The inaugural Radio Times Festival is continuing along this afternoon and for crime drama fans (as well as crime fiction fans) one of the must-see panel sessions of the day was Lynda La Plante talking about her much anticipated prequel to her seminal Prime Suspect series, starring Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison.
As frequenters of literary festivals will happily attest to, Last Plante is fantastic value – her background in acting serves her well when it comes to addressing an audience. She explained she has appeared in crime dramas before (Z Cars, The Sweeney, Bergerac et all) although mostly appearing as a prostitute, and then launched into a brilliant anecdote about researching ladies of the night in the US and joining them on the street.
To begin with she talked the genesis of Prime Suspect, and how, when she had met a commissioner, lied through her teeth to secure a deal. They told her that they were looking for a story that featured a female detective who worked in a murder squad. Even though she had nothing in the pipeline, she plucked the title of Prime Suspect out of thin air to placate the commissioner. She then went to work, meeting DCI Jackie Malton who took La Plante to her first autopsy and gave her valuable advice when it came to character and procedure.
To any aspiring writers, she said, asking questions and watching and learning with the police was paramount.
When it comes to the prequel, Tennison, she said that it would be a six-part series and that she is currently in the casting phase. She’s looking for unknown actors (“I’m going to be Simon Cowell!”), and credits the success of The Killing and The Bridge for this approach – British viewers showed they could appreciate and handle new and fresh talent. She’s looking for someone with the essence of Helen Mirren rather than a carbon copy. Indeed, a young woman in the audience asked for details on how and where to audition because she was an unknown.
La Plante said she’s having great fun with the 1970s era and enjoying working with the music, clothes and shoes of that time. One of her employees – an ex-detective – suggested Hackney as a setting, and his wife (who was a 22-year-old policewoman in Hackney at the time) provided invaluable insight. Suddenly the young WPC Tennison was formed and we’ll see how this young woman travels from her parents’ home in Maida Vale to the rougher east end London every day and she became the tough copper that she did.
La Plante also said that she thought that too much crime drama today was overdone and oversexed, especially in regards to too many graphic images in the autopsy lab almost fetishising cadavers.