Fields Of Gold
BBC 2002
Part One (no onscreen title)
TX : 8th June 2002
Script : Ronan Bennett and Alan Rusbridger
Director : Bill Anderson

Notes : Anna Friel is perhaps best known for her role as Beth Jordache in the Channel 4 soap opera Brookside and, in particular, for 'that' kiss with Nicola Stephenson. The role made more headlines when her character was imprisoned, along with her mother, for the murder and subsequent burial under the patio of her father… Other series she has appeared in include GBH, Cadfael (A Morbid Taste for Bones) and Tales From the Crypt (About Face).

· Phil Davis has appeared in numerous film and television series including Quadrophenia, Robin of Sherwood (King John in The Prophecy, The Betrayal and The Pretender) and Births, Marriages and Deaths. More recently he has appeared as DI Baird in The Safe House, as Archie Jones in the Channel 4 adaptation of Zadie Smith's White Teeth and played Chaz Hadley in Favours, an episode of BBC One's Murder in Mind.

· Max Beesley first came to public attention when he starred in the BBC's adaptation of the Henry Fielding novel Tom Jones in 1997 and managed to stay in the headlines due to a relationship with ex-Spice Girl Mel B.

· Over the past twenty-five years Tony Haygarth has appeared in a number of other telefantasy programmes including Count Dracula, Kinvig in which he played Des Kinvig, both seasons of The Borrowers, and The Wanderer in which he played Godbold. For the past five years he has played Vic Snow in ITV's Sunday evening drama Where the Heart Is. In 1995 he played Father Spode in The Prophecy, the first episode of the ITV anthology series Chiller.

Part Two (no onscreen title)
TX : 9th June 2002
Script : Ronan Bennett and Alan Rusbridger
Director : Bill Anderson

Notes : · Ron Cook also appeared in the BBC's 2002 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles as Barrymore, Sir Henry Baskerville's butler, and has been cast as Parker, Lady Penelope's chauffeur, in the forthcoming, live-action Thunderbirds movie.

· Ronan Bennett was also responsible for writing the highly-controversial Rebel Heart, the 2001 drama series that detailed the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland.

Bluffer's Guide to Fields of Gold

· FTW - Feed the World
A biotech company based in the Cayman Islands and responsible for the development of the genetically modified strain of wheat being tested on Hurst Farm. It supposedly contains added vitamins A and D and has anti-malarial properties.

· Horizontal gene transfer
The transfer of genetic material from one species to another. The possibility of it happening 'in the wild' is a hotly disputed subject with the scientific community, anti-GM protesters and multi-nationals all shouting very loudly…

· VRSA - Vancomycin-resistant staphylococcus aureus.
Most people will be more familiar with MRSA, the so-called 'hospital super bug,' which is generally treated with the antibiotic vancomycin. Strains of bacteria that are fully resistant to vancomycin are expected to evolve in the future, giving rise to the acronym VRSA.

· Zomede
In Fields of Gold, one of Britain's leading pharmaceutical companies. Responsible for the development of the Zomabiocyn antibiotic which Dr Tolkin illegally uses on his patients in a failed attempt to stop the spread of the VRSA bacteria.

Regular Characters
Portrayed By
Lucia Merritt
Anna Friel
Roy Lodge
Phil Davis
Karen Delage
Alphonsia Emmanuel
Nick Venner
William Hope
Mark Hurst
Max Beesley
George Hurst
Tony Haygarth
Gary McDonald
Dr Tolkin
Mark Strong
Senior Staff Nurse
Veronica Roberts
Mrs Hurst
Gwenllian Davies
Alan Buckley
James Fleet
Francis Chibnall
Thomas Wheatley
Ian Peck
David Schofield
Dave McArdle
Ron Cook
Rachel Greenlaw
Phyllis Logan
Andrew MacIntosh
Guy Henry
McArdle's PA
Emma Powell
Richard Elliott
Bradley Lavelle
Charlie Bell
Matthew Delamere
Deborah Miller
Julie Legrand
Benedict Cumberbatch
Chris Oatier
Paul Ritter
Mr Thirsk (Part 1 only)
Anthony Carrick
Mrs Thirsk (Part 1 only)
Naomi Frederick
Waitress (Part 1 only)
Claire Nicholson
Sir James Ferneyhough (Part 1 only)
Paul Freeman
CID Man (Part 1 only)
Robert Purdy
WPC (Part 1 only)
Andrea Lowe
Nurse (Part 1 only)
Morag Siller
Danielle Cassidy (Part 1 only)
Nikki Bedi
Zomede Employee (Part 1 only)
Kerry Elkins
Journalist (Part 1 only)
Alex Noodle
Dr Assengee (Part 1 only)
Paul Bhattacharjee
Rep (Part 1 only)
Stephanie Chambers
Stella (Part 2 only)
Sara Carver
Wilf (Part 2 only)
Michael Feast
Margaret Tolkin (Part 2 only)
Jane Arnfield
Elderly Man (Part 2 only)
Hugh Dickson
Waiter (Part 2 only)
Craig Stokes
Military Man (Part 2 only)
Graham Pountrey
Sir Roland Henry (Part 2 only)
Doyne Byrd
Ministry Officers (Part 2 only)
Adrian Schiller / Linus Staples
Army Officer (Part 2 only)
Tom Slobo
Army Doctor (Part 2 only)
William Scott-Masson
Policeman (Part 2 only)
Daniel Singer

After receiving a tip-off about a number of deaths in a country hospital, Roy Lodge and Lucia Merritt, old hack and photographer for The Post newspaper respectively, are despatched to investigate. Expecting to find nothing more than a Doctor killing his patients, events take an unusual turn when Lucia is kidnapped and her camera, containing photos of a meeting between the hospital's Dr Tolkin and Rachel Greenlaw, the head of corporate affairs at pharmaceutical company Zomede, is stolen.

As their investigations continue, they discover that Lucia's kidnappers and the mystery infection at the hospital are connected, in a conspiracy that not only involves Zomede, but also MI5 and the multinational corporation FTW. All of the links lead back to Hurst Farm, a test site for a new strain of genetically modified wheat…

Written by Ronan Bennett and Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian newspaper, the programme was mainly concerned with the possible threat that could be posed by GM foods, and the relationship between government, big business and the media.

In a particularly ironic twist, Fields of Gold found itself at the centre of a media frenzy in the weeks prior to its broadcast, due to the comments of Dr Mark Tester, a researcher into GM crops at Cambridge University, who had been asked to review the scientific content of the script. Accusing the script-writers of ignoring his recommendations, he went on to question the validity of many claims made in the programme and, in particular, the methods used by Mark Hurst to transfer the gene from hospital waste to the GM wheat.

Unsurprisingly, the resultant press frenzy managed to split along the usual lines, with The Times and The Daily Telegraph taking the side of Mark Tester and getting in some rather personal jibes at Bennett and Rusbridger. The Guardian and Observer, backing their own, took the opposing view with Ronan Bennett penning an article for The Observer on June 2nd in which he claimed Fields of Gold had 'become the centre of an ugly little conspiracy by those with a vested interest in discrediting it and personal grudges to settle.'

Also dragged into the debate was Lord May, president of the Royal Society who, in a Telegraph article on May 31st, was quoted as saying that the programme was a 'ludicrous piece of alarmist science fiction.' Rather ironic, as Alan Rusbridger had claimed that the inspiration for the story came from reading The Day of the Triffids to his daughter!

Whatever the merits of the programme, the resulting publicity seemed to do little for the viewing figures as the opening episode on June 8th was watched by only 5.7 million viewers, with 5.4 million tuning in for the second episode a night later which, rather disappointingly, had a fifteen minute news bulletin in the middle. Only 5 million people tuned in for the final half hour. To date, Fields of Gold hasn't been repeated on any channel or released on DVD or video.

Text © Kieran Seymour, 2002.