A ﬁstful of
A new BBC drama series Jute City takes in political assassination, Baltic fishermen, Masonic ritual, and the yuppification of Dundee, and that’s just the first episode. Tom
Lappin unravels the threads with the
producer John Chapman.
As far as non-events go. the Dundee 800th anniversary celebrations this year have been on a par with a Rangers fans‘ Mass. The city could however find some belated fame with the broadcast ofJute City. a complex thriller shown nationally on BBC1 . which takes the self-styled City Of Discovery as its starting point. Admittedly. we only get five minutes into the first episode before the central character refers to it as the ‘arsehole of the world'. but. hey. there's no such thing as bad publicity is there?
‘That‘s the character‘s opinion. no one else's.' says producer John Chapman forcefully. ‘He was an exile returning home. and maybe being a little defensive. We were obviously worried about how Dundonians would react to it. but in fact they're fantastically self-deprecating about the place. They make a point ofstriking themselves before anybody else could pour scorn on the city.‘
Dundee seemed an appropriate place to start for '
a thriller that opens with the demise of a thrusting
young entrepreneur. Sammy Kerr. who has made a mint out of the city‘s gentrification. ‘The fundamental idea behind the piece.‘ says Chapman. ‘as the character Anderson says. is that Dundee is one unlucky city. it has had a real kicking industrially. Out ofthat desperation come
desperate people. who start making human errors. '
And that's what we wanted to show.‘
A complex plot involves the returning exile Duncan Kerr (David O'Hara) teaming up with a hapless private deteptive McMurdo (John Sessions) in an attempt to solve the mysterious death of his brother Sammy. Their investigations uncover a wealth ofcorruption and conspiracy encompassing a Highland Iaird. a Baltic fisherman. and assorted political machinations. Jute City has ramifications far beyond a simple morality tale. One ofthe recurrent themes is freemasonry. with all sorts ofsinister rituals and oaths depicted on screen — something ofa TV first.
‘lt's a fairly traumatic area.‘ admits Chapman. ‘There was one guy attached to the show who is a freemason. I‘m not going to tell you his name. but we had a glorious row halfway through filming. but I think he realised in the end that the film isn‘t
Joanna Roth. Jenny McCrindle. David O'Hara and John Sessions in Jute City
really about that. it just connects in with the whole text. The freemason references tie in quite closely with the themes of loyalty. The main characters are brothers. and there's lots ofstuff about how they related to their mother and their world. The freemasonry bit backed that up. with its themes of loyalty and duty and the like.‘
Ifall this sounds a mite complex. well that‘s because it is. but it‘s not absolutely necessary to grasp every detail ofwhat is essentially a
: character-driven drama. ‘The characters should carry the ideas.' says Chapman. ‘1 think that‘s true
of any good piece of drama. If you want to write a
‘ lecture. go and speak in a pulpit. We’re making
what we hope is a popular drama. and character is what people watch.'
Adding the advice that the character of Sammy is the key to unravelling the plot. Chapman promises that everything will be clear by the final episode. with the serial coming to what he describes as an ‘epic Sergio Leone-style ending’ in the Highlands. Who knows. maybe even the Dundee tourist trade will pick up.
J ute ( ‘in starts on I} B( ‘l on Sunday 2 7 October a!
' 9. 20pm.
"it Mike McShane
when its done brilliantly despite the fact that 95 per cent of sitcoms are execrable crap. Similarly people only get tired of improvisers when they
Slattery admits that Whose Line needs new games to maintain the
steamrollerolerudition andliterary reference,’ he says. ‘That was his way
, of panicking. And the only way I could
' find to stop him in his tracks, to pull the carpet from underneath him, and get a word in edgeways was to jump in with a nob joke. It’s the smutty bits which
improvisation is no longer the sexy new TV idea it was a couple of years ago. A couple of dull John Sessions series, and constant exposure to Josie Lawrence hanging out unlunny ditties about household implements in assorted excruciating style pastiches has in fact made impro something of a dirty word, despite the fact that it still remains relatively cheap to make. Which makes a new Channel 4 series 8 and M, featuring the talents of two Whose Line Is It Anyway? performers
Mike McShane and Tony Slattery, a somewhat risky venture. ‘I think as long’as its funny it doesn’t matter,’ says Slattery bravely. ‘I don’t think formats have a limited shelf-life in that way. Sitcom is still a brilliant format
68 The List 25 October — 7 November 1991
interest, but points out that S and M doesn’t follow the same routine. ‘There are no structured games, there's no chairman, there are no suggestions from the audience. We just work from initial premises.’ This results in an open-ended format, where situations can be comic quickies or develop for several minutes.
Slattery could usually be relied onto enliven Whose Line with regular injections of filth, a habit he puts down to sheer panic. ‘With John Sessions. when he was backed into a corner,
, what would come out would be this
ON FOLLOWING PAGES: LAURIE PIKE O CHILDREN OF THE NORTH O TV REVIEW
people tend to remember, but ifyou look closely, I do other things. It's not just a stream of filth.‘
The new series double-act will hopefully avoid the dangers of smugness and self-indulgence that bedevilled the Sessions and Lawrence acts, feeding off the contrasts between the loud American McShane and the urbane English Slattery, characters so differentthat, as Slattery admits, they sometimes end up staring at each other in total bewilderment. (Tom Lappin)
S and M starts on Channel 4 on Wednesday 6 November at 10.30pm.