Juliet Bravo Series 6 Review
One of the pleasures gained from watching these archive TV releases is seeing distinguished actors at the start of their careers. And this BBC series from 1986 is no exception. Buried amongst the standard array of TV faces of the time – Martin Jarvis, Karl Howman etc is a young Janet McTeer making her first ever screen appearance (according to imdb anyway). And it's immediately apparent that this is an actor with a level of talent far above everyone else in the cast (bar one), raw and inexperienced though it may be.
Which wouldn't be terribly difficult it has to be said. By that time in its sixth and final series, Juliet Bravo had been created by Iain Kennedy Martin, the man who was responsible for bringing The Sweeney to the screen in 1975. Juliet Bravo first aired in 1980 on BBC1 in, I think, an early evening slot on Saturdays – the traditional home of such cosy police dramas as Dixon of Dock Green in the 1970s. The polar opposite of The Sweeney with its hyper-masculine urban setting, Juliet Bravo was a police procedural series set in the small fictional town of Hartley in the north of England and centred around a female inspector (originally Jean Darblay played by Stephanie Turner) bringing a new perspective to the hidebound male institution of regional policing. Stephanie Turner left after three seasons and was replaced for the fourth series by Anna Carteret playing a new character, the immaculately-coiffed Inspector Kate Longton.
The series must have been popular as it ran for six years in a then-prime slot – early on a Saturday evening throughout the autumn, if memory serves - but by this, the sixth and final season, it was looking formulaic and tired. There is a certain degree of repetition and crime-of-the-week elements to all the episodes. As with all such dramas we see a crime being committed at the start of each episode and then follow the police's attempts to bring the criminals to justice. Most of the crimes are of a non-fatal or domestic nature, reflecting the small-town setting and the early-evening family audience the show was made for. Guns may be seen but there is little graphic violence onscreen and certainly no swearing. This was long before the likes of CSI-style forensic porn became fashionable - audiences were accustomed to homelier fare in those days. But having said that, the show still tackled such subjects as rural incest, drug-dealing in schools, armed robberies, animal rights protests etc alongside the domestics.
Most of the recurring police characters conform to the stereotypes that had become popular by then for police dramas. These include the seen-it-all desk sergeant and the almost-bumbling pair of constables who, on occasion, descend to music-hall levels of 'comedy'. Inspector Longton presides over them like a Sensible Big Sister bringing her feminine common sense to bear. For the first half of this series most of the regular characters are entirely at the service of the plot and what little is seen of their private lives rarely intrudes. As the series progresses however, the format begins to change and becomes more soap-like as the principal characters’ private lives become much more prominent and the criminal-of-the-week moves to subplot status. Perhaps it was a move to try and keep a dwindling audience watching? The final three episodes revolve around a will-she, won't-she plot involving Kate's on-off romance with her boss and her possible promotion out of the station and the final minutes of the series see the shock death of one of the principals.
As already mentioned there is quite a talent gulf on show in most episodes. The recurring male characters are serviceably embodied by the principal cast, most of whom had been in the show since the beginning and who were called upon to portray little more than stereotypes. Anna Carteret, in what was to be the highlight of her TV career, effortlessly holds everything together as the still centre, skilfully underplaying the character to great effect. Unlike later TV Inspectors with their assortment of quirks and character flaws, Kate Longton is not an alcoholic tormented by self-doubt but is straightforward, down to earth and gets the job done. Unfortunately most of the younger guest actors hired are straight out of drama school and embarrassingly bad – with the odd glorious exception mentioned above. Just to unintentionally emphasise this, some of the worst culprits are juxtaposed with some of the best such as in the episode Flesh and Blood in which Janet McTeer appears.
The series is made up of sixteen 50-minute episodes presented across four single-sided double-layer discs in the original 4:3 screen ratio. As was still customary at that time, scenes are a mixture of grainy location footage on 16mm film and brightly-lit studio interiors shot on multi-camera video. But it has to be said that, technically, the show looks well-rehearsed and well-made within the constraints of the time. Of the BBC staff directors who worked on this series, two names stand out – Colin Cant and Graeme Harper. The former was a mainstay of BBC children's drama in the 80s and the latter has recently enjoyed a high-profile career renaissance working on new Who. Overall, the visual materials are in excellent condition and the digital transfer is superb.
Mono only but also in excellent condition.
Just English subtitles for every episode but these are an excellent transcription only let down by very occasional mistakes and typos.
This is all quite cosy stuff and, in its mundane detail, a powerful reminder of just how much everyday policing in the UK has changed over the last 20 years– everyone could have walked straight out of an episode of Heartbeat with their tailored uniforms with shiny buttons and the (very few) female officers in skirts and black tights at all times. And not a stab vest or pepper spray to be seen. Apart from that, I imagine the show's appeal is probably limited to genre fans and original audiences only.