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Behind the scenes: BBC2's Hospital

Blog
11 January 2017

Tom Currie, series producer on BBC2’s Hospital, on the challenges of steering a hugely complex observational documentary to the screen

Tell us about the series. Hospital (w/t) is a six part 9pm ob doc series for BBC Two. It’s a portrait of the modern NHS told through the people on the frontline who face more pressure than ever this winter to balance the competing needs of life and death emergencies and pre-planned elective operations. It was filmed over six weeks between October and November 2016 with complete and unfettered access to Imperial College Healthcare, one of the UK’s largest trusts, in a condensed production schedule with fast turnaround edits to broadcast in January 2017.
 
How does it differ from the many docs about the NHS? This series hears from the frontline doctors in a way I’ve never seen before and is a very open and honest look at the pressures on the NHS, transmitting just weeks after cameras stopped rolling. It shows the interconnectivity between the complex decisions made and the consequences for patients in a constant drama of need against limited resources. The traditional material is there, such as lives hanging in the balance in A&E and pioneering advances in patient care. However the series also brings to life the stories we read about in the papers such as bed pressures, cancelled cancer operations and health tourism. The result is a frank look at the colossal pressures on the NHS as it tries to cope with the daily drama of running at, and sometimes beyond capacity and is thought-provoking, moving and shocking.

How did the commission come about? BBC2 channel editor Patrick Holland wanted a landmark series that showed the pressure on the NHS to be broadcast as close to filming as possible and chose Simon Dickson and Lorraine Charker-Phillips at Label1 who spent a year gaining access to the trust. 
 
What have been the key challenges series producing Hospital? The fast turnaround nature of getting a hugely ambitious compliance-heavy series on air so quickly has proved challenging but also incredibly rewarding. With such scale to our access, the decisions made on which stories to commit resources to during the shoot were key as well as the challenge of running such a large team operating around the clock across multiple sites. 

Was there a key decision taken as a series producer that’s been key to getting the series made? We knew we needed a large, very experienced team to pull this off and I spent more time than I had planned getting the best production talent I possibly could.

What pieces of kit have been key to telling the story? We wanted the shooting style to feel intimate and immediate so we live the stories through the eyes of our characters, always on the move and we chose a combination of Canon C300 MkII and Sony FS7 cameras depending on P/D choice and an F55 for GVs with a mix of Canon EF and prime lenses.
 
Any people who have been particularly crucial in making the series? Madeleine Childs the brilliant media manager at the trust has been vital to our series. We made the unique decision to bring her into the production office as part of the team throughout the process and her contribution throughout the series has been invaluable. This huge production is a massive team effort with Gilly Greenslade the other SP, Graeme McAulay, series editor and our execs Simon Dickson, Lorraine Charker-Phillips and Helen Littleboy making up the senior team together with our co-production partners The Open University.
 
Did the series change significantly in post? Yes – originally the series was based around each episode being filmed in seven days, but we quickly found to make the best programmes we had to move stories around in the series but without losing the crunch of the pressure on the hospital.

Best moment of the production? When filming began we realised the amazing level of our access and candour of our contributors was starting to shine through in the rushes.

Worst moment of the production? We haven’t finished yet…
 
How does series producing differ from series directing or producing/directing? Whilst there can be some similarities between SDing, the SP role can be a vast change in responsibility from being a PD. At any moment you could be juggling many balls ranging from dealing with access to managing the budget to supporting the team editorially and emotionally.
 
Advice to people wanting to transition to series producing?
Make sure you have as supportive a company and execs as I have had at Label1.

Details

Production company Label1 for BBC2
BBC commissioning editor Danny Horan
Executive producers Simon Dickson, Lorraine Charker-Phillips, Helen Littleboy
Series editor Graeme McAulay
Series producers Tom Currie, Gilly Greenslade
Producer/directors Holly Challinor, Daniel Dewsbury, Jack Rampling, Amanda Richardson, Marc Williamson
PM Letisha Kidza
Production executive Jo Taylor
Location directors Jonny Ashton, Lis Olgiati
DV directors Brigid McFall, Samantha Williams
Post The Farm
TX 11th January, BBC2

Tom Currie, whose credits include series directing BBC2’s The Real Marigold Hotel, ITV’s Rookies and BBC3’s Life is Toff, is series producer of Hospital with Gilly Greenslade. Currie made the step up to series producer after taking part in Creative Skillset’s Series Producer Programme 2016.

The Hospital airs on BBC2 on 11 January


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