Curtain up: Waterloo Road crosses the border

24th August 2012 at 01:00
New series of school soap sees staff and pupils move to Scotland

As children and teachers bemoan the end of the summer holidays, staff and pupils at one school have more than most to contend with. A new building in a new part of the country, a school boarding house to set up, and will there be any casualties when that camper van crashes?

Regular viewers of Waterloo Road will recognise the scene. Series seven of the BBC drama, set in a challenging comprehensive near Rochdale, Greater Manchester, finished with a minibus full of staff and pupils stopping at the Scottish-English border to have their photograph taken. From nowhere a camper van appeared, heading straight for them. And then the camera cut.

The school-based drama, which was first broadcast in March 2006 and returned with a new series this week, has covered everything from teenage pregnancy to pupil-teacher affairs, drugs and gang fights. At the same time it aims to depict the everyday aspects of school life: the politics, the stress of teaching and the problems with pupils.

Given the nature of education, it would not be possible to make the drama completely realistic, producer Lizzie Gray concedes. "With everything changing and with our not knowing until three weeks beforehand when we will transmit, we can't wed ourselves to something specific that doesn't reflect reality," she says. "We try to reflect school life, but with facts we could get caught out, so we have kept it loose."

The production team spends time speaking to teachers, heads and social workers to keep on top of things. They are also avid readers of TES and its sister title in Scotland, Ms Gray insists.

But the new series tests the boundaries of reality with the relocation of the programme to Scotland. The end of the last series saw the local education authority make the decision to close the school, but some pupils failed to find places in other schools.

Determined not to abandon them, headteacher Michael Byrne, played by Alec Newman, has set up an alternative school outside Glasgow with a boarding house, funded by his ex-pupil and multi-millionaire friend Lorraine Donnegan.

Despite sounding far-fetched, Mr Newman says he has done his research. "I met Gregg Davies, head of Shiplake College in Henley-on-Thames. He invited me to visit. He was invaluable," he says.

He acknowledges that the move to Scotland is a big leap for viewers. "Some may feel it's a stretch, but I can go to someone like Gregg and ask whether it is outside the possibilities of feasibility, bearing in mind that it is a drama we are doing; it is not a documentary."

Twelve of the core characters from series seven have been retained, with the addition of three new adult characters. Philip Martin Brown, who plays English teacher Grantly Budgen, is a member of the programme's original cast and an ex-teacher who has been working in the classroom since the mid 1970s.

"Up until four years ago I did supply teaching in Kent, teaching everything: maths, science, PE, RE. It worked very well. They knew they could ring me up, but they also knew that this was my primary job," Mr Brown says.

His character is based on an amalgamation of people he met during his teaching career and he says that his experience has helped him with the role.

But only so much realism is needed, he adds. "Waterloo Road is condensed into one hour," Mr Brown says. "People say it would never happen in a school, but I say, do they really want to see me doing paperwork?"

Waterloo Road is broadcast on Thursdays on BBC One at 8pm.


The problems Waterloo Road's teachers have contended with include:

- The alcoholism of trainee teacher Russell Millen.

- Drama teacher Izzie Redpath being stabbed to death.

- Learning support assistant Davina Shackleton being rushed to hospital after the school was set on fire.

Photo credit: BBC

Original headline: Curtain up as Waterloo Road crosses the border

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