'Bodyguard' got me thinking...
Bodyguard is the enjoyably silly new Sunday night pot-boiler on the BBC, with Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden. I was talking about it on my Facebook Page, where I noted most of the Met Police's senior officers (not to mention bomb disposal officers, SFO team leaders and snipers) were female. I mentioned this not as a male chauvinist pig, instead wondering if the series were a sneaky treatise on toxic masculinity – here you have a straight, white bloke (a cookie-cutter troubled TV cop) dictated to in every aspect of his life by women.
Realising where this was going, I slapped myself - I’m not a cultural studies critic (phew).
However, like most ex-coppers, I spent much of the programme cursing and gnashing my teeth (‘you wouldn’t do that!’ or ‘they’d never say that’). It’s like watching war movies with veterans (they’re insufferable too, especially when people fire rocket launchers from the passenger seats of cars). Then, as ‘Bodyguard’ proceeded in a westerly direction, I began to forgive it’s silliness and saw how the errors drove the story (during my career I met, in passing, both of the technical advisors to this series. They’ve tried to wave a fig-leaf of realism over things like the main character surrendering his shirt to a politician before going on telly).
Then again, I’ve a number of friends who served as Protection Officers (which is the correct term for a ‘Bodyguard’) - I suspect some of them might secretly enjoy Madden’s portrayal of their profession. After all, what’s wrong with a technical faux pas if it makes you look epic? However, there are some errors I will not countenance. Here are my personal pet hates in British cop dramas:
‘Bodyguard’ Sergeant David Budd’s team call him ‘Skipper’ or ‘Skip’. This is a Met Police affectation for a sergeant. In a specialist role, and to be honest a fair few uniform posts, people seldom call their line managers by their rank these days. TV dramas, especially, play up the formality / rank thing terribly (I’ve met superintendents who were happy to be called by their first name, and inspectors who wanted to be treated like Emperor Xerxes of Persia, I imagine you can work out which was the dick-head).
We have ways of making you talk
How many Detective Chief Inspectors interview serial killers, alone, in a darkened room with no lawyer or tape recorder? Answer – too bloody many. The most common rank to interview a criminal would be a constable (detective or otherwise) and there would almost certainly be a lawyer present. And serial killers? Whoah. We’d wheel in the Tier III interview team with specialist detectives running a specially planned interview with video and audio. But no – a DCI chats up the murderer with three minutes of cod-psychology and a cuppa – cue confession (yes, DCI Luther, I’m looking at you). What you don’t see is a judge slinging the interview out at court as inadmissible for grotesque breaches of PACE six months later.
Follow me! – We reach the finale, where SWAT line up pointing shooters at windows (etc). At this point, the main characters (usually CID officers) charge in before the firearms team. This never happens. Ever. Armed ‘dig-outs’ are carefully planned and conducted by the firearms ninjas - it's their show. They’re very good at it, and will deliver your suspect unto you handcuffed and disarmed. Don’t ask them to do much else though, writing ain't their strong point (and that cross-trainer ain’t gonna pump itself).
Just the Two of Us
I appreciate the confines of drama demands we focus on one or two key characters, but a DI and a DS won’t solve anything driving around Oxfordshire drinking warm beer. In fact, the DI and the DS are in meetings all day and writing decision logs. The poor bloody infantry of criminal investigation – the DCs, are doing the stuff that drama finds interesting – following leads (in bigger cases generated by a computer), interviewing witnesses, seizing exhibits and actually arresting bad guys. As someone who was formerly one of these worker drones, I can say it’s terribly annoying for the television industry to suggest Gillian Anderson in a Prada suit is going to track down the psycho-killer solo.
I’m going to leave it there, but if Gillian Anderson wants a new technical advisor, I’m available more or less when she is…