Before Line of Duty, another group of cops fought the good fight to uncover police corruption.
Before the juggernaut of tension and suspense set in the murky world of bent coppers that is Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty, there was another drama that followed those who sought to expose corruption in the ranks.
J. C. Wilsher’s Between the Lines was shown on the BBC in the early 1990s, running for three high quality series and displaying equally compelling levels of drama and deceit.
There are numerous parallels between the two shows, not just the setting. But Between the Lines stands as a wonderful example of early 90s event television and deserves more credit for paving the way for similar shows that followed.
The drama, which ran between 1992 and 1994, was set in the internal Complaints Investigation Bureau of the Metropolitan Police, the unit responsible for policing the police. It starred Neil Pearson, Tom Georgeson and Siobhan Redmond as honourable coppers tasked with investigating their own. Their boss Deakin, an ex-RUC officer played with a sublime undercurrent of menace by the wonderful Tony Doyle, turns out to be corrupt himself.
Pearson plays Detective Superintendent Tony Clark, whose private life is as eventful as the bureau’s caseload. Clark is meticulous and ambitious, but inherently flawed. His private life is awash with mistakes and misdemeanours, a marriage break-up after an affair with a colleague and numerous dalliances. His life and work feel like a ceaseless moral maze.
His two colleagues in the team, Harry Naylor (Tom Georgeson) and Mo Connell (Siobhan Redmond) provide professional and personal support as they navigate the sea of corruption and sleaze. Each character was superbly constructed and played, three-dimensional and complex but inherently human. Despite the challenges of the job and being in each other’s pockets, loyalty and trust were paramount. Clark knew they’d always have his back.
The show had Tony Garnett as executive producer, whose screen CV reads like a roll call of cultural successes across multiple decades, including the Play for Today and This Life. A hit with audiences and critics alike from the start, the third series, which saw the team entering the equally murky world of the secret service and MI5, won a BAFTA for best drama series.
We got to know the characters and their lives, we grew to understand their motivations. Although it was clear that Clark’s was mainly in his pants to be fair. Redmond’s Mo was bisexual. Perhaps ahead of the curve, it felt like a character detail rather than the main focus of the plot. Georgeson’s stoic Harry cared for his disabled wife, the pressure of the job adding to the complexity of his domestic situation.
Clark was the central character, but it was the relationship between the three close colleagues that was at the heart of the show. Amongst the dirt and scandal of the job they had to do, they knew and respected each other, and trusted each other implicitly.
This was a show that carried the weight of intelligent, complex high-end police drama and carried it triumphantly. The intricacies of the plot, the background detail of complex police procedure and the nuances of the relationships were meticulously maintained, even with the continuous stream of edge-of-your-seat plot twists. The tension and excitement of each episode never waned, and the characters gave you hope that despite the corruption, all was not lost. Between the Lines was top quality drama and should be cherished.