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Now I'm the king of the Hill . . .; TV chief Phil Redmond tells Peter Grant why he wants to bring the children's hit programme Grange Hill to Merseyside.

GRANGE HILL is coming back to its true home - Liverpool.

Created in the city, yet filmed in London for the BBC, TV boss Phil Redmond is on the verge of striking a deal to bring back the children's show . . . and make it here on Merseyside.

Within weeks, filming should start at Mersey TV in Childwall which is already home to supersuccessful dramas, Brookside and Hollyoaks.

It is the icing on the cake for Mersey TV chairman Phil.

And he is looking forward to this 'family reunion': the 25-year-old Grange Hill, troubled teenager Brookside, 19, and bouncing baby Hollyoaks - the youngest at six.

Says Phil: "I will get such a buzz walking from the Brookside set over to the Hollyoaks set and then to the Grange Hill set."

Grange Hill has won numerous awards and accolades since its first series.

For the first 15 years, Phil was heavily involved in the storylines; for the past 10, he has been a consultant.

Under the terms of the new deal, Mersey TV has now been commissioned to make three, twentyparters of the series.

And says Phil: "When I say it is 'coming home', I mean it. Grange Hill was devised, conceived and written in our office in Rodney Street.

"Initially it was about a Liverpool suburban comprehensive, but it ended up being made by the BBC in London.

"For about eight years I was able to keep London buses and the Tube out of it because I wanted it to be an androgynous comprehensive anywhere. But then Brookie came on, and the then producer had them going on trips around London using London transport.

"So I am bringing it home - but Grange Hill will be a comprehensive anywhere in Britain. When I cast it, there will be accents that can be from anywhere in the country."

And there will be other changes: "It will certainly reflect our changing society, " says Phil.

"I said at the BAFTA Award ceremony that I had missed that very real special sense of purpose that working in children's television provides.

"The issues facing children now are just as relevant and challenging as they were 25 years ago and I'm genuinely looking forward to exploring those issues as well as helping create a few more generations of fun, mirth and mayhem.

"It will obviously have a Phil Redmond slant on it.

"What we might bring in is more fun, japes and escapades - a bit more of the Tucker Jenkins element. Grange Hill does need something to focus the 8 to 14 age group.

So I've a vision to go back and find another Tucker Jenkins and I'll start off like that.

"But I have nobody in mind yet."

Phil has always maintained that you don't need to be in London to make good television. Now he's proving his point.

He says: "There will be more jobs at Mersey TV although I can't put a number on it yet. We will start work in summer for transmission in January 2003.

"I will be working closely with Jo Hallows, Head of Drama Production, but I will be running all the scripts, developing script-editing - and that's where the Mersey TV stamp will come from.

WHILE the new addition to the Mersey TV stable will take up his time, Phil won't be ignoring his other 'family' there, including his 'recalcitrant teenager' Brookside.

He says: "What I have to do with Brookie over the next nine months is re-establish its credentials.

"It's me, with my media guru hat on, looking across the landscape and seeing that TV is changing again - because society has changed again. I think all the sensational storylines and titillation have run their course.

"With Brookie, I want to bring it back to the community - looking at family-related issues such as child care for single mums and how they cope.

"September 11 didn't cause the shift but it definitely contributed to that shift in society. It made everyone realise what is real and what is trivial in life. And a lot of what was in our TV schedules was trivial."

"I want to look at real people issues such as the National Health Service, mental health, child care - these all concern us in our everyday lives.

"I'm not interested in someone having a lesbian kiss with somebody's mother-in-law - we are past all that now.

"But that's not to say we won't be having mischief and mayhem as well."

So if Grange Hill is to see a new Tucker, will there be a Bobby Grant returning to the Close?

Says Phil: "I don't want to saddle anyone with that type of label, but what I am looking for is another iconic family unit in Brookie."

He adds: "I want to re-establish Brookside as the content leader, the agenda setter, the one that everyone else talks about, the one everyone else follows.

"We've brought Grange Hill home; Hollyoaks is now seen all over the world; and as for Brookside? Well, believe me, there is still so much more to come from my Scouse Sopranos."

GRANGE HILL

GRANGE Hill was the first programme to show school days as they really were - and still are - for millions of children across the country.

The drama has never tried to patronise its young audience, a fact that has meant viewers continue to watch it into adulthood.

Instead it provides an insider view of pupils abusing teachers, smoking, truanting, bullying, shop-lifting, sex, pregnancy and drugs.

Everyone who watched Grange Hill during the 80s will remember Just Say No - when the cast sang their anti-drug message to the world.

The image of the camera moving in on Zammo as he lay in a drug-induced coma on a toilet floor will last in the minds of many forever.

The show has a moral tone, showing punishment, where it is due, being handed out. Kids are shouted at, given detentions, and forced to live with the consequences of their actions - from pregnancy to theft.

Tucker (Todd Carty) was a real teen heart-throb and was so popular that producers decided to give him his own spin-off show, Tucker's Luck.

Grange Hill helps by showing parents that their children's behaviour is normal, showing teachers that they aren't alone, and giving education chiefs a real insight into what school is about.

BROOKSIDE

BROOKSIDE burst the soap bubble when i was first aired in November 1982. Phil Redmond went out, bought a real life Close, and turned it into the set of what is now one of the top soap operas in the country.

Brookside provided a down-toearth depiction of what life in Merseyside is all about.

Brookside used language viewers could recognise and believe in.

Gripping storylines and new talent added to the appeal. Life on the dole, rape, drup abuse, incest, murder, homosexuality, AIDS, suicide - Brookside has always been the first to break new dramatic ground.

The first family of Brookside Close will always be the Grants, Bobby and Sheila, played by Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston.

Their children, Barry, Karen and Damon, played by Paul Usher, Shelagh O'Hara and Simon O'Brien, completed the family and played out scenes echoed in houses all over Liverpool.

Perhaps the most memorable Brookside first was the lesbian kiss between Beth and Margaret, Anna Friel and Nicola Stephenson. But the murder of Beth's abusive father, Trevor, and his burial under the patio are the stuff of real soaplore

HOLLYOAKS

HOLLYOAKS is one of the great success stories of the 90s. Phil Redmond wanted to take on the Aussie soaps Home And Away and Neighbours. He succeeded.

Six years on it has a very strong fan base. Its stars are mobbed whenever they make personal appearances and they have helped put the city of Chester on the map all over again.

The series has helped develop new writers and the Hollyoaks babes are seldom off the front covers of the glossy magazines and also feature in the showbiz party columns.

Actress Joanna Taylor (pictured below) who played Geri has been tipped for even greater things while Will Mellor (Jambo) for example has gone from strength to strength in such dramas as Casualty.

There has also been a late-night version, again with Redmond breaking new ground. It has never been scared to tackle issues with date rape and male rape storys.

Hollyoaks is now sold around the world.

CAPTION(S):

DRAMATIC SUCCESS: Scenes from Mersey TV's Brookside (top), Hollyoaks (centre) and Grange Hill, now to be filmed on Merseyside HOME ON THE GRANGE: Stars of the old series of Grange Hill including Todd Carty (left) who played Tucker
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 25, 2002
Words:1429
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