Skirting the Issue
As a new police drama arrests our TV screens this week, Robin Morley goes on the Mersey Beat
Mersey Beat is a 10 part series with an impressive cast. As well as the main leads, former Brookside star John McArdIe and Peak Practice star Haydn Gwynne, the, show also features ex-Casualty star Jonathan Kerrigan and Emmerdale's Michelle Holmes. And it's being overseen by the BBC's Mr Soap himself, Mal Young - former producer of Brookside and a bona fide Scouser.
Snatching a quick break between script conferences, Mersey Beat's creator Chris Murray explains how the series came about. 'The BBC wanted a police show which revolved around a female officer,' he recalls. 'So I spent some time researching with a couple of high-ranking young policewomen. And they ended up loosely inspiring our main character, Superintendent Susan Blake.'
There's a broad mix evident in Mersey Beat's selection of character, Haydn Gwynne's character Susan Blake has just returned from maternity leave and is struggling to stop herself from worrying about life at home. Jonathan Kerrigan plays Steve Traynor, a young PC whose personal life is in tatters but whose career is now on the up. Meanwhile, David Hargreaves's character, Sergeant Bill Gentle, is more concerned about the prospect of retirement than his job.
Then there are the younger officers like Miriam Da Silva, played by Shelley Conn. Relaxing on set, she describes her alter ego as: 'Fresh, not long out of probation and still up for making a difference.'
Sound a little clichéd Shelley laughs, shaking her head: 'Well, when I was out shadowing the police, they matched me with a girl from a similar background. When I described the character to her, she just said, "Oh God, that's what they all say about me..." So it's definitely realistic.' Could Shelley ever see herself stepping into those official-issue shoes in real life; 'No way. I don't have the responsibility or the patience. When I first put the uniform on, I thought "It's just like being at school!"'
Her co-star Danny Lawrence feels differently. As Mersey Beat's Danny Jackson, the resident custody sergeant and comedian, he has the tough job of putting the suspects at ease when they're brought into the station. 'His job is to try and maintain a neutral environment even if people are acting violently,' explains Danny. 'He's almost like their friend - a contact point.'
A tricky task indeed, but Danny reckons he could hack it in real life. 'I'd make a good policeman. But I'm bound to say that, aren't I?' he grins. 'I looked into joining the police when I was 18,' he recalls. 'I would have gone through with it if it hadn't been for the reaction of my mates.' Which was; ''Well, we were walking through town when I told them I was considering it. One second they were there and the next they'd disappeared in disgust. So, that was it. But you're easily led at that age, aren't you?'
As activity on the set picks up and well-thumbed scripts appear in anticipation of the afternoon's read-through, I pop the million dollar question. No matter how good Mersey Beat turns out to be, do viewers really need yet another police drama series?
Chris Murray is adamant that we do. 'l think a lot of police shows in the past have relied heavily on plot and procedure - the mechanics of solving crime,' he says. 'What we're trying to do with Mersey Beat is investigate the human side of the police - the ways in which events at work impact on officers' home and family lives. It's probably unfair to say this, but were like the antidote to The Bill.'
And how about those cop show clichés - can they ever be avoided? 'Well, you do catch yourself writing lines of script where you think, "Oh God, these are phrases which only exist in TV drama,"' concedes Chris. 'But let's face it, if you worried about it too much, you would never write anything at all, would you?' So, the jury's out. Decide for yourself over the next 10 weeks...