Wednesday 3 February 2016
Viewers of hit BBC television hospital drama Holby City will soon be following storylines influenced by a talented University of Northampton graduate.
Gemma Copping has landed the role of story assistant on the popular long-running show, which regularly attracts in excess of four million viewers.
The job sees her involved at every stage of story creation, including generating ideas for a plot, planning its development and research, before handing over a fully formed idea to the show’s scriptwriters. Gemma and her team work on long-running plot lines that can span entire series, as well as stories for individual episodes.
While talent, hard work and a knack for networking has seen Gemma go from a fresh-faced Creative Writing and Drama graduate to working on one of the BBC’s most popular shows, she credits her time at the University for her success.
“Any of my achievements, whether they be personal, academic or professional, are a direct result of my time spent at the University of Northampton,” she said.
“The academic staff are interested in your work and have the knowledge and experience to guide and help you. The lecturers will do everything they can to assist you in your writing career, they teach you things you’ll never forget and help you to hone your skills.
“Attending the University was the best decision I ever made, not only because of how I developed as a writer, but how I developed as a person. I was supported in every aspect of my life and career, and became self-sufficient and confident.”
Gemma’s first break in the working world came when she attended a guest lecture by producers Sarah Best and Stevie Lee, during the University’s Subject Futures Week event in 2014. Subject Futures Week sees industry professionals pass on expert tips to undergraduates.
Following the lecture, Gemma thanked the producers and was given their business cards. The following day, Gemma got in touch, and shortly afterwards had secured a role as a runner on a film set. She continued to work for Sarah in various roles, picking up valuable industry experience along the way.
Gemma then went on to study Television Fiction Writing at Glasgow Caledonian University, which was funded by a scholarship from Warner Brothers, and saw her use her networking skills again to land her Holby City role.
She said: “During my scholarship industry placement I worked for two producers who used to work on Holby City. As soon as I told them I wanted to work on a continuing drama they contacted Holby’s series producer and told him about me.”
This, plus a recommendation from Red Planet Productions’ head of drama, who had previously produced Holby City, led to Gemma securing an interview for the job.
While Gemma is settling into her new role, she has one eye on her future development.
“I want to stay in continuing drama,” she said. “If I can work my way up at Holby City, that would be amazing. I would love to, one day, have more involvement with the scripts as an editor or a writer. But right now, I am just excited to spend every day involved in creating stories and utilising all the skills I learned at University in the real world.”
Gemma, who grew up on a council estate in Basildon, Essex, and achieved moderate GCSE and A-level grades, has some sound advice for those who might think university is an unrealistic dream.
She said: “It was never an expectation for me for me to go to university, and certainly not to get a Master’s.
“But if you want it enough and you are willing to work for it, you can make it happen.”