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27 November 2014

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The Thin Blue Line

Cast of The Thin Blue Line

Sometimes things don't work out. They should do - all the ingredients are there and the timing's perfect - but they just don't gel.

It's the same for comedy as it is for cooking, and it's certainly the same for The Thin Blue Line.  Should've worked.  Didn't.

Actually that's completely unfair. The Thin Blue Line did what it was supposed to do, and it held its audience for much of its life. The reason that this life was comparatively short was partly because the public simply wouldn't accept it.

DC Boyle and DI Derek Grim

In the town of Gasforth, Inspector Fowler's police station is - as far as he's concerned - the last bastion of order. Fowler takes his job far too seriously, and so, in a very different way, does his opposite number Inspector Grim of the plain clothes division.

The tension between these two figures is the main thrust of the stories, as both their teams of fairly incompetent officers proceed to muck things up in adventures that range from trying to celebrate the Queen’s birthday to road protesters.

PC Goody and Inspector Fowler

In essence, writer Ben Elton was trying to restage his beloved Dad's Army with The Thin Blue Line. It should've worked because there were plenty of great lines for star Rowan Atkinson to deliver, and the characters seemed to correspond to those of Dad's Army - the over-serious boss, the wet weekend, the sharp one, the quiet one, the martinet opposition.

The series was too broad, however, and the audience were not prepared for Rowan Atkinson as someone so comparatively bland as Fowler. They wanted him as Mr Bean, or Blackadder. Ben Elton's TV writing was simply not suited to something as broad as this format, which, if handled by someone like David Renwick, might have been brilliant.

PC Goody, PC Habib, PC Gladstone

As well as this however Elton appeared not to have noticed that his model Dad's Army's success was not just because of who the characters were and their situations. It was because of absolutely consistent characterisation and acting. Giving characters 'issues' - like when PC Goody thinks drugs have been planted - isn't the same as having character.

That said, tying to force the Dad's Army format into the modern age with stories about police brutality, racial or spousal abuse was also problematic. Crowbar the real world into a format that was based on Rowan Atkinson ignoring that real world - something Perry and Croft would never have tried to do in Dad's Army - and which didn't work here.


Rowan Atkinson
Insp Raymond Fowler
Serena Evans
Sgt Patricia Dawkins
James Dreyfus
PC Kevin Goody
Mina Anwar
PC Maggie Habib
Rudolph Walker
PC Gladstone
David Haig
DI Derek Grim
Kevin Allen
DC Kray
Mark Addy
Det Boyle
Lucy Robinson
Mayoress Wickham


Ben Elton
John Birkin
Ben Elton
Geoffrey Perkins

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