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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Death In Paradise – Robert Thorogood, Series Creator and Lead Writer

DI Richard Poole (Ben Miller) and Camille Bordey (Sara Martins) © Red Planet: photographer Amelia Troubridge

The idea for Death In Paradise came to me pretty much fully formed when I read a report of a suspected murder in the Caribbean during the Cricket World Cup. I found it surprising that a British Metropolitan Policeman was sent out to head up the murder enquiry because the cricketer held a British passport.

I imagined an uptight and by-the-book London copper trying to solve a murder in the sweltering heat of the Tropics. There was a series in this. I was sure of it.

The only problem was, I didn't have a single broadcast credit to my name. How could I go about creating and writing a series this ambitious without any experience? (I'd written plenty of things before, but nothing that had ever been made.)

So I took the pitch for my 'Copper in the Caribbean' idea around all of the production companies I could blag my way into.

But they weren't interested. They liked the idea enough, but it would be expensive to make, it would require filming in the Caribbean for at least five months, and there was one thing they believed above all else: it was unlikely the BBC would allow someone without a writing credit to their name to create and write a primetime TV series.

I could see their point. It did seem wilfully over-ambitious. In fact, as 2007 turned into 2008 I was beginning to think that maybe I should just pack the whole writing game in. I was approaching 40, I was a stay-at-home Dad while my wife (a broadcast journalist for Classic FM) was out earning the money that kept the family afloat.

Even my young children could see that I wasn't like other Dads: my son told me one day that he had a new imaginary friend who put on a suit and tie every morning and commuted to Canary Wharf where he worked in an office.

Wasn't it time to recognise a stark truth? If it was ever going to happen for me as a writer, it would have happened by now.

And then I met Tony Jordan. Or rather, Tony set up Red Planet Pictures with a writing competition for 'new' writers and a promise: anyone who got to the finals of the competition would get to spend a day with him – pitching and discussing ideas – and, if he liked anything he was pitched, he promised he'd do everything in his power to get the show made.

It was a tempting offer, but I couldn't enter another script-writing competition, could I? Surely my family and I would be better off if I just grew up and finally found some way of earning actual money.

I couldn't help myself. I hadn't come all of this way to give up now. I entered Red Planet's writing competition and, luckily for me, I got chosen as one of the finalists. When I got 'into the room' with Tony Jordan, I pitched Death In Paradise to him... and he loved it. And with Tony now championing the idea, the BBC commissioned a script from me and – to cut a very long story short – the series was eventually greenlit two years later.

And that, of course, is when the real hard graft started.

It's obviously a huge challenge setting up a new show – particularly a murder mystery series set abroad – but it's hard not to love your job when it involves such chores as location scouting a Paradise island in the Caribbean.

We chose Guadeloupe, but on our first recce we had difficulty finding the 'right' village to set the series in. That was, until we stumbled across the fishing village of Deshaies. It was as if someone had read my scripts and built exactly what I'd written.

Our Production Designer had been unable to find a beach-side bungalow with quite the right view for our hero, so he'd done the next best thing. He'd found the view he wanted and then built a house on it, even though it meant a tree would be growing through the bedroom.

The view from 'Richard's shack' is stunning – a crescent of golden beach with the Caribbean sea beyond – and as I stood there on the verandah, I had one of those moments where everything becomes terribly vivid. I sat on the verandah that only existed because I wrote that it did and watched a huge and shimmering sun dip down and eventually vanish over the horizon.

As a writer, it doesn't get much better than that.

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