It hardly needs an introduction to the people of Bristol, but Casualty is the longest running emergency medical drama series in the world.
First broadcast on BBC1 in 1986, an astonishing 632 episodes of the show have been transmitted over the last 22 years.
Bristol has been Casualty's home since the beginning. Although set in the fictional city of Holby, we all know it as our own city. The show is filmed almost entirely in the city – many characters have regional accents and well-known landmarks such as the floating harbour and Clifton Suspension Bridge are often visible in outdoor scenes.
In 2001, the popularity of the show resulted in a switch from a traditional seasonal format to an almost year-round production and transmission which continues to this day.
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Casualty anchors BBC1's programming in a valuable Saturday night slot. It is a constant feature in TV industry magazine Broadcast's overall top 25 programmes and top 10 drama programmes.
In 2007, the series won its first major award, the BAFTA for the best continuing drama.
As Seven readers may well be aware, discussions are currently under way about Casualty potentially moving to Cardiff as part of the BBC's wider strategic plans.
At South West Screen, our role is to develop the creative and media industries in the South West and to act as a campaigning voice on their behalf. It is for these reasons that we are actively campaigning to keep Casualty in Bristol.
We realise the important part that Casualty plays in our regional film and media industry. Unlike Manchester, Cardiff, Birmingham or Leeds, Bristol has not had a dedicated BBC drama department since the Sixties. Yet the basing of Casualty in the city has led to the growth of a thriving drama production economy for the entire region. Bristol is now home to a rich mix of talent and creative services including strong post-production facilities, excellent graphics companies and a much diversified and flourishing independent sector.
Casualty – which currently brings about £10 million each year to the local economy – has had a significant multiplier effect on drama production in our region.
Programmes like Lark Rise To Candleford, Skins and Mistresses have filmed here because Casualty provides a crucial backbone for drama production in the South West.
The strong base in Bristol also has the effect of encouraging more production into the far South West – where the BBC has a much less visible economic impact – as TV and feature film productions realise they can be serviced by the Bristol infrastructure rather than London.
Our regional supply chain would be severely threatened by the suggested move of Casualty.
We understand that new studio facilities would need to be built in Cardiff to house the production so, in the interests of minimising unnecessary costs and delivering maximum public value, why not instead build improved facilities in Bristol where the base is already so well established?
Bristol City Council and SWRDA – the regional development agency for the South West – have both made their support for keeping the production in Bristol clear.
The Casualty crew have 21 years' experience of filming in Bristol. It is its resulting native knowledge-base of the area which makes filming a 48-episode continuing drama possible. This simply wouldn't be the case if the programme was starting from a blank sheet in a new location.
Casualty is not a studio-based programme – a 10-day shoot is commonly four days on location and six in the studio. Bristol's topography and mixture of architectures, indeed the variety of locations available within a 30-minute drive time of the studio base, are key. With a Cardiff base, a large area in the radius of a 30-minute drive time would be at sea.
If the BBC's policy is to diversify production, then why shift an identifiable "Bristol" production (in which familiar Bristol locations and regional accents are integral to the programme) elsewhere? Why not create a new "Cardiff" production? The people of the South West have long endured the cultural stereotype of 'ooh arr'ing carrot crunching yokels, and Bristol in particular has fought hard to shake this image off and achieve its current cool city status, as shown by programmes like Skins and talent like actor and DJ Stephen Merchant and TV presenter Justin Lee Collins.
Moving a successful, iconic Bristol series out of the city can only be seen as a huge step backwards.
An announcement on whether Casualty will be moving is expected to be made in the autumn.
Many influential people including MPs and media industry figures have already been making their opinions on the potential move known and we need even more people to show their support for keeping Casualty in Bristol.
I would urge all our local media to continue to campaign to keep Casualty in Bristol and the people of Bristol to get behind the campaign. Together we really will have a voice.
Casualty continues on BBC1 tonight (Saturday) at 8.55pm