Who would have believed, back in 2003 when the revival of Doctor Who was announced, that ten years on not only would the series still be ongoing, but news of the lead actor’s recasting would be presented in a live TV programme?
It’s a measure of just how long Casualty has been part of the TV landscape when, upon looking into the background of a character who left the series last night, you realise that he was first introduced into the show nearly 15 years previously.
Nick Jordan (Michael French) first turned up in the emergency department of Holby City hospital in November 1998, although his first appearances in two episodes of Casualty were a means of transitioning audiences to the new spin-off series, Holby City, which launched in January 1999 with Jordan as one of the series regulars. In retrospect, French’s Casualty appearances should probably be viewed as cameos from a Holby City character that just happened to occur before the series proper had started.
Over the last 14 years, characters from one series have occasionally popped up in the other – the sight of Holby City’s Connie Beauchamp (Amanda Mealing) striding purposefully through the emergency department in 2007 was a particular thrill. But it wasn’t until Jordan, who left Holby City in 2000 but had returned for occasional guest appearances, joined the ED in 2008 that a series regular from one series moved permanently to the other.
In truth, these occasional times when a character moves between these series are often the only clue that the BBC’s two long-running medical dramas are even set in the same hospital. Since its creation Holby City has been filmed at Elstree, some distance from Casualty’s then home base of Bristol (short-lived police spin-off Holby Blue further muddied the waters by being shot in Surrey). Recently, of course, production of Casualty moved across the Severn Bridge to Cardiff – making Holby City General the only hospital in the UK where taking the lift involves paying a toll…
It always mystified me that the move was always portrayed as fulfilling the BBC’s desire to move drama out into the “nations and regions” – i.e., anywhere that wasn’t London. Surely it would have made more sense to relocate Holby City if that were truly the case? As it is, Holby on a Saturday night has a tendency to look increasingly Welsh, while during the week it takes on a more Hetfordshire-esque hue.
Not that it really matters: Holby has, in the years since Casualty launched, stopped being a specific place set in a fictional part of Western England, and morphed into an ‘everytown’ which could quite easily represent any medium-to-large city anywhere in the UK.
Both shows are now in year-round production so that, even though they are still formally produced in series batches, the occasional breaks in transmission hardly feel like inter-series breaks at all. So it’s often the changes in cast that mark the end of eras on the show, and Michael French’s departure is such a milestone. Having his character leave to work with Anton Meyer, his former Holby City boss, was a nice touch, I thought.
It seems that the Casualty team have got the returning character bug: as revealed in a teaser at the end of Saturday’s show, a locum brought in to replace Nick Jordan is former nurse Martin “Ash” Ashford, played by Patrick Robinson, last seen in 1996.
Production has changed since Robinson was last on the series: overlit studios designed for multi-camera work are things of the past, as is the 4:3 aspect ratio and standard definition. More noticeably, even back in the mid-1990s it was rare for Casualty to have more than one black regular: now, it will have (with the return of Ash) six. The best news that this doesn’t feel like any quota-filling, but a better, wider appreciation of colour-blind casting. I told a friend recently about how when I heard Daniel Anthony (The Sarah Jane Adventures) was joining Casualty as a nurse, it would mean the departure of Michael Obiora in the sort of ‘one out, one in’ rule that seemed to exist in Casualty’s early years. How glad I am that I was utterly wrong.