It's been a busy time for former Rovers Return landlady Denise Welch since quitting the soap. Apart from acting and presenting, she's now started her own production company.

DENISE Welch was having a busy day, coping with problems thrown up by "a two-year-old, tonsillitis and Tim Healy". She didn't say which was more troublesome.

It's a busy time for the North-East actress, who's split her working time between acting and presenting since quitting as Rovers Return landlady Natalie in Coronation Street. Viewers in the Tyne Tees area can see her in the series Call Dr Jane, in which the medic in the title offers advice of medical matters and Welch provides beauty advice. The project is particurly close to her heart as her items are made by the production company, Flower Pot, she runs with producer Liz Treadway.

"The whole Flower Pot thing came about when I had an idea for a drama series some time ago," explains Welch. "I got into talks at Yorkshire Television and they were quite interested, so we set up a sort of development deal. I'd been talking to Liz, who's one of my closest friends, and she became interested. So we set up the company to produce that."

That drama series is still under discussion. In the meantime, they heard that the Call Dr Jane programme was looking for someone to produce beauty items. Flower Pot won the contract for the six-month afternoon series. Treadway's background in production at Tyne Tees and Welch's presenting experience gives Flower Pot expertise on both sides of the camera. Call Dr Jane also gives the company a useful foothold in the industry, enabling them to develop other ideas at the same time.

"We didn't intend for it to happen so quickly," says Welch. "But now we have a few irons in the fire, projects that we're developing." The tricky thing is balancing presenting and acting roles. She's already done a stint as a presenter on ITV1's This Morning programme, and fronted a DIY series for Tyne Tees.

Welch recognises that she won't present everything that Flower Pot produces. "I have to keep my normal career going. I can't always be on camera with Flower Pot productions. Besides, some ideas wouldn't be suitable subjects for me anyway. I'll only appear if I can do it and it would help the project," she says.

'Call Dr Jane is a good way to start. When I first heard it was lasting for six months, I thought there was no way I could stay up in the North-East for that long. But I come up for three days at a time and wallop off the filming. It's hard because I'm not just thinking of presenting, but of the money and the time too as it's our production company."

Forthcoming items include a look at the boom in male beauty treatments, including chest waxing. They've also found a woman to take part in a before and after feature on Botox. Welch admits she was tempted to undergo the treatment herself. Perhaps, considering comments that have greeted actress Leslie Ash's new look, she was wise to resist. "Poor girl, what has she gone through? If I'm going to have it, it won't be for Tyne Tees," she adds. "We've found someone to do it, and I think it will be fascinating to watch." She's struggling to maintain her own fitness regime, having signed on again at the gym three weeks ago and not had time to return to embark on her programme.

Husband Tim Healy, on the other hand, is on the Atkins Diet which, she notes, she spoke out against on ITV1's Tonight With Trevor McDonald series. "I was against in as a lifestyle, not as a way of losing weight. Tim has been on it four days and lost five pounds already," she says.

Both of them have plenty of acting work lined up. He's filming another Murder In Mind story for BBC1, returning as the detective inspector he played in a previous story, the first time a character has been brought back by popular demand in this series of one-off psychological thrillers. Then he's likely to be packing his bags and heading to Cuba for several months to film another series of Auf Wiedersehen Pet, successfully revived last year after a 20-year gap.

So far, there's no sign of a role in it for Welch. "My godfather writes it, Tim is in it, and my son's godfather is another star - and I never get in it. But my dad had a scene in the last series. It would be nice to be part of it," she says.

She's lined up to join the cast of ITV1's top-rated women's prison drama Bad Girls in the autumn. She can't talk about her role except to say "I am not going to be a prisoner". The series will reunite her with James Gaddas, who played her boyfriend in Coronation Street. She is also excited about the release of her first feature film, A Jealous God, a Sixties-set drama written by Room At The Top author John Braine, in which she co-stars with Cutting It star Jason Merrills.

All the while, she's developing ideas with Flower Pot. The name is based on a term of endearment that husband Tim calls her, and the black-and-white business cards hints at the company's geographical origin. Welch and Healy still have a home in the North-East, but are living in Cheshire. They moved when she was filming the Street in Manchester and stayed so their eldest son could continue going to school there. She doesn't intend for Flower Pot to make exclusively North-East projects, but hopes to use local talent whenever possible, on both sides of the camera.

"If the drama series, which is still in its early stages, took off, it would be based in the North-East," she explains. "We have made it quite clear that we would like to crew as much as possible from the area. It's not always completely possible, but if North-East actors are wanted and those living there are available, we'd use them. As an independent, you have some control and can insist on certain things. I can say that I'd like to make these casting suggestions and hope they'll be taken on board."

* Call Dr Jane is on Tyne Tees Television on Thursdays at 2.30pm.

Published: 01/02/2003