crime drama


crime drama
   Crime drama forms an important part of adult television viewing in Britain, and in the mid-1990s police and detective series dominated the midevening schedules. The vicarious pleasure enjoyed by viewers ‘assisting’ detectives in the crime investigation and putting the world to rights has been viewed by critics as inherently ideological and supporting the processes of cultural hegemony. In the 1960s, the realism of the BBC’s influential ZCars series, characteristically featuring police officers tackling juvenile and community crime in a northern town, was underpinned by the postwar democratic urge for social reform. By the 1970s such consensus views had broken down, and Euston Films’ The Sweeney, which featured a maverick Flying Squad Inspector’s tough, all-action response to armed robbery, acted out the populist authoritarian urge to hit back at crime, stirred up by the moral panic about ‘mugging’ in the rightwing press.
   The search for up-market viewers in contemporary crime drama has led to an increasing emphasis on the detective’s individualism—to focus on protagonists who stand apart from the rest of the team—and also to turn to characters already established in print. Both of these tendencies are exemplified in Central TV’s prestigious Inspector Morse series. An ongoing trend in quality crime programmes such as Taggart (Border TV), Morse, A Touch of Frost (Yorkshire) and Silent Witness (BBC) is to use their greater narrative length to explore ‘dark’ crimes and to key into popular anxieties surrounding serial killers, sexual abuse and the occult. In particular, Granada’s controversial Cracker series (acclaimed by critics but criticized by watchdog bodies) carries over something of the challenge formerly associated with serious television drama (see drama on television) in its uncompromising application of forensic psychology to violent crime. In no area has crime drama been more visibly responsive to shifts in culture over the course of time than in its choice of police and detective protagonists. Following the pioneering success of Juliet Bravo (BBC) and The Gentle Touch (LWT) in the early 1980s, women detectives now head contemporary quality series such as Silent Witness, Hetty Wainthrop Investigates (BBC) and the excellent Prime Suspect series (Granada), which has continued to engage the institutionalized sexism of the police. The representation of ethnic minority groups is not yet so fully developed, but in series such as The Bill (Thames), Thief Takers (Central) and Out of the Blue (BBC), black officers are regular members of the police team.
   Further reading
    Clarke, A. (1992) ‘“You’re nicked!”: Television Police Series and the Fictional Representation of Law and Order’, in D.Strinati and S.Wagg (eds), Come on Down: Popular Media Culture in Post-War Britain, London: Routledge, pp. 232–53.
   BOB MILLINGTON

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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