Bob Barrett, along with the rest of the Holby City team, couldn’t wait to get back to work after lockdown.
‘Everyone kept telling me “You’re going to struggle because you can’t hug anybody!”‘ he told Metro.co.uk, but by the time everyone got back to work ‘you were used to the fact that you had to socially distance and all that sort of stuff.’
Bob revealed that it’s been hardest for the crew who have to wear masks all the time. ‘
Most of the time the camera man or woman can’t be behind the camera so they’re in another room, and that’s weird for us because you have a relationship with them.’
He says that in ‘true Holby style we make the most of it,’ and thinks viewers will see very little difference to the Holby they’re used to. ‘They make it look amazing,’ he says.
Lockdown gave the writers time to come up with what Bob describes as ‘an avalanche of stories.’ ‘It’s really exciting stuff across the board,’ he says, ‘And everyone has a story.’
The episodes have been trimmed down to 40 minutes long because it takes much longer to film them under the covid restrictions, but Bob says when he first read the script for the first episode he thought, ‘How much can you pack in? It’s like a rollercoaster. I was getting emotional just reading it.’
The first episode is set two weeks after the events of the last one we saw back in August (Essie’s death and Ric’s surgery), just as the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic strikes Holby – and the way the hospital copes with that is the centre of the episode.
Bob told us: ‘Rather than it be a public information film for the NHS, it was important to voice all the different reactions that care workers and doctors and nurses would have towards covid.’
It was important to honour the work of the NHS and Bob says being able to pay this tribute ‘was an absolute honour. We just pay homage to the NHS on behalf of Holby City.’
The episode also sees Sacha reacting to losing Essie – and it’s fair to say that he’s not handling it well. ‘When they talked to me about it they said we want the reaction to Essie’s death to be something extreme, because they felt it would be extreme, not just given the fact that you lose the love of your life, but also the manner in which she died in that last episode,’ he says.
Grief has made Sacha totally lose his way. ‘All the things Sacha would normally do, all the empathy, all the compassion he shows for people, are like kryptonite to him because he just cannot escape this grief he has for her. It’s like being in a tunnel and you can’t find your way out.’
Viewers will be shocked by some of Sacha’s behaviour, but Bob says, ‘Hopefully people will understand why he’s behaving so appallingly, because he really does. It’s very unlike Sacha. He knows it’s wrong, but he just can’t find a way out of it.’
To Bob it was important that ‘Essie’s death and Essie as a character deserves this kind of storyline. I’m not on social media but I was told the reaction to her death was so huge, which was great for me because I love her and I think she’s deserves all that. It’s good that it’s got this kind of storyline and it doesn’t half lead to stuff in the future, so it’s going to be good.’
Into this situation a new character is introduced who is going to cause a huge amount of trouble for Sacha in the weeks to come.
Jodie Rogers (Sian Reese-Williams) is a patient whom Sacha dismisses as being a hypochondriac – but Sacha’s actions have a massive impact on her and she ends up being involved in his life in a way that Bob promises will impact the whole hospital going forward.
‘The writers love a story that involves other characters,’ he says. ‘Their favourite stories at Holby are the ones that eventually develop – it’s like the Essie story, it touched everyone in the hospital, Arthur’s death as well touched absolutely everyone.’ As Jodie infiltrates all aspects of Sacha’s life, Bob promises that it’s going to be fun to watch: ‘Jodie being on the ward is just gold, so it’s going to be interesting!’
While the opening episode is very intense and emotional, the humour and lightness which Holby has always brought into stories will soon be back – some of it provided by the reactions of Sacha’s friends to the arrival of Jodie. ‘It’s been a lot of fun’ Bob says. ‘Sacha doesn’t offer anything up as to why he’s behaving like he is, apart from the fact that Essie’s dead. So his friends are trying to psychoanalyse why he’s doing what he’s doing.’
Viewers love the friendship between Jac and Sacha, and that’s set to go through some tough times. ‘You will see us behaving in a way towards each other that you’re not used to,’ Bob warns, but adds, ‘What’s amazing about Sacha and Jac’s relationship is they can be appalling to each other and they somehow don’t fall out, it’s remarkable.
‘It’s a properly amazing friendship in that they can just ride through it and however bad it is Jac won’t go “Right, that’s it, sod you” – which other people do… We’ve had a lot of fun doing it.’
Bob can’t wait for Holby fans to see these new episodes. ‘We’re so blessed with our audience,’ he says. ‘They really are committed to it and it means everything to us. It’ll just be so great to be back!’
Sue Haasler is the author of five novels and the official BBC Holby City book, which you can read about here.
Holby City returns Tuesday November 10 at the later time of 8:15pm.
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