Developing Father Brown for BBC One

Monday 14 January 2013, 13:26

Tahsin Guner & Rachel Flowerday Tahsin Guner & Rachel Flowerday Writers

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Father-Brown.jpg Father Brown - BBC One Drama

TG: First, as is apt, a confession: before working on Father Brown, I’d never read a single word of GK Chesterton. Or written a murder-mystery. Or a period piece. Or developed a new TV series. I’d written numerous episodes of Holby City, as well as Casualty, Eastenders, and Doctors, but this was new territory. I was well outside my comfort zone – but I think that’s a good place for a writer to be.

RF: Well, I’d done nearly all those things, but I’m not sure it made it any easier! It’s such a major undertaking, adapting a well-loved character and set of stories that work brilliantly as they are – but that need complete revisioning to shine in a TV drama format, especially for daytime. Creating a precinct and a gang of supporting characters were key, both financially and to give our audience a familiar welcome each ep – but they had to work with Chesterton’s tone and themes. And there are an awful lot of Chesterton fans out there (my mum included!) who would be rightly furious if we got it wrong.

TG: Rachel and I were approached independently about developing Father Brown. Our paths had crossed, briefly, in 2009, when I was attending a Writersroom residential course on continuing drama, and Rachel was a guest speaker, having come through the BBC Writers’ Academy  (unbeknownst to me at the time, later that year I too would be ensconced in the writing boot camp that was the Writers’ Academy).

RF: In fact I had also been on a Writersroom course, aimed at developing original drama, and we’ve both been heavily involved with BBC Continuing Drama since leaving the Academy. I can’t express how amazing an experience the Academy was – it gets a bit of stick in writing circles, but it gives you such a valuable lexicon to use when talking about story, and a really robust understanding of how stories have worked for generations, in all formats (not just soap!). I certainly drew on it for Father Brown.

TG: We both wrote treatments for “Father Brown – The TV Series”, creating the precinct and a cast of supporting characters. Quicker than you can say “vespers”, we were off to the Cotswolds to scout locations. Over a pub lunch with John Yorke (exec), Will Trotter (exec), Ceri Meyrick (producer), Sam Hill (Series Producer), and Neil Irvine (script editor) we decided on the period and nailed down our supporting characters.

RF: We settled on a gang of six regular characters, including Father Brown, trying to introduce different elements of ‘50s society and an even age/sex mix. Inspector Valentine was a Chesterton invention, though he’s written out of the stories early on, and Sid, our ducking-and-diving chauffeur, was loosely inspired by Chesterton’s master-criminal-turned-crimefighter Flambeau – in fact, in early treatments, his name was ‘Flam’. Renaming him ‘Sid’ was a nod to the Sid James character in the Alec Guinness film – never say we’re not Catholic in the breadth of our source material! Susie brings a touch of will-they-won’t-they romance, and introduces the world of Polish immigrants in the 50s – a nice parallel with today – and Lady Felicia adds glamour, and gives Father Brown an ‘in’ to all sorts of interesting worlds. Mrs. McCarthy is the parish secretary – Catholics out there will know how important that role is in any parish…

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Lady Felicia reveals that Annie Marie had a drinking problem.

TG: Rachel and I had two weeks to amalgamate our treatments, which became the “bible” for the show, containing biogs for all the characters, and guidelines on the format and tone of the series. We then had about a month to write our first drafts – Rachel chose “The Flying Stars”, whilst I went with “The Hammer of God”.

RF: There’s a blog out there somewhere where someone, when our series was first announced, decided to review the five stories he considered most likely to be adapted… let’s put it this way, “The Flying Stars” and “The Hammer of God” did not feature! It probably tells you a lot about us as writers that we chose those two. I think Tahsin was drawn to the religious conflict in “Hammer” (no spoilers, I’ll say no more), whereas I was intrigued by the interaction between appearance and reality in “Stars” – it even has a play-within-the-play, like classic Revenge Tragedy!

TG: They’re challenging stories to adapt. Father Brown is described by Chesterton as being almost invisible, someone who fades into the background. Not exactly jumping off the screen then! Whilst not losing this aspect of his character – the quiet observer of things – we re-imagined him as somewhat more playful and outgoing, as well as tolerant and forward-thinking. In addition, for the stories to work for television, they needed more suspects, more twists and turns – in short, more story!

RF: I think both episodes will nonetheless be instantly recognisable to fans of the stories – we’ve created new twists, conflicts and motives, but the heart of the mysteries is still beating loudly inside! Of the series of ten, five are adaptations, five are new stories – it’ll be interesting seeing whether people unfamiliar with the source material will be able to tell which is which…

TG: Now, a couple of days away from transmission, it’s thrilling – and a huge relief – to see the show getting such great previews in the listings magazines and newspapers. Mark Williams brings so much charm, compassion, intellect, and humour to the character. Sorcha Cusack, as Mrs McCarthy, is a force of nature. Hugo Speer, as Inspector Valentine, brings a working class integrity, both a foil and ally to Father Brown. The rest of the cast – Alex Price, Nancy Carroll and Kasia Koleczek – inhabit their roles. Debbie Wiseman’s music is luscious. Oh, and the show looks gorgeous – not a hint of its daytime budget. Now, let’s just hope the audience gives the show its blessing.

Tahsin Guner & Rachel Flowerday are co-creators and writers on Father Brown - the brand new BBC One daytime drama based on the stories by GK Chesterton, about a crime-solving Roman Catholic priest.

Father Brown starts on BBC One today at 14:10 and you can watch on BBC iPlayer

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    Comment number 1.

    Loved the first episode. Was unfamiliar with the original GK Chesterton novels but found the character and adaptation very inviting and deserving of a primetime evening slot for series 2 maybe. Oh and any chance of posting the script here in the script archive?

    Mrs M

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    Comment number 2.

    WE enjoyed both of the two episodes so far. What is intensely irritating, and i am sure it is not the writers fault, is the Inspector with a badly knotted tie and unbuttoned shirt. This is so not 1950's senior policeman it is embarrassing.

    When setting in a period I realise it is a fine line between making it understandable for later generations and being anchronistic. The chauffeur lounging outside the house smoking a fag whilst guests arrived was also unlikely.

    Just as an aside the person who is owed the money holds the IOU so we were bemused that the blacksmiths wife found it ..... perhaps she was in the wrong bedroom earlier. : )

    Good casting acting and apart form the above comments very very good. Particularly highlighted given how bad Blandings shown on Sunday turned out.

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    Comment number 3.

    This has good potential, although I do find a lack of attention to religious detail (my speciality I admit, so I am biased) rather disappointing. I note from the credits that the series has a Roman Catholic priest adviser but it puzzles me why, for the 1950's when the Roman Catholic Church was very strict and traditional about clerical dress, ceremonial and church decoration, that this isn't reflected in the scenes where Father Brown's clerical profession is manifested. No biretta, no maniple with his Mass vestments, no stole around his neck when hearing a confession or leading the prayers for the dead ... All now in the modern church considered 'old hat' but then compulsory. Referring to Anglican Clergy in the 1950's as 'The Reverend' in speech, more likely to have been as 'Vicar' or 'Rector' by his flock and Mr x by Roman Catholics at the time. Hmmm I love period drama and the 1920 - 1950's especially. I had high hopes for a Clerical detective ... But so far a wee bit disappointed.

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    Comment number 4.

    I enjoyed it & I'm a big fan of the Father Brown stories.

    It's true that a lot of the clerical details are wrong - even now a Vicar would be Mr. not Rev. to a Catholic.... But I think that's just the modern style... When I was little in the 80s Social Realism was still the standard & being correct about details & prizing scenes of 'ordinary' daily life was the norm... Now everything is much more about story & how the characters drive the story... I sometimes miss the olden days - but it would be far too expensive & I doubt audiences would sit through some of the slow-moving stuff I used to love (even fabulous writers like Alan Plater or Trevor Griffiths might struggle).... Not that I'm an authority on any of this.

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    Comment number 5.

    Absolutely top class, as we now come to expect from BBC Daytime Drama. Whilst a few inaccuracies may occur it is low budget daytime drama, and we don't let it distract us from thoroughly enjoying these well scripted and acted pieces.

    Glad to see there's another week of it to come; and why not more?!

    Be nice to know where the locations were shot..

    Well done, BBC.

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    Comment number 6.

    Absolutely love the show, casting ,characters, period, and story line, Why is this shown on BBC Daytime as it beats any BBC period Drama currently on in an evening, and would gain a much wider audience .Well done to all involved.

    Hopefully there will be a second series of father Brown in the pipeline.

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    Comment number 7.

    I was very surprised in 'The Hammer of God' that Susie tried the dish (that Mrs McCarthy had made) on her way into church before mass. This just wouldn't have happened. Even today people fast for one hour before receiving the eucharist, in the 50's it was longer.

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    Comment number 8.

    Love the first 5 episodes. Characters are well cast and the locations look superb. Where are they, by the way?
    I hope the last 5 episodes are well received and you're asked to produce a further series. You'll need a greater population of "base" characters though.
    More please!

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    Comment number 9.

    Sorry to be negative, but this really is a dreadful series. As a GKC fan, I was really looking forward to these episodes, but they are simply dreadful, the writers (if we can call them that) have completely thrown out the plots, missing the important mysteries involved in the stories.
    OK I can put aside the fact that Mark Williams looks nothing like FB. I can see the logic of moving him to the 1950s, but they might as well just written Father Dowling stories, since the format and plots are of this standard (and this isn't a complement, in case you are wondering)
    Clearly the writers think if changing plots in James bond movies, it will work here, what they have clearly not seen that whereas the plots in the movies of the james bond films are far better than the originals, the reverse is true in their efforts with this series.
    Go back to your Soap writings and leave 'classic modern literature' to someone better suited
    Shame on you BBC for allowing this waste of time and money

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    Comment number 10.

    I must say the 10 episodes brought back some of the best in BBC series.

    I do hope that there will be more of these well produced programmes.

    I am sad to see some of the highly critical comments of a delightful series.

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    Comment number 11.

    I have absolutely enjoyed this series and really hope a second one is not far away.

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    Comment number 12.

    Just wanted to say that I thought the Father Brown series was just the thing for afternoon viewing!! I don't care if there are a few inaccuracies, it was great entertainment, and I hope there will be more?

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    Comment number 13.

    Father Brown episode 23 January 2013
    A stills camera must be wound on in the absence of a motor drive!

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    Comment number 14.

    Generally I like this, even when some of the details are anachronistic.

    But, the original line from The Blue Cross, by G K Chesterton, in which Father Brown explains how he knew his companion was not a real priest:
    "He attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology."

    Line from "adaptation" of same story
    FATHER BROWN: You sponsored reason to attack theology. Something no true cleric would ever do. Even an Anglican.

    Was this major change in the character intentional? FB has always been a great example of successfully melding logic and faith, changing this line fundamentally changes the character.

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    Comment number 15.

    Odd, but sorta in character, to see Ron Weaseley's dad as Fr. Brown.

    As a Catholic who remembers the 1950's, I am struck by some of the religious anachronisms. In the scene where Fr Brown and the secretary are auditioning for organists and then leave with Lady Felicia, there is no recognition at all that they are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The Tabernacle on the altar was the absolute center of the church in those days and no one, no one, passed before it without genuflecting, or held anything but whispered conversations in its presence.

    How old is your priest-consultant?

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    Comment number 16.

    Alas the series has now finished, but what delights! Did I see you've already been commisioned to make a second series? If so, brilliant. 2 Suggestions:-
    1) the "sleuthing Nun" from the Convent story must be brought back, she's terrific. There must be many opportunities for her to help/ get in the way.
    2) Background music is an obsession of mine - I hate it. A serious point - if 2 characters are speaking softly together, then background music actually makes it difficult to hear what they're saying! I appreciate that sometimes the music is there to try to drown out the roar of traffic noise you can discern in the background, but it would still be better with no music!

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    Comment number 17.

    I really LOVED this series of Father Brown and thought Mark Williams was brilliant in the part, it is obviously really suited to him. Wonderful series, I hope there will be more stories filmed soon !
    Thank you BBC for doing such an absorbing series. It would also be good if you could make a series of the Maisie Dobbs novels by Jacqueline Winspear. I'm sure many people would enjoy those.

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    Comment number 18.

    Having watched 8 episodes now, I have to say that I am disappointed. To be fair, IMHO, Chesterton's Father Brown was not a character in the same league as Sherlock Holmes to begin with. Even the older TV series from the 70's fell a little flat.

    But the thing that makes the character special is his combination of acute, unshocked and realistic knowledge of the human soul and psyche PLUS his unblinking RC orthodoxy, a smart, charming and thoroughly Papist priest in Protestant England. The current version sounds all too often like an updated 21st century social worker version, to be palatable to an amnesiac England where even Protestantism is now antique and suspicious. Youthful authorial ignorance, or playing to the BBCs contemporary audience...who knows?

    One character the show DOES get right is Mrs McCarthy: crypto-wife/nurse, dragon lady, blindly self-assured of her own virtue and everyone else's lack thereof. Her I've met!

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    Comment number 19.

    18th Feb 2013, Appleton.

    Absolutly loved this series to bits, I believe there is to be a Second Series! Wonderful.
    Just wondered if anyone knows if there is to be a DVD, I so hope so.
    Thought Mark Williams was fantastic.

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    Comment number 20.

    Now I am more than disappointed. There's either laziness or negligence here. Among the various historical lapses in language and form is the final scene with Flambeau, where Fr Brown begins the words of absolution. He uses the English version of the rite that was only instituted in the 1970's...And Flambeau demands "the short version" French! You people seem to have no respect for either the material, the character or your audience. Maybe that's just BBC culture when it comes to Christianity.


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