Work, but not as we know it

Certain professions are used to seeing their work portrayed in TV dramas. But do they recognise themselves? asks Ashley Davies

ANYONE WHO watched the Polly-the-reporter-goes-bonkers-and-stitches- up-her-mates episode on EastEnders sitting next to a journalist will have experienced similar responses to those poor folk who've seen a war movie with someone who has been in the army. Their viewing would have been punctuated by yells of: "That would never happen!" and "Fools. It doesn't work like that!"

And before it has even started, the depiction of police officers in BBC2's new drama series The Cops has wound up members of the force who object to the way it portrays their profession: one trailer shows a cop snorting cocaine, another shows a PC getting urinated on from on high, and there is the promise of tales of greed and corruption. It's all a far cry from Sunhill nick.

There is a core group of professions whose jobs are a constant source of inspiration for television drama producers. Lawyers, doctors, journalists, firemen and vets are on our screens every week, and most of the time their work looks exciting, sometimes to the point of inspiring viewers to enter those professions themselves. But, apart from the fact that the average level of attractiveness and the quality and frequency of the sex is giddily high on the box, are any of these dramas a true reflection of life on the job?

Legal dramas tend to be very popular with those in the legal profession, perhaps because the protagonists rarely lose their cases and are usually extremely sharp and tricky. After LA Law became an institution in the USA, law school applications reportedly rose by 20 per cent, and the Law Society claims This Life has propelled interest in the discipline over here.

David McNeill of the Law Society, which advises scriptwriters, says portrayal of lawyers has come a long way since the days of The Sweeney, when criminal lawyers were in cahoots with the rogues and constantly stood in the way of justice.

Overall, he reckons dramas are good at getting their law "right", but says a lot of young solicitors would be overjoyed to have as much sex as those in This Life. He also says you would not find solicitors talking so openly about their cases as the drama's characters do, and that had Warren been a real lawyer he may not have been struck off for cottaging.

Kavanagh QC is a huge favourite among the legal eagles. Lucy Winskell, a partner with Eversheds in Newcastle says: "It's a hugely enjoyable portrayal of life in chambers: the backbiting, arguments over desk size, sharing offices and fighting over the juicy briefs. All that is very true to life."

But both claim - being on the solicitors' rather than the barristers' side - that Kavanagh fails to show the scale of work which solicitors put into cases, giving the barristers the bulk of the credit. But then they would say that.

"The only one I really have problems with is Ally McBeal," says McNeill. "In reality, women are succeeding because they are good, not because they bat their eyelids and wear short skirts." Winskell initially found the girlie tactics employed by McBeal ridiculous. But she is hooked now and admits that there is one female silk who is "not averse to a little mild flirtation with the judge". Sadly, Winskell cannot vouch for the effectiveness of this method.

Like lawyers, the police are a great source of inspiration for dramas because of the strong narrative element connected to their work. And because the genre has been around for so long, a high level of realism is expected. The Bill has two full-time retired Metropolitan Police officers as advisors and uses Jackie Malton - on whom Lynda La Plante based the Helen Mirren character in Prime Suspect - as a part-time researcher to identify trends in crime-fighting.

Richard Handford, the executive producer of the series, wants the show to be as realistic as possible, down to the last detail. He says: "Our head of costumes frequently goes down to Wimbledon nick to make sure we're up to date on every detail. For example, are they wearing stab vests, are women wearing trousers? We enjoy the reputation of being a realistic police series."

But he admits the pre-watershed scheduling means the level of violence and bad language is well below average, and of course, the clear-up rate is the best in the country.

Naturally, police dramas have to exclude many of the realities of the job because viewers would turn off or fall asleep. Chessington-based PC Paul Haes, who spent ten years on a central London beat and now works in the Chessington area, says: "A policeman's lot these days is based around paperwork."

It seems Frost - to an extent a portrayal of policing in the Seventies - is a big favourite among the force, perhaps because of the maverick detective's open hostility to his superiors and his disregard for procedures. Mark Veljovic, a Detective Chief Inspector with the South West area major investigation team, also points out that investigations in dramas tend to be run by the central figure. "In reality the senior officer is more like a manager of the enquiry, directing operations. There is a lot more team work in real life."

One of Haes's problems with cop dramas - that they show the bobbies purely as bobbies on the job, and not as people with lives - will be rectified soon when The Cops begins tomorrow. Created by World Productions, the people responsible for This Life, the drama delves into the gritty personal lives of a group of police officers.

Casualty-based dramas portray the procedural aspects of hospital life very well, according to medics. Casualty is quite realistic, but the death rate is usually far higher than in reality and the interesting cases that come up in a single episode would take a whole month to occur in real life. And then there's the fascinating personal lives of those involved, especially in series such as ER. Dr Gerald Coakley, a specialist registrar, says: "Everyone seems to be having affairs with everyone else. That isn't particularly realistic. They also play up the personal tensions for dramatic reasons, but usually people get on reasonably well." The one that bugs GPs is Peak Practice, in which the docs happily leap out of bed in the middle of the night to deal with patients' personal problems or search for them on windy hilltops.

Journalists are always getting upset at the way they are portrayed in television dramas. The Polly palaver on EastEnders would never have happened in real life because, although hacks occasionally do shaft their friends, Gita and Sanjay's lack of celebrity would render details of their love life irrelevant.

Jon Slattery, acting editor of Press Gazette, the trade magazine for journalists, says: "On TV you see journalists knifing up their friends and being able to publish anything without fear of libel. And they always make it look like a solo operation, with the reporter running around the country getting great stories. In reality journalists are more likely to be chained to their desks."

Overall, journalists consider Drop the Dead Donkey to be a fairly realistic depiction of themselves. But most also have a sneaking liking for the likes of Lou Grant. In fact, most professions secretly love the way their job is glamorised on the screen. As Slattery puts it: "It's better to be an anti-hero than something bland and boring. It gives us a harder image than accountants."

WHAT THEY WATCH WHEN THEY'RE OFF DUTY

Lawyers like LA Law, Kavanagh QC, This Life

Police like Frost, The Bill

Doctors like Casualty, ER

Journalists like Drop the Dead Donkey, Lou Grant

Lawyers dislike Ally McBeal

Police dislike The Cops (before they've even seen it)

Doctors dislike Peak Practice

Journalists dislike Polly the reporter on EastEnders

Suggested Topics
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SAP Data Migration Consultant

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

    Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

    £300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    Linux Systems Administrator

    £33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

    (Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice