I love murder. For 30 years I’ve made a living out of it and I’ve long lost count of the number of bodies I’ve managed to stack up.
But when I was asked to come up with a new crime show for the BBC, I found myself wondering if it might be possible to go in a different direction. How many more bodies could there be cut up in alleyways, how many serial killers stealing away with their trophies, how many harassed detectives rounding up the usual suspects? After years of dark, troubling drama – much of it conceived in Scandinavia – was it perhaps time for a change of tone? There’s a ton of brilliant crime drama on TV at the moment, but isn’t there room, perhaps, for something a little more… well, entertaining?
Make it topical
New Blood is set in the real world of 21st-century London. The crimes it investigates are all taken from the headlines. Our targets in the first seven episodes are the pharmaceutical industry, corrupt charities and billionaire property developers – all of which were in the news while I was writing (my office looks out onto the Shard, built with £1.5 billion of Qatari money). Yes, there are murders, but in each case they lead to bigger conspiracies. I really think New Blood is unlike anything currently being made in the UK.
Keep it young
Our lead actors are very young; in their mid-20s. I’ve long been interested in the so-called “Y” generation, said to be the first generation to be demonstrably worse off than their parents. They pay tuition fees. We didn’t. Short-term contracts make life insecure and future planning impossible. Real earnings for people in their 20s have dropped by 12 per cent in the past seven years.
I wanted two protagonists who were just starting their careers, who were struggling for cash, trying to find somewhere to live – and who would have none of the middle-aged issues, the midlife crises that we’ve seen so often before.
These are the sort of guys who jump into a taxi and shout “Follow that car!”, then find they don’t have enough cash for the fare. They get drunk. They make mistakes. They turn on each other at moments of stress. They win through with a mixture of beginner’s luck, wit and tenacity.
Gamble on new blood
The BBC has taken a big gamble casting two unknowns as the leads in a primetime drama, but I am certain that Ben Tavassoli and Mark Strepan have risen to the challenge – they bring exactly the freshness and the sense of fun that I was looking for.
I wanted to cast young British-Iranian and British-Polish actors because it seemed to me that they would be free of the weight of class and establishment. They would fit in with the flavour of what is one of the most vibrant, cosmopolitan cities on the planet.
It might have been necessary to cheat with the casting – or rewrite – but I was delighted that, after a nationwide search, we were able to find the real thing and I’m grateful to Mark’s grandmother for all her coaching in Polish.
At the start of the show, our two heroes don’t even know each other and I hope viewers will enjoy the twists and turns that bring them together. Rash (Tavassoli) is a trainee Detective Constable, given six months’ probation by the police and tested daily… Stefan (Strepan) is a junior investigator who’s always one step away from losing his job at the Serious Fraud Office.
As far as I know, the SFO has never been portrayed in a TV drama before, but it is in the front line against sophisticated fraudsters and multinational conspirators, who have a major part in our drama.
Companies as well known as Tata Steel, GlaxoSmithKline, Rolls-Royce, Tesco and the security groups G4S and Serco have all been investigated by the SFO. They are also prosecuting the Libor scandal. We were lucky to get Anna Chancellor and Ariyon Bakare to give authority to this world. Behind the scenes, the real SFO have been incredibly helpful.
Make it fast – and furious
We filmed the series over the summer in London, which was an enormous challenge in itself. You’ll see it all on screen. A chase through a five-star hotel with two chambermaids wielding Heckler & Koch machine guns – along with a very unexpected ending – took four days to shoot.
A car chase near City Airport, which leads to a spectacular crash, nearly had to be abandoned when approaching pilots complained about the bright lights (we had to change the schedule to keep everyone safe). But I love London and wanted to show it – not Disney London, not tourist London – but as it really is.
There is a lot of action in New Blood and the producers did look in horror at some of the demands I made. Obviously, two people talking in a room is a lot cheaper than having them jump off tall buildings or break into container ships at night down at Tilbury docks. A couple of days’ shooting in Mumbai – which opens the series – was also a big ask. But throughout, I was trying to break away from the interrogation scenes that fuel so much crime drama. I wanted the show to be fast-moving, visually intriguing, light on its feet.
Which is why you’ll also see Rash and Stefan cycling around town, kick-boxing, competing in triathlons, even slugging it out in a Turkish sauna. After 15 years writing Foyle’s War, I loved the fact that we had cars that went at slightly more than 30mph and heroes I could shoot at, chase, tie up and generally terrorise.
To their credit, Ben and Mark never once complained, and if the series is a success it will be very much down to them, to their good humour and the warmth of their relationship.
Keep it authentic
Actually, part of my inspiration was distinctly old-fashioned. I was thinking of the first Lethal Weapon films made back in the 1980s. Back then, we had two detectives in a sort of a bromance. They were witty and affectionate and, as much as we enjoyed their company, we never lost sight of the fact that they inhabited a very dangerous world. The criminals they encountered were slightly larger-than-life but never unbelievable. There were explosions. The stories often took an unexpected turn.
That, to an extent, is what we’ve tried to replicate. I wanted to take crime out of the back alleys and those dark corridors where the investigators always have to carry torches.
I’ve tried to play with what is familiar and what isn’t. So, in an early scene, you have a dead body on a pavement. A police car draws in and a middle-aged detective gets out. Only suddenly you realise he’s not the hero. The hero is the poor sod in the background, standing in the pouring rain, directing the traffic.
What I wanted, really, was something that was a bit more fun. Sitting here, having watched the first seven episodes, I think I’ve succeeded although, of course, the final
verdict is still to come.
New Blood is on Thursdays at 9pm on BBC1