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Being a writer is up my Street: Codsall man tells us what it's like to write for Corrie and work with Johnny Vegas

By Kirsten Rawlins | Wolverhampton entertainment | Published:

He's gone from growing up on a Birmingham council estate to working on more than 250 episodes of Coronation Street - including a few of the soap's most iconic moments.

But how did screenwriter Chris Fewtrell go from modest beginnings to writing for Britain's longest-running soap – and what goes on behind the scenes of the hugely popular ITV drama?

"Like a lot of writers, my desire to write goes back to an inspirational figure," explains Codsall father-of-three Chris.

"I had a wonderful English and drama teacher when I was growing up in Birmingham. This great teacher fed my passion for writing and drama.

"I first began writing for a youth drama group called Limited Edition, based out of Rednall near Longbridge. It was based at our school Colmers Farm Comprehensive.

"I started writing for them when I was around 13, then I carried it on at university.

"I studied history at Oxford University’s Queen’s College."

The writer, now 48, began sending off his pieces to television companies while at uni, which then led to Granada picking up a project of his – making him just 21 when he had his first experience of paid TV work.

Chris then went on to work on a few episodes of TV show The House Of Windsor starring Leslie Phillips, but after discovering jobs were few and far between, he began working as a journalist on the Dorset Evening Echo in Weymouth. After training with The BBC, Chris then worked on Radio 4 and 5, before pursuing a full-time career in screenwriting.

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He wrote for a number of EastEnders episodes and a football-based soap called Dream Team on Sky One, before beginning work for Coronation Street in the early noughties.

"Shows I’ve worked on include The Bill, Peak Practice, Rosemary and Thyme, and Byker Grove," adds Chris.

"Then in 2004, I joined Coronation Street. I was so made up to be working on Corrie, as I’d always wanted to write comedy but seemed to get stuck with drama jobs because that’s where the money was.

"But I knew Corrie had a rich comic heritage and it gave me a chance to finally do what I loved best.

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"I’ve done around 250 episodes since then."

Top storylines he has been involved with include Schmichael the great dane's hot tub incident and the death of Hayley Cropper – both of which he cites as his favourites.

"Another of my favourite memories of Corrie was when we did a DVD spin-off called Romanian Holiday, which we filmed in Romania. It was such great fun working on that," says Chris.

"It starred David Neilson, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Katherine Kelly, John Henshaw and Siobhan Finneran.

"We had the most wonderful time. We were really proud of the end result too."

But how is each episode of Corrie created – and how it is decided who will write what?

"Every month there’s a conference where we come up with story ideas, pitch plots and discuss them. And they get rejected or accepted," explains Chris.

"Then they go away and distil the storyline into episodes.

"It’s usually spread over around 23 episodes. And then they’re allocated to writers."

Chris was most recently involved in new BBC comedy sitcom starring Johnny Vegas and Elaine Paige – called Home From Home – which he co-wrote with fellow Corrie writer Simon Crowther. It ran on BBC One for six episodes from mid April.

It tells the tale of working class family man Neil Hackett, played by Johnny, who has finally achieved a life-long dream of buying a lodge in the Lake District with his wife Fiona, portrayed by Niky Wardley.

Neil is delighted with his buy at Lake View Holiday Park until he meets the neighbours Robert Dillon, portrayed by Doctor Foster's Adam James, and his wife Penny, played by Emilia Fox from Silent Witness.

"Simon and I write story ideas together for Coronation Street – that’s how we first started working together," explains Chris.

"Then we thought it would be fun to write scripts together.

"Simon and I both happened to have caravans in North Wales, as he has two children and I have three.

"We were talking about it and agreed the subject would be ripe for comedic exploration.

"Caravan sites see people from all walks of life are living side by side. On the same site, there are people in posh lodges and others renting elderly caravans - but they’re all interacting.

"This is all combined with the fact that holidays rarely go to plan; especially when you have a family. It’s just perfect for a sitcom.

"We took the idea to The BBC and they loved it, so we made a pilot which was broadcast in August 2016.

"It got some really nice feedback and very good audience figures.

"BBC Comedy then commissioned it for a series, which we filmed last summer. It took six weeks. Simon and I were there for the whole set.

"The cast was absolutely fantastic to work with. It sounds like some sort of showbiz cliché, but they all really were fabulous – Johnny Vegas in particular.

"Joanna Page, who starred in the pilot, had just had a baby, so we had to re-cast for her role. But Niky Wardley has done a fantastic job for us.

"Elaine Paige is barely recognisable when you see her in the programme.

"Her performance was warm and comical. She was huge fun.

"A million miles from a diva.

"Someone with her reputation would have every right to be that way, but she was nothing but genuine and wonderful to work with.

"I really hope if the show returns for a second series we can work with her more. She was terrific."

Catch Home From Home on BBC iPlayer.

Kirsten Rawlins

By Kirsten Rawlins
@kirsten_Star

Online Entertainment Editor for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star. E-mail me kirsten.rawlins@expressandstar.co.uk, or phone 01902 319368

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