The BBC1 show Casualty is the world’s longest-running medical drama TV series – and it still manages to retain its prime-time slot after being on our screens for more than 30 years. Created by Paul Unwin and Jeremy Brock, it was first broadcast on 6th September 1986.
Set in the accident and emergency department of fictional Holby City Hospital, it features the intertwining stories of the staff and patients. There’s a regular cast of hospital staff, with guest actors each week portraying the patients.
When the show was first launched, it was quite revolutionary for the era, as the writers announced it was to be an anti-conservative show in response to the Thatcher government. Describing it as a “television revolution”, they also said it would be anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-NHS.
Traditionally broadcast on a Saturday night, with a brief spell of Friday night transmissions, Casualty has only one character remaining from the first episode. Played by Derek Thompson, Charlie Fairhead has appeared in the show continually since its launch, with his character portrayed as a leader-type figure with a good sense of humour but a short fuse – a trait which has caused him a few problems when dealing with management.
Charlie has featured in some of Casualty’s most thrilling storylines, such as in series five when he was shot in the chest and in series 12 when he was held hostage by an armed man. He survived both incidents, although he later went on to suffer a pulmonary embolism in series 14 and a heart attack in series 30, from which he recovered. He holds the position of senior charge nurse and emergency nurse practitioner.
Thompson was inadvertently involved in a furore in July this year, when it was claimed in the national press that he earned £399,000 a year for portraying the nurse. Campaigners seized upon the irony of an actor playing a nurse who was earning more than 12 times as much as a genuine senior charge nurse.
Other regular characters include Dr Dylan Keogh played by William Beck since 2011. He is portrayed as being abrupt, rude and sarcastic, although he is very good at his job. He has been given a challenging storyline since 2015, with his mental health suffering as a result of a poor relationship with his father. He was later diagnosed as having obsessive compulsive disorder in a storyline showing how the condition can affect people personally.
Casualty has spawned a spin-off show. Holby City was created by Mal Young and Tony McHale in 1999. Set in Holby City Hospital, it features patients and staff in the surgical wards and whereas Casualty’s plots involving patients are completed on a weekly basis due to its setting in an accident and emergency ward, Holby City can continue storylines that involve patients’ long-term care as the plots develop.
Occasionally, the actors from Casualty cross over into Holby City and vice-versa. Charlie Fairhead is one character who has appeared in both shows, as has Connie Beauchamp (played by Amanda Mealing) who first appeared on our screens in 2004 in one of the cross-over shows and has since been in both dramas multiple times. She started out as clinical lead of cardiothoracic surgery in Holby City but in 2013, she moved over to Casualty when Connie became a consultant in emergency medicine.
A number of today’s celebrity actors started out by making small guest appearances in Casualty including Good Will Hunting star Minnie Driver who played HIV sufferer Zena in 1991, Trainspotting’s Johnny Lee Miller who played a young tearaway called Matt in 1992, Oscar-winning Kate Winslet who portrayed troubled visitor Suzanne in 1993 and Emmerdale’s Patsy Kensit who played a confused patient called Charlotte in 2001.
The 1,000th episode of Casualty was broadcast on 25th June 2016: watched by 4.8 million viewers, episode 39 of series 30 was entitled ‘History Repeating’ and saw the emergency staff battling to save the life of a mother and her unborn child. Casualty has gone from strength to strength, with an average of five million viewers watching each show.
The original title sequence depicted a speeding ambulance with lights flashing arriving at the accident and emergency department with a police escort. The sequence followed the patient’s point of view, as they were rushed into the department and through to resuscitation. The importance of automatic doors at a hospital can never be over-emphasised. Affording easy access to the building, their hands-free operation allows medical staff to concentrate solely on patient care.
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