Roisin Muldoon blogs at But it can’t be from Dolly Clackett!
As you may have gathered from my previous guest blogs on New Tricks, I’m a bit of a sucker for police procedural drama. If there are women involved, even better.
I’ve long been a fan of the wonderful Cagney and Lacey, and so I was excited and interested to see what ITV’s new drama Scott and Bailey would have to offer. It was being trailed as a British answer to Cagney and Lacey and I can sort of see why. The series ran for six episodes and while it was by no means impeccable I think it has many good points. Chief among them, in my opinion, is the fact that this is a primetime drama which was conceived by women and written by a woman, with the technical input of former DI Diane Taylor, who worked as part of Manchester Metropolitan Police’s Major Incident Team. It means that the show largely avoids the pitfalls and stereotypes that you usually get in cop shows about female detectives. But I’ll get to that later.
Suranne Jones conceived the idea alongside her friend and former Coronation Street co-star Sally Lindsay when they were chatting in the pub. Apparently they’re both fans of Cagney and Lacey, and although the finished show differs somewhat from their original treatment it’s easy to see the germ of that idea. Sally Wainwright was brought on board to write, and I think that a lot of the Northern humour comes from her – she’s previously written for both Coronation Street and Emmerdale, and most famously she wrote At Home With The Braithwaites.
One of Scott and Bailey’s charms is that while it’s not exactly funny, it’s very good at capturing the kinds of humour that people employ when they’re at work. This is a difficult concept for me to articulate, but a good example of it comes in the fourth episode, where porn star Vicky Birkinshaw is accused of murdering her husband. The man’s disappearance is brought to the MIT’s attention when his mistress becomes concerned as to his whereabouts and suggests his wife has a hand in it, as “she makes Myra Hindley look like a Blue Peter presenter.” I’m sure this line wasn’t intended to be one that could make you laugh out loud, but it did amuse me because it effortlessly combined the two worst things you could be if you’re in an ITV drama. For the rest of the episode the detectives refer to Vicky as Myra, which is a nice example of attention to detail in the dialogue.
Given that, there are some frustrating things about the way the show’s dialogue has been written. I think Scott and Bailey tries hard to have naturalistic dialogue and rhythms of speech and it isn’t always successful. It stands out from other detective shows in the ways in which it approaches interviews and interrogations. The language used in these scenes is meticulous – this is especially apparent when Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp) is leading the interview. She speaks slowly and very clearly, methodically working up to each point. It takes a bit of getting used to, and I admire the desire for these scenes to be realistic and authentic, but it doesn’t always work, and leaves the show feeling a bit uneven.
Part of the reason for this inconsistency is the nature of the cases themselves. It feels a bit like Scott and Bailey has only a limited interest in the cases its detectives are policing. In addition, the realism of the dialogue doesn’t quite match up to the depiction of the crimes themselves. In six episodes, two of the crimes revolve around gruesome sexual attacks and mutilations. Another is the murder and dismemberment of Vicky Birkinshaw’s husband in a snuff movie, a case which is rendered even more distressing and unsavoury by the revelation that Birkinshaw sold her teenaged daughter to an older man as a sex slave. These are lurid cases and while I can’t deny that these sorts of things do happen, I find the emphasis on these types of stories sits uneasily with the more realistic, procedural aspects of the show. To my mind, this is a shame because the ways in which we see these crimes being worked on is really interesting, and the cases let the detection down a bit.