In her 30 years in the police – as a bobby on the beat, a CID detective, a member of the elite National Crime Faculty that helps solve difficult murders across the country or as detective inspector on Manchester’s Major Incident Team – Diane Taylor never once met anyone who felt that confession was good for the soul.
“All this banging on the desk and shouting ‘Confess! You’ll feel a lot better’ is nonsense,” she says. “Shouting at people doesn’t work. You’ll never get anyone to open up to you that way. When an interview is done well and when it’s planned by a really good interview adviser – and the planning can take days – it’s like a ballet. This question comes in here; this question comes in there. If we get this response, we go this way; if we get another, we go another way. You plan for every eventuality. You don’t just go stomping in, shouting.”
This isn’t the only cliché of cop drama that irks Taylor. Television perpetuates many myths about the way the police work and the retired Taylor is enjoying her new role demolishing them.
“Interviews are always carried out by detective constables and detective sergeants,” she explains. “You’d never see a DCI in an interview room because that’s not what they do. Nor do they deliver ‘the death message’ to the family. Again that’s done by DCs and DSs.”
So Inspector Morse wouldn’t conduct an interview, never form a bond with a victim’s bereaved relative and never come face to face with an offender? Taylor tuts.
And the whole “good cop, bad cop” thing? “It’s nonsense. The lead interviewer asks all the questions and the second only ever comes in when the lead interviewer has finished all their questions. You can go through interviews when only one police officer ever speaks.”
So why do these myths persist?
“The fiction creates the reality,” Taylor says plainly. “So many dramas are about a maverick DCI and their sergeant sidekick who do everything themselves. But a DCI doesn’t go out asking questions – they have 30 DCs doing that.”
Of course, you might argue that these clichés are what make cop dramas dramatic, the shortcuts that turn what would, in reality, be lengthy, laborious investigations into sprightly stories told in an hour or less with a strong central character. Without such liberties, crime drama might be dull.
Except Scott & Bailey confounds that logic. Created by Taylor and Sally Wainwright, writer of At Home with the Braithwaites and Unforgiven, it eschews the usual clichés of cop drama and the result is a first-rate, compelling drama with a refreshing air of authenticity. Wainwright and Taylor met through a mutual friend and have created what is, in the roughest shorthand, Cagney & Lacey in Manchester – with cracking central performances from Suranne Jones as DC Rachel Bailey and Lesley Sharp as DC Janet Scott – though reducing it to those terms misses its subtlety and intelligence.
Instead of shouty interrogations, there are sober, all-the-more-powerful interactions between police officers and suspects. Rather than multi-tasking mavericks, it focuses on a team of detectives working together to break a case. And by its attention to detail – in reality it’s the DCI who visits a murder scene and not the detective constables (who usually only see the body in crime scene photographs) – Scott & Bailey excels.
“The reality is so different from what you see on the telly and I think there’s so much more drama in the reality,” says Wainwright. “There are so many good, entertaining cop shows that don’t worry about procedure. But we wondered how you could do a cop show and make it different, so we went down the route of truthfulness.”
Rather than being purely procedural, though – as the likes of Law & Order are – Scott & Bailey is as focused on its characters’ personal lives. But here, too, it avoids cliché. Both Scott and Bailey have complicated personal lives – but not especially because of their jobs.
“Despite what you see on TV, it’s not a natural default position that if you’re a murder detective, you’re an alcoholic, a wife-beater, a gambler or a workaholic,” says Taylor. In fact, Wainwright describes Taylor as “a ray of sunshine” and says, “She wasn’t how I expected a murder detective to be; I expected her to have lots of problems and she doesn’t, and when I met some of her colleagues, they all seemed like nice, normal, happy people. Our DCI Gill Murray [played by Amelia Bullmore] is actually quite a comic character. She loves her job and gets a buzz from it.”
So what does Taylor make of Nietzsche’s warning: “Be careful when you fight the monsters lest you become one”? “It has to have an effect on you, but where you’re brought up has an effect on you, as do your school, your parents. It doesn’t have to have a detrimental effect on you. Police officers are just normal people but the difference is, when I’m stood in the queue at Tesco, I might have just spent six hours at a postmortem with my head inside someone’s chest cavity going, ‘Oooh, look at that.’ That’s the only difference.”
You might say that’s quite a big difference, and Taylor concedes that she’s seen some awful things in her career. “Five or six times in my career, I’ve thought that I’ve seen the worst, the daftest, the weirdest, most horrible thing one person can do to another, and I live in that deluded state for about two weeks. Then some other bugger comes along and they go one step further.”
While recounting such gory stories, Taylor, a gregarious Mancunian, couldn’t be further from the stereotypically troubled telly detective. As Wainwright says, she’s “more Liza Tarbuck than Jane Tennison”.
“If you actually turned some of the cases I’ve worked on into a drama, people wouldn’t believe it. People who’ve been married for years, have enough of their spouse and instead of leaving them and divorcing them, they kill them, chop them up and stick their head in the oven to roast. So when we find it, it looks older than it was…” One cliché that does hold true, then – the truth is stranger than fiction.