The Smoke, TV review: Lucy Kirkwood's gritty firefighting drama gets off to a blistering start


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The Independent Culture

London's Burning, Rescue Me and... er... Fireman Sam? When you consider the range of TV shows set in police stations or A&E wards, it seems their emergency service cousins have been unfairly overlooked by drama. Is there less variety of human experience on show at your typical fire station? Not according to Sky1's enjoyable new ensemble piece, The Smoke.

Jamie Bamber stars as Kev Allison, the gaffer of London's Mile End station, who established his hunky hero credentials early on, by fearlessly rescuing a baby from a tower block inferno. This opening scene was one of the most harrowing 10 minutes of my TV-watching career, so can everyone please make sure to test out the fire-alarm battery at home as soon as possible? Promise? Great, let's move on.

The script by fêted young playwright Lucy Kirkwood was also full of warm moments of the non-third-degree-burn-causing kind, like a raucous sing-a-long to Adele's "Someone Like You" in the back of the fire engine. You've got to do something to take your mind off the threat of death, the equipment shortages and the long shifts. Al (the brilliant Gerard Kearns) hadn't slept in three days or seen his son for a month. If the Fire Brigades Union was hoping to drum up public support, they could do a lot worse than a screening of The Smoke.

Kev blames management cuts for the burns he had suffered, but there's also another culprit, a mystery thug who's only identifiable by a dragon tattoo on his buttock. Yes, that's right, the plot revolves around a bum tattoo and that's not even the most trashy thing about The Smoke. This first episode concluded with a moment of trouser-dropping melodrama that gave a new and disturbing meaning to the phrase "fireman's pole".