Makinga crisis into a drama

New drama in the summer? Unheard of. Tom Lappin reels in amazement at the arrival of three (count ’em) new series: Roughnecks, Little Napoleons and (below) Love On A Branch Line.

Expenditure is so tightly constricted these days that if a TV channel actually forces itself to spend money on new drama series, they tend to put them out at the moments of greatest audience expectancy, during those long winter months, or at least during the first chill breezes of autumn.

The cynical would claim that this means dramas dumped into the summer schedules, the high days and holidays of repeats and sport, must be in some way inferior. Certainly that‘s been the rumour circulating about Roughneclcs, BBC] ‘s weather- beaten new series set among North Sea oil rig folk.

As it turns out. Roughnecks, made for the BBC by independent producers First Choice, isn‘t half bad. Admittedly it has made a few compromises. Ostensibly a macho ensemble piece about big tough guys and large lumps of machinery, the series has felt the need to bring in a few female characters to soften the focus. All very well. but its somewhat credulity-

Stretcmng When ‘1 pOSh 80" called Tessa BUCkingham i has both Ricky Tornlinson (playing the admirably


Saeed Jeffrey and Norman Beaton are the little liapoleons.

arrives on the rig, claiming to be a ‘darnn good mechanic‘ with plenty of experience ofdock

engineering. It's a somewhat Utopian view of

feminist advancement, probably related to pressure from on high to give the series a sex interest. Otherwise Rnuglrner'ks, written by former That's 8 Life man Kieran Prendiville. has plenty going for it. t From the opening sequence where the characters loom up at the camera to one of those stirring Mike Post themes, the accent is on fast-moving, Hill Street Blues style energy. Strong regional sorts rapidly i shake down into sharply-delineated characters. the rig scenes are believably breezy, and anything that

acerbic cook nicknamed Cinders) and James Cosmo in leading parts has to be watchable.

The performers are also the best thing about Channel 4's Little Napolerms. Saeed .laffrey and Norman Beaton play rival solicitors Vijay Shah and N.K. Edwards vying with each other for prestige and power. Enter tough Labour council leader Lesley Manville who recruits both our heroes to the cause of lighting crooked Tory chief Simon Callow (who exploits his full armoury ofcarnp mannerisms in his delightfully nasty character). Meanwhile Gina Bellman is scheming behind the scenes, using any means at her control to land a top council job.

It's an unusual series, not least for having a West Indian and an Asian in the lead roles. Writer Michael Abbensetts (who is of Guyanan origin) is keen to

point out that it‘s not a drama purely and simply

about race. There are elements of class. sex and

politics in the series as well. and a large slice of

idiosyncratic humour. It's nearest relation would be (,‘BH although Abbensetts wouldn‘t claim to have Bleasdale‘s sense of applied anger.

In fact he‘s more interested in the personal upheavals of his characters. To research the series he

‘Dstensibly a macho ensemble piece about big tough guys and large lumps of machinery, the series has felt the need to bring in a few female characters to soften the focus.’

spent a long-period observing the activities of Brent

council, but only as an afterthought. ‘My initial aim

was to write a comedy about two headstrong characters always trying to get one up on each other,’

e says. "The local politics angle came later.’ Ruuglmer'ks begins on BBC] on Thursday June 16. Little Nupnleuns begins on Channel 4 on Tuesday 7 June.

Rural bliss

Summer, season of sport and mellow repeats. And lazy, escapist light comedies with plenty of outdoor sequences, lush country houses, village cricket matches and upper» crust gels with active Ilbidos. Just the thing to get the atmosphere right before Wimbledon.

That's the oh-so-English formula for BB01’s four-part series Love On A Branch line adapted by David liobbs

from John iiadfield’s novel. Michael so good, with David liobbs's . Moloney plays civil servant Jasper adaptation, and it’s a clever, gentle fig;:geggftmmggfifiur?aém Pye, sent to investigate a research book in the first place. What’s 9

unit at Arcady Hall in a blissful Norfolk

village. Once there he encounters the mysterious lord Flamborough (leslie Phillips) and his three lascivious daughters, as well as the suspiciously low-key members of the research unit.

It’s feel-good fantasy stuff, crammed full of romance, nostalgia for the carefree 50s, lovingly shot steam-train sequences and the occasional touch of tasteful raunchiness. ‘it’s really English light comedy,’ says Moloney. ’Arcady feels very self-contained. The characters and the way they behave in particular belong to that time. it is rather quaint.’

Phillips agrees; ‘The characters are unusual and distinctive, the writing is

I important is that this production has

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great joy in it.’

‘Joy’ might seem an odd ingredient in TV’s post-La Plante days of grimness, bad language and shooters, but this is sultry Sunday evening easy-viewing, an antidote to all those noisy lrish sorts getting up to no good in Family.

It’s an unashamed attempt at grabbing a slice of The Darling Buds D! May audience, aided by llobbs’s adeptness with idiosyncratic dialogue that has been brightening up TV comedies since his Reggie Perrin days. Essentially though, Love On A Branch Line is unashamed fantasy, 'Alice In Wonderland for adults. ‘The really idyllic place is Arcady Hall,’

hole in the wall, just as in lewls Carroll. things are never quite what is


expected.’ (Tom Lappin)

love On A Branch Line begins on 3801 on Sunday 12 June.

Michael Moloney plays easy to get

The List 3—16iune 1994 17