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
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
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
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
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

    Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

    £32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

    Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

    £25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

    Day In a Page

    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?