Many years ago, when we sat at desks in military-style rows doing O and A levels, many questions began: compare and contrast. I’m not sure it’s as prevalent now, but maybe those are questions we should ask throughout our lives, though preferably not sitting at desks in military-style rows. Not that there’s any need to compare and contrast tomatoes with bananas or Tottenham Hotspur with Hackney Chess Club – although Mourinho might have learnt something from them about tactics. But how about comparing and contrasting the highly acclaimed, vastly viewed, Line of Duty with Thames Television’s slightly more humble Public Eye (1965-75), currently being repeated on Talking Pictures.
The former, well directed, expensively made but sadly with less grit than a car-free drive and characters with the flimsiest of motives, the latter, mild, meaningful and modest, with an anti-hero lead, Frank Marker, played superbly by Alfred Burke, who is non-judgmental, frequently wading through muddied waters awash with human frailties and foibles, usually taking the high ground – even when it’s quite grubby there.
To be Frank, as he is, had we discovered that the toilet cleaner in series 6 of Line of Duty was ‘H’, it might have made more sense. The idea that a fairly incompetent detective with limited insight or aptitude, could be a mafia-like figure causing chaos amongst doughty crime fighters and investigators of AC-12 was preposterous. Yes, there were a few clues, golf clubs, a bent buckle…but the fear induced by him and his dear departed gaggle of fellow rotten apples was inexplicable.
One of the slightly more believable elements was that Ryan, a young tearaway with the morals of a polecat from an earlier series, could join the police and wave his gun (non police issue) according to the whims and dictats of the OCG (Organised Crime Gang), he seemed to have got an education from somewhere, but used it for malign purposes, for reasons we were left unaware of.
Back in the ‘60’s and early seventies, Frank and his police friend Percy, formed a wholly more agreeable bond than Ryan with his threatening gun, the one doing his utmost to earn his crust as a private investigator, the other, a seemingly decent cop.
Some of the soliloquies written were uttered as if Shakespeare had returned, husbands bemoaning wives, father’s complaining about offspring, small companies being ripped off – whatever the plot, sometimes dated by today’s mores and standards – the characters shone through, each having a rational purpose or reason for their actions.
During those bygone days, there were controversial dramas such as Big Breadwinner Hogg and, thankfully, more frequently, Cathy Come Home and Edna, the Inebriate Woman. Maybe it’s because of the demise of the single play that drama is so weak on the box these days, with soaps dominating and original plays dealing with contemporary issues, very rare.
How many prisoners did we see having to escape gun battles as they were relocated, as if OCG’s knew everything? I’ve never seen Marker with a gun, although with a name like that, he might have made a good marksmen.
Yes, Jed Mercurio is a good writer and Line of Duty was watchable. If it had been a meal, it would have satisfied hunger, but not provided the warm afterglow of a tasty experience. Television drama should have some purpose other than to fill time; ultimately Line of Duty was neither fulfilling, nor meaningful.
Give me Frank, any time.