AH, NEW technology, I remember it well. The introduction of computers to newspaper offices, promising a bright, shiny, quicker, quieter, wipe-clean tomorrow.
The Field Of Blood - BBC1, Thursday and Friday, 9pm
Southcliffe - Channel 4, Sunday and Monday, 9pm
Friday Night Lights - Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 8pm
We greeted the future by going on strike, of course – a defiant stand lasting, oh, a few days. Back at our desks we grumpily adjusted, save for the showbiz correspondent who carried on clattering his typewriter, not so much a King Canute as just incorrigible and unteachable. He tap-taps now but still wears a jacket from the 1980s as a reminder of the great and brief struggle. Goan yersel, comrade!
Back for a second series, or series-ette, The Field Of Blood managed to evoke something of the immovable object that was the newspaper office back then: smoky, sweaty, sexist, set in its ways, set in hot metal. As before, the district office (pub) was as horrible/lovely as I remember the Jinglin’ Geordie to be, before the hacks cleared off for good and the bar management tried something new: windows and daylight. As before, Jayd Johnson and Ford Kiernan were a decent-enough combo of fearless cub reporter and stay-in-the-car old soak, with the latter nicking the best lines (“Some bastard must be killing somebody somewhere”) – and bylines, too, nae doot.
There was a decent-enough story about the miners’ strike and dirty tricks with government collusion aimed at discrediting the pitmen. This would have been gripping enough without involving murder. In any event, BBC Scotland can’t do slayings that look like anything other than a sack of tatties toppling over, though I acknowledge that creating convincing TV killings is a dubious skill and there are plenty of dramas which revel in death.
Here’s another thing Beeb Scotland can’t do: sex. I always want sex from BBC Scotland but it never delivers. Correction: I want it when a drama signals it, tells us that sexual tension will be important to the plot, as The Field Of Blood did with the relationship between the editor and the Thatcherite ball-breaker newly brought in above him. I didn’t actually need the protagonists to bonk or even remove their ghastly 1980s clothes; just for the drama to simmer in a meaningful, grown-up way and not be mimsy-ish and timid like it’s the Morningside Players’ annual production (specifically, the one from 1959). These two did end up in bed, by the way, but in the post-coital scene I half expected to glimpse a Teasmade and some shortbread. Honestly, can you think of any Beeb Scotland drama that’s ever been remotely erotic?
Southcliffe has no such uncertainty over its depiction of death and so far there’s been a lot, though there probably won’t be too much more, seeing as how the man responsible got cornered in a storm-drain and shot himself. Before then there was a killing spree in a small town. You thought of the most recent one in Cumbria, Hungerford from further back, and of course Dunblane. The drama is brilliantly filmed and, by Sean Harris, brilliantly acted – though if you were to meet him I don’t know how you’d say: “I thought you were fantastic as that lonely weirdo “The Commander” who wasn’t really ex-SAS, who lived with his mum and who didn’t get paid for some handyman work and so went crazy.” Maybe you’d just say it like that.
Harris is utterly, chillingly compelling and, for the lack of respect he received before flipping, earned your sympathy. Rory Kinnear is excellently smug as the TV reporter born in this town and will presumably play more of a central role as he sticks around to investigate the tragedy – “Close-knit, uncomplicated souls, good folk, Anglo-Saxon England” went one melodramatic, self-regarding piece-to-camera – and doubtless kick over some half-forgotten secrets from boyhood.
As well as real-life events, Southcliffe has been compared to other dramas set in small towns where darkness descends. The new exemplar here is Broadchurch, which is some people’s idea of the year’s best. At the time I thought the series was overrated, and Southcliffe makes me think it some more. There was a soapiness to Broadchurch – scenes closing with shifty glances; very ITV – which you don’t get here. Southcliffe is on Channel 4 so can be arty and is: gloomy sea mist, creepy country lanes viewed through a small army-issue windscreen, pylons abuzz with strangeness.
I don’t normally mention re-runs but must make an exception for Friday Night Lights which right now, after the last-ever episode when I pretended not to greet, seems like my favourite drama of all time. It’s based round the American high school football team of a small Texas town, but don’t let that put you off, because in Eric and Tami Taylor, coach and guidance teacher, there’s the greatest, warmest, most truthful portrayal of a marriage that TV has ever achieved. Go, Lions. Texas forever.