Prime-time with La Plante

Lynda La Plante's work has been a hit with the viewers, but the critics remain unconvinced. James Rampton reports

Lynda La Plante is the most famous television dramatist in Britain. She has "above-the-title" stardom and is more renowned than many of the actors who feature in her work. She has reached such a peak of celebrity that French and Saunders can do an elongated spoof of her work in the knowledge that everybody will know what they're going on about. How many other TV writers can you say that about?

She has been responsible for a rash of hard-hitting, tough-talking, no- holds-barred dramas: Widows, Prime Suspect, Civvies, Comics, Seconds Out, Framed, She's Out and The Governor. The very mention of her name is enough to have drama commissioning editors salivating at the prospect of off-the-radar ratings. But her successes have only served to provoke some critics.

The Times called Seekers, a series on female private detectives, a "dud", and said Comics, a drama about stand-ups, "had a sketchy, unfinished feel". The Daily Mail knocked out her boxing film Seconds Out, with the headline "feeble fighting farce", and the Observer described some of her dialogue for The Governor as "plain ham".

More seriously, the military strongly objected to her portrayal of life after the army in Civvies. Sara Jones, wife of Falklands War hero Colonel H, dubbed it "a fairy story removed from reality", and Lt-Gen Michael Gray wrote to the BBC complaining of 50 supposed inaccuracies. La Plante received death threats and had to employ a minder.

Speaking down the line from Dublin, where she is producing the second series of The Governor, about the head of a prison (Janet McTeer), La Plante remains gloriously impervious to the slings and arrows of outraged critics. Irrepressibly lively, she ascribes the attacks to The Tall Poppy Syndrome - an Australian phrase for the peculiarly British phenomenon of "build 'em up and knock 'em down" - and dismisses any suggestions that Prime Suspect was a one-hit wonder. "Whatever they print in the paper is tomorrow's chips. You get in a blinding rage for an hour, then you forget all about it. In this country, there is the attitude that, 'you can be successful once, but try it again and I'll smash you in the face'. I'm like one of those rubber balls; I keep bouncing back. I may appear flippant, but what they don't see is the side that is exceedingly serious and very dedicated."

Verity Lambert, who produced Widows, Comics and She's Out, mounts a robust defence of the writer. "People are funny about success, but the fact is Lynda is a very good story-teller. What distinguishes her is her characterisations. Sometimes when you read a script, anybody could be saying the lines, but Lynda's characters always exist as more than one-dimensional, they have their own personalities. They're colourful and vibrant, rather than over- the-top. She writes characters people respond to - look at Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect."

Ruth Caleb, who was executive producer on Civvies, also feels La Plante has been maligned. "When people say you've been inaccurate, the mud tends to stick. Lynda has been accused of over-cooking characters, but I don't think she does. She has a strong sense of plot and a good nose for what an audience wants. Maybe it's the sort of drama you associate more with American prime-time where a story drives it through."

La Plante is noted for throwing herself headlong into research. For The Governor, two former prisoners arrived at her office to give her a story about inmates systematically destroying an officer by repeatedly calling out his name. "Because I work in so many prisons, they all know where to find me," she laughs, "and they always come up with something better than I could have imagined. Real people give you better lines."

A self-confessed workaholic, the 50-year-old writer thinks nothing of 12-hour days at the keyboard. She is currently working on two dramas for ITV (Supply and Demand and Trial and Retribution), series for NBC (The Prosecutors) and CBS (Bella Mafia) and a film with Sean Connery (The Profiler.) But her very fecundity is used as a stick with which to beat her. "People say, 'she can't be writing that much, she must have people working for her'," Lambert observes. "That's simply not true. She just works like a dog."

"I see the look of suspicion on people's faces," La Plante chimes in. "When they say, 'she's prolific', they mean, 'she's got pyorrhoea'."

So it appears that the high-profile La Plante is a victim of her own success. As long as she's doing well, she will be regarded as fair game. "Lynda suffers from being at the top of her profession," Caleb reckons. "People like to have a go at the coconuts at the top of the shy. She's become a prime target - or should that be prime suspect?"

'The Governor', tomorrow 9.05pm ITV

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on