Why Haven’t Bryant & May Made It To TV?
Morse got there. Vera did too, and Wallender and everyone from Lord Peter Whimsey to the wonderfully eccentric Mrs Bradley – they all ended up as TV series. You can’t move without falling over Sherlocks, and even Christie’s boring Tuppences had their own show. The question I get asked on a daily basis is ‘Why haven’t Bryant & May found their way to television?’
It’s not through lack of trying. The rights are almost continually under option, and the books sell well in the UK and America. But they don’t appear in translation anywhere, which reduces their desirability as a television series for international sales, and I suspect there’s another problem; they contain a comedic element that makes them specifically English.
TV cops are never funny. Nordic noir is brilliant – I’m addicted to the Icelandic thriller ‘Trapped’ at the moment and loved ‘The Bridge’, but while Saga’s rudeness takes your breath away in the latter you couldn’t exactly call her a barrel of laughs. I’m careful to keep comedy out of the crimes themselves otherwise the books wouldn’t work, and when you think about it only two of the characters, Arthur Bryant and Raymond Land, have any comedic elements really, but it’s enough to keep me off the screen. Although the books have started getting more popular, they’re still a minority taste.
Although I love Morse it’s fairly ludicrous when you think about it. Most cops get a handful of murder cases in a lifetime, and never all in one relatively quiet spot like Oxford, and never just by themselves. Cases involve dozens or even hundred of personnel. Then there’s the matter of perception; I’ve been put on panels about the supernatural (the books have no such element) and cosies (the murders are anything but).
The problem is that they straddle several quite complicated ideas. There’s a multi-racial cast but they don’t delve into ethnic crimes (except I do – see ‘Strange Tide’). There’s abstruse historical thinking about psychogeography. There’s slapstick. There’s darkness. And – the elephant in the room – there are two old white men. It’s a measure of the simplistic attitude of TV networks that the BBC wouldn’t consider the show while ‘New Tricks’ was running. Yet they seem quite happy to ‘borrow’ ideas.
Do I mind? Not a bit. I wanted to be a novelist, not a TV scriptwriter. My experience of that at the BBC was disastrous, as I watched executives rip up an edgy series I’d been commissioned to write and turn it into a bad soap opera, so I’m happy that my characters remain on the printed page. To be honest, after so many false starts I think I’d be unlikely now to offer them as a series to anyone. Bryant & May belong in a book.
(Keith Page did some lovely character sketches showing the duo ageing. One day I’ll post his excellent designs for a mooted film version of ‘Calabash’ that we couldn’t get off the ground.)