In conversation with the BAFTA-winning; Writer, Producer & Director -Tony McHale.

Tony co-created Holby City which he won a BAFTA, plus many more shows including writing over 100 episodes for EastEnders…

Head picture of the auther, producer and director Tony McHale
Picture: Tony McHale

This week on The Entertainment Engine podcast we welcome the UK writer, producer and Actor — Tony Mchale to the show. Tony Mchale’s work is known to virtually everyone.

He has spent over 40 years as a screenwriter, working on some of the most well-known UK dramas, many that still appear on our screens today including;

EastEnders, Holby City, which he co-created and for which he also won a BAFTA, The Bill, Casualty, Silent Witness, Trial and Retribution, Dalziel and Pascoe, Waking the Dead and many more, as well as his own thrillers Resort To Murder and Headless.

Tony’s career started in theatre and recently he has returned to that world to direct various plays and musicals including his own satirical look at fame — Bloodbath The Musical and more recently All Or Nothing which transferred to the West End.

However Tony was not satisfied with all his wonderful achievements, his years of experience both writing and in life kept on pushing him towards writing his own book — so that is what he’s done.

He’s used his imaginative story-telling to create a captivating novel that can only be described as a ‘page turner’.

And he has not just written one book there are more to come. His extensive writing career and diverse life, coupled with his unique understanding of how to keep a reader wanting more, is a winning combination.

The BBC broadcasting building London England
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Tony McHale is a British actor, writer, director and producer, who is known for starring in Coronation Street and also known as a “stooge” to Jeremy Beadle on Game For A Laugh and later Beadle’s About.

He trained at the Rose Bruford College.

He also enjoyed a long stint as a writer/story consultant/director on the top-rated BBC1 soap opera EastEnders from its conception to the mid-1990s.

He co-created BBC medical drama Holby City, and served as its executive producer and showrunner from 2007 to 2010. Tony also served as a core writer on numerous other TV dramas.

Early life

Tony was born Anthony John Wright in Wibsey a suburb of Bradford in West Yorkshire. His father Gordon Wright was a police officer and road safety specialist who was awarded an MBE for his work.

His mother Madeline Wright was a school teacher. He attended Buttershaw St Pauls Church Primary School where he passed his eleven plus and went on to Hanson Grammar School.

Early career

On leaving Rose Bruford’s in 1972, McHale’s first professional acting job was on a TV commercial for Guinness.

He then joined the Q20 Theatre Company that was based in his home town of Bradford.

Primarily a children’s theatre company that toured and performed in schools (he actually performed at his old primary school Buttershaw St Paul’s where his mother was still a teacher), the company also did adult plays that they toured around Yorkshire.

Whilst working for Q20 he landed a minor role in the cult film That’ll Be The Day which was filmed on the Isle of Wight.

There was never any serious thought at this time of becoming a writer, but McHale did both write and direct various productions for the Q20 company.

London Westend Theatre show, with a full capacity audience
Photo by Vlah Dumitru on Unsplash

In the late 70s and early 80s, McHale acted in literally dozens of television commercials for such brands as Argos, Tesco, British Airways, Fray Bentos, Midland Bank, McVities, Worthington ‘E’, Tetley’s beer, Valspar paints, Ford cars as well as more Guinness commercials.

He also worked on numerous corporate films as well as directing at various drama schools.

In 1982 he was asked to appear in a hidden camera sketch for the very popular Saturday night show Game For A Laugh. He worked on a number of hidden camera stunts before the show morphed into Beadles About in 1986.

He continued to work on that show until its end in 1996.

In the late 80s, McHale made weekly appearances on the satellite magazine programme Sky By Day, mainly as their DIY expert (he freely admits he knows nothing about DIY) and occasional presenter alongside Jenny Hanley and Tony Blackburn.

Check out the full episode below with the conversation with Tony McHale;

Writing and TV career

In the 70s McHale started writing TV dramas on spec. In 1978 he was commissioned by the BBC to write an original three-part thriller — Dog In The Dark.

Like so many commissioned scripts this was never produced, but it enabled him to get an introduction to the Cecily Ware Literary Agents, who are still his agents today.

Various other TV dramas were developed, but none with any great success. Then because of something he heard on Capital Radio’s late-night phone-in show, Anna And The Doc, he decided to write a radio play, again on spec, called Get It Off Your Chest.

This was immediately commissioned by the BBC for Radio 4’s Afternoon Play and was the start of a number of other radio plays throughout the earlier 80s — No Get Out Clause, Son From Soho and Still Life.

It was these plays that brought his writing to the attention of Julia Smith and Tony Holland who were in the process of developing a long term drama (i.e. a soap) for the BBC.

When McHale was first introduced to the project, mid 1984, it was called East 8 and no cast was attached.

McHale became a regular writer on the show that was eventually transmitted in February 1985 with the title — EastEnders.

During his time with EastEnders he went on to the storyline, story consult and also direct the programme as well as being the first writer to write 100 episodes.

In 1994 he was commissioned to write an eight-part thriller originally entitled Brighton Boy.

During the course of the production, McHale took over as director and the serial was transmitted the following year under the title Resort To Murder winning an award at the Cologne Film Festival.

He then went on to write on a number of films for both ITV and the BBC — Silent Witness (An Academic Exercise, The World Cruise, The Fall Out, Closed Ranks, Running On Empty, Ghosts, Hippocratic Oath) Waking The Dead, Dalziel And Pascoe, Second Sight, Trial And Retribution, also Murphy’s Law starring James Nesbitt and the six-part spin-off from The Bill Beech Is Back.

Theatre and Novels

Although his original aim was the theatre, his theatre credits are nowhere as plentiful as his screen credits. His radio play Still Life was adapted for the theatre in 1988 and enjoyed a short run at Hampstead.

For his next theatre venture wasn’t until 2007 when he directed his own musical Bloodbath The Musical.

This rock musical with music by David Young and Jules Maguire had featured in a totally different form in the TV show Headless. The show went onto have a run at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Since the McHale directed All Or Nothing, a musical by Carol Harrison about the 60s mod band The Small Faces. The show toured successfully before having a short run in the West End.

Tony Mchale book cover — “Beck Le Street”

McHale has finished his first novel, a thriller entitled — Beck le Street;

“When the law of the land fails to deliver justice, justice can become brutal and … fatal.

Sixteen years ago after an argument with his father, sixteen-year-old Charlie Ashton left Beck le Street, vowing never to return. Now sixteen years later he is reluctantly drawn back into this incestuous community when his estranged father is charged with the murder of his mother.

Charlie’s need to catch the killer destroys the thin veneer of 21st Century normality that masquerades as village life, revealing the raw violence that lurks just beneath the surface.

Does he run, fight or join them? Whatever — he learns there are vigilantes and then there is Beck le Street.

Moving forward whats next?

Over the last decade, Tony has been involved in the development and production of dramas in India, Dubai, New Zealand and South Africa, whilst still developing ideas for British TV.

He has also lectured at many institutions on TV writing, directing and producing.

Tony is working on a second novel as we speak so, I'm looking forward to reading his next novel.

It was a real pleasure to speak with Tony and he still has the energy and enthusiasm after many years of continuing along the entertainment path, there is something to be said for good energy and that was certainly the basis of our conversation on The Entertainment Engine podcast this week!

By Peter Moore

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Peter Moore

Peter Moore

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Peter has lived in New York, Los Angeles and London working in the music, film and TV industries for over three decades helping creators realize their vision.