Bryant & May: Dream Casting

Bryant and May

For a while now I’ve felt that one day, long, long after I am such stuff as dreams are made on, they might make a Bryant & May TV series (funnily enough it’s back on the cards at the moment but don’t hold your breath), so I should have some dream-casting up my sleeve. Oh indulge me, it’s one of the miniscule amusements open to pent-up writers.

So, no question, Toby Jones as Arthur Bryant. Small and wrinkled, old before his time yet always larger and more magnificent in everything he appears in (check out ‘The Tale of Tales’ if you haven’t seen it) he would be perfect in the role.

John May is trickier. There was a suggestion of Timothy Dalton some time back, which seems a good call even if they did call him Timothy ‘Run Like A Girl’ Dalton on the Bond films, but there are other sturdy types; Hugh Bonneville springs to mind although he may now forever be associated with that Downton Abbey thing or Paddington Bear, which admittedly I loved. He has a warmth that John May needs, although he might be too avuncular.

I saw Janice Longbright as an Alison Moyet type, square-jawed and handsome, Joan Hunter Dunne in person – she was modelled on a cross between the 50s actresses Eleanor Summerfield and Liz Frazer – but I could go against type here. I’ve always admired Pippa Haywood’s comedy timing. She first came to my attention as the strung-out pill-popping Mrs Brittas, and later as the cynical hard-drinking Joanna in ‘Green Wing’

Oddly the show comes up again for my choice of Raymond Land – Mark Heap played the tightly-wound-to-the-point-of-derangement radiologist in ‘Green Wing’ and would be brilliant as the unit’s titular head.

I can only see the real Maggie Armitage as Maggie Armitage (she’s above centre, red hair, at her agent’s party) but there are plenty of batty old hoofers still around who could fill the slot. Most of them end up introducing their old films at the Cinema Museum.

The TV question has arisen again (and again) because the landscape is changing so quickly. Local networks are dying off and being replaced by global brands but one of the biggest remains Sherlock Holmes, to which I’d rather have Bryant & May compared than the BBC’s ‘Old Dogs’, an excuse it usually trots out when faced with a B&M script, saying ‘We’ve already got one of those, thanks,’ thus misunderstanding the premise of the books.

The problem is, you always end up explaining what Bryant & May is not. It’s not procedural, not fantasy or supernatural, just a tiny stretch of the imagination from reality. We need to come up with a short, pithy one-liner that explains to producers what Bryant & May are about.

The closest I’ve got to it is ‘Golden Age Detectives in a Modern World.’ Any suggestions will be treated in confidence.

31 comments on “Bryant & May: Dream Casting”

  1. Richard says:

    Feel-good murder.

  2. Abbie says:

    Peculiar police detetives narrating the tales of the main character: London.

  3. Stuart Williams says:

    Did you know that you have a B&M cover gallery up on Steve Holland’s Bear Alley blog today, Chris?

  4. Brian Evans says:

    You once suggested Michael Gambon as Bryant and I don’t think he could be bettered. I don’t see Toby Jones playing him though. He looks totally wrong. I did think of Bill Nighy as May, but he’s in just about everything now so how about Ian Ogilvy as May? I recently read his autobiog which gave me the idea.

    What a wizard wheeze to cast Pippa Haywood as Janice. Apart from everything else, she has a wonderful way of understating a comedy line. As for Maggie, how about Anne Reid, for the simple reason she is my favourite living actress. She also is brilliant in throwaway comedy.

    Come to think of it, Michael Kitchen is my favourite living actor, so how about him as May? His face can say so much by doing so little.

  5. Joanne Jones says:

    Friendship in all its forms

  6. snowy says:

    I’m not sure it can be done as a one line pitch. [Most have only have a tangental connection to what they describe anyway.]

    “We live in Strange Times…. Stranger than you can possibly imagine.”

    [And then a rapid seg. into the ‘High Concept’]

    * Scratches Head *

    Background the characters… because they are a given – and pitch the individual story instead?


    “Something is moving under the streets of the City”

    (The Water Room)

    “You can lose a Weekend… but an entire building?”

    (The Victoria Vanishes)

    “He stepped out into the fresh air for a moment… his last on Earth.”

    (Memory of Blood)

    * Gives up thoroughly defeated *

  7. Ian Luck says:

    Pippa Haywood is a brilliant actor – but not ‘brassy’ enough to play Janice. I stick by my original idea of Tamsin Outhwaite to play the character. Likewise, the brilliant Anton Lesser to play John May. And, whenever I read Maggie’s dialogue, it’s lovely, funny Miram Margoyles, chanelling Denise Coffey’s ‘Mrs. E’, that I see in my mind’s eye.

  8. Gary Hart says:

    I always imagined John May as a Geoffrey Palmer type character. Probably the right age now as well.

  9. Lorraine says:

    Think your dream casting is spot on Chris – apart from Janice. I can see Miranda Richardson doing her character justice. Reckon Mark Heap would be brilliant as Raymond Land. As for Maggie how about Julie Walters?

  10. snowy says:

    Janice Longbright – Rachael Stirling [Or are you going to tell me given half a chance you really wouldn’t pick the daughter of ‘Emma Peel’?]

    Feeble, feeble, feeble fluff that dribbled out of my brain, not solutions, but tinder for much brighter minds.

    [It’s very hard to know exactly where to pitch the tone. And it’s always a big risk to play up the humour.]

    [Character focused]

    Extra-ordinary problems need Extra-ordinary People… And some of them are very Peculiar.

    Some jobs are best left to those with experience… Lots of experience! [cut to image of two old boys]

    107 years of Policing knowledge… and that’s just the two of them!

    The Lion [image John]… The Witch [image Maggie]… And The [SOMETHING] [image Arthur].

    [Function focused]

    Some Police units remain a closely guarded secret for operational reasons… Some remain secret because their existence is just too embarassing. [HINTS OVERMUCH AT THE COMIC].

    [REMIX] Some Police units remain a closely guarded secret for operational reasons… Some remain secret because their existence would raise to many embarassing questions. [NOT QUITE]

    [RE-REMIX] Some Police units remain a closely guarded secret for operational reasons… Some remain secret because there are somethings that are better hidden from the public. [STILL WRONG]

    [Situation focused]

    Some people say the truth is stranger than fiction… They really have no idea how right they are.

  11. Susanna Carroll says:

    Another vote for Toby Jones as Arthur Bryant, Nigel Havers is a possible John May, both actors would be playing older
    Jessica Hynes for Janice Longbright. Katy Manning for Maggie Armitage.

  12. linda ayres says:

    I am torn on this whole issue… yes I would love for them to be on TV and then again no I wouldn’t.. Tim Goodman has done such a good job of bringing them all to life for the audio books that I just know I would spend the whole time saying things like ‘ that’s nothing like Arthur’ etc..

  13. Jan says:

    Still reckon that the whole thing would look better on the radio!

  14. Martin Tolley says:

    TJ is clearly a shoe in for Arthur. I’d go for Bill Nighy as John May – OK he is ubiquitous these days, but the charm and the dress sense must work well. And he does the vaguely puzzled and exasperated thing well. He’d need that with Arthur. I think the Havers lad is just a bit too louche, not quite enough moral compass for John May.
    I’d have Miles Jupp for Raymondo.
    I think Snowy’s idea of Rachel Stirling is worth thinking about, but does she physically have the heft to be Janice? Don’t forget that’s a woman who carries a housebrick in her handybag, and presumeably has the strength to wield it. Ms Sterling looks more of a pepperspray and/or taser lady to me. I’d go for Keely Hawes. But then again I go for Keely Hawes….

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Don’t know actors and particularly not their names but for Maggy (please help me with her name someone) she sounds like a department store – played the games mistress in the Harry Potter things.
    The pictures above look fine to me but then I can’t hear their voices.
    Maybe we could get some producers to read the books – at least one or two – and then they’d know what we’re talking about.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, and Colm Fiore – or does he have enough substance for John May?

  17. RDaggle says:

    Here ya go :

    Arthur Bryant — Tom Baker

    John May — Peter Capaldi

    See what I did there…

    The show would get made. People would watch.

    thank God these comments are anonymous

    ( PS: Toby Jones was born in 1966 — so Arthur Bryant, really ?! )

  18. Patrick Kilgallon says:

    Tony Gardner for Raymondo or possibly Chris Barrie.

  19. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    London’s dark past informs the present.

    I’m also torn as to whether TV could do justice to the books, but I’ll suggest George Irving as May.

  20. snowy says:

    Re Stirling R.

    Is she tough enough? Her mum was ‘Emma Peel’ and her Great Uncle established the SAS, do you want to tell her she’s a wimp? [I’ll help you pick you teeth up.]

    ‘Janice’ is all about attitude, [at least to my imperfect reading], fearless, focused, fiercely loyal and sharper than a razor.

    That is the characters core, the rest is ‘dressing’, if we indulge ourselves, this is fantasy casting after all. Then there is no reason not to give the character a little ‘make-over’ provided we respect their inner character. And have a little fun, TV is a visual media and they absolutely love sticking in little visual cues/references.

    Visual, visual! Out with the 50’s clothes, add subtle 60’s elements, not too much, not too many all at once, just a Quant bag OR a Biba dress.

    Drop the brick, [only a man would think a woman would carry one in her handbag anyway!], expert in Karate, [not to be overplayed/over referenced, the scene that introduces the character, armed stand-off, lots of male AFO muscle-types in a stand-off waiting for orders. DS Janice rolls up, kick to the spuds, crim sinks to his knees. Janice turns round, “There you go, you ladies can arrest him now!”] and in the use of the ASP, [it’s standard Police issue these days, it would stand in visually for a fencing foil.]

    Her flat if we ever see it, is an excuse for a little more 60’s excess.

    Ditto car; vintage Lotus, only needs to be seen once, shouldn’t tax the budget to much.

    [For those that want to tick the Dr Who box, she does, Matt Smith era. [Apparently, never saw it myself, but the internet says so!]]

  21. SteveB says:

    It’s difficult to come up with a one-liner that doesn‘t make it sound like New Tricks mark 2.
    Do you think your target market knows what golden age detectives are?

    London‘s weirdest mysteries need the world‘s most eccentric detectives

  22. snowy says:

    I’m just dumping ou the contents of my brain, [it’s only very small and I need the space to do a big shop tomorrow.]

    The very core is Arthur, cast that character and the rest falls into place around him.

    Kenneth Cranham is physically right, but TV types might think him a little old.
    Eddie Marsan might well be worth a look.

    TV will probably use this as an excuse to get in a bit of ‘Nan-Candy’. If they do that, then impossible to tell. BN can appear a bit wooden with the wrong direction/script. NH is too animated. Charlie Dance is still knocking around though.

    For similar reasons I suspect there would be pressure to make the character slightly more vampy, more bohemian than bag-lady. Hundreds to choose from. Unless they decide to go the full Rutherford.

    Why haven’t we got an Alma?
    Nina Baden-Semper is still working [as is Baroness Benjamin].

  23. snowy says:

    SteveB puts an unerring finger directly on the problem. Most of the reference points are quite… antique in shallow media terms. If you drop down to that level, you get very glib piches that readers are really going to hate being associated with.

    ‘Sherlock for the Sanatogen Generation’

    ‘If you think Midsomer is a dangerous place? You’ve never been to the City!’

    [Agree with Jan, natural next step is t’ Wireless, even if only as a writing exercise to work out what is core/non-core.]

  24. snowy says:

    Here’s a picture of a working actor, let’s play name the character!

  25. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy: is it John? I don’t know the “working actor” but he almost spoke!

  26. Lauren C says:

    Toby Jones is not at all Arthur material. Michael Gambon would be perfect.

  27. Ian Luck says:

    Toby Jones is a magnificent actor, with an uncanny ability to nail a character. You believe him totally. If you want to see just how damn good he is, I urge you to watch him as ‘Culverton Smith’, in the ‘Sherlock’ episode ‘The Lying Detective’. Culverton Smith is basically Jimmy Savile, and is utterly repellant behind closed doors, but loved by everyone in public life. Jones makes the character totally loathsome, and you can see why some fans attack actors for the roles they play. I’m with Chris on this – Toby Jones would be perfect as Arthur Bryant. Some of the scrapes Arthur gets into might be problematic for an older actor playing the character. I’m also taken with the idea of Charles Dance as May. I can see that, in my mind’s eye.

  28. Doreen Stevenson says:

    I agree with some of the previous comments about one line ‘glib’ pitches that don’t do justice to the books. The Bryant and May novels remind me of the works of the wonderful Fred Vargas. They hold the reader in the same way and have a similar feel and atmosphere. So, I cheated and had a look at some recent articles about her writing. I found this in the Independent – ‘Vargas has created a wonderfully oddball police drama that has its own internal logic and bizarre motifs.’
    Could describe Bryant and May to a tee. Maybe something like this would work.
    Also, what about Roisin Conaty for Janice?

  29. snowy says:

    By the time it has passed through the TV mangle, there may not be very much of the originals left.

    This shouldn’t be decried as an entirely bad thing, it could be a chance to redo the stories anew. And reshape them into a form that fits TV. The books have evolved ‘organically’ over years and are not consistent with each other, timelines, characters missing from stories, [anybody expecting them to be entirely flawless, is a touch foolish.]

    Since this is a safe fantasy space, and in confidence to boot, lets have a fiddle about with somebody else’s ‘train set’, while they are not looking.

    The stories are mysteries in a recognisable world, that B&M work for the Police is not as absolutely essential as one might think. In the sense the characters could still solve other mysteries without being attached to the Police and not lose any part of their individual character.

    But it does work well as a set-up, it gives: means – access to crime scenes, pathologists, CCTV, people to help out and all the other toys, and motive – a reason to be involved.

    But just this as a core has a problem, a story based around two old, white men will get no diversity points, [it’s the textbook definition of ‘stale, pale and male], but we can fix that and have a bit more fun into the bargain. We have a strong female character around, how can we best use her to repair that.

    Janice, would be a good starting point, but she is bit underwritten for in some books and is used as a drudge far too often. Not going to play well. Let’s make her shine.

    Breaking canon, well not some much breaking as smashing it, Janice gets a recasting and since this is just fantasy she can become Emma with the 60s’ flourishes.

    Still fearless, focused, fiercely loyal and sharper than a razor. But she functions as both a proxy for the viewer into this strange world and also as the arms and legs for men who are not exactly in the prime of their lives. [Comedy is based on a conflict of some sort, this would pay double – Old vs Young and traditional Male vs Female roles inverted and then subverted.]

    A weak example, [others are too long] – If a door needs ‘kicking in’ or a fence needs scaling, the men look at it, then each other, and then step back politely and usher her forward, with both metaphorical and literal raised hats, “Ladies first!”. [It also means that one can have higher paced scenes without the male characters breaking age expectations.] There is plenty to be explored and played with, without breaking up the pair.

    This leaves a big gap in the office and just one decent female role would be ‘tokenism’, if we shift Meera over to run the office, but amp her up. She runs the office despite the chaos, indulges everybody else, but exerts total control* over Raymond in a way that he is at a complete loss to understand. [But she doesn’t do any drudge work – EVER, never gets covered in dirt, never does anything menial, she gets Raymondo the tit-ular head to do all that for her instead, to his complete bafflement.]

    [ *Apart from his memos, he types them at home so she can’t get at them.]

    Complete tosh, but I’ve typed it now.

  30. SimonB says:

    As nobody else has helped out here, I do believe Helen was thinking of Zoe Wanamaker

  31. Helen Martin says:

    Thank you, Simon. I hadn’t got around to research yet. I love her acting, especially the acid she brings.

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