17 July, 2008

Preview: "Harley Street"


"Set in London's famous medical district, Harley Street gets behind the facade of suave medics treating celebrity and wealthy patients. Our private practice is run by three doctors: Martha Elliot, Robert Fielding and cosmetic surgeon Ekkow Obiang. While each has their unique approach to their job, all three medics are outsiders in the closed world of high-end private care dominated by white, privately-educated men."

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"Harley Street is a contemporary and original medical drama starring Paul Nicholls, Suranne Jones and Shaun Parkes.

Produced by Carnival Film and Television, Harley Street is a glossy, post-watershed 6-part drama series set in London’s famous medical district, in a new stylish Harley Street practice.

With an ethos of providing first rate, ‘wraparound’ health care, the private practice is run by three GPs, Martha Elliot (Suranne Jones), Robert Fielding (Paul Nicholls) and cosmetic surgeon and GP Ekkow Obiang (Shaun Parkes). Each is equally dynamic, proactive and passionate about delivering the best standards of care, round the clock, 24/7.

Created by Marston Bloom, who also writes the first two episodes, Harley Street features a world in which doctors are with their patients every step of the medical journey, from lifestyle surgery to unusual and often life-threatening medical cases. It focuses on the complex personal relationships of the doctors who are continually forced to make life and death decisions while trying to find balance between their work and home life.

Martha has grown up the daughter of a Harley Street practitioner, and although a top flight doctor in her own right, her background brings “a touch of class” to the practice.

Robert is a working class lad, who has spent seven years devoted to his NHS training, and despite ‘the flash car and sexy suits’ he repays the system that trained him by working night shifts in a busy hospital A&E.

Ekkow also has the looks and the sharp suits. With a background in reconstructive plastic surgery, Ekkow is highly trained and a skilled cosmetic surgeon who knows how to make his patients feel good. Ekkow is also a constant support for Martha with his GP case load which contrasts with Robert’s often unpredictable approach to their practice.

“The characters are well defined and multi-layered from the outset. You feel you know who they are from the moment you meet them. Everyone can relate to the medical genre, but Harley Street is different, and our approach ensures the series doesn’t occupy television territory that’s gone before,” said Executive Producer Christopher Aird.

Written by Marston Bloom, Howard Overman, Nicole Taylor and Jack Williams, the series has been developed by Carnival’s Christopher Aird who is Executive Producing with Carnival’s Creative Director Sally Woodward Gentle.

Director of Drama Commissioning for ITV, Laura Mackie, comments: “Harley Street is both aspirational and thought-provoking. It will offer viewers, who traditionally enjoy this genre, a different approach to health care storytelling, whilst retaining the life and death situations which make medical drama so popular.

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Foreword by Marston Bloom

"In a previous life, before children, I was an actor, and the last theatre job I did was at the National, where one of the actresses twisted her ankle in rehearsal and went to Harley Street to have it looked at.

She came back and entertained everyone in the canteen about how she’d been seen by an incredibly handsome doctor – and it soon became a running joke round the building, with people pretending to drop down with injury and illness so they too could get to check him out. I was never that bothered in seeing the bloke but it must have put a thought in my head because when I came to write my first spec script (so that I could try and pull in a literary agent) this good-looking doctor was the character who charmed his way to the front page.

I had very limited experience of Harley Street, other than sharing what’s probably the common perception that the place is run by crusty tweed suits and bow ties but I did know that many doctors work both sides of the system (privately and for the NHS) and this crossover seemed interesting. And it seemed like good dramatic potential to throw someone like Robert – a handsome and hyperactive charisma king from a working class background - into this sedate old school mix.

The idea quickly evolved and then deepened and broadened into what it is today when I was lucky enough to have the script picked up by Christopher Aird at Carnival, and then commissioned by Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes at ITV. A trio who have my eternal loyalty for saving me at a time when I was genuinely one bounced cheque away from having to wear sensible clothes for a living.

We paired Robert in a private practice with Martha and Ekkow - themselves a couple of outsiders in this traditionally white, male world - and it seems to me that with this set-up and these three very different characters the programme has freedom to play out an almost limitless range and type of personal and medical story.

Through Robert and Ekkow’s ongoing NHS commitments we still get to plug into the great dramatic energy and impact of hospital-based emergencies that has worked so well on TV before but in Harley Street we also get to see a far more intimate, sometimes lifetime, doctor/patient relationship that extends far beyond the consulting room or A&E department.

We did meet several Harley Street doctors later in the day but my ambition has always been to approach this as an entertainment and not a documentary. I’d done no significant research for that first spec script which was more about Robert than it was about medicine and though there are intriguing insights to be had into the world of private practice along the way (which I hope will be a significant part of the programme’s appeal) from my side of the fence the interesting stuff in Harley Street is always what happens between people.

None of the characters in Harley Street are based on anyone in particular, though I suppose that in my acting days I would have auditioned for Felix rather than Robert. But I certainly couldn’t have done a better job than Oliver Dimsdale or any of the other great cast and crew who have employed such commitment, flair and integrity to bring the scripts to life.

That handsome doctor who saw the actress with her ankle may have set my mind running, but the making of a TV series is a highly collaborative process in which so many people play a significant part: and I reckon their work has produced a cracking programme.

And I really hope the audience agree!"

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Thursdays, ITV1, 9:00pm from 17 July

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Official site
Press pack

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Those of us going for the Red Planet Prize could watch this pilot critically, looking at what works and what might not work so well.

In addition to the things I suggested we looked at with Bonekickers, I think it's worthwhile thinking about the episode and series arcs with Harley Street.

How many stand-alone stories will there be? Does each of the main doctors have one and what are there relative importance? Does this change each week? Are there any serial stories - set to continue each week - set up in that first episode? What's the proportion of medical to personal stories?

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