My new year TV schedule (UK) tells me to expect another attempt at dramatising Ian Rankin’s Rebus for the small screen. This time, the lead role is to be taken by Ken Stott.
I’ve just finished my latest Rebus - lazy holiday reading - and it will be interesting to see if Ken is up to it. He’s quite typecast - and some of it fits. For one, he’s Scottish. He’s no spring chicken, and most of his roles are of a relatively senior cop (nearly all TV cops seem to be DIs) who doesn’t play by the rules, exasperates is superiors, yet has the moral compulsion and intelligence needed to do his job better than anyone else.
But Rebus is a bit more complex than Ken’s usual fare. He has a physical presence (ex SAS) - admittedly deteriorated by booze ‘n fags - and a pragmatism that Ken hasn’t been scripted with before. He also seems to have a complex sex-appeal which Ken will struggle to match. Rebus has a professional’s eye for creating situations in which people tell him what he needs to know. Ken’s script is usually for moral force rather than calculation. Where Stott usually plays a monomaniac on the verge of a breakdown, Rebus has a hinterland - a pub full of his usual non-suspects, a record collection, a secret liberalism, and so on.
But as I said, Ken has the core attributes - moral compulsion / intelligence / contempt for procedure etc. We’ll see.
Two points coming out of this: The first is an observation that there is a receptive market in which the failure of management can be pedalled. In TV drama, enterprise and creativity never come from those who succeed on the promotional ladder - the people who make and enforce the rules.
The second is the implication that, deep down, we like to hear the same story over and over again. There is a template for the mid-market cop drama. Think back to The Sweeney in the 1970s - typical dialogue;
“By the book this time Regan”
“But Guv! I get results my way...”
The same dialogue could come from Rebus, any of Stott’s characters, the ‘Prime Suspect’ series, Inspectors Frost and Morse, and so on.
This explains why so much news journalism these days appears to be an eager rehearsal of a prewritten script. It doesn’t explain why this market for stories about bureaucratic failure remain untapped.
There’s a ready market for them, you know...
Tags: Books, Journalism, Telly.