Writers who devise drama series for TV talk about their creations. The people who put series on TV are the heads of drama. At this time, 2008, all the heads of drama known to me and the series they put out appear to be defunct in creativity and they act like minor branch bank managers, juggling money and looking for any co-production from anywhere to cut costs. Graeme MacDonald (BBC) and Lloyd Shirley (Thames & Euston) were serious department heads. If you told any of the all-woman drama supremos in the BBC and ITV that these people either called in or kept directly in touch by phone with writers, they’d wonder why. Graeme MacDonald wanted to put on The Chinese Detective, but would have to wait to do so, he’d used up all his film commitment for the year. He asked me if I would be interested in making a series about a woman detective. It had been a sentence offered by Billy Cotton Junior, head of BBC1. ‘We should make a series about a woman detective’. Just that. Graeme offered that it was a good idea to take up anything suggested by a head honcho because there would be less arguments about budgets etc.
I was sent north and returned with notes and bits of script already written about a uniformed lady inspector. Nobody seemed to notice that she was not a plain clothes detective.
I met up in Great Harwood with Inspector Wynn Darwin who ran her nick with efficiency and great charm. She was a very remarkable personality, particularly so as a Lancashire Constabulary was one of the great outposts of male chauvinism. I’d been around that constabulary before when my brother had been researching Z Cars. I heard phrases later adopted by script writers in other series – ‘nice lady but built like a brick shithouse..’. Wynn was not one of these. In our first hours together she gave me the bits that helped me with character, mostly hers, and geography. When she’d arrived in her new post, it’d taken months to stop her men opening squad car doors for her, that she was always in the hairdressers under a dryer when news of a major incident came through, and if she was in civvies she would then have to tear back home, put on her uniform, and then go to the incident because without the uniform she’d be ignored. She bossed in one of the satellite towns around Burnley, ‘you can tell which of these towns is poorest, they haven’t knocked down their old mill chimneys for redevelopments’. She and her husband Tony took me to a pub owned by an ancient crone who grabbed my balls and then gave me an illustrated tie to commemorate the event. I still have it. I drank at the longest bar in a British cop HQ at Huyton. Wynn cooked me and my wife wonderful northern dishes like cow heel pie. She told me her motorcycle patrol cops didn’t last long. They were usually first on a fatality scene, usually of a motorcyclist, and they could take so many incidents dealing with bits of a rider spread over a road, then they had to pack it in. She told me many of the stories which amended, not a lot, were turned into scripts. She spoke about the glass ceiling that had to that date stopped any woman in England becoming a Chief Constable, how if you got too powerful you were sidelined into the Child Protection area.
I got back to London to be told that what could have been a hard-hitting north country drama would now be placed pre-watershed in the vacated Doctor Who spot, so no broad language, gut wrenching dramas etc. And now Terry Williams the producer and I learned with horror that Billy Cotton had also come up with what he thought would be a brilliant title for the series - 'A Fair Cop'. We searched frantically for an alternative that would be compelling enough to bury this disaster. My wife Barbara, who spent many hours listening to police radio, came up with the call-sign, 'Juliet Bravo'.
I assisted the first and possibly last real story editor, Joan Clark, with peripheral work in getting in some good writers. ‘I don’t know if I can write about a cop who’s a woman’ was a surprise response from some of the male writers – often they had written for Z Cars. I said they should write it using the name Barlow and we’d change that to our heroine Darblay later.