The English preoccupation with picturesque villages as settings for their thrillers, peopled with more somnambulant murderers than the llYPIl Blues precinct could shake a night-stick at, has marred many a TV ’tecs credibility. Maybe it’s something to do with the Morsification of writers’ brains.
lot so for the latest crime-catcher from the BBC, Colonel Yevgeni Grushko, whose creator Philip Kerr was in full control of his literary faculties when he chose St Petersburg as Grushko’s home. The city, beautiful as it may be, Is said to be built on the bones of the serfs who died during its construction, and this dark past is reflected in a current explosion of mafia related violence and criminal activity.
Kerr was originally approached to adapt a Russian novel called The Sad Detective for TV, which ‘made Morse look like a happy-go-Iucky Mr Wonderful’. ‘I suggested doing a contemporary crime series, because there is so much crime happening in Russia,’ remembers Kerr. ‘You could combine the best of Morse: the scenic aspects of Oxford, and match that in St Petersburg with some real crime. It always seemed to me that the worst thing about Morse was the wholly improbable amount of murder there was in such a splendidly picturesque IIttle place.’
Grushko is not simply another
Brian Cox cracks crime Russian style
exotically-Iocationed thriller, however, as Kerr explains. ‘l wanted to write about the economic and bureaucratic corruption in Russia,’ he says, ‘but at the same time, I wanted to write about the physical and geographical corruption of the country. One was very much a metaphor of the other.’
i Colonel Grushko, played by Brian Cox,
; is faced with a changing St
! Petersburg. liew gangs are descending ; on the city from all over the old Soviet I Union, each bringing its own violent
code and determined greed. During his research for Grushko, Kerr I found that there is not much to write i about modern Russian without ! including elements of crime. Even the l Russians themselves fall to I distinguish between crime and 3 business: a ‘biznizman’ means i someone who is a crook - and everyone is a biznlzrnan. (Thom Illbdin) Grushko begins on BBC1 on Thursday 24 March. A novel, adapted from the series by Philip Kerr is published by Arrow at £4.99.
. . . while Richard Griffiths cracks eggs English-style
Cops pounding the streets of St Petersburg aren’t the only twist on the traditional detective thriller hitting BBCI this fortnight. It’s no secret that channel chief Alan Yentob is desperate to find a drama hit for Sunday evenings, and the latest project bears more than a few traces of populist formula-chasing. You’ve had cops with aesthetic leanings, cops with Polish ancestry, cops with colourful Geordie accomplices, but are we ready for cops with pies?
The chief turns chef in Pie In The
Sky, 3 new ten-part series written by Minder and loveioy writer Andrew Payne. Tubby Richard Griffiths (best remembered as Uncle Monty in ‘Withnail And I’) stars as Henry Crabbe, a slow-bum detective eager to go straight and open his own restaurant. (in paper it’s Morse meets Keith Floyd, with more attention devoted to the three courses and cheese-board than collaring criminals. The character’s preference is very definitely the kitchen over the interrogation room.
‘Ile’s terriny good at his )ob,’ says Griffiths, ‘but he’s become tired of it. He’s learned the lesson that what you should do is whatever obsesses you, because then you’ll be happy doing it for the rest of your life. Crabbe’s obsession is cooking good English food. lle’s interested in English cuisine, if there Is such a thing.’
Sadly, sauteeing kidneys and dressing salads are not the stuff of ratings winners, so our hero keeps his hand in with a spot of part-time sleuthing. As is often the way with this sort of show, he is simply too good a detective for the force to let him go. ‘Ile has a good nose, a good instinct about people,’ says Griffith, ‘lle’s not like any other TV detective, although his nearest spiritual neighbour is probably Maigret.’ (Tom Lappin)
Pie In The Sky begins on BBC1 on Sunday March 13 at 1.30pm.
‘The green twig of peace has been stretched to melting point.‘ shouts a ﬂak-jacketed reporter. as soldiers run past him. The programme is The Day Today: moments before. the Paxmanite news presenter has just engineered an argument between two diplomats. and ten minutes later the entire war is advertised as available on video. with a soundtrack of rock classics. entitled Our War. It‘s the sort of gag — throwaway. clever and very much about broadcasting — that bears the comic thumbprint of Armando lannucci. the creator and producer of that programme as well as ()n The Hour. Knowing Me. Knowing You. Down Your [far and presenter of. among other things. a new series of The Armando lannucci Show on Radio One.
So where did these comedy obsessions spring from? ‘I suppose it was some lonely childhood spent watching telly and listening to the radio, some sad trainspottery existence,‘ apologises the Glaswegian lannucci. ‘I used to tape things offthe radio — like Hirehiker's Guide To The Galaxy. and learn the script and stuff like that.‘
Such early retentiveness has clearly paid off. with a current output which is prodigious in the extreme. ‘Unless I get more radio. I will explode.‘ wrote in one mock listener to the spoof talkback
I Bertolt Brecht - Stages of an Exile (Radio 3) 10—1 lpm. Sat 12 Mar. Barry Humphries. Denis Healey. Nadine Gordimer, Tilda Swinton. Carol Ann Duffy and Sara Kestelman take part in this feature on arguably the greatest dramatist of the 20th century. charting his progression towards exile in America. It‘s punctuated by readings from his letters. diaries and poems. and specially arranged versions of his songs.
I Seeds of Faith (Radio 4) ll.30pm—midnight. Sun 13 Mar. The ﬁrst of three programmes exploring the relationship between music and belief. How closely does the tonal music of earlier centuries. with its familiar sequence of tension and resolution. correspond to contemporary thinking about the world and its maker? And what do the dramatic changes in the musical language of the 20th century have to say about us'.’
I Speak Up (Radio Scotland) l2.20—l2.30pm. Mon 14 Mar. and for the rest of the week. Radio Scotland marks the launch of a campaign against bullying. backed jointly by the BBC and Childline. with this lunchtime series. Presenter Carol Wightman talks to victims about the misery of being bullied and the stigma of ‘telling on' someone. then confronts the bullies. and their families. and tries to ﬁnd out from Scotland's Bullying Ofﬁcer what can be done to stop them .
The great Armando
Amanda Ianmrcci programme Down Your Ear. ‘I am a pensioner. and am very frightened of exploding.‘ Is the same true of this hyperactive comedian? ‘No. If! go on for another year like this then I’ll die.‘
His latest non-combusting show
promises several ﬁrsts for radio broadcasting: ﬁve-a-side fax football, in which a picture of a football is faxed about the country. and a 4 x 200 metre mens‘ answerphone relay, in which the competitors leave the message ‘baton'. The show‘s general format is one which lannucci is very familiar with: T” just be taping bits of Steve Wright and John Peel off my radio and sticking them together.‘ (Stephen Chester) The Armando lannucci Show, Radio One, 9pm, Mon. unti128 Mar.
I Cover Stories (Radio Scotland) 6.15—6.45pm. Mon 14 Mar. Actor Robbie Coltrane is a major sponsor of the magazine The Big Issue. He talks to Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh about the magazine sold by. and in aid of. the homeless. Welsh goes on to investigate who is buying the magazine and why. and. conversely. who is not.
I Sporting Albums (Radio Five) 12.3()—l.l()pm. Thurs 17 Mar. In this edition of the Desert Island Discs for sports personalities. Linford Christie picks the tracks that get him moving.
I Stop the Music (Radio One) 7—8pm. Sun 20 Mar. The most intriguing - and most sadistic — programme idea this fortnight: Mark Lamarr conﬁscates raver ‘DJ Food Junkey"s record collection and drags him along to a series ofclassical concerts, jeopardises the ears of a concert cellist forever by sending him to a rave. and. ﬁnally. prizes a rocker away from leather and beer guts and forces her to listen to nothing but reggae. All this grief just to ﬁnd out why people gravitate towards particular types of music.
I Steve Wright in the Morning (Radio One) 7—9am. Mon 21 Mar. Steve kicks off Radio One's Science Week with a series of ‘Amazing But True' scientiﬁc facts. whilst Ian McCaskill forecasts the day's weather on Mars. (Really useful ifyou want to know whether to put on one space suit or two. I suppose . . .) Throughout the week. Steve will be presenting ‘Lives of the Great Scientists in Just One Minute' and. not surprisingly. Einstein is the ﬁrst to become a mere molecule of radio time. I Emma Freud (Radio One) noon—2pm. Mon 21 Mar. The regular ‘chats with guests' format gives way to a series of special features for Science Week. First up is a look at how body language can be used to make friends and influence people. Later programmes deal with the reality behind the DNA games at Jurassic Park; ways to improve your memory; and the likelihood of robots doing the hoovering in the near future. (Catherine Fellows)
66 The List 1 1—24 March 1994