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BBC lays down law in battle for TV ratings


Media Reporter

A wartime saga starring Stephanie Beecham and no fewer than seven series involving police or detectives form the highlights of a £49m drama season unveiled yesterday by the BBC.

No Bananas, written and produced by the team behind Casualty, will chart the progress of two Kent families, the Slaters from industrial Chatham and the county-set Hamiltons, during the Second World War. Nick Elliott, BBC television's head of drama series, described the programme as "an epic".

In its attempt to claw back some ground ceded to ITV in the realm of popular drama - the network was responsible for nine out of 10 top-rated series last year - the BBC is also placing its faith in a raft of series based on police and detectives.

Amanda Burton has been poached from ITV's hit Peak Practice for Silent Witness, in which she plays a police pathologist on the trail of a serial killer in Cambridge. Patricia Routledge, of Keeping Up Appearances, stars in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, the story of a budding amateur detective in Lancashire.

Across the border, Warren Clarke is the detective Dalziel in Dalziel and Pascoe, a three-part series adapted from Reginald Hill's Yorkshire crime novels by Alan Plater, Malcolm Bradbury and Keith Dewhurst.

The new season also features The Vet, which follows a Devon veterinary practice, Madson, in which Ian McShane leaves Lovejoy behind to play a convicted murderer seeking to clear his name, and Ballykissangel, a series about a young English priest dispatched from Manchester to rural Ireland.

Rejecting the recent accusation by Andrew Davies, the award-winning writer of A Very Peculiar Practice, that the corporation was guilty of flogging tired plot-lines in the quest for ratings, Mr Elliott said: "It's Cloud-cuckoo-land to believe you can banish detective or police series from television."

Innovation, Mr Elliott added, lay in the way programmes were written and directed, rather than the genre on which they were based. "There is no comparison between Cracker and The Bill."