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Where the success is.

FROM district nurses to Russian cosmonauts, life is never dull for director Vicky Featherstone. Her big TV hit Where The Heart Is attracts millions of avid viewers every Sunday

night and she is about to blast off in Coventry with a

new stage show that is out of this world. TV writer

MARION McMULLEN catches up with the woman who has the knack of giving audiences what they want.

A SMALL-TOWN wedding provided the inspiration for Vicky Featherstone for one of TV's biggest hits.

She went to Yorkshire to attend the wedding of her best friend's sister and found the heart-warming family gathering firing her imagination.

As the best man cracked jokes and the glasses were raised in a toast to the happy couple, Vicky was getting the first ideas for a new TV drama based around a close-knit community.

Her best friend's mother just happened to be a district nurse and soon the whole project began to gel.

''It all started from that wedding,'' remembers Vicky, ''but no-one had any idea how successful it was going to be. Television audiences are very unpredictable and Where The Heart Is was something very new.''

Vicky was working as a TV script editor at the time and joined forces with writer Ashley Pharoah to create Where The Heart Is.

He recalls: ''I was very conscious that we didn't want to create a happy, clappy Sunday night television series. It is not escapism. It does make you think. Within one show you can have comedy, pathos and bleakness, and life is like that.''

Vicky and Ashley met district nurses in a small Yorkshire town as part of their research and were initially surprised at their cheery view of life. Ashley, who wrote the original series, says: ''The first thing we noticed more than anything was how much they laughed when they were together, even though their work was harrowing at times and boring at others. They laughed from dawn until dusk.

''I think their laughter is a way of coping with what they have to deal with. There is a lot of unpleasantness, they are at the coal face, and it is far from glamorous. It is not ER.''

They tried to capture that feeling in the series and Where The Heart Is was a hit with viewers from the very first programme. Vicky herself lays a lot of credit at the door of Sarah Lancashire and Pam Ferris who play the lead roles.

''The actors are just fantastic,'' points out Vicky. ''That's why it's so successful. They are just so believable. I think about 14 million people watched the first night it went out and the number never really dropped through the series.''

Vicky certainly knows what she is talking about when it comes to drama. The 31-year-old was studying English and drama at Manchester University when a friend asked her to direct his new play.

She went on to do an MA in directing and came to public attention when she took a production to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Since then she has worked at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Bolton Octagon and The Bush Theatre in London.

Her spell as a TV script writer has been followed by a return to theatre and she is now the artistic director of popular touring theatre company Paines Plough.

She beat 180 other applicants to land the post just over two years ago and is a strong supporter of new writers. Coventry playwright Chris O'Connell is currently the company's writer-in-residence.

''The company was going through a bad patch when I joined,'' says Vicky, ''and it was a real test to see whether we could turn it around. It has been a busy few years, but very rewarding and we've got a great company.

''We are a touring company and I catch up with them at every venue. I am used to touring now.'' She laughs: ''I have been up and down the whole of Britain and I know all the B&B's and pizza restaurants.''

Paines Plough are bringing their latest production The Cosmonaut's Last Message To The Woman He Once Loved In The Former Soviet Union to Warwick Arts Centre next week for a two-night run from Tuesday.

''It is basically a love story,'' explains Vicky. ''There are two cosmonauts in space and they believe everyone has forgotten them, so they begin to remember their life on earth. It is written by Scottish writer David Greig and is a remarkable piece of theatre.''

Getting productions on the road takes a big chunk of Vicky's time, but she always finds time to catch up with the latest happenings on Where The Heart Is every Sunday.

''I'm not connected with the programme anymore, but I always watch it,'' she confesses. ''I sometimes find myself saying 'That's not how Peggy would behave' and commentating on the behaviour of the characters. The other week Tony Haygarth, who plays Vic Snow, hugged his son when he left home and I remember thinking 'He would have been much closer than that.'' Vicky smiles: ''But I do think it is a lovely series and the people in it are very human - that's why it is so popular.''

WHAT THE STARS SAY

THE stories always focus on human relationships. They are not medical case histories, but relationships that are sparked off by events in and out of Peggy's professional life.

Pam Ferris who plays Peggy Snow

THERE is a tremendous amount of humour, the sort of humour that comes out of every day life. The stories concentrate more on this small community, where everybody knows each other, rather than on cases at the health centre. It is quite a unique series.

Sarah Lancashire who plays Ruth Goddard

THE series appealed to me because of the very wholesome, warm, gentle feel of the whole thing. It is very much a family orientated piece with good morals, charity, loving and giving. Where The Heart Is is an uplifting series when you can do something good and make somebody happy.

Tony Haygarth who plays Vic Snow
COPYRIGHT 1999 Coventry Newpapers
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:McMULLEN, MARION
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 5, 1999
Words:1010
Previous Article:SUNDAY TV; TODAY'S HIGHLIGHTS.
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