What It Would Take To Turn Bryant & May Into A TV Series

Bryant and May

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We’re ‘in discussion’. My people are talking to their people. We’re running a few ideas up the flagpole and seeing who salutes.

I get to play this game every couple of years. As my detective duo approach their twelfth full-length novel, I realise how much of the past decade I’ve spent discussing the idea of them being turned into a TV series. It sometimes seems that everyone wants to do it, but nobody quite gets there. Having anything turned from one format into another is always difficult. Books don’t often make great films, especially now that executives often spend their days looking for beat-points and pleasure spikes instead of plots and characters. We got to the starting gate with several projects (their history has been outlined here before), but Bryant & May always stumbled at the BBC, long considered the first port of call for any series.

They stumbled because of something called ‘New Tricks’, a show I’ve never seen, apparently very popular and frequently cited as being too much of a clash with a Bryant & May series. As far as I can tell this is nonsense, as my detectives have an entirely different operating procedure, and arcane London is a main character. In fact, I can’t think of anything quite like a Bryant & May series – it would be quirky but not fanciful, strange but not beyond the realms of possibility. Nearly every character I create is based on somebody real.

But there are other problems Bryant & May would have to overcome – they’re defiantly, proudly, resolutely older than most leading show heroes. They often operate beyond the law, and the supporting characters are nearly all loners, outsiders. Then there’s the expense – shooting in London is far from cheap.

So in answer to the question what would it take to make Bryant & May into a TV series, the answer is: Bravery!

But we have some good ideas now, and a good team is starting to form. Let’s play the game and see where it goes this time. whenever I feel myself losing steam, it seems something happens to pep me up. Today’s pepper was a review from Book Reporter (US) which read in part:

‘I would like for you to make BRYANT & MAY AND THE BLEEDING HEART the next book you read. You will not be sorry. It is one of the literary world’s great mysteries that Christopher Fowler isn’t a household name on the order of… Well, we won’t get into all of that, but his Peculiar Crimes Unit series should be selling in the millions with copies passed through to millions more. These stories are witty, challenging, engrossing, informative and incredibly well-written.

Picture a television series that is a rough mash-up of “Law & Order,” “The X-Files” and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” without the excesses of each and better than all combined, and you have the Peculiar Crimes Unit. There were times when, reading passages of this latest installment, I sensed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ed McBain and Agatha Christie nodding in approval, standing just over Fowler’s shoulder. Yes, the series is that good.

What makes Fowler’s accomplishments with these PCU mysteries so impressive is that his literary career has spanned three decades and over 30 novels in multiple genres. Yet his latest book contains some of his best writing. Fowler shows no signs of tiring or slowing down, which is one more thing for which we may be thankful at this time of year. Show your appreciation — not to mention your good taste — by becoming acquainted with this series and jumping on now.’

13 comments on “What It Would Take To Turn Bryant & May Into A TV Series”

  1. Ness says:

    New Tricks is completely different. Yes, some of the characters are old detectives but that’s the only thing vaguely familiar. Regardless, how many of one type of genre can TV support at any time – copy shows, hospital dramas, costume pieces. At least more than one, and always a better one.

    I wouldn’t want to see the Dirk Gently treatment though, where every mention of the supernatural was excised and it just became about a rather eccentric detective with a few tics. If they wanted to ‘de-age’ Bryant and May to appeal to a younger demographic there would be rioting amongst your loyal readers. It would take more that just bravery to make Bryant and May into a TV series, it would take a high degree of fidelity and appreciation of eccentricity.

  2. Gary Thompson says:

    It could be done with young(ish) actors if they could be convincingly made to look older. That way you could maybe have flashbacks to their ‘younger’ selves, played by the same actor. I was thinking of Reece Shearsmith for May, and Steve Pemberton for Bryant (both from League of Gentlemen).
    Re New Tricks, they have introduced Nicholas Lyndhurst, and his character seems to have a penchant for the more esoteric lines of enquiry. A recent story line saw them investigating pagan practices based around the old, ‘lost’ rivers of London

  3. Maggie B says:

    I agree with you Ness. While similar to New Tricks-older cast, rule breakers-the entire feel of Bryant and May ought to be quite different. AND there’s nothing wrong with older characters. Think -As Time Goes By-still in reruns here in the US.
    However, I shudder at what happened over in Australia to Kerry Greenwood’s lovely Phryne Fisher stories when ABC serialized the books. Completely declawed, with important characters left out entirely and a sub story of sexual tension between Phryne and the police detective that stumbles.
    So fingers crossed but only if I get to crawl threw tunnels with the PCU.

  4. J. Folgard says:

    I enjoyed the “elevator pitch” from the review. I’d love a TV show and I’ll agree with all the others, their age is an important part of their appeal.
    I’m eagerly waiting for the BBC’s adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and, based on the level of resources and craft they seem to be pouring in it, I’d love to see Aunty consider Bryant & May one more time, and make it happen!

  5. RobertR says:

    I do hope to live to see Bryant & May on screen – but I suppose a tangential issue for any production company does lie with the age of the two central characters. You cast your two age-appropriate perfect actors and face the issues of insurances (will they be economically insurabable). If that is overcome, series 1 is made, shown and becomes a popular hit – what happens if one of your older lead actors is taken Ill (or dies) do you risk re-casting? Give up on making the rest of the series? Any production company would hope to have a long running series; but it must be a calculated risk.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    True Robert, but they had to cast a new Dumbledore in the middle of the Harry Potter series and it worked.
    I didn’t know they had filmed Dirk Gently, but it sounds as if I wouldn’t want to. Phryne Fisher! I’ve seen the first series and really enjoyed it because I hadn’t seen the books. I could sense some omissions and wondered if the sexual aspects were stronger in the books, although there is certainly no suggestion in the series that Phryne is even slightly chaste. I think a lot of us enjoyed the series for the sheer beauty of it and her clothes! Guess I’ll have to find one of the books. New Tricks was good for several seasons but there have been new cast members who make me think retirement age is younger and younger these days. I haven’t bothered watching it for at least a season. To say nothing of the fact that they are looking into cold cases only and that is the only thing that separates them from the rest of the regular force. No, Bryant and May is something else entirely and I wish the North American editions didn’t look so much as if the books are light hearted fluff.

  7. snowy says:

    It’s possible to dodge the problem of the actors age a bit, a pound to a penny the Prod. company will want to shave a decade off the characters, it’s a TV thing .

    Pick capable actors, Clive Dunn put on 20 years to play Cpl. Jones, David Jason was 30 years younger than the Blanco Webb character he played. Makeup, costume does the rest, pad the jacket for a slight stoop, drop a small lift in only one shoe to give a slight rolling gait. [If we are going to indulge in fantasy casting then, Bill Nighy and Toby Jones would fit both the physical and character traits.]

    With very long gaps between successive eps. of Sherlock there is a gap to be filled by something.
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    I have a vague recollection that somebody had hardbacks produced with reversible dust jackets, fluffy one side and darker on the other. Shop staff could reverse them depending on where in the shop they were ‘positioned’. Not a zero cost option though.

    If you are stuck with a North American paperback, then with a modicum of effort and a little skill it’s possible to ‘roll your own’ dustjackets by pinching the UK cover images and printing them out onto some decent quality paper. [And if that idea doesn’t make cover artistes howl in horror, then I really have lost my touch 😉 ]

  8. Ken Mann says:

    There hasn’t really been anything like it. The closest I can think of would be the Flaxborough adaptations done with Anton Rodgers as Inspector Purbright in the late 70s, or The Man in Room 17 (you don’t get a cast like Richard Vernon, Michael Aldridge and Denholm Elliot very often).

  9. K Page says:

    Hope you have more success than the decades of discussions about a live-action Dan Dare tv series.To give you an idea of how long this has been going on, James Fox was going to play Dan, with Rodney Bewes as Digby.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy – I just order British, but your idea certainly would work. (Not a cover artiste, so I can giggle rather than howl.) Something that will make all of us howl; JK Rowling is having her detective novel Cukoos Something made into a series for BBC. It helps that she has her own production company, of course.

  11. Rumsy4 says:

    I just got around to reading Bleeding Heart (well–it was just released in the US), and I really loved it. I would love for a Bryant and May series to happen. As I said before, Ciarán Hinds would make for a fantastic John May.

  12. Susan says:

    My suggestions:
    Bill Nighy as Bryant
    Hugh Bonneville as May (if not available from the Abbey, then Ciaran Hinds.

  13. jan says:

    The other series which is competing in similar terrritory is “Whitechapel” and i think this is more than the problem with New Tricks which is just a clever combo of cold cases and old bobbies!! Whitechapel are running with that mysterious hardly known London theme and although at present confined to the East end it must broaden out into Greater and central London its very similar territory and a well established series.

    In fact this London Peculiars /mysterious places theme has begun to make its way into the more recent updated into the present “Sherlock” stories, The false houses in Bayswater which cover the tube line have featured in recent episodes and others things lost tube stations etc have started to crop up. For goodness sake the subject of arcane London is practically becoming fashionable now whether this will work for or against u i dunno. Maybe one of the minor characters would be best out in front the coroner guy the fellow who did the chasing about in Bleeding heart i always thought he was a comical character or Bimsley and his nearly beloved theres tons of mileage in that.

    anyway do u really want the tv series made (apart from the dosh) you’ll be whingeing about some part of the process if u r not careful have a lovely Christmas

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