“It was nearly made by BBC, it was nearly made by ITV and it was almost made by Channel 4,” says Charlie Brooker as he sits with John Hannah and Suranne Jones in the bowels of BAFTA. We’ve just watched the first episode of his new police procedural spoof comedy, A Touch of Cloth and as the applause finally dies away I find myself wondering why the hell no one has made a programme like this before.
We’re all familiar with the catalogue of cliches and tropess that programmes of this nature relentlessly throw at us. Detectives with pasts that would make a Leonard Cohen album seem cheerful, people in trench coats walking at the camera, sentences which are made up almost entirely of accronyms and interrogation scenes in which some copper loses it with a sneering villain. If any genre is ready to be lampooned it is this one, and Brooker et al do a brilliant job in Sky1’s latest comedy offering.
The laughs come thick and fast and the humour is distinctly ‘Airplanish’ or “breaking the fourth wall” as Brooker puts it. The plot revolves around a hard-drinking DI with a tragic past, played by John Hannah. Jack Cloth is a name with plenty of comedy angles – even if some people on Twitter don’t seem to get the joke in the title (“What were Sky thinking?!”). Within minutes he meets his new partner, Anne Oldman (Jones) and soon they’re striding across Rundowne Estate to Datdere Youth Club to interview a yob over the vicious murder of a OAP. “Yo, that bloke looks uncompromising!” says one hoodrat as Cloth bursts into the building.
“Originally it started off as an Inspector Morse / Midsomer Murders parody some years back” explains Brooker. “But when we returned to it we realised that the genre had moved on a bit. Nowadays crime series tend to be about broken men who were scarcely more in control than the serial killers they pursue and the serial killers themselves had turned into more artisan people who were trying to make artistic statements with their crimes.”
Why all those free-to-air channels passed on the idea is anyone’s guess, but someone has made a great decision in commissioning this show for Sky1. The broadcaster has spent £600 million on original British comedy over the last couple of years and this is some of the best money they’ve spent. It certainly confirms that Charlie Brooker belongs with Iannucci, Jones & Co. in the elite group of comedians they’ve recruited.
What’s more, when the cast tell you how much they enjoyed making this show, it’s not difficult to believe them. From writers to graphics artists, crew members were apparently queuing up to lampoon the pet hates from their part of the industry that have annoyed them so much over the years.
“Everyone across the whole production chipped in,” says co-writer Dan Maier. “Someone’s done a number on the title sequence, there are ridiculous signs everywhere*. The director brought in all these tropes, tracking shots and cliches that we’d never have thought of, every department took the chance to take the piss out of all the things they’d got sick of doing..”
One person who’s closer than most to mainstream police drama is Suranne Jones, who plays Cloth’s previously mentioned partner. Oldman (who definitely DOESN’T pronounce her name the same way as Gary) is a bi-sexual inspector with a poster which reads ‘Fruits Other Than Oranges’ on her wall is struggling to keep a same sex relationship going, because of ‘the job’. Fans of Scott and Bailey will recognise her pretty quickly.
“The director sat us all down and made us watch a tape of clips from cop shows.. and there was a scene from Scott and Bailey in there” she says. “So essentially, I’m in a show which is taking the piss out of my day job – so to speak.”
Yet the best thing about this new Sky1 show is the way it maintains a good pace throughout. Many shows of this ilk have a hilarious opening act, before fading somewhat towards the end, but while there are several running jokes here, the script is sharp enough to keep everyone interested. On top of that, it’s also quite varied. From a scene in which John Hannah wanders the police station with a massive hard-on to some devilishly placed literary puns, there’s something for everyone and there’s even a mystery thrown in as well.
“Despite all the gags, I still thought it was important that audiences were intrigued by whodunnit,” says Maier. “We British love a mystery.” We also love comedy and there’s plenty of it here. A triumph.
*Cloth finds a patient in ‘Shayne Ward’ at the hospital and chases the suspect to ‘Denouement Heights’ at the climax