Holby City – 9 things you didn’t know about the BBC medical drama

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It’s been a regular on our screens for the past 20 years, but do you know all the secrets where Holby City is involved?

If you’re a hardcore Holby fan it’s possible, but here are some trivia and fun facts for you anyway to keep you entertained while the show is off-air…

It was nearly called something else

holby city
It might be hard to imagine now but Holby City nearly had a very different name. The BBC medical drama’s original title was Surgical Two, but like a lot of shows, was changed during the planning process to represent the hospital’s fictional town.

Bonus fact: Holby is best in the real city of Bristol where Casualty used to be filmed.

The original cast was minimal

holby city first episode
Holby has approximately 16 regular characters at any one time these days, but in the nascent stages, things were very different.

During the first episode in 1999, there were only three doctors present – Anton Meyer, Nick Jordan, and Kirstie Collins, with a fourth Victoria Merrick (Lisa Faulkner) joining from the second episode.

A total of 11 main characters appeared in the core cast throughout the first series. Casualty stalwart Charlie Fairhead (Derek Thompson) also appeared in Holby’s first episode.

Hugh Quarshie is the longest-serving actor

hugh quarshie as ric griffin in holby city
That’s right, trusty Ric Griffin is the show’s longest-serving cast member, as it stands today.

Having joined in 2001, Hugh has stayed with the show for 19 years, and it doesn’t seem like he is planning to leave anytime soon. Yay.

The show used to work with only one set

holby city
At the start, the entire production set was just one set, which is now Darwin. This was eventually split into the Cardiothoracic and General Surgery bay and the series is now filmed on five sets.

Both Holby City and Casualty are set in Holby City Hospital. When Casualty proved popular with audiences, the BBC wanted to explore what happened to its patients once they were taken away to the surgical wards.

It shares the same studio as EastEnders

phil mitchell and dotty cotton in eastenders
BBC

Okay, okay, this is probably not groundbreaking news to any hardcore soap fans, but Holby is based at the same studio as one other long-running BBC soap. And we don’t mean its sister show Casualty.

Holby City is filmed at Elstree Studios at in Borehamwood alongside EastEnders, and another fun fact is that the EastEnders production team used to operate from what is now the location for the Keller Ward set. The current design office for EastEnders now occupies the space that once was the Holby City maternity ward.

Casualty, on the other hand, is filmed 160 miles away in Cardiff, making crossovers between the two in-universe shows a logistical nightmare.

The 2019 Holby/Casualty crossover could have been very different

casualty and holby city crossover
Last year, Holby joined Casualty for a mega-crossover mash-up, for the first time in 15 years. The crossover was first pitched to BBC One in 2017 (because, yes, it takes that long to plan these things) but early drafts had various vehicles striking an electrical substation to cause the blackout instead.

By the time a second pitch was drawn up a year later, the teams had settled on a cyberattack – which was later brought to light (or darkness) on screen. But things could have looked very different.

The hospital lift is managed manually…

holby city
Last year, Digital Spy was lucky enough to be invited on to the Holby City set, where we got to see all the magic that goes on behind-the-scenes. One piece of trickery that we were particularly fascinated by was the story behind the hospital lifts.

Enlightening us, our tour guide Alex Walkinshaw – aka Fletch – said: “Basically there is a man who stands inside the door and pulls on a lever that opens and shuts it. Then he flicks the numbers round on a button. It’s very high tech!”. Well, they do say that you learn something new every day.

…And so are the hospital sinks

holby city
Another trick of the trade-in Holland is the resourceful use of kitchen sinks. With limited plumping on the Darwin operating theatres, the production team put buckets underneath them to collect the water and go round emptying them manually.

Who knew so much manual labor went into creating the hospital show?

The hospital’s relative’s room has multi uses

holby city
This may or may not surprise you, but some areas of Holby’s infamous hospital actually have multi-uses. The relative’s room, which is infrequently seen when there’s bad news about a patient – is also where the behind-the-scenes Gods do their stuff.

Alex told us: “We don’t always use the relative’s room but, generally, this is where the crew sits – the director, script supervisor, and the DOP (director of photography). That is where they sit and do lots of knob twiddling to make sure it all looks right.”

Holby City is currently on a hiatus after running out of episodes to screen due to the coronavirus pandemic impacting filming.

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