Austen with blood and gore for all the family

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold

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Edinburgh Television Festival. Frankly, I love Jane Austen adaptations as much as anybody. Fine National Trust dialogue, gorgeous costumes, dashing young ladies with not-so-very-discreet embonpoints, close-ups of heads blasted off by pump-action shotguns, a candlelit ball or two: what could be more enjoyable?

There is, one must concede, one item - but no more than one - in the above list that might not have appeared 10 or 20 years ago. Can you, dear reader, guess what it is? The gorgeous costumes? The dashing young ladies? No, it's the "heads blasted off by pump-action shotguns". Needless to say, there have been various tut-tuts at Edinburgh about what the stuffed shirts describe as "gratuitous violence" on television. Speaking personally, I would agree with them in many ways, I am not particularly fond of blood spattered over my evening's viewing, unless, of course, it is "in keeping". But as Chairman of MORON-TV, I know only too well that we must move with the times, forsooth! If he is to be kept smiling, then that most benighted of creatures, Mr Joe Public, must be given his share of blood. And why on earth not?

I take tremendous pride in the hand I had in developing Cracker, the splendid - if occasionally high-spirited! - ITV detective series. Many people outside the industry have asked me why we chose to call it Cracker. The answer is simple. It was originally scheduled for the 4.15pm slot, so its title was designed to foster appeal to children between the ages of four and 10. The opening scene of the first episode was perfectly delightful: the burly detective, played by Mr Robbie Coltrane, was present at a birthday party, tucking into red and green jellies, laughing uproariously at a Punch and Judy show, and pulling festive crackers (hence the title). A heavily tattooed serial killer with an evil look on his face then crashes in through the French windows and ploughs into the assembled company, ropes one of the mums, and exits by the back door. Theme Music. Titles. All aboard for three hours of powerfully enjoyable tea-time entertainment for the young-at-heart!

Alas, the powers-that-be at the Independent Television Commission were determined to flex their muscles. They insisted that our powerful and moving drama was unsuitable for the tea-time audience of mums and kids (dread word!). At first, I was conciliatory. "Perhaps we might remove one or two of the tattoos from the serial killer's forehead and give him a nice smile?" I suggested. But they would not budge: the series was to go out after 9pm or not at all. Furious though I was, we were forced to back down. But, as the old adage goes, every cloud has its silver lining: despite its silly plot-lines, sulky characters and good psychology, Cracker proved as popular with adults as it would have been with children. Twenty five Bafta awards and 60 million viewers later, it is the jewel in the MORON-TV crown. So much so that we are shortly to give the heavily-tattooed serial killer his very own spin-off show, in which each week he strolls around a different beautiful location - the Lake District, Dartmoor, the Pennines, the Western Isles - torturing and raping people, and all with an attractive sideline in sharp-tongued repartee!

There are lessons the Independent Television Commission must undoubtedly learn from this fandangle. The most important is that, no matter how we might personally pooh-pooh an excess of violence on our screens, the ordinary decent viewer cannot get enough of it.

It is, I would argue, absurdly elitist of us to attempt to stand in his way. I have a great deal of respect for my old friend and mentor Mr Rupert Murdoch, and it is Rupert who has convinced me that, to be truly democratic, we must let the ordinary deranged viewer have as much bare-knuckled violence on his screen as he (or she!) desires. And may I add that all our recent productions - not only Cracker but also our hilarious new comedy Stabbing to Death and our sensitive drama Triple Rape - have not so much portrayed violence as explored the nature of violence. There is all the difference in the world, even if for the present I forget exactly what.

Just enough space to "plug" our forthcoming prestige production: Emma by the lovely Jane Austen with Robbie Coltrane in the title role. Next week: The Need for Violence in News at Ten. Roll out the bodies! Pip pip until then!

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