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Ordinary Lies producer Nicola Shindler on a life in television

PUBLISHED: 10:11 07 November 2016 | UPDATED: 10:11 07 November 2016

The Ordinary Lies cast Joel Fry, Rebekah Staton, Jill Halfpenny, Con ONeil, Luke Bailey, Jennifer Nicholas, Matt Di Angelo, Kimberley Nixon, Griff Rhys Jones and Angela Griffin

The Ordinary Lies cast Joel Fry, Rebekah Staton, Jill Halfpenny, Con ONeil, Luke Bailey, Jennifer Nicholas, Matt Di Angelo, Kimberley Nixon, Griff Rhys Jones and Angela Griffin

Paul Heyes

Former Bury schoolgirl Nicola Schindler is one of the most powerful women in TV. As her new series Ordinary Lies begins Mairead Mahon caught up with her.

Nicola named her company Red Productions after her favourite football team, Manchester United Nicola named her company Red Productions after her favourite football team, Manchester United

Nicola Shindler founded one of the country’s most successful independent television production companies and she has been named as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK. But she will never fulfil her childhood dream.

‘No, it seems unlikely to happen now but when I was a child, I wanted to be that girl on the test card. Unfortunately, two things now count against it: they don’t have the test card anymore and I’m just a bit too old.’

That ambition aside, Nicola has certainly cut a swathe through the world of television. She began her career as a script editor at Granada in 1993, working on ‘Cracker’ and, after a period at the BBC, and in 1998 went on to found the award winning Red Productions in Manchester. What a success that has been.

It is responsible for some of the most popular dramas to hit the small screen in recent years, including ‘Scott and Bailey’, ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ and ‘Happy Valley’. The second eagerly awaited series of ‘Ordinary Lies’ has just begun on BBC One and promises to be as enthralling as the first with an array of complex characters. Each episode delves into one of their tangled webs of lies and deceit - just the sort of compelling story on which Red Productions has built its reputation.

Scott & Bailey and Last Tango in Halifax have been part of the Red Productions success story. Scott & Bailey and Last Tango in Halifax have been part of the Red Productions success story.

Not a bad record for a woman who, along with her family, was rejected by the television when they applied to be one of the teams on Ask the Family. A crushing blow, surely? ‘No! We got over it without too much trouble. No one was to blame - we took our failure collectively and we still loved watching television, we just accepted we wouldn’t be on it,’ laughs Nicola, who attended Bury Grammar School.

So, are there any plans to rectify this by appearing in one of her own brilliant drama productions - maybe in one of those cameo roles that Alfred Hitchcock once relished?

‘Absolutely not! Times change and I’m not even keen on having my photograph taken, let alone being filmed. I’m not an actor and I respect the professionalism of others. In the same way, I’m not a writer and nor do I aspire to be, writers are born and I’m not great with a blank sheet of paper in front of me but I can talk about an idea and where it should go,’ says Nicola.

She certainly can, and part of her success is in regularly gathering elements of the same team together. For example, she often works with writer Sally Wainwright and actors such as Lesley Sharp and Con O’Neil.

‘I have worked with many gifted and brilliant people and I tend to work with those I know, but it’s not essential. That said, if an actor like Lesley Sharp is willing to appear in a production, as she has done in Scott and Bailey and more recently, Paranoid, then I’m certainly not going to pass up the chance. Con O’ Neil stars in Ordinary Lies and, again, he is so good that I could happily work with him for the rest of my life.’

It has been remarked upon that Red Productions consists of many more women than men, so is that by design or accident?

‘Well, right now as I look across the office it’s true that I can only see two men and lots of women! It’s not by design though. A lot of those women are friends from my university days. Also, I think we attract women because many of us are mothers and try to be flexible when someone is experiencing the demands of juggling work with motherhood. I should know, as I have three children myself.’

The demands of those children and the job mean that Nicola is often in bed at 9pm and in fact, when the second series of Ordinary Lies airs, that’s where she’ll be watching it - from bed!

‘Alas, I do have to be on set at 6am so there’s no huge champagne party to celebrate. In fact, it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday but I do like to watch TV when I have time and that is usually when I’m in bed. It’s hard to follow the soaps because of other commitments but if there is one that I do try to make an effort with, it has to be the one set in Manchester: Coronation Street.’

Nicola’s sporting preference let her to named her company after Manchester United, so is she ever tempted to draw on the city’s great history for a future drama?

‘I’d like to. I read history at University and Lancashire has a rich seam of it such as Peterloo and The Pendle Witches. I want to continue to look at new and diverse voices, as it’s important not to get stuck in a rut. Manchester is a great place to make dramas, it has fantastic locations and a really creative vibe but I do think that the recent Brexit vote might make things more difficult in a practical sense.’

It’s hard to think of any difficulties that Nicola couldn’t overcome, although she is keen to point out that even though she is a powerful figure in TV she, like everyone else, has had her fair share of rejections.

Maybe so but, from the comfort of her bed this autumn, she’ll be able to lie back and watch yet another of her successes.

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