– . – Writer – Neil Cross
Writer – Neil Cross
Starting From Scratch
Novelist and screenwriter Neil Cross has created one of this year’s most memorable TV characters in DCI John Luther. Here he explains how he turned a passionate pitch into the BBC’s dark cop drama Luther.
Neil Cross is one of the most bankable British writing talents around right now. Having been lead writer for two seasons of the BBC’s flagship spy drama Spooks, he’s now created their new police show Luther, which stars the post-Wire Idris Elba rediscovering his London accent as a troubled detective chief inspector. Well, perhaps troubled is understating the case somewhat; he’s one seriously fucked-up copper. Here, Cross discusses how he created the show, and how living in New Zealand helped it all come together.
Where did the idea for Luther come from?
The executive producer Phillippa Giles, who I worked with on Spooks, said that the BBC wanted to find a new take on the crime drama. So I went to lunch with them and I was invited to pitch my idea but at that point I didn’t, in fact have a single idea. I had about 10,000 flapping around my head like bats. I’m a fan of crime fiction. I read crime fiction, I write crime fiction and I watch crime fiction. I was aware of a
million and one things that, in an ideal world, I would like to do, things that I hadn’t seen on British TV. My pitch can only be described as a pitch if you were being extraordinarily charitable. It was just a ramble about crime fiction. So at the end of this desperate rant, Kate Harwood (Controller, Series and Serials) said, ‘Look, why don’t you go home and try writing some of this down and then present us with a proposal document’. So I did. I went home and whittled down these ideas to a final shortlist of things that I wanted to do.
Were you influenced by other cop shows?
One of the biggest influences was Columbo; the inverted detective story. It’s a surprisingly rare format. Although I love crime fiction, I’ve got no real interest in mysteries. A red herring is just a kind of prick tease. This sounds more disparaging than it’s meant to be but a mystery is kind of playing a trick on the audience, when you mislead them deliberately. The audience is a willing participant so it’s not like anybody’s being exploited, but that kind of trick doesn’t fall within my skill set. I didn’t know how to write a mystery. I still don’t. It seemed to me that there were so many dramatic opportunities inherent in the inverted detective story format; if we could see the crime being committed in the first two or three minutes of the show then what we had was a crime thriller rather than a detective story.