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
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?