing them to talk to someone else, so you are having to engineer phone calls or conversations away from camera and they have to come back and say ‘have you heard what they have just said’. Of course getting Caroline Quentin in to play my sister was a laugh, as she’s good fun.”
With a stream of guest actors coming and going in Doctors I took the opportunity to ask if there was anyone in particular that Ian would like to bring in to work alongside. After a short pause he went for, “Sandra Bullock, that would be good, she could come in and be my girlfriend I suppose.”
With news of Howard’s departure still fresh, and his final scenes to be filmed on the 10th July, I asked Ian what was next,
“I don’t know, that’s the exciting thing. I’m writing a ten or twelve part kids with Justin Fletcher (Mr Tumbles), we went to drama school together, and we are developing this kids series at the moment. He’s just finished working for the BBC recently, so hopefully we’ll get some time together to get that off the ground. Let’s see what happens, that’s the exciting thing about taking my leave. I’ve had a lot of fun [on Doctors] but when it’s time, it’s time.”
Since the interview it’s been announced that Ian will be touring the UK in the lead role of banker Andy Dufresne in the stage play of The Shawshank Redemption alongside his former Casualty co-star, Patrick Robinson. The show opened in Windsor on 18th August and can be seen at theatres around the country until November, when it finishes in Cardiff.
You can see and hear more of what Ian Kelsey had to say during the filming in a video on the What’s On TV website.
I’ll publish more of the interviews and photos from the day in the lead up to the special hour long episode on 10th September and the Doctors filming location now features in the Birmingham TV & Film locations walking tour that operates in conjunction with Film Birmingham.