I went into Borders on Charing Cross Road last week… a sad experience to see such a lovely bookshop in its dying days. I looked for bargains – but didn’t have the heart to buy any.
But I was however mightily cheered up to see this for sale. It’s the box set of that forgotten cult series – the Rebus episodes featuring John Hannah. Of course most viewers now associate Edinburgh detective John Rebus with the wonderful Ken Stott, who plays him in the most recent version. But almost 10 years ago Hannah did four episodes, of which I am proud to have writtten (strictly speaking, co-written, since I was the rewrite guy) one.
Television history records that Hannah wasn’t ‘right’ for the role, and maybe that’s true. But I think the gritty, atmospheric film noir approach of these four eps was wonderfully true to the spirit of Ian Rankin’s brilliant detective novels.
I had a double involvement with Rebus. Initially I was the development executive at STV in charge of getting the books to screen. I commissioned ace Scottish writer Mark Greig to work on a treatment, and we were lining up Ken Stott (!) for the lead role.
Then Hannah’s company – Clerkenwell Films who now make the stunning Misfits – got involved and Mark and I, in the nicest possible way (Clerkenwell are one of the loveliest and most honourable indie production companies around) were elbowed aside.
But later, I came on board to do my co-writing job on The Hanging Garden, and Mark wrote the next episode, Mortal Causes. We were by then firm friends, and since we shared a villain – Cafferty – we both took the view we were in effect writing two halves of the same story.
My episode screened four days before 9/11 and the Twin Towers terrorist attack, and got a great audience. The next episode, Dead Souls, appeared a few days after 9/11 and was bumped back in the schedules till very late because of the rolling news coverage, and (understandably) hardly anyone watched it. And Mark’s episode – Mortal Causes – was pulled altogether, because it had a contentious racial violence theme, and those were, remember, very tense times. Mortal Causes wasn’t screened till several years later, even though it’s a truly fine piece of television drama.
So it’s great to see all four eps together in a box set, a unified series at last…
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