TV & Movies

BBC’s The Control Room Was Inspired By An “Intense” 999 Call

The show’s writer experienced a parent’s worst nightmare.

by Sophie McEvoy
Taj Atwal and Iain De Caestecker in The Control Room
BBC/Hartswood Films/Anne Binckebanck

There’s nothing like a bit of summer drama, and BBC’s The Control Room certainly delivers. The show’s writer, Nick Leather, describes it as a “thriller that’s also a love story and also a relationship drama. The Control Room is set to take viewers on a dramatic journey with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Iain De Caestecker, Dancing on the Edge’s Joanna Vanderham, and Hullraisers’ Taj Atwal.

The new BBC series focuses on emergency call-handler Gabe whose life is turned upside-down when he receives a desperate call from a women who seems to know him. Per the BBC’s synoposis, “With Gabe under pressure to work out who she is, he makes a decision that threatens to have devastating consequences…” Sounds like edge-of-your-seat stuff. But how did the concept initially come about? Is The Control Room based on a true story?

As it turns out, kind of. Five years ago, Leather woke one morning to find his youngest daughter unresponsive. “Her eyes were half open and we couldn’t wake her, and it was that horrible thing where you start panicking and we rang 999,” he told RadioTimes. Thankfully, she was back to normal by lunchtime. But that experience obviously shook Leather and it was at the forefront of his mind as he wrote his next story. “I just thought back to that [moment] and how, just for a few minutes, you don’t know if things are going to be alright and you’re so desperate,” explained Leather. “It’s such an intense relationship, such an intense conversation with [the emergency call handler], who you’ve never spoken to before, and you’re never gonna speak to again.”

The thought of neither knowing what the other looks like also struck Leather, He explained: “despite that anonymity you are so dependent on them.” In an interview with the BBC, the writer shared that his personal experience ringing 999 made him realise “how profoundly the person on the other end of the line can help you and affect you,” highlighting how their calm “manner is so important and is quite an intense relationship for a few minutes.”

When Leather came to write The Control Room with that experience in mind, he started with the caller and call room handler. “I then put a circle around it and tried to think of a way the relationship between those two people would be and a scene that involved them both,” he told the BBC. Eventually, he settled on putting these characters in a thriller, with the call handler’s life hanging in the balance.

The Control Room is airing on BBC One. Catch epsisode two on Monday, July 18 at 9 p.m. and the finale on Tuesday, July 19 at the same time.