It was back in 2000 that we were first introduced to the staff and drama of BBC1's Doctors. Set in fictional Letherbridge, the show has proved a hit with daytime audiences and marks its 2,000th episode with an hour-long special on Wednesday, 16 February.
Diane Keen was first seen as Doctors’ practice manager Julia back in 2003 when she visited ex-husband Dr Brendan ‘Mac’ McGuire in hospital following his heart attack. Julia went on to have a torrid time with Mac, who she remarried before he left her for his second wife! Mac, played by Christopher Timothy, may be gone but Julia’s still going strong. TV Choice talks to Doctors’ longest-serving cast member, Diane…
In the 2,000th episode of Doctors there is a lockdown at the Mill. What happens?
There’s a potentially deadly virus which has to be kept away from the rest of the community. Once it goes into lockdown, Julia is in her office with one of the doctors.
Doesn’t one of the staff contract the virus?
Cherry gets the virus and is rushed to hospital.
You’re Doctors' longest-serving cast member. How do you feel about that?
It was not supposed to for as long as it’s lasted. It was a short stint and I was going in as a semi-regular and I think they were probably trying me out. I don’t think it was because they didn’t know my work, because I’ve been around long enough, but because it’s an ensemble piece. The characters have to work well together and I was coming in as a new character so they weren’t sure how that would work. But it did work and they asked me to stay.
Did you base Julia on anyone?
I suppose there has to be a little bit of us in all the parts we play, even though we try to think there isn’t. Julia was a mixture of several people that I knew because I’m unfamiliar with administrative positions. I would want to cut my wrists if I had to do something like that all the time. I’m just not cut out for that.
Julia’s exceptionally good at what she does, but what’s really interesting is that storyline that the lovely Barbara Dixon came in to do. She played one of Julia's oldest friends who she hadn't seen in years. They were young girls together in their late teens, early twenties. What’s so lovely, and I love these bits when they come along, it’s like a window into your back-story. It turns out they were naughty girls. They were groupies with one of the biggest groups. At one point the lead singer asked Julia to marry him. She said no, and Barbara Dixon’s character married him. I thought that’s great. Even though she may have seen sense and gone off down a different road, some of that person is still in there. So I do try and put that in whenever I possibly can in terms of her being feisty and not being pushed around. She was a wild child and there is still a bit of that in there somewhere.
And do you identify with Julia at all?
I would imagine the wild child comes in there. I would think if I’m being really honest, I was a bit of a rebel. As my cousin used to say, 'Rebel without a clue'! I can be organised if I’m absolutely pushed. In terms of being committed to what she does, that’s like me. And she’s a great one for having a laugh — she’ll go out with everybody to a club and bop herself stupid and dance around. That’s when it’s good to be able to use that back-story — that’s the groupie girl, because you don’t completely change your personality. You may have tempered it down a bit, but it’s there. In some respects I suppose I’m a bit like that as well.
Have you been surprised by Doctors’ success?
Not really. I think it’s really good and it’s a shame that we don’t get more publicity.
Doctors is a daytime show but should it move to a primetime slot?
It’s my belief that we should and I make no secret of it. I do think it’s more than good enough to hold its own in an evening slot. It’s like a little half hour film. We quite like not being called a soap, but we are a soap in the sense that we’re put on in the daytime and have a serial element, but we also have a complete story every day with a beginning, middle and an end. You can follow the arc and there’s a resolution. With our guest artists we have some wonderful big names, and even names that the public are not familiar with. We’re very lucky that we have wonderful performances from people who come up and do our show.