GF Newman’s Law & Order

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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Screenwriter and novelist GF Newman (22nd May 1946) best known for the creation of TV character Judge John Deed (2001-2007) starring the talented and versatile Martin Shaw, a maverick judge who forgoes the usual pomp and circumstance associated with our legal system, in particular the court room, and New Street Law (2006-2007), a drama about two rival law firms of barristers based in Manchester,

both with different approaches and ideology toward British law. His writing style and approach towards people in authority does not often show the portrayals as sympathetic or trustworthy, in fact he focuses a great deal on corruption and misconduct. He states he doesn’t trust the police as well as our GPs, and he demonstrated that with the early 80s four part drama The Nation's Health, which follows his principals.

GF Newman - Law  Order - DVD cover.jGF Newman’s Law & Order, not to be confused with the hit US and UK shows of the same name, was an original drama focusing on its title. First aired in April 1978 on BBC 2, it tells the story of three men, a brutal and aggressive policeman D.I. Fred Pyall (Derek Martin ;EastEnders, The Governor, King & Castle), a crafty and shifty solicitor Alex Gladwell (Ken Campbell; Dooley Gardens, In Sickness and in Health, Erasmus Microman) and a renowned and streetwise villain Jack Lynn ( Peter Dean; EastEnders, The Chinese Detective, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle). All three characters are entwined across four stories, A Detective’s Tale, A Villain’s Tale, A Brief’s Tale and concluding with A Prisoner’s Tale. Pyall, via a supergrass, is aware that Lynn is planning the armed robbery of a supermarket in Putney. For many years Lynn has avoided arrest and imprisonment. Even though Pyall has never met Lynn, his reputation precedes him and in the policeman’s eyes Lynn is “well overdue”. After much surveillance, the supermarket blag in Putney does not materialise, as Lynn is made aware that someone has ‘grassed’ him, so he decides to lay low and perhaps follow his wife’s wishes of going straight. An armed raid occurs at a British Gas depot in Romford, with four masked gun men getting away with the loot. Pyall is on the case, even though Lynn has no involvement in the planning or execution of this robbery, that does not deter Pyall from getting ‘his man’, so the viewers are taken into a world of crime, retribution, law and corruption.

GF Newman’s Law & Order is gritty and dark, there is no charm or even any humour, well maybe a little wry at times. I believe that was Newman’s whole intention, to detach from any comedy or warmth, and get the viewer to engage into the complex and often injustice of a police investigation. Furthermore to ask the moral question, even though Lynn is a ‘successful’ armed robber who has never been caught, do the police have the right to fit him for a crime he did not commit, morally a vast majority of people may say yes. However by doing so, then we do not have a fair justice system, it isn’t right that a man or woman should serve a prison sentence for a crime they did not commit, not one they could or may commit due to their MO (Modus Operandi/ Method of Operation).

The drama moves at a steady pace with a great deal of tension, like a drama documentary which allows the plot to thicken and for the key and sub characters to develop. Martin, Campbell and Dean are a true tour de force in their roles, of course Martin and Dean would go on to become household names across the UK for their roles in EastEnders, in particular Dean as Peter Beale, the fruit and veg market trader in Albert Square with his famous catch phrase “Hello Treacle”. In addition Campbell is a face well known in the world of British television drama. Derek Martin is fierce and vindictive as Pyall, a policeman you would not under any circumstances wish to be interrogated by , forget your legal representative or phone call, Pyall will deny you that, even though he is meant to be a protector of the public, he is just as bad as the villains he arrested, and happy to turn a blind eye providing the bung is right. The public’s trust with the police was demising, and at the time of screening Operation Countryman, a huge investigation into police corruption in London had just started, perfect timing wouldn’t you say. Law & Order wasn’t the first TV show to show how brutal the police were, yes The Sweeney debuted three years earlier, even though Det. Insp. Jack Regan (John Thaw) and Det. Sgt. George Carter (Dennis Waterman) would bend the rules to ‘get a result’, the viewer has empathy with Regan and Carter, with Pyall and his colleagues you don’t, just fear.

Reagan and Carter - The Sweeney - Waterman  Thaw.

Campbell as Alex Gladwell , gives a strong performance as a machiavellian and cunning solicitor, who on the surface may come across as a bumbling fool, yet he has the mind of a criminal genius, he knows how to negotiate and liaise for his clients with the police and the Crown, yet what Campbell brings is an air of uncertainty, you don’t seem to know what his real agenda is, what he really wants to achieve. Yet he is using his mind well, as he is not a physically strong and imposing figure of a man, therefore is a good example of brain over brawn. Ken Campbell is a face often associated with light hearted entertainment, yet Gladwell (Campbell) is not brought into the drama for comic relief, far from it, an important character that shows what has to be done to get a fair hearing within the complex proceedings of a criminal court case.

Peter Dean as Lynn, is strong and engaging, it would be wrong to say he steals the show, as Derek Martin and Ken Campell, as well as the supporting cast add so much, like a very youthful Alan Ford (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Lillyhammer) as a criminal turned grass Clifford Harding, a known villain arrested by Pyall for possessing a firearm with intent to go armed. Lent on hard by Pyall, Harding is left with little choice but to become a witness for the prosecution, that is the way of Pyall. Lynn is a little too wise and too old to be a cheeky chappie, he is as serious and ambitious as an armed robber can be. He can detach himself from his life of crime to be a family man, a dual personality, often wearing, what was then, sharp clothes for a man in his late 30s around the old smoke, he moves from casino to pub trying to recruit a ‘firm’. Dean carries this role with a remarkable natural performance, perhaps the only character which the viewer can actually have any empathy for. Julie Smith co-creator of EastEnders wanted him for the BBC’s new soap, after seeing this performance, and as a fan of the original EastEnders, I’ve always had a soft spot for Dean.

GF Newman Sir you bastard.GF Newman’s Law & Order is not only a great piece of British drama, it also caused a public outcry, as many of the British public at the time didn’t believe that the police were corrupt, therefore phoned the BEEB to complain. In addition, it also changed the legal process as now, when arrested, you have the right to a lawyer straight away, which was not available in 1978, as well as interviews being recorded. Newman wanted to comment on the legal system and the British public to observe, and he had addressed police corruption with his novel, Sir, You Bastard, in the late 60s, which was ground breaking as was Law & Order.

Readily available on DVD, Law & Order, pans out like four separate films not a continuous drama and in fact it was written like that, The Detective’s Tale was written as a one off, yet feeling that there was no conclusion, GF Newman was commissioned to write two further scripts, with the third split into two parts. Any fans of Get Carter, Bronco Bullfrog, Scum and the original Sweeney, will relish and enjoy this gem, it’s such a shame that the BBC seriously do not produce dramas like this anymore, thought provoking, brutal and powerful, at least we have the DVD to remind us of how great British television once was.

GF Newman’s Law & Order Available Here 


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