London lives and loves

Castles is a ground-breaking family saga by Coronation Street writer Peter Whalley which runs for the next six months. But will it hold our attention, wonders Eddie Gibb.

When Grange Hill broke up for the summer. it left an empty lot at the BBC‘s Elstree studios the west London home of Eastlz‘nders. No sooner had the ‘For Let‘ sign gone up when a new television family moved in next door to the Beales and Fowlers the Castles. And unlike true Cockney families who live their lives within ajellied eel‘s throw ofthe Bow Bells. the middle-class Castles are spread across north London‘s suburbs from Hemel Hempstead to Highbury.

Castles is unprecedented in British television drama. it‘s not a pure soap but a hybrid serial that will sprawl across our screens every week for half a year. You would need to look to American television to find a serial of this scale. Castles is Dynasty minus the shoulder-pads and cosmetic dental work; a Ford Mondeo rather than an Oldmobile.

Whereas the Carringtons family saga was a millionaire lifestyle fantasy which tapped into the American fascination with power and greed. Castles makes a feature of its suburban dullness. Over the 24-part run. it‘s hard to imagine anyone slamming a door in anger. let alone whipping a snub-nosed pistol from their handbag. The tacky. shot-on-video feel adds to the air of bloody-minded suburban averageness which surrounds the characters‘ lives. Mike Leigh might have come up with this if, God forbid, he was ever commissioned to write a soap.

in fact Castles is a BBC/Granada joint production which has sprung from the pen of veteran Coronation

Street writer Peter Whalley. Unlike the Street, where writers work in teams and storylines are plotted as a collective effort. Castles offered Whalley the chance to play God with his cast of characters, with other writers brought in only at the end of the scripting process.

‘lt was a great luxury,‘ he admits. ‘l‘m used to the communal approach where you do a lot of shouting and arguing. it‘s the art of compromise. With this I just started at the beginning and worked through.‘

At the centre of the extended Castle family are James and Margaret. James is the working-class lad made good who married above his station. (Whereas the classic American sagas were fundamentally about money. Cast/es deals in the infinite gradations of class and status that the British are obsessed by.) The Castles‘ four children were brought up solidly middle-class and were probably the first generation. at least on their father‘s side. to go to university.

The yam starts on the day of Margaret‘s 60th birthday. Minutes before the family arrives for a surprise party. she confronts her husband with

Castles: a tale of everyday suburban folk

evidence of his infidelity and he‘s busy denying it as the first guests arrive. From this moment. Castles heads straight for ‘in-law hell’ territory.

Whalley says he was keen to write a series which reflected the way middle-class families spread out as as the chicks leave the nest. Without a Rover‘s Return or Queen Vic to engineer family confrontations. Castles will rely heavily on births. deaths and marriages to bring the family together. Expect plenty of telephone acting too. ‘1 set out not to have a pub as the focal point because i wanted to depict a fairly ordinary family at the end of the century.‘ he says. ‘They are separated by the years as . happens to many families in this country.‘

Judged by television drama standards. Cast/es is truly awful. but the acting and production values are no worse than the average soap. The question is whether. in the days of the Jordache patio entombment. the Castle family isn‘t just too ordinary to keep the viewing public watching.

Castles is due to start on Wednesdav 3/ May on BBC 1 . time to be continued.

Action man

After a couple of beers in a fashionable West End watering hole, Dougie leond found saying ‘yes’ to a parachute lump pretty easy. That was the bottom-line question the producers of The Big Country asked their prospective new frontrnan. A few months later Vipond was offering up a prayer to John leakes, the patron saint of have-e-go television presenters, before leaping out of a plane at 12,000ft.

leond is one half of a perky boy/girl


team; his co-presenter is Jenni Falconer who was first talent-spotted as a Blind Date contestant. Together they are presenting BBC Scotland’s new active pursuits magazine which will involve trying out various outdoor activities, from sea-canoeing to otter-

For leond, it’s a big change from his previous career as drummer with pop- rockers Deacon Blue who played their farewell gig at Glasgow’s Barrowland exactly a year ago. The split appeared, from a news-hungry reporter’s point of view, to be sickeningly amicable. So, Dougie, here’s your chance finally to tell it how it was. ‘We all agreed it a while before,’ he says. ‘It was reported that I split the band, but that wasn’t


Dougie Vipond: from Deacon Blue to the Big.

true - i blame Yoko!’ Still no dirt, then.

Since the band split, Vipond has been busy as a presenter on two series of arts guide MB and showbiz reporter for Scotland Today. But for a second time he has left the security of steady work for a freelance contract with The Big Country’s independent production company Wall-to-Wall. So what of the future? “I’d like to do some more Big Countries,’ says Vipond. ‘Big Country in winter, Big Country goes to Florida, Big Country goes to somewhere I want to go on holiday.’ it could happen too - his luck has held this far. (Eddie Gibb)

The Big Country starts on Friday 19 May on BBC1 at 7pm.


7B The List 19 May-l Jun 1995