NIGHT OF IDEAS Facing our Time – 31 January 2019

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Launched by the Institut français in 2016, the NIGHT OF IDEAS is a project staged simultaneously in Paris, London and worldwide. For this year’s edition, the Institut français du Royaume-Uni has put together a thought-provoking programme of debates, performances and screenings exploring the latest ideas behind issues central to our times, taking place on Thursday 31 January 2019, from 5pm to midnight.

Crossing French, British and European perspectives, the NIGHT OF IDEAS will engage audiences in free debates with the theme FACING OUR TIME as the common thread to question today’s challenges.

Joined by thirty leading experts, artists, scholars and journalists, Former French Minister for Environment Nicolas Hulot, and philosopher Anthony Grayling will kick off the NIGHT OF IDEAS by addressing two of our most pressing issues: the environment and Europe.

 Too often, the environment and Europe are perceived as abstract and remote without human solution. The NIGHT OF IDEAS will breathe lifeinto these subjects by inviting audiences to take part in an open debate on the possibilities for a brighter future where citizen voices and perspectives matter.

 EUROPE BEYOND WALLS

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the Iron Curtain – a historical moment of Europeans acting for a shared future. Do we really wish to withdraw back into territorial and political divisions? The NIGHT OF IDEAS will be a forum for those who seek dialogue on European values and ideas, and on how people can practice a living European citizenship.

THE EARTH HERE AND NOW

Climate change is everyone’s burden and everyone’s responsibility. Can art and education help us to shape a viable future for our planet? The NIGHT OF IDEAS brings together scientists, artists, explorers and activists to inspire and challenge us to become true environmental citizens.

In the run-up to the NIGHT OF IDEAS, a film season, BEFORE THE NIGHT, will echo the different themes and the LITTLE NIGHT will invite pupils from British and French schools to reflect on the main topics.

The NIGHT OF IDEAS is organised by the Institut français, the Scientific and the Cultural Departments of the French Embassy, in partnership with Imperial College London, King’s College London, the BFI, the Serpentine Galleries, the Maison française d’Oxford, and the Alliance Française network in the UK, among others.

Night of Ideas: 31 January 2019

Before the Night: 22 – 30 January 2019

Venue: Institut français du Royaume-Uni, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT 

Info & bookings: http://www.nightofideas.co.uk

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Blu-ray Review​: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

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The 1974 American horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was less than rapturously received by critics but instantly gained a cult following. Pioneering many conventions which are now regarded as de rigueur by fans of slasher movies it was highly profitable despite being banned outright in several territories. A controversial film, it gained a further round of publicity in the UK during an overheated response to “video-nasties” when the BBFC refused to certify it for home entertainment (this decision was reversed in 1999).

The key recipient of the frenzied publicity surrounding The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was its director Tobe Hooper who having proved he was capable of producing a highly profitable movie went on to helm several minor classics for film and TV (Salem’s Lot, Poltergeist, Lifeforce). Twelve years on from the original entry into the franchise he returned with a sequel for Golan and Golobus’ Cannon Films. Consistently generating money in the form of sales and rentals in regions where it was still available, the first film was a proven commodity so greenlighting the second installment was, at least on paper, a shrewd decision for the money men at the studio.

Given a considerable budget in comparison to the paltry sum available for the previous film and armed with a crew possessing a greater arsenal of equipment, Hooper replaced the cinema verite approach with an abundance of black humour and a more fluid cinematographic approach. Released into a crowded marketplace The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 competed against a number of theatrically released and straight to video productions which had been directly influenced by the original so a sequel was, with hindsight, never going to be judged on its own merits. The passage of time and a comprehensive package enables the film to reassessed by a fresh generation which might be more celebratory in its appreciation.

Thirteen years on from Leatherface’s last appearance radio DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams) is pestered during a show by a pair of drunken college students. Unable to disconnect their call, Brock inadvertently broadcasts the chainsaw wielding maniacs return. Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) has spent years investigating the disappearance of his niece and nephew and soon teams up with Brock hoping to draw out the murderous cannibalistic family (from the first film) into the open.

Bizarrely, despite the increased budget and superior technical facilities, this is a less intense film. The narrative has occasional lapses of logic but this is balanced out by the brilliance of the set pieces. Hopper is delightfully deranged but as this film was made during one of his ‘lost’ periods it’s debatable how much acting was going on.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is available to order from Amazon

DVD Review: My Amityville Horror

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In November 1973 Ronald Joseph DeFeo, Jr shot and killed six members of his family. The house where this terrible incident took place was 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville. Whilst DeFeo was incarcerated inside a correctional institute awaiting trial the house was placed on the market. Thirteen months would pass before anybody expressed an interest in buying the property. Despite being greatly reduced to $80,000 locals would not consider moving into the home and so it remained empty until George and Kathy Lutz bought it. The Lutz family may have thought they were embarking on a new chapter but they would flee from the building after twenty-eight days claiming that they had witnessed intense paranormal activity.

The various accounts given by Lutz family soon attracted media interest. After several reports on local and national TV George and Kathy Lutz sold the rights to their story to Jay Anson. Possibly sensing that following the enormous box office success of The Exorcist and The Omen the public might be hungry for more tales of demonic activity, Aston published his greatly embellished account of those twenty-eight days under the disingenuous title The Amityville Horror: A True Story. With copies of the book flying off the shelves, it was inevitable that a Hollywood production company would want to adapt this sensational tale for the big screen, the resultant film was a commercial success despite receiving a critical mauling. To date, nine sequels have been produced with the most recent being The Amityville Asylum.

For parapsychologists, the Lutz account of events which are said to have occurred within those twenty-eight days is deeply problematic. The absence of any independent scientifically verifiable data requires any conclusions about the veracity of the paranormal occurrence to be based solely on the family’s testimony. The published account has been altered in subsequent reprints and as we are unable to access a definitive version of what happened it may have no more claim to validity than other highly contested reportings, e.g; the Enfield Poltergeist.

UK audiences opinions on what, if anything, happened during those twenty-eight days may have been shaped by Stuart Rosenberg’s 1979 film. A sensationalist movie produced by a master of low budget exploitation, Samuel Z. Arkoff, it’s brief absorption into British pop culture was compounded when a canny publisher sensed that a fast buck was to be made and rush-released a mass market paperback of Aston’s book. Across the land branches of Woolworths carried copies of the book ensuring that this highly contested version of events spent a few weeks in the UK best-seller charts.

Since 1979 the Hollywood version has been parodied numerous times in films and TV series. In 1986 Lovebug Starski scored a top twenty hit on the UK charts with a track that referenced events from the film, and threw in impersonations of Boris Karloff and William Shatner against an early Hip Hop backbeat. Whilst the house may have become a brand and generic trope the family at the center of this story drifted into relative obscurity. Forgotten for over thirty years, members of the Lutz clan would be wheeled out for occasional TV features and then return to their daily lives knowing that their moment in the spotlight was over.

At the age of ten Maryland native Eric Walter obtained a copy of Aston’s book. Fascinated with the dark tales of murder and ghoulish goings-on he soon started collating what evidence was in the public domain and shortly after his seventeenth birthday set up a website called The Amity Files that presented whatever factual information was available without prejudice. Visitors to the page were able to access various documents with no attempt by Walter to suggest that the events alleged to have occurred inside that house were genuine or fraudulent.

Three years after directing the horror rom-com The Lumberjack of All Trades, Eric Walter was contacted by a friend of Daniel Lutz. Eager to tell his version of events after more than forty years of misrepresentation, Daniel had engaged an intermediary to see if Eric Walter would be willing to direct a fair and balanced documentary. Timing was crucial as up until 2006 media rights had been strictly controlled by Daniel’s stepfather, George Lutz. Upon the death of Lutz Sr, the rest of the family were now legally free to talk about Amityville to media outlets. Eager to emerge from his step father’s shadow, Daniel wanted to tell anybody who might be interested in his personal experiences of living in that house.

Walter’s feature-length documentary, My Amityville Horror, is an intelligent and emotionally rewarding film. One which skilfully transcends the salacious aspects of the Amityville story and instead delivers a remarkable discussion on the validity of memory and a child’s susceptibility when confronted with destructive familial influences.

No matter how hard he may have tried, Daniel Lutz has never been able to escape from the legacy of events at 112 Ocean Avenue. A lifetime spent living with the spectre of a turbulent past has had a demonstrable effect on him and throughout the documentary it is all too apparent that he is visibly damaged by something but whether the cause of that trauma is spectral, result of childhood abuse or a consequence of years spent living with a lie is something that viewers will have to decide.

Now working as a UPS delivery driver, Daniel is a combative interviewee and in between demonstrations of his prowess as a heavy metal guitarist, he tells imponderable tales of levitation and possession. Appearing to believe very firmly in his testimony he bristles at the mere mention of doubt or having to provide evidence.

Editorial balance is provided by the inclusion of interviews with journalists who were first on the scene back in 1974. Possibly meeting again for the first time in decades, they compare professional experiences about covering the story and what they had learned about Daniel’s stepfather, George. Unable to reach a consensus, their roundtable discussion demonstrates how thoroughly they had investigated the history of the house and the Lutz family background.

Interviews with mental health professionals may make the viewer question how reliable their own memory is. Demonstrating how easily an individual’s process of recall may be tampered by external stimuli we are left to wonder if Daniel’s recollections have been shaped by seeing the various film versions of the story.

The late George Lutz is an ever-present presence throughout the documentary, details about his relationship with Daniel may be the key to unlocking the mystery about the alleged unearthly activeness. A once-mysterious figure, George’s motivations still cause considerable debate amongst aficionados and detractors. Was he the all American father who sought to protect his family from evil forces or did he have an ulterior motive?

An engaging film which will appeal to horror fans. My Amityville Horror makes no definitive claim on the history of 112 Ocean Avenue allowing believers to walk away feeling validated and doubters to also claim a victory. The presentation of evidence and refusal to take a firm stance elevates this film far beyond whatever exploitative documentaries are currently available. Illustrating how eroding it is to live with a personal trauma, the documentary presents a picture of a deeply troubled man and then offers up a multitude of reasons for the cause of the psychological scars.

My Amityville Horror is available to order from Amazon

Wallace on Screen: The Krimis Films

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Speak to Germans of a certain age and the chances are that they will remember a series of films opening with a voiceover proclaiming ‘hier spricht Edgar Wallace’ (‘this is Edgar Wallace speaking’). A total of 32 films were made as part of a series that has become known as “Krimis” films. Still shown on television and available on DVD and Blu-ray the films have preserved Wallace’s reputation in Germany while he is largely forgotten in his homeland.

Not the first German adaptations of Wallace’s novels. Five German-language adaptations are known to have been produced between 1927 – 34 (there may have been others).  Why did a Danish-German production company decide to embark on a fresh series of screen adaptations? For a country seeking to banish its past and create a new inclusive sense of nationhood what appeal was there in seeing recreations of 1920s England culled from the work of an imperialist?

During his lifetime Germany was a strong market for Wallace.  German publishers were late in discovering Wallace’s commercial potential. The first translated novel was issued in 1925. Discovering the existence of a massive back catalogue of titles publisher Wilhelm Goldmann traveled to London and met with Wallace to secure the rights to issue translated editions of all title that had been published in the UK.

Prior to 1925, Wallace expressed amusement upon receipt of translated editions of his novels. Success in Germany made him more conscious of the dividends earned from overseas sales. For a man whose profligacy had brought him close to ruin the steady injection of revenue from a new market was most welcome.

In common with most authors of his generation, Wallace had written scathing commentary about Germans during World War I. In peacetime he became more amenable and is reported to have had a deep affection for Berlin. In this new market, he was soon to become a major celebrity. Reports of visits to Germany suggest that hundreds of people would turn up to catch a glimpse of him at train stations.

In the post-war era, sales of Wallace’s books in the UK declined while Germany remained a steady market. With sales in freefall, at least in the UK, the estate sold rights to adapt Wallace’s novels for film and the stage to Anglo-Amalgamated for the UK and Commonwealth and Danish film producer Preben Phillipsen for German-speaking territories.

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Wallace’s novels had been a publishing sensation when first published in Germany. Would German audiences who had grown accustomed to American crime thrillers be willing to view domestically filmed adaptations of English thriller novels?

Produced, at least initially, in tandem with the UK’s Anglo-Amalgamated series, the German adaptations retained the novels period settings. Running until 1972, early films in the series were relatively faithful adaptations of the source material. Later films would be more liberal in what elements would be retained and/or discarded.

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Production commenced with the adaptation Der Frosch mit der Maske (The Frog with the Mask). Early entries in the series were filmed in Danish studios. Later films were shot in facilities based in Hamburg and Berlin.

With box office returns healthier than expected it was clear to the producers and distributors that German audiences would be willing to see further installments. Production was ramped up for further entries in a domestically produced franchised that would ultimately comprise of 32 films.

Dismissed by critics, today the films have a cult following. Posts by fans in forums and Facebook groups discuss production details and celebrate deficiencies. In 2004 nearly two million German people saw a parody film, Der WIxxer, during its theatrical run.

For modern viewers, the presence of unconvincing sets and repeated stock footage may enhance the sense of guilty pleasure when watching a ‘Krimi’ film. What appeal did the films have for the first wave of ticket buying cinemagoers? The films blending of genres and increased self-reflexivity in later productions makes it difficult to classify the series. Incorporating themes and elements from film noir, horror, Golden Age detective fiction, comedy, German Expressionism, and the musical the majority of Krimi films forms conform to a narrative template. Critics and academics have noted repeated elements present in most Krimi films; masked killers, an investigator, comic sidekick, castles and/or mansions, and excessive use of fog.

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The imagined version of 1920s England seen throughout the series has puzzled critics attempting to identify why the films were initially popular. Aside from stock footage, location scenes were filmed in redressed German streets. The England represented in the films never existed.

Commentators have suggested various reasons for the films’ appeal including socially conservative ideology, audience enjoying the appeal of identifying the villain before the investigator and seeing foreign generic forms absorbed into a distinctly German cultural product.

 

Wallace on Screen: The Edgar Wallace Mysteries

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Little read today, Edgar Wallace was a bestselling author during the first half of the twentieth century. Estimates suggest that in 1928 a quarter of all books sold in the UK were authored by Wallace.  In America, his books were reported to be selling 250,000 copies per year.  Germany was, and remains, a strong market for his novels. During his most commercially successful period, he was reported to have sold half a million books in West Germany.

In the post-war era sales of Wallace’s novels declined in the UK. ‘The King of Thrillers’ was regarded as old-fashioned by a generation of war-weary readers who had switched their allegiance to hard-boiled American crime fiction. Wallace’s imperialistic, and misogynistic narratives were out of place in an era that saw the British Empire’s dismantling.

All too aware of declining commercial prospects, Wallace’s estate sought to reinvigorate the back Danish film producer Preben Phillipsen acquired rights to adapt Wallace’s novels for German-speaking territoriescatalogue’s commercial appeal through the sale of options to adapt novels for stage and screen. In 1959 agreements were in place for two film series; Danish film producer Preben Phillipsen acquired rights to adapt Wallace’s novels for German-speaking territories, and Anglo-Amalgamated secured an agreement to film ninety books for English speaking territories.

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The 1960s cinemagoing experience differed significantly from its modern day counterpart. A pre-multiplex era may on cursory examination signal fewer films being made available to the ticket-buying public. This was an era when the number of cinemas was greater than today. Whereas today people go to see a single film, in the 1960s and earlier, audiences went to the cinema for an evenings entertainment. In addition to the main feature, cinemagoers viewed a supporting film (usually referred to as a B-movie).

To stimulate the UK’s film industry and protect it from being suffocated by American imports, the government legislated to increase the number of domestically produced films screened in cinemas. In order to meet quotas and qualify for any available subsidies, producers churned out B-movies secure in the knowledge that they would be able to secure some form of distribution for their product.  Disdained by the industry, largely forgotten, many British B-movies were locked away in vaults after their initial exhibition and never screened again.

In recent years seasons at the BFI, Talking Pictures broadcasts, DVD releases, and academic studies have brought renewed interest to the British B-movie, its stars, directors, production companies, and modes of distribution.

Despite the industry’s ambivalence about supporting features, evidence suggests they may have had a core group of dedicated fans. Cinemagoers deciding which “fleapit” to visit for their night of entertainment may have been swayed by the selection of advertised support features on offer. One series of films that received prominent front of house promotion was The Edgar Wallace Mysteries.

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Cinema attendance in the UK peaked in 1947.  In the following years as attendance fell a number of cinemas were demolished or converted into bingo halls.  To protect the domestic industry the Harold Wilson’s government introduced a tax on cinema tickets, known as the Eady Levy. Funds raised were collected by HM Customs and Excise and passed onto the British Film Fund Agency. Revenue was distributed between British film-makers, the British Film Institute, the Children’s Film Foundation, the National Film Finance Corporation, and funds were to be allocated for filmmakers training.

The Eady Levy was a key piece of legislation at a time when doubts were being raised about the British film industry’s long-term viability. By the 1960s the Eady Levy was helping to sustain a culture of second feature filmmaking that included crime dramas, exploitation films, horror, travelogues, and sex comedies. At this time the UK film exhibition and distribution industries were dominated by two chains, the Rank Organisation and the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC).

In 1959 Producers Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy secured the rights to adapt Edgar Wallace’s novels. Cohen and Levy’s production company Anglo Amalgamated is today best known for being the initial producer of the Carry On franchise, and the controversial Michael Powell film Peeping Tom. Despite significant forays into mainstream production, the company’s bedrock was low budget crime B-movies. Owning its own studio, Merton Park, the company’s assembly line approach to production churned 130 films. With production costs subsidized by the Eady Levy revenue the producers realised they could generate extra funds by selling content to the then emerging international television market. To this end, they created several series that would be exhibited in UK cinemas as support features and then sold to overseas television networks. Among this batch of productions were Scotland Yard, The Scales of Justice, and The Edgar Wallace Mysteries.

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Initially exhibited at ABC cinemas, forty-seven films were produced as part of The Edgar Wallace Mysteries. Merton Park Studios was famed for its efficiency. Able to shoot an entire film in 8-10 days, reports suggest its directors were expected to achieve 10-14 camera setups a day. To minimise production costs and speed up the process Edgar Wallace’s novels were updated to take place in the then present day. Despite previously recorded declining sales of the novels, the films were well received by the public, exhibitors, and critics. A cover version of the series’ theme tune by pop group The Shadows reached number 5 in the hit parade. Following theatrical screenings in the UK and commonwealth, the entire package of films was sold to American television where it was screened as Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre.

Viewed today, the films’ use of suburban locations presents images of a country that was still recovering from World War II. Bomb damaged buildings are occasionally seen in the background of shots. The juxtaposition of 1920s thrillers and then contemporary locations creates a discontinuity which suggests that in the pre Swinging London era the nation was trapped by the legacy of its past and unsure about how to define itself in a post-colonial era.

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The “quota quickies”, an earlier form of British B-movie, tended to cast stage actors. Their theatrical performances were required to compensate for static camerawork. The Edgar Wallace Mysteries cast screen character actors. Part of the appeal of watching the series today is spotting actors who would later find acclaim for playing very different roles (Michael Caine, Harry H Corbett, John Thaw, William Hartnell, Wilfred Brambell, Bernard Lee, Paul Eddington).

B-movies are a part of British screen history that has been overlooked for far too long. Series like The Edgar Wallace Mysteries are invaluable documents worthy of greater analysis.

The Edgar Wallace Mysteries is available to order from Amazon.

Book Review: The Krull House by Georges Simenon (Trans by Howard Curtis)

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Considered by Simenon to be one of his most significant novels, The Krull House was written in 1938 and first published in the UK as part of the 1955 collection A Sense of Guilt.  Revisiting themes and incidents previously explored in the 1932 Maigret novel The Flemish House, the book is infused with many of the author’s recurrent preoccupations and draws heavily from Simenon’s experiences growing up in Liège.

As the events across the continent made war an inevitable reality Georges Simenon learned that he was to become a father for the first time. Contemplating raising a child in a conflict-ridden world may explain why Simenon’s non-Maigret output written during his wife’s pregnancy was divided into two strands; reflections on fatherhood (The Strangers in the House, The Family Lie), and narratives set in the author’s homeland (The Burgomaster of Furnes).  The Krull House, originally published in the UK as Chez Krull, draws heavily from incidents and people Simenon knew in Belgium and features a motif recurrent in many Maigret novels, the withdrawn and submissive father figure.

A small canal town is the setting for a complex and unsettling examination of interwar prejudices and mob justice. An ostracised family is visited by their German cousin, Hans. The Krulls are foreigners in a close-knit community. Cornelius Krull settled in the area after the cessation of World War One’s hostilities. He is seemingly ineffectual and resigned to spending his days hidden from view in the workroom. Viewed with suspicion and contempt by their neighbours, Cornelius’ family owns a grocery shop that is heavily reliant on canal workers for trade. A fragile peace in the community and at home is shattered when Hans arrives to stay with his family.

The visitation of the Krull’s cousin, Hans, reminds the community of their ‘otherness’. Simenon’s narrative suggests people of German descent living in France in the interwar period were routinely subjected to racial abuse.

When the corpse of a young girl is fished from the local canal suspicion instantly falls on the new arrival. The Krull’s are believed to be harbouring a murderer. An entire township decides to administer justice.

Injustice and mob rule is a theme which is present in several of Simenon’s ‘Roman Durs’, most notably in Mr. Hire’s Engagement and Black Rain.  In The Krull House, the family’s shop is besieged by an angry mob seeking vengeance. The author’s concerns about crowd justice and manhunts were sparked by an incident in 1919 when his newspaper editor instructed Simenon to report on a drunken brawl. A minor fight escalated into a witchhunt. One of the men fled from the scene and was chased onto the roof of a nearby hotel. Stumbling, the man clung onto the roof edge while a crowd shouted racist abuse and bayed for his death.

Variations of the incident recur throughout Simenon’s output possibly suggesting that the author was traumatized after witnessing a crowd being whipped into a state of hatred by gossip and lies. The Krull House’s representation of naked hatred is filled with chilling intensity.  In a powerful sequence, the crowd seeks to avenge the death of a local girl by attacking the two people they believe to be responsible, Hans and his deviant cousin.

While The Krull House is superficially very similar to the Maigret novel The Flemish House, it would be foolish to dismiss the novel as a redrafting of the earlier text. Freed from the confines of a police procedural, Simenon reshaped the story’s core elements into a dark and disturbing account of paranoia still has the power to unsettle readers. Written on the eve of war it was and remains a potent and all too timely warning about the dangers of unfounded suspicion and hatred in a small community.

The Krull House is published by Penguin.

Book Review:  Law and Order by Charlotte Brunsdon

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When is a series not a series? The 40th anniversary repeat screening of  Law and Order was a rare opportunity to view a pivotal moment in the development of British crime drama.  Press reports referred to the production as a missing link between The Sweeney and Life on Mars. Citations in screen history books and use of clips in “top 10” type programmes have given Law and Order an almost mythological status and yet for much of the past forty years, it has been inaccessible. BBC Four’s repeat transmission is listed as a “drama series.” Does this classification direct the viewer toward a specific reading? If Law and Order was billed as agitprop, plays, or a film in four parts would the audience construct a different interpretation?

First published in 2010, Charlotte Brunsdon’s analysis of the programmes situates them within debates concerning systemic judicial corruption and, retrospective readings of the 1970s as an era characterized by economic and social decline. Her study draws on archive research to illustrate the BBC and government’s response to complaints about perceived editorial bias.

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Broadcast in 1978, a year before Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government took office, Law and Order was initially praised by reviewers. Over the four weeks of transmission, a backlash grew, which saw the corporation being criticised in the House of Lords and being prohibited from filming inside prisons. In the last year of Harold Callaghan’s Labour government, the BBC was attempting to negotiate a licence fee settlement in a hostile economic environment while awaiting the results of a commission determining the possibility of a fourth terrestrial channel.

Accused of not sufficiently labeling the programmes as fiction the broadcaster was under effectively under siege by an outgoing administration who felt the judicial system had been unjustly smeared, and an incoming government determined to reinforce the rule of law.

As the author notes prior to the release of a limited edition DVD in 2008 Law and Order had effectively vanished. Broadcast a few years before domestic VCRs became commonplace that it was unavailable for decades is not uncommon. Many dramas from that period are currently languishing in archive vaults and will continue to do until an enterprising DVD company determines that an audience exists for the product and negotiates rights to release it. In analyzing Law and Order’s significance the author may have placed too much emphasis on factors concerning its relative obscurity in comparison to ITV series from that period. The BBC’s agreement with actor’s union Equity allowed for one repeat transmission within a two-year timeframe. After the two year period had elapsed rights to broadcast had to be renegotiated and fresh payments issued. The costs associated with renegotiation are key factors in why so many hours of television made prior to 1978 was junked.

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Law and Order was originally broadcast as part of the Play for Today strand. Brunsdon highlights why labeling the drama as a “play” had significant implications for how the viewer may have interpreted screen events.  Produced a few years before the BBC decommissioned Play for Today, Law and Order deliberately blurred the line between drama and docu-drama. Using techniques associated with crime drama and fly-on-wall documentaries transmission the programmes creative team was able to convey unpalatable truths about cracks in the judicial system. The author’s contextualization draws attention to the fact that during the 1970s police officers were routinely engaged in corrupt practices.  This was an era when high profile miscarriages of justice fuelled calls for institutional reform.  Political figures interpreted the broadcast of Law and Order as a provocative act designed to undermine public faith in the judicial system.

Analysing individual episodes Brunsdon considers if producer Tony Garnett was attached to the project due to expectations he would deliver controversial drama that might trigger public debate. His last production for the BBC before leaving to work in America, Garnett’s distinguished track record included collaboration with Ken Loach. The author demonstrates that his earlier work (Up the Junction, Cathy Come Home) was typified by e use of real locations and unknown actors.  Acknowledging difficulties ascribing authorship in a collaborative medium, Brunsdon places emphasis on the role Garnett played in fostering an environment that enabled the writer, director, and actors to flourish creatively.

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Brunsdon’s monograph questions if the use of the serial-format may have contributed to the backlash. Dramas broadcast under the Play for Day banner were usually one-off productions. Exceptions such as Flipside for Dominick Hide and Another Flip for Dominick occurred due to strong public and critical response to the originating play. Law and Order’s episodic structure placed it in between the then familiar formats of one-off drama and continuing series. Fictional and observational formats were consciously combined to cause an uproar. Illustrating how the audience confused fictional and reality, actor Derek Martin was booed by a crowd at a football match shortly after the first episode’s transmission.

Charlotte Brunsdon’s study uses contemporary documentation to demonstrate how in a pre-multi channel era popular drama had the power to stimulate public debate about institutions.

Law and Order is published by BFI.

Radio 4’s Thinking Aloud discusses the plays impact and legacy

G.F. Newman’s novelisation is published by No Exit Press