Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Old Grey Rope Trick

Even without Silly Week some of us on the starboard bow have been having fun with Ben Stephenson, Controller, (marvellous Orwellian title that) (of) BBC Drama Commissioning.

Some have remarked the obvious Left-wing bias about this story to which the BBC are naturally oblivious, and some its faux hipness, and some its incestuous and smug monoculture.
It may seem unfair to kick the BBC when it’s down, but one day I might find myself at the wrong time at a disco or in a pizza house that’s frequented by Jews, and so I count this as a bit of advanced retaliation.

Plus it’s all very, very silly.

Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, announced today that he has commissioned over 20 hours of original authored drama for BBC One next year.

The Silence, Luther (working title), A Passionate Woman, The Deep and Sherlock all demonstrate the BBC's commitment to make a full range of drama programmes that will entertain, challenge and engage audiences.

Ben Stephenson says: "I couldn't be more excited about the wealth of authored drama that I have commissioned for the first half of 2010. It is a credit to the writers and producers of this country that so much astonishing work is coming through.

"All of these pieces start and end with a writer's startling vision, whether it is Fiona Seres's and Simon Donald's brilliantly-imagined serials, the first thrilling series from Neil Cross, an incredibly personal piece of writing from Kay Mellor or the sheer chutzpah of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's modern take on Sherlock Holmes.

"Following on from the success of Peter Bowker's Occupation....

Bowker himself said this about the piece:

"It isn't a message piece in the sense that it can be boiled down to a simple take on the invasion of Iraq and its consequences. It's a story about three men who are united in battle, but are torn apart by the aftermath."

Coincidentally, the Left-leaning Independent’s TV critic liked this show.

With its everyday story threads of the Iraq war shattering a marriage in the post-war charity effort, the suicidal depression of one civvy-street veteran and the other’s dream to become a mercenary leeching off the reconstruction budget it’s hard to see any common theme or stance that the production took, though it’s certainly interesting to see a mainstream media outlet intimating – despite the powerful pressure that must undoubtedly have been brought to bear on the BBC by the bellicist establishment - that not all may be perfect about the post-invasion settlement. Superb.

…and Russell T Davies's Torchwood,..

If anything stood the slightest chance of reviving the tired-out old monsters-from-outer-space meme, it would be introducing lots of all kinds of subversive sex into any and every part of the series and tying it all in with not one but two children’s programmes.

And it works!

…I hope these new commissions demonstrate the BBC's renewed commitment to drama series and serials and give us a reason to be proud of all the talent coming out of Britain at the moment."

Full programme information

The Silence, 4 x 60-minute serial, written by Fiona Seres, made by Company Pictures

A unique coming-of-age drama about a sheltered 18-year-old deaf girl who unwittingly witnesses a murder and consequently becomes the key witness.

Combining the weakness of youth and the vulnerability that disability endows is a master-stroke: but making her the witness to a murder and building up tension around the potential threat that the killer might pose is exactly the kind of fresh thinking that belies all the partisan and unfair criticism that the BBC has suffered over past years.

A Passionate Woman, 2 x 90-minutes, written by Kay Mellor, made by Rollem

Kay Mellor's play adapted for TV into two stories: the first focuses on a mother's affair in the Fifties and the second is set in the Eighties and looks at the consequences of that affair 30 years on. A Passionate Woman is a very personal look at the changing role of women over the last 50 years.

They’re going to have to be very careful about this one to get it right.

The 1950’s is a notoriously difficult era to dramatize compellingly because the decade lacks so much of the vibrant atmosphere with which later years have equipped the contemporary playwright. Without the colourful presence of: modern high levels of violent crime; serial adultery; commonplace infidelity; routine divorce; mass illegitimacy and fatherlessness; publicly–funded and easily accessible abortion and the growth of new and virulent venereal diseases it’s going to be tricky to establish any sense of sexual, moral or physical danger for the heroine to overcome or at least to measure her very natural desires against.

I can only hope that Mellor employs some subtle storytelling trick here such as having the people around the protagonist behaving no better within their own their own prejudices and belief-systems than she does. Might I suggest traditional; and indeed Christian, marriage as a fertile soil for this kind of contrast?

To be still more daring it might be possible to hint (and hinting alone would be all that the BBC would surely choose to do) that some of those in power over her and who will inevitably discover and condemn her infidelity should criticise her whilst secretly not practicing the morality that they themselves publicly uphold and enforce?

Luther (working title), 6 x 60-minute series, written by Neil Cross, made by BBC Drama Production

A dark psychological crime drama in which John Luther, a detective struggling with his own terrible demons, might just be as dangerous as the depraved murderers he hunts...

Now that’s what I’m talking about! A tormented and possibly even villainous detective (possibly leading us to suspect that he is the killer or is at least in some way parallels his evil mindset) is just what the crime drama needs to be rescued from its ever-growing obscurity its otherwise inevitable demise.

Each week, the killer's identity will be known to the audience, making every story both a ticking clock and a psychic duel between hunter and quarry…

Brilliant! Why, it would invert the whole genre, and the audience would find itself in the know and following the sleuth’s investigations and see in real time how the murderer put his off his trail. One could almost find oneself rooting for the killer’s evasions to be successful; at least possibly for a while. Now if they only make Luther an unassuming and even doltish character to disarm the killers’ suspicions then the BBC could be onto a masterpiece.

– who have more in common than either would like to think.

Shared characteristics, tastes and motivations between hunter and hunted: it’s got award ceremony written all over it. I can imagine the camerawork doing much to promote this: perhaps shots where the profiles or silhouettes of the antagonists merge or meet, and perhaps by contrast events that emphasize their separation and distinction. I’m thinking of perhaps bars separating them, but who is in prison and who is free? Also perhaps doves taking flight might be worth a try.

I must warn you however that I can foresee hard times up ahead for the author. He’s used the name of the much-revered founder of the Reformation and the hero of a worldwide Christian sect and the theological father of the state religion of Britain. The Church is likely to be very harsh in its disapprobation of Cross for this script and he may find many doors to the worlds of the powerful and the wealthy closed to him for the rest of his life as a result. One simply must admire such integrity in the creation of new work.

The Deep, 5 x 60 minute serial, written by Simon Donald, made by Tiger Aspect Productions

A thriller set far below the Arctic ice, the action follows the crew of an oceanographer's submarine as they search the final frontiers of Earth for unknown and remarkable life forms. When inexplicable circumstances cause catastrophe to strike, the crew find themselves stranded with no power, limited oxygen and no communication with the surface. And they are completely alone – or so they think...

I must say that the concept of a small group of explorers or scientists in some distant and hazardous environment; isolated from the rest of humanity and in peril from some unknown and possibly unearthly threat came right out of left field. It absolutely blindsided me because it was so unexpected. This is like standing at the threshold of a new epoch as the very idea throbs with the potential of a new and compelling way of making drama that could almost become a genre in its own right. I have to say I can’t wait to see this one on the screen - though I predict that The Deep will have its inferior imitators more or less straight away.

Just one point, though.

It might be the cherry on the top of this virginal feast if the mysterious threat (whatever it might turn out be) was in some way man-made. It could perhaps be the product or bye-product of military experiments or industrial pollution; or even the product of military experiments with industrial pollution. And just to give it that yet pioneering up-to-the-minute finish that all fine drama requires it might even be eventually discovered that the authorities themselves knew about the threat but that they buried the secret (but not the danger that it contained) out of some powerful and convention-defying motivations such as financial cost or concerns about the diplomatic consequences of being discovered. They might - and I admit that it’s asking a lot of even such a courageous institution as the BBC - even imply covert collusion between the American and British governments to keep the international community unaware of the danger that they had created at the highest level.

The early 1980s might be a suitable time for such a back-story, but I’m only guessing.

And finally…

Sherlock, 3 x 90 minutes, co-created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, made by Hartswood Films

A contemporary take on the classic stories, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the new Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as his loyal friend, Dr John Watson. Sherlock is a thrilling, funny, fast-paced adventure series set in present-day London.

I’m speechless.

Just make it so, and be quick about it!

The only niggling concern that I have about this one is the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes in any reimagining of these great stories. I’d suggest – if I had the power – that they might reconsider the role for someone else more experienced in this kind of thing, such as: Christopher Plummer, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton, Larry Hagman, John Cleese, Peter Cooke, Barrie Ingham, Daffy Duck or Kermit the Frog,

I’m at a loss here in the face of all this BBC originality.

As a conservative I just can’t get my head around the idea of doing something differently from the things you’ve done before.

You know how it is with us paleocerebral types: you see an idea, and if it doesn’t kill you, hang onto it at all costs. Marriage. Families who bring up their own children. Living in your own country. Owning property. Equality before the law. Working for a living. Personal responsibility. Punishing lawbreakers. Having laws other than The Communications Act 2003. I can see how everyone connected with the BBC would get furious about anyone ever doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year as people such as I do.

I can’t ever hope to match the BBC’s legendary innovation and endless revolution in time for the 2011 new drama season…

But I can try.

Mum’s Militia.

In the face of growing fascist power on the Continent, a diverse and raggle-taggle bunch of amateurs comes together to face down the racist threat. They are a representative cross-section of bourgeois British life: an effete and defeatist impoverished public schoolboy; an officious tool of the banking system; an insane and gung-ho war veteran; a number of profiteering small businessmen, corrupt clergymen and a venial police officer. The only bona fide decorated war hero amongst them is a pacifist.


A heart-warming view of the underside of life from within one of Britain’s notorious detention centres in which cheerful and essentially good working class men strive to retain their dignity in the face of brutal guards and a corrupt and oppressive judicial system.

Broken Bauhaus.

Trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage, the demented veteran of an Asian land war bends ever-lower under the pressure of unceasing requests on his time from ruthlessly demanding middle-class clients and of threats to his self-image as a respectable businessman in the South Coast hospitality industry from his poorly-paid multi-cultural staff. Finally, concussed in an industrial accident caused by unsafe working practices, his damaged mind at last shatters and all his ancient, militaristic resentment and sexual angst force their way to the surface in an at once painful and compelling montage of his stream-of-consciousness invective, hurt, and historical revenge.

LA Dolce Vita.

Oppressed by industrial pollution and the crisis of capitalism, a couple build a sustainable and carbon-neutral alternative to the destruction of the planet in the heart of the climate changing military-industrial complex; a heart to which they place the dagger of goats…

Repeat as necessary…


James Higham said...

Cherry on top of a virginal feast?

Still chewing this one over. :)

Beware of Geeks bearing GIFs said...

That's why I cancelled my licence - even after 5 seconds of listening to any channel had me reaching for the remote again, blood pressure high and swearing.

And not just at the Beeb either, although they can be the worse with their continual worship of the deity of diversity.

DVDs and internet streamed video around the house for me thanks - one advantage of being a geek!

David A said...

Hi NorthNorthWest.

They say that if a zillion chimpanzees typed on a zillion BBC typewriters for a zillion years, they could write the complete works of Karl Marx. Or something. Are you suggesting, by the picture,
that all it takes to write a pithy BBC drama is a single chimpanzee writing on a single BBC typewriter? Isn't that a bit insulting to the chimpanzee?

I found many typographical errors in your resumé of the drama entitled, "Luther (Working Title)". Possibly this was due to it being written by the chimpanzee? I do hope you will forgive me for being a pedant, but I have taken the liberty of correcting your prose as follows:

Luther (working title), 6 x 60-minute series, written by Neil "Makes U" Cross, made by British Brainwashing Corporation's TrueLife (TM) DocuDrama Productions.

A dark-skeined psycho-babble thought-crime TrueLife (TM) DocuDrama in which right-wing double-barrelled-squared snob, John-Luther Working-Title, a defective struggling with his own terrible lemons - he's a closet Conservative - might just be as dangerous as the depraved homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, global-warming-denialistic, war-mongering, cuddly-polar-bear-trapping, baby-kidnapping-and-eating, hyphen-hating, right-wing fascist-pig, Pro-lifers that he hunts - namely, six "outed" Conservatives. Each week, the Conservative's identity will be "outed" to the baying public, making every story both a tickling cock and a psychic duel between hunter and hunter – who have more in common than either would like to think!!!!!

Perhaps John-Luther Working-Title could wear a dirty mack - to go with his depraved calling - and perhaps walk with a stoop, and perhaps he could smoke a cigar - (outdoors of course) - but maybe that would be elitist. How about him smoking a cheroot (outdoors of course) and driving an old Mercedes (outdoors of course but converted to LPG or powered by a windmill) and perhaps he could have the rank of "lootenant"? This is a difficult one. Let's see... the lootenant and the braying pubic already know the identity of the fascist pig; all the lootenant needs to do is to "out" the so-and-so. How about calling the series, "John-Luther Working-Title-Columbo?"

Just a suggestion.


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