BBC One’s school-based drama series Waterloo Road returns next week for a 20-part third series.
Picking up from last year’s dramatic ending which saw the murder of drama teacher Izzie Redpath (Jill Halfpenny) this latest run sees the introduction of some new faces.
The creative force behind the series is creator/writer Ann McManus who is also Creative Director at series producers Shed Productions.
Education is a subject close to Ann’s heart, and, before landing a job as a television writer, helping create Footballers’ Wives and Bad Girls, Ann taught English for five years in some of Glasgow’s toughest comprehensive schools.
As she explains when asked by the BBC to come up with a contemporary drama that would be relevant to the lives of ordinary people in Britain today, Ann didn’t hesitate in pitching a drama set around a modern comprehensive school.
“If there is one single issue that dominates the thinking not only of parents, but of everyone who wants a decent and fair society, it’s how we give our children the best start in life”, says Ann. “Without overstating the case, teachers are at the front line of humanity and what they do in the classroom affects all of our lives” says Ann.
The drama started in series one with the school in crisis when its long-suffering headmaster has a nervous breakdown.
“Deputy Head Jack Rimmer (Jason Merrells) reluctantly takes the hot seat as Acting Head and there starts the long road of turning round a failing school – one small step at a time.
This series sees Jack struggling to cope with Izzie’s death. Actor Jason Merrells who plays Jack says the tragedy has made him “more determined than ever to turn Waterloo Road around and make it a success.”
Picking up the theme of teacher dedicated McManus says “if there is one main theme in Waterloo Road, it’s that a few good teachers can make a huge difference in even the most challenging schools. You can throw any amount of money and resources at education but, if you don’t have motivated and inspiring teachers, the investment will never deliver.”
As mentioned this term sees the arrival of some new faces including Neil Morrissey as deputy head and maths teacher Eddie Lawson. Morrissey described Eddie as “an inspirational teacher with a genuine passion for the job, and is tough, but fair.”
Eddie and Jack are both strong characters with their own ideas on education so how do they both get along?
“They slowly warm to each other as they both have their own ideas on how to get the best from the students. Eddie also believes in doing things by the book, to a certain degree, which is in stark contrast to Jack – who likes to cut corners where possible. But, ultimately, they do get on as they both want what’s best for Waterloo Road – and they also enjoy a pint together” says Morrissey.
Also joining the cast this year is Shabana Bakhsh who plays new English teacher Jasmine Koreshi. As a recent graduate of teacher training college Shabana says Jasmine “sometimes feels overwhelmed with the pupils, but can regain her confidence when pushed. She likes to have fun and doesn’t like having to discipline the pupils, and sometimes feels she has little control over the class.”
“Jasmine likes to have fun and she can get down to the students’ level, but she can get freaked out and upset too easily.”
Having escaped the sack at the end of last term Steph Haydock has been promoted to Head of Pastoral Care but actress Denise Welch suggests Steph may not have her priorities quite right: “Steph is happy to have her own office, but that is more important to her than her actual duties. I don’t imagine for one minute she has thought much about her approach to her Pastoral Care role.”
Series producer Lis Steele says the expanded run of 20 episodes has allowed the production team to grow the world of Waterloo Road and its staff: “it’s enabled us to broaden the scope of storytelling, both in terms of one-off guest stories per episode and stories for our regular characters. We’ve been able to expand the type of personal stories for our regular characters (relationships and personal lives) as well as show their professional lives within the school and the impact on their characters from more school-based stories.”
Are there any changes the audience can expect? Lis says the nature of the stories this year “are shifting away from emphasising traditional themes of education to reflect a more vocational approach. As a result, we have been able to tell more stories away from the normal environment of the school and use more locations in the community. An outward bound centre, a prison, a museum and a residential care home are just some of the environments our teachers and pupils find themselves in.”
Asked about the show’s realism Steele says “what Waterloo Road successfully achieves is to dramatise stories which touch on real contemporary issues that everyday people have to face – either in education, society and/or family life in general – but in an entertaining, accessible and ultimately poignant way.”
“In this way, the series is able to put the human condition under the spotlight but with wit, warmth and optimism.”
Waterloo Road, Thursday 11 October 2007 8.00-9.00pm BBC ONE