WATCH: Hoghton man's rise from soap addict to working on scripts for Emmerdale, Casualty and River City
When Stuart Cheetham watched Neighbours for the first time in 1988, it sparked a whole new world of possibilities.
Engrossed in the drama of the Australian soap, Stuart quickly began watching all the serial dramas: Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Brookside and EastEnders.It was then, at the age of eight, he knew he wanted a career in TV. Whilst he initially considered being an actor, it was a random flick through a university prospectus and a prod from a friend which set the ball rolling for a life in script editing and producing.
The 38-year-old, who grew up in Hoghton, is now series producer of Scottish soap River City, after spending several years climbing the ladder on soaps such as Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Hollyoaks.
He says: “It all started in 1988 when I used to play out with my friends. They would all go in at 5.35pm to watch Neighbours and I’d be left on my own, so out of boredom I thought I’d watch it. That was in the days when Scott and Charlene were still just dating. I soon became addicted and started watching all the other soaps too. I used to write to the actors and collect their signed photos. It is funny, as now I am working with some of the stars I collected autographs of as a child. One of them is Jacqueline Leonard, who played Lorraine Wicks in EastEnders and is now in River City.“When I said I wanted to be an actor, no-one took me seriously. At sixth firm I wanted to be a lawyer but I didn’t have the grades. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do so a friend flicked through a UCLan course booklet and told me to stick my finger on a random page, so I did. My finger landed on a media course and as soon as I saw it, I realised that was what I wanted to do. I knew I had a passion and I should turn it into a career. It was like I was destined to do it and I have never looked back.”
After completing his A-levels at Hutton Sixth Form, Stuart obtained a degree in media studies with business management, specialising in TV production at the Warrington Collegiate, which was then part of the University of Manchester.He graduated in 2002 and shortly afterwards, did five weeks with ITV’s Stars in Their Eyes as a runner.
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Stuart recalls: “My job was simply to get water for the dancers and clean the studio floor. I found it fascinating because it was my first TV job and I was so star struck. I was working with Cat Deeley and I also worked on the Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes. I remember having to pretend to play the drums for Lucy Benjamin as she impersonated Gwen Stefani.”Stuart them moved on to become a runner on Most Haunted Live, on Living TV, before being promoted to researcher.
He adds: “I went around the country visiting different ‘haunted’ locations for the live shows, setting up ouija boards and researching the associated ghost stories. I was quite open minded about the haunted activity and was too busy focusing on my job in a live situation to be frightened, but there were a couple of incidences which freaked me out. Once when we were at the Yorkshire Coal Museum I had to hide in a cupboard during a seance. I suddenly felt so hopeless and started to cry. When I explained what happened, I learned that it was exactly how the children felt when they were trapped down the mines.”After 18 months, Stuart got his first drama job as a researcher on Emmerdale, ensuring the factual accuracy of all stories in particular those requiring medical or legal expertise. Some of the storylines he worked on included Alice Dingle’s non-hodgkin lymphoma death and the trial of Steph Stokes after she killed her brother.He then moved to Coronation Street as a researcher, involved in David Platt pushing his mum down the stairs and also researching Maria Connor’s still birth.Stuart returned to Emmerdale after a year - this time moving up to script editor, working on Jack Sugden’s funeral, Aaron Livesy and Jackson Walsh’s train crash and the fire which killed Terry Woods and Viv Hope.
After three years, Stuart joined Channel Four soap Hollyoaks as a script editor, tackling the end of serial killer Silas Blissett and Dr Paul Browning, and John Paul McQueen’s rape, some of which helped it win Best Soap at the British Soap Awards in 2014.
He adds: “I love getting my hands on a story and working with writers to tell it in the most exciting and intriguing way possible.”“I enjoy getting to the nitty gritty to make sure stories are as compelling as they can be. I love finding new ways of telling stories and satisfying audience expectations.”In December 2013, Stuart moved to Cardiff to join the team at BBC One’s Casualty and soon became story producer, where he was pivotal in bringing Duffy back, as well as giving Connie Beauchamp cancer and Glen Thomas a brain tumour. He was also heavily involved in the 30th anniversary helicopter crash.Some of his work contributed to Casualty winning Best Drama at the National Television Awards last year.He adds: “I love starting from a blank page with a group of characters to play with as anything is an option.“We have conferences with the writers and we all pitch our ideas. We don’t have any instructions to follow - we just create a blueprint and decide what happens to the characters. It is quite sadistic really, as their future is on our hands and that is quite exciting.”
Whilst at Casualty, Stuart embarked on two other projects in Cambodia, creating a 24-part detective series called Smart Girls and a film, Price of Love, which won an award.Stuart explains: “I was contacted by a mutual friend of Matthew Robinson, who used to be executive producer of EastEnders. He had moved to Cambodia and set up a production company, KMF, and wanted me to create a Khmer detective series for him. I created the series mostly from my flat in Cardiff and then Matthew invited me to go to Cambodia and watch it being filmed. Whilst there, I came up with an idea for a film called Price of Love, a romantic comedy in which a guy hires a prostitute to act as his girlfriend to stop his parents forcing him into a marriage and he then falls in love with her. “It took a year to make. I was only in Cambodia for two weeks, so I did most of it from home. Matthew involved me in so many aspects of the production – from casting to finding locations - and we just communicated via Skype and emails. The film won best film at the National Cambodia Film Festival in 2016, which was amazing.”
Stuart left Casualty last July to become series producer on River City in Glasgow. He adds: “It is interesting in so many different ways. I am still being creative, but I have far more responsibility than I’ve ever had before. I am a really passionate storyteller and that’s always at the forefront of everything I do. I get to tell long term stories, knowing they will captivate millions of people.“It’s impossible to pick a favourite show - all the programmes I have worked on are special in different ways. Emmerdale has a special place in my heart because it was my first drama, whereas Casualty was where I made my leap from script editor to story producer and that catapulted me to where I am now. River City means a lot to me as I have so much creative control and Hollyoaks was such a crazy place to work and I made a lot of friends for life there.”
Video supplied by KMF - trailer for Price of Love