Behind the Idea
Executive producer and creator Jeff Pope, and series producer Hilary Martin reveal how the ideas for this series came about...
Jeff: "I was on holiday in America, travelling around with my family in a people carrier with all our worldly possessions piled up in the back, moving from hotel to hotel and it struck me then how awful it would be if you had no choice but to live like this."
Hilary: "We loved the 'best of friends, best of enemies' relationship of Colin and Howie from the first series and we were keen to build on this by exploring how these characters would react if taken out of their comfort zone. When Jeff had the idea of Howie and Colin witnessing a murder and being thrust onto a witness protection scheme we felt it was a daring and bold idea. We started talking through what deciding to leave their families, friends and home would mean for each of the characters and we started to get very excited that this new concept would open up a wealth of emotional dilemmas, jeopardy and comic extremes."
"We took courage from the fact that ITV said it was hungry for bold, fresh, edgy shows and we felt that it would be an interesting challenge to take a successful family comedy drama and push it into new territory by adding in a thriller element which consistently put the families in danger."
With an idea in place, it was time for research, although Jeff already had a head start on this...
Jeff: "I learned all about the Witness Protection Programme from a factual drama I made about Danielle Cable, who was a very brave young woman who had to go into the programme after bravely agreeing to give evidence against a notorious gangster who had murdered her boyfriend in front of her eyes in a road rage attack."
Hilary: "The challenge for us as a comedy drama was to absorb this research and then find a City Lights way of telling those stories. For example, finding new accommodation became a reason for us to put our characters in a house together; finding new names became an area of competition for the boys and Howie ended up getting it wrong by calling himself Wayne Carr."
Once the cast were told of plans for the new series, it was then decision time on where to film it...
Jeff: "All cast were involved from an early stage, and we talked about the sense of dislocation it would cause, and how it might also turf some skeletons out of the closet. Robson and Mark were interested in the idea of simultaneously putting their characters' under more pressure and in more jeopardy, and yet at the same time pushing them even closer together."
Hilary: "When deciding where the Witness Protection Programme would take them, we found ourselves drawn to London for its anonymity and hustle and bustle. We were keen to be truthful to our characters and leaving their homes in Manchester was undoubtedly a massive upheaval for them which in turn provided interesting dramatic territory for us."
Jeff: "We decided on Shepherds Bush for many reasons. I lived for many years in that area and loved the vibrancy and mix of cultures. It hasn't yet become trendy and 'Notting Hill', but I thought it was a perfect microcosm of modern London."
Having known their characters for a long time, the cast sometimes make script changes – with Jeff's approval!
Jeff: "I let them make suggestions all the time - during a tit for tat row between Colin and Howie's characters when they can't stop themselves from revealing embarrassing moments from their past, they changed a fairly benign reference to Colin having been caught shoplifting as a kid, to him having been caught in the changing room trying on ladies' knickers!"
However, this series isn't just about the comedy, there's a lot more action and seriousness too...
Jeff: "We have car crashes and punches and kicks, Mark gets set on fire, there are wheel spins and car crashes and a shoot out in a bar. Dangerous stunts are the fights between Colin and Howard! Robson and Mark insist on arranging these fights themselves and they always end up with new and ever more vicious moments like nipple tweaking, biting, hair pulling and fingers up nostrils!"
Hilary: "An absolute highlight for me was filming a chase between a plane and a car on an airfield in Surrey. Cars were flying through the air, ambulances, swarms of extras and there was lots of excitement because Casino Royale had filmed there just a few months before. The cast and the crew were on adrenaline high and they all pulled together to achieve a very ambitious climax to the series that I'm really proud of."
Other surprises include some superb guest stars...
Hilary: "This series provided us with the opportunity to bring in new cast members to surround our much loved lead characters. We were thrilled to assemble such an impressive actors as our villains. Paul Ritter as Sweeney, Neil Bell as Hatton and Ben McKay as Gully - they really captured the danger and threat that escalates over the course of the series and in turn creates a sense of the net closing in on our families that we hoped for."
"Nick Gleaves was brilliant as our flawed policeman and a great foil to Colin and Howie and his growing relationship with Pauline brought very new challenges to our central relationships, by highlighting the cracks in Howie and Pauline's marriage.
"We were also lucky enough to have a guest appearance from the footballer David Ginola. Jeff had been interested in them bumping into one of their heroes on the streets of London and them forgetting their new names and identities in the process. Robson and Mark were thrilled when David arrived on set and even Mark, who is an ardent Middlesborough fan, was impressed at hearing the stories from his time at Newcastle United. Possibly not quite as excited as our assistant make up designer who was lucky enough to be there as he took his T-shirt off for a shave before he arrived on set!"
And as for future plans on where to take the series, Jeff has a few ideas...
Jeff: "Having come up with such a big idea at the heart of the series, the challenge – if we do come back – will be to repeat the trick. Going abroad is certainly one idea we are considering but we have a few more thoughts too. It will be interesting to see where we go if this series does well enough for us to be asked to come back."
4 April 2007
TV favourite Robson Green has turned down the chance to relaunch his cheesy but ultra-successful Nineties pop career with a new sidekick, reported the Daily Express today.
Music bosses wanted the 43-year-old Geordie to team up with Mark Benton – his small-screen partner from the Christmas Lights and City Lights series – and record a single. They thought the comedy pair could repeat the massive success which Green enjoyed when he and fellow Soldier Soldier star Jerome Flynn recorded hit cover versions of Unchained Melody and Up On The Roof, guided by X Factor judge Simon Cowell.
However, despite a very tempting offer to become a new pop double act, Green and Benton, 41, rejected the plan. Portly Benton, who also stars as the nasty bank clerk in the Nationwide Building Society ads, says: "We happened to sing House Of Fun by Madness in our show. This got some record company people thinking that we should release it. They were telling us, 'You could have a Number One single with this', but Robson wasn't keen. He didn't want to go for it."
Green jokes: "I have had lots of offers to record again but I don't think I need to help Simon Cowell make any more millions, do I?" Indeed.
1 April 2007
TV stars Robson Green and Mark Benton are taking their success with a light touch. Following the hit comedy Northern Lights, they are to play their comedy heroes Laurel and Hardy on film. Robson said: "There's a wonderful script going round called Anything For Laughs and it's about the early life of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in America."
Cumbrian-born Stan emigrated to America in 1912. He made his first film appearance in 1917 in Nuts In May but he did not meet Oliver until they appeared, separately, in The Lucky Dog, in 1919. They were later to team up officially for the Second Hundred Years. In 1993 the pair made the comedy Block-Heads, a "buddy movie" about two First World War veterans many fans regards as one of their finest films.
Robson and Mark started thinking about Laurel and Hardy while filming the latest series of Northern Lights, now renamed City Lights. In the six part series, their characters Colin and Howard witness a gang murder and find themselves living in London under police protection. Robson is the first to admit that they were influenced by the famous comics. He says: "There's a lot of slapstick in City Lights and that's when we try to pay homage to Laurel and Hardy."
"Mark and I are a similar size to Laurel and Hardy and we're also great fans. Because we love what they did so much we try to achieve what they did all those years ago but set against something modern and real."
If the film does come off, Robson and Mark have the sort of bond that will help any comic partnership.
1 March 2007
There's a familiar ring about the name when Robson Green takes on a new identity inspired by his Geordie roots, writes Ian Wylie in the Manchester Evening News today. You'll remember he played Colin Armstrong in 2004 festive film Christmas Lights, which then turned into the hit Manchester-based series Northern Lights. Well, as I revealed in the M.E.N. last July, the new series has been re-named City Lights, with filming switched to London.
As viewers will see, brothers-in-law Colin and Howard (Mark Benton) are forced to move to the capital after being placed in a witness protection scheme. That also means a change of identity for both men, as well as Colin's wife Jackie, played by Rochdale-born Nicola Stephenson, and Howie's wife Pauline, portrayed by former Cutting It actress Sian Reeves.
You don't have to look very far to spot the inspiration for Newcastle United fan Robson's new ID, as Colin becomes Brad Shearer. If you're not a football fan, we're talking Toon legend Alan Shearer, now a pundit on Match of the Day.
And I make no comment about the decision to give "Howie" Scott the name Wayne Carr.
Crew working on Northern Lights were angry at the switch to London after the first series attracted audiences of six million. The second series had been due to start filming in Manchester, with exterior scenes shot at Weeton Barracks, near Blackpool. But Robson told me that ITV were happy about the move. "They like the notion of them being outside their environment."
City Lights opens in the North before the action switches south, as the series moves into "thriller territory". An ITV spokeswoman told me: "Series one gave us a group of characters that audiences took to their hearts. Part of its charm was how much they loved their lives in Manchester.
"However, to surprise and stimulate our audience, we wanted to keep the show fresh and bold. Taking our characters out of their comfort zone seemed an ideal starting point for this. We're very excited about the bombshell our writer Jeff Pope has invented which catapults our families into new lives in London."
2 August 2006
Robson has spoken about the decision to move filming of his hit TV drama from Manchester to London.
Crew working on Northern Lights were angry at the switch, which began life as a hit one-off special Christmas Lights, with ITV1 bosses renaming the show City Lights. A new six-part series was due to begin filming in Manchester this month. But Robson and co-star Mark Benton, who play brothers-in-law Colin and Howie, will now make London their TV home. Leading man Robson told the M.E.N: "ITV are very happy with that. They like the notion of them being outside their environment. And that's all I'm saying."
More than 100 members of Manchester-based crew and support staff were to be employed on the series until December. The first series regularly attracted audiences of six million. Robson also spoke about the threat to TV drama from a "tsunami of reality television" and said he was glad to still be working in an "impossible" market. "There's too much reality TV. It's all over," he said. "Only Fools On Horses - what was that about? There would be a murder committed if I was on any of that stuff."
The Geordie actor is back on screen next month in a new ITV1 series of Wire In The Blood, inspired by Stockport-based author Val McDermid's books. He said his company, Coastal Productions, could not afford to make the thrillers without the income it got from also selling the series to more than 30 countries. With ITV cutting its drama budget, he's now talking to German TV channel ZDF about becoming co-producers of Wire In The Blood. He added: "It's the No.1 show in Germany.
" Robson will also be executive producer on a forthcoming film adaptation of another Val McDermid novel, A Place Of Execution.
3 June 2006
A Manchester filmed hit TV drama starring Robson Green is to be moved to London, despite winning huge ratings, reported Manchester Evening News today.
Crew working on Northern Lights are angry at the shock decision by ITV1 bosses to switch production to the capital and re-name the show City Lights. A new six-part series was due to begin filming in Manchester in August, with exterior scenes again shot at Weeton Barracks, near Blackpool. But Geordie actor Robson and co-star Mark Benton, who play brothers-in-law Colin and Howie, will now make London their TV home. One staff member at ITV Granada in Manchester, who did not wish to be named, said the move had caused a great deal of anger and bad feeling. "It's upset a lot of people here as Northern Lights was doing very well. It was loved by viewers because it was northern, and if it moves to London it won't be. But the decision has been made."
More than 100 members of Manchester based crew and support staff were due to be employed on the series until December. "So much work has gone into this and then the rug is just pulled," said the TV insider. "They've not given a second thought to the people who are being left behind. There's no logic to it."
The comedy drama originally began life as the one-off 2004 festive film Christmas Lights, which was watched by more than 11 million viewers, making it one of the biggest TV hits of that year. It was then turned into a series, with the name changed to Northern Lights, and regularly attracted audiences of six million - even though it was up against Manchester and Stockport-based BBC1 hit Life On Mars. Producer Hilary Martin said: "Series one gave us a group of characters that audiences took to their hearts. Part of its charm was how much they loved their lives in Manchester, however, to surprise and stimulate our audience, we wanted to keep the show fresh and bold."