The mersey blues
Merseybeat returns for a new series and once again the daily business of fighting crime is nothing compared to the personal traumas of Newton Park's officers.
The phrase "up in the air" pretty much describes how things were left at the end of the first series of Merseybeat.
A car explosion had left the husband of Superintendent Susan Blake (Haydn Gwynne) in a critical condition, suffering from blast wounds. The super's right-hand man, lnspector Jim Oulton (John McArdle), had just found out his wife was being unfaithful to him. And bright young hope PC Steve Traynor (Jonathan Kerrigan) was still trying to get over the death of his girlfriend. So does the Mersey run quieter for them in this next batch of ten episodes? Not a bit of it.
No sooner has Dr AI Blake (Paul Bown) tottered out of hospital to his and Susan's new home, and Insp Oulton walked out of his old home to rethink his marriage, than more bad news bursts through the door of Newton Park station.
With one nice, gentle husband getting over his wounds, Supt Blake is suddenly confronted by her 'nasty, violent ex-husband Guy (Mark Aiken) lying banged up in her cells. Next, Oulton's wife Dawn announces she wants a divorce, and (scriptwriter's heaven) two new WPCs, Jodie Finn and Jackie Brown, arrive with a mutual loathing that dates back to police college (where Jackie slept with Jodie's boyfriend).
Meanwhile there's an escaped bent copper on the loose, plus inklings that Traynor may have chosen, in nightclub owner Blue McCormack (Yasmin Bannerman), the wrong woman to help him forget poor, dead Dee. Oh, and there's a dark shadow about to descend upon Blake that will blight her life for the rest of the series.
Fresh from filming The Secret, Haydn Gwynne went straight to Merseybeat. "I literally finished on 'The Secret one day and travelled up to Merseyside the next she says. "l had to play catch-up. lt's been a hard grind for quite a long time.
And it hasn't been any easier for Gwynne's character, either. As well as trying to keep the lid on things at work, Blake has two small Children at home who need a loving mother rather than a high-ranking crime-fighter.
Always billed as a drama about police officers rather than, a police drama. Merseybeat continues to show how spanning the gulf between personal life and police duty can, require a feat of emotional engineering every bit as spectacular as the Runcorn Bridge.
Class differences cause problems, too. Until now, not much has been made of the fact that Supt Blake is a woman with a University degree. However, this is script fodder for the new WPC Brown (Joanna Taylor)-not only does she constantly remind colleagues she's a fast-track graduate, but she takes every opportunity to oil those tracks. No wonder she and fellow new girl Jodie Finn (Josephine D'Arby) don't get on.
"Jodie doesn't like Jackie because she's in it for the glamour associated with the uniform," says Rada-trained D'Arby, who is now moving across from presenting (Blue Peter, Top of The Pops) to acting. "Jackie is more of the pampered princess, whereas Jodie is the out-and-out tomboy."
That's not quite how Jackie would describe Jodie, whose conscientiousness gets on people's nerves. "After Jodie's arrival, Jackie's competitive streak means she's more determined to make as many arrests as possible both to spite Jodie and impress her seniors," says former Hollyoaks star Taylor.
Stand by, then, for a bumpy few weeks at Newton Park, as the characters don't so much juggle their personal and professional lives as rush back and forth trying to stop them smashing on the floor.
"In the first series, Susan's home life wasn't unusual," says Gwynne. "Normally, high-achieving women are portrayed as having made a choice between career and home, which has become quite a cliché. However, in this series, things do get more difficult for her."
As for poor Oulton, he's trying to mend his marriage, stop his daughter Jenny from going off the rails and share temporary digs with the junior, workshy, PC Larry "Tiger" Barton (Chris Walker).
All this plus mountains of paperwork, aggravation from local drunks and villains, an inconvenient corpse and the odd sex offender or two. Not a wasted moment.