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…

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 20. Posted by EssEm

    on 18 Mar 2013 04:15

    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"...in 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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  • Comment number 19. Posted by Appleton

    on 18 Feb 2013 16:05

    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 18. Posted by EssEm

    on 7 Feb 2013 22:14

    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 17. Posted by Michelle

    on 29 Jan 2013 12:29

    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 16. Posted by David Ashby

    on 28 Jan 2013 15:39

    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 15. Posted by EssEm

    on 26 Jan 2013 18:39

    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 14. Posted by Tig

    on 26 Jan 2013 17:35

    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 13. Posted by Clive Thorp

    on 26 Jan 2013 17:21

    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 12. Posted by Cherrie

    on 26 Jan 2013 11:05

    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 11. Posted by Judith B

    on 25 Jan 2013 20:32

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

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