INTERVIEW: Tough issues will be tackled in new drama set in Calderdale

Politics, education, integration and deprivation are just some of the issues to be tackled in a new drama to be filmed in Calderdale.

The major primetime Channel 4 drama, working title The ABC, will hit screens next year and promises to be a funny, revealing insight into the workings of a fictional, multicultural school.

It is created by award-winning writer Ayub Khan Din, who penned East is East, and is being produced by Lawrence Till, whose credits include Shameless and Mr Selfridge.

The backdrop for the show will be the former St. Catherine’s School at Holmfield, Halifax, and other locations across the borough.

“The focus of it is that 50 per cent of our school population is Pakistani Asian and 50 per cent is white and it’s the cultural impact that has outside of school as well as within school,” said Lawrence Till.

“That means within towns, life choices, employment choices for young people. The impetus came because Educating Yorkshire was the most successful, enthusiastically received documentary Channel 4 produced and they wanted to create a drama based on that, which would bring as much delight and excitement for family viewing at 8pm.

“The elements are what makes a great state of the nation drama, it’s looking at education, it’s looking at politics, work life balance, it’s looking at social hardship, integration, inclusion, marriage, deprivation.

“There are cultural stories that are of course going to happen. There are going to be conflicts between cultures, there are going to be conflicts between families, there are going to be stories that will surprise people as a result of that.

“The intention is to have as wide and universal appeal as possible, so people don’t go ‘oh it’s set in a school, it doesn’t apply to me’ or ‘it has Asian characters, I don’t get it’.

“It’s really try to get the audience embrace all of the stories. The stories are going to be tough, but we are not here to just to create outrageous television. It’s family friendly and you should be able to sit down with your granny and your ten-year-old to watch it at 8pm and that’s important.”

And with a five-year lease taken on the school, it’s hoped the show will become embedded in the fabric of local communities.

Lawrence added: “I’m trying to build an infrastructure for creating a long-term drama in the region because shows have come and they are brilliant, but the films and television dramas are often only filming for 16 weeks, making eight to 10 episodes. What I’m looking at is creating a long-term commitment to the region, creating a volume of episodes over the years.

“I didn’t want to create a drama where everyone had seen the locations before. Yes, there has been Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax, which are enormously successful and fantastic pieces of work, but just embedding ourselves into the town and creating albeit a fictitious town, we’re going to be jumping between Halifax and Todmorden and Hebden Bridge and Sowerby Bridge, so you won’t quite know as you turn a corner where you’ve ended up.

“People have seen Manchester, people have seen Leeds, they have sort of seen Sheffield, but these aren’t quite as familiar.

“Because of the focus of our stories is young people, we’ll be drawing those people from the schools and community groups in the region. You don’t want to bring people in from a long distance when you are doing a show like this.

“We’re really looking at how to engage people as performers, but also as trainees on the show. We’re creating some opportunities for the next generation of people making dramas.”

Lawrence also revealed that familiar faces will feature in the series, but viewers will have to sit tight to find out which stars will be gracing the new filmic hotspot of Calderdale.