|Dennis Hoban (Toby Jones), Jim Hobson (Lee
Ingleby), The Long Shadow
There is a story, possibly apocryphal, back in the 60s I hasten to say, of a teacher at a college that taught newly-arrived migrants the basics of English. The teacher, so it is reported, used to practise his students on the sentence: “In Australia if a policeman is on the ground, we kick him.” It may have had traction in anarchist and libertarian circles, small as they were.
The phrase came back during the course of watching The Long Shadow a six part Brit ITV series devoted to a dramatic reconstruction of the times and the deeds of the infamous Yorkshire Ripper, a man who terrorised Lancashire and Yorkshire from 1975 to 1980 and over that time murdered at least 13 women, most of them prostitutes working street beats.
While Stan’s publicity tells us the series is ‘the true story of one of the most notorious and shocking serial killer cases in the world, the five-year manhunt for Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper, focusing on the lives of his victims and the loved ones they left behind’ I can say with absolute certainty that the PR description is to use a word frequently employed by the coppers on the case “Bollocks”. This show is the metaphorical equivalent of kicking a policeman who is on the ground.
It’s about the coppers in all their inglory. It peels away layers of Brit police incompetence, sexism, racism, prejudice, petty harassment and dogged refusal to acknowledge the blindingly obvious. “You have failed’ becomes a catchcry from the most senior levels of the force as they berate the various detectives that over time are put in charge of the investigation. Their replacements however all seem even more dim and misguided than those that went before. One, Dennis Hoban played by the awesome Toby Jones, the first cop in charge of things states how appalled he is that, after being taken off the case and kicked upstairs to a desk job, his replacement is Detective Hobson (Lee Ingleby) whom Hoban clearly thinks is incompetent. Hobson proves to be so.
|George Oldfield (David Morrissey)
The Long Shadow
Hobson is eventually replaced by George Oldfield (David Morrissey) who spends years getting absolutely nowhere. The fact that in episode two an identikit drawing of Sutcliffe has been dismissed as irrelevant and tossed in a drawer where it remains until (SPOILER ALERT) various women constables manning the help line phones piece the pictures together.
On the way through, as the true horror of what Sutcliffe got up to slowly emerges we get a picture of petty police harassment at ground level, dogmatism at middle levels, and flailing blame shifting at upper levels. This is not swinging London. It’s the other Britain of the 70s – grim, grey, mean – on full display.
The Long Shadow is written by George Kay who if he were writing for film would likely be being celebrated with mid-career retrospectives. His output ranges through Killing Eve, Lupin, The Hour, the quite extraordinary Litvinenko and much more. Here he delivers another devilishly good piece of TV, something to make you suspicious of coppers all over again.