Television to murder for

'Resort to Murder', the new thriller series from the Beeb, is far from a classic whodunnit with its Goths, Skins and Crusties. It has itself diced with death, writes Elizabeth Udall

Resort to Murder was recently described as the BBC's "long-awaited" thriller. It would be easy to dismiss this as the usual pre-publicity cliche which suggests that the television audience should tomorrow be sitting on the edge of their seats, breath bated, for the first of the series's five episodes. But in this case there will be at least one section of the population doing just that. And when those first moments transmit, that breath will be let out in a huge sigh of collective relief.

Because, for 18 months, the people involved with its production have been wondering if Resort to Murder would ever see the light of day. After all, it was the controller of BBC1 himself who is reputed to have said he didn't want it anywhere near the channel.

The first script was commissioned by the BBC from the writer Tony McHale four years ago. The intricate plotting took him two years to get on paper. But when Charles Denton took over as Head of Drama at the BBC, McHale was rewarded with a green light for it to go into production with a budget of pounds 4.5m.

Under the working title Brighton Boy, the story began with Sam and Harriet Penny walking on Brighton Pier one night. When the couple part for a moment, Harriet sees a young woman being dumped into the sea. Before she can get back to her husband, she is murdered. Sam is arrested as the prime suspect and son Joshua returns from Oxford with eight hour-long episodes to try to prove Sam's innocence.

Still on a high from the 17-week shoot which had finished only days before, in December 1993 the producer, Barry Hanson, arranged a viewing of all eight episodes for the executive producer, Michael Wearing. It was here that Hanson realised, for the first time, that the series did not work. "It dawned on me like a rather unfortunate brain storm that surgery was required," he says.

Hanson told Wearing his views. But Alan Yentob was looking at an early transmission for the series. So Hanson and the director, Bruce Macdonald, did some rapid work on it and asked Wearing back to view a director's cut of the first three episodes in late spring. "It was intended only for Michael, but Alan insisted on looking in as well. And he reacted very badly to the material," says Hanson.

"I can't complain. I could have made life easier and kept my mouth shut. Alan was basically saying: 'You're right, Barry - and then some'. " Yentob is reputed to have said he did not want such rubbish on his channel. "He was seeing it in the context of BBC1 and thought it was too complicated and looked too arty," Hanson explains.

The screening had come at a time when Yentob was still experiencing the fallout of the previous summer's announcement of a collapse in BBC1's share of the audience - the lowest since 1985.

Speaking at the Birmingham Radio Festival soon after, Yentob said that he felt the BBC was "remote from people's lives" and needed to make programmes that were "popular with a substantial audience".

Not long before seeing Resort to Murder, Yentob had apparently declared Lifeboat - a pounds 5m series written by Lynda La Plante for BBC1 - to be "almost unwatchable".

"BBC1 is a populist channel and Alan wants things to be pretty straightforward," says Resort to Murder's associate producer, Bill Shapter. "People were snapping at his heels about Lifeboat. There was a good deal of sniping going on generally. Then he saw Resort at a time when it was not ready anyway."

It was decided that Macdonald and various editors were surplus to requirements and a rigorous editing process began without them. "Bruce had taken on an ambitious task, to create a distinctive piece within tight budget constraints," says Hanson. "And he pulled it off very successfully. I felt badly about him being sacked. But it was not put to us as a discussion document." Although Tony McHale's involvement at the filming stage had been minimal, he was asked to contribute to the editing process.

"If a writer turns up on set, everyone thinks you're going to complain," he says, and insists this was not the case with him. "I liked the look of what Bruce was doing. But I think he became so immersed in it, he got lost. When I saw it on screen, I realised it had to be tightened up. It was inaccessible."

A shoal of red herrings removed (yet the cinematic quality intact), McHale is happy with the resultant five episodes. "I wanted to do an old-fashioned thriller, a whodunnit, but within a modern context. This is not a Morse or a Miss Marple where you ponder around making decisions in pubs." Indeed, the evocation of a sinister subculture of Goths, Skins and Crusties, coupled with the increasingly unsettling storyline of Resort to Murder, is as far from tweedy hips and classic cars as you are likely to get.

The series has already won an award. It was placed in the Top 10 Television Series of 1994 at the Cologne Film Festival last month. And many of its key players, who at McHale's request were relative unknowns, are now appearing in major movies. Ben Chaplin is in Merchant Ivory's Feast of July and The Truth about Cats and Dogs with Uma Thurman. Steven Waddington will be seen with Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce in Carrington.

"It has been a nightmare and some nightmares are worse than others," says Hanson. "But I feel we have been vindicated with the placing in Cologne. We were up there with things like ER." McHale admits he was nervous. "It had never been shown in public before. I thought, 'What if they all boo? I'll look a right Charlie after coming all the way to Germany.' But we were told it was highly original in its concept and very English. And at the end they all stood up and cheered."

n 'Resort to Murder' starts on Thursday, BBC1 at 10pm

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

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

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

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
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

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

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

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star