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Thursday, 27th January 2011


Production of Byker Grove ended in August 2006.

The longest-running TV series ever produced in the region was launched after the BBC announced plans to develop children's programming in the region in 1986.

"It's naturally a blow to the region to lose such a high-profile and distinctive production," said Tom Harvey, Chief Executive of Northern Film & Media.

Two of the producers of the programme gave their thoughts as it entered its closing weeks:


Matthew Robinson was producer and lead director from Byker Grove's start in 1989 until the 7th series in 1995 (124 episodes), and was executive producer for 8th & 9th series until 1997 (40 episodes) when he left to become executive producer of EastEnders.

So the axe fell on Byker’s eighteenth season – its coming of age. As I first crossed the Tyne bridge on that rainy February day in 1989 to breathe life into the project, a thought came to me W the show was about crossing the bridge between childhood and adulthood. Designer Bob Hutton will remember my request – create as many hump-back shapes as you can.

And he did. Look at any episode in the early series to spot them – symbols of theme merged with place. They faded in later series and probably no one noticed them in the first place, save designer and producer. That’s show business.

On that bridge, looking across rain-swept Newcastle and Gatehead, I also thought: SYou’re out there somewhere and I’m going to find you!T Byker was my first show for children, though I had sort-of won my battle to tilt it at teenagers or (jocularly) 'kidults'.

An engaging cast is the second-most-important ingredient for a smash-hit. Production Manager Andy Snelgrove and I trawled every school on Tyneside, Wearside and Durham for talent. We winkled out energy, charm and naturalness. We took weeks to put hundreds through hoops, disappointing all but a few.

But what a few! Hard to forget Lyndyann Barrass as copper-haired Spuggie, Caspar Berry as angst-ridden Gill, Sally McQuillan and Jill Halfpenny as best-or-worst friends Donna and Nicola. Or Donna Air as the divinely-evil Charlie. Impossible to forget, now, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly in whatever roles they played.

Hard to imagine the BBC these days buying the freehold for a garden shed, let alone a decrepit pile of bricks on four acres of unsalubrious Benwell. But such was the faith that the men-in-suits W Anna Home (Head of CBBC) having commissioned two more seasons of 40 episodes after seeing only one week’s rushes W forked out huge sums for The Mitre, rarely complaining later about huger sums for its upkeep.

Some say the The Mitre was the momentum behind Byker Grove’s longevity. Easier to let the show go on than have to sell that pile of bricks. But that’s a disservice to the first-most-important ingredient. Stories …

… which is not the same as scripts. Every year, I could not relax without three big story arcs in place, each with twists, hooks and cliffs running through that season’s twenty episodes. Compelling stories, relevant and fascinating to our young audience of millions, reflecting the most crucial stage of their lives W crossing that bridge to responsible adulthood.

Ed Pugh was the producer for four series from 2002 to 2005

End of Story, End of an Era or the End of the Line. Whatever way you say it, for Byker Grove this is the End. After 18 series and 344 episodes, the youth club doors at the Mitre will be closing and the possible young stars of tomorrow will have one place less to find fame.

Those years as producer have to be four of the best and happiest years of my life. I'm a Londoner, who saw the light and moved up North to Manchester in 1987 and still live there. I have also spent time in Glasgow, so to me working away from home is part and parcel of developing a career. The idea of Newcastle appealed, as I had filmed there before. The idea of producing BG also appealed as it was always a great drama series. However I was unaware of how loved and how important it was as a programme, by the people of the area. Within three weeks of being there, I felt I had been there for three years. Everyone made me feel very welcome. The programme has a great 'family' feel in the way it's put together. Everyone works together and they put their heart and soul into it. It might be a children's drama, with a tight and limited budget, but the crew and cast show all their energy, enthusiasm and resourcefulness on the series. Sometimes even more than for mainstream drama, where money can usually solve a problem. Many people believe that we made more demanding drama than in the mainstream schedule W not only in what we had to produce, but in the storylines. The programme was never bashful at tackling the hard end subjects, as well as the light and humorous. During my time we covered binge drinking, teenage pregnancy and self harming W not to be controversial, just being a mirror to young society. As timing often proved, alarming reports on such subjects often coincided with our episodes being shown. Hopefully young people understood that we were trying to get a message across in a non condescending way. Useful guides for growing up. Even if it did not affect you, it might be your friend's problem.

The BBC say they will have another drama for the NE in the future, but I would not be surprised that the crew will be mostly made up from the London area, up for a few weeks and back again after completion. What made BG unique was the fact that it was truly indigenous. Apart from visiting Directors and First AD's, almost everyone on the show is from the area. Everyone lived and breathed the Newcastle air. It will always be remembered for Ant and Dec and even Jill Halfpenny and Andrew Hayden-Smith, but for me its USP was the crew, the ever-changing loyal but local cast and even the Mitre. Those corridors will be silent soon, and the fun and joy of making the series will be long gone.

As I left the series, I remarked that many of the pictures taken during my reign showed laughter in people's faces. Despite some really tough stories and some hard production problems to solve, through it all we certainly had fun making those episodes. I truly believe that people who are enjoying their production work, make better programmes. And over the last few years, as a team, we improved and evolved the show for the better W witness our commendation at the last awards' ceremony. That great Geordie wit will always be a great memory and I am really honoured to have worked on one of the most challenging and certainly one of the best Children's dramas. Oooh Byker, Byker Grove. Farewell dear friend and family.

If you have memories of Byker you'd like to share, email Matthew Robinson.

There's a Byker Grove Picture Gallery here.

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