As sure as Christmas falls on December 25, there will be high drama on Coronation Street come turkey time. A shotgun wedding, perhaps, or an illicit romance; a return from the dead, & a life-saving transplant, or a beer drought at the Rover's Return. The man in the know is writer Stephen Lowe, but don't even think about asking him for details. The Street's festive storyline is a secret guarded every bit as-closely as the recipe for Betty's fabled hotpot

"It's a 45-character show," says Lowe of his Christmas yarn. "All I can say is that some of those characters will be having a difficult day"

No change there, then, from a writer whose other work for Granada led him into a series of stints on the 16-strong writing team.

He will admit to producing Deirdre's lover Rashid from Morocco and then bumping the character off; he will explain how a one-off gag was turned into the long- running Reg Holdsworth gnome storyline; but anything that has not been broadcast is not up for discussion.

What the Nottingham playwright will discuss, however, is his latest play. It opens at London's Hampstead Theatre on December 15. It is called Revelations. It is all about swingers.

If you are of a certain age, let me point out that swingers are not people who stand in front of mahogany gramophone cabinets and flick fingers to the beat of their Helen Shapiro 45s. They are what used to be called wife swappers, but in the 21st Century should more correctly be called spouse or partner swappers.

" It's a black comedy about a beginners' weekend for swingers at a Victorian folly in the Lake District," explains Lowe."! had started to write a tragic TV serial, but the television companies were nervous in case I wasn't going to be judgmental about swingers."

The writer was fascinated by the paradoxes of the swinger scene.

"Here are people whose sexual adventures do not involve deceiving their partners, yet groups of swingers are the most secretive or organisations, terrified of exposure I found out that in Bridlington a woman took her husband to court over their divorce settlement. It emerged that he had introduced her to the swinger scene. The tabloids got on to this. and everybody involved was exposed. None of the people involved had committed any crime, yet the witch-hunt was on."

You thought swinging was like crushed velvet jackets and avocado bathroom suites - a very Seventies phenomenon. Well, Lowe's research suggests the practice is booming. He came across swinger groups for over-6os, scuba-swingers, fancy-dress swingers, Blackpool guest-house swingers.

Lowe even discovered one source (and this should get you considering your neighbours with renewed curiosity) which lists 900 couples in Nottingham. "And you can never find anybody who admits to being a swinger, adds Lowe. "That's how secretive the thing is. One of the codes for groups is, "Do not ask too many questions of other participants or they will think you are a journalist and ask you to leave'.

"The play is asking how well we understand our desires and whether these people want sex or another kind of relationship. Although it's a black comedy it goes into questions of love." Going back to his original idea for TV the writer is not being judgmental. But you sense frustration at the peculiarly British attitude to these things and the traditional attitudes of the Sunday red-top tabloids which pretended to be scandalised by such behaviour while building circulation on the back of it.

Stephen Lowe, 55, was born in Sneinton, the son of a labourer He grew up in a neighbourhood of back-to-back housing and the family moved to Manvers Court. Before everyone realised the problems of high-rise urban living, he recalls, the place seemed "like Hollywood".

He began gravitating to the stage while still in shorts. joining Nottingham's Co-op Arts Theatre youth group aged nine. "The group's previous generation had included John Bird and John Turner I loved the place, and even slept there at night. I believed I was going to be an actor.

After Mundella Grammar and Birmingham University (BA in English and theatre studies) Lowe's first professional job took him as an actor-director to Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre, where he worked under Alan Ayckbourn.

Throughout his early career, he did other things to help keep his personal show on the road. At various times he was a shepherd in North Yorkshire ("God, it was cold"), an employment agency exec and an assistant clerical officer with the former Department of Social Security.

It wasn't long before he left acting behind. "When I finished University I took a company to the Edinburgh Festival, but I was becoming more interested in writing. "As an actor you usually get only one part in a play but as a playwright you can pretend to be all the characters, and still be in the bar at 7.30."

The big break came at his home town theatre, Nottingham Playhouse, where his first stage play Touched was staged by Richard Eyre (later Sir Richard, the last director of the Royal National Theatre). Eyre's regime at the Playhouse is remembered for his championing of new writers, and before long Lowe's work (Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. Tibetan Inroads, etc) was being taken up by theatres as important as the Royal Court and by directors of the stature of Bill Gaskill and Stephen Daldry His most recent stage play. Alchemical Wedding, was premiered at Salisbury Playhouse by Jonathan Church, the Nottingham lad who later went on to run Birmingham Rep - where Lowe's epic A Certain Crusade is due for a production next spring.

Aside from Coronation Street his writing for television includes Dalziel and Pascoe (the former, played by Warren Clarke, being the stand-out character in current cop shows) and a plush adaptation of Stendhal's Scarlet and the Black.

He has also been working with Nottingham writer Michael Eaton on a screenplay for The Band Apart, a film about the early anarchists.

The theatre is ever-present in Lowe's life, which he divides between homes in Nottingham and the Languedoc. He is married to the actress Tanya Myers. His son from his first marriage is an assistant director at the Royal Shakespeare Company; his elder daughter is studying theatre in Manchester; younger daughter Martha is almost a trade veteran at just nine years old - she has just spent three weeks filming the medical soap Doctors and boasted to her dad that she had been allocated her own Winnebago on set

Another member of the "family" is his own theatre company Meeting Ground, which is collaborating with overseas companies in a project for the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania. Lowe's interest in the arts and culture goes well beyond his theatre and screen work. He is chairman of the Arts Council in the East Midlands and therefore a member of the council of governors at Arts Council England.

The role follows his acting chairmanship of what was East Midlands Arts, one of whose prime objectives was to find better working space. Hence the move from cramped Loughborough offices to more spacious headquarters in Nottingham - what Lowe describes, in regional terms, as "the centre of things".

Other priorities, he says, are to do a lot more for rural Lincolnshire, to promote the funding of artists as well as buildings, and to spread the word - already understood in cities like Glasgow and Newcastle - that investing in culture is good for the community, in that creative individuals and organisations will stay put

"I think we should be concentrating in bridging the gap between university and a career in London so that these creative people remain in the community," he says.

As a creative person who remained in his community, Lowe was due at Hampstead Theatre this week to help artistic director Anthony dark prepare the premiere Revelations. Before that, he was due in Manchester for a Coronation Street writers' conference.

"We get together every three weeks to discuss storylines. Unlike a lot of other soaps, it is very much a soap for writers'. Getting a commission for an episode is a bit like 'Consequences' you can set up a story not knowing where it is going to go once another writer becomes involved." As far as Christmas is concerned, the main thing is that you and I don't know where the story is going. Not for another few weeks.

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