Alan Plater died last weekend. Not an incredibly well-known name, or a fashionable one, but one that had been somewhere near the top of my TV heroes list since I first saw The Beiderbecke Affair in the mid 1990s.
Writing for television is widely derided these days, perhaps rightfully, but back in the day (along with people like David Nobbs, Andrew Davies, Dennis Potter and Stephen Poliakoff) Plater demonstrated that not only is it possible for TV to be art, but that it has subtleties of form which can be used to produce something quite different – or even superior – to a film or a book. His early work doesn’t really appeal to me at all. Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt seems like an inaccessible antique, even just 33 years after it was shown. Some great progression must have been made in the 1980s, though, as Get Lost!, A Very British Coup and the Beiderbecke trilogy flow with a natural, calm pace which I’ve seldom seen elsewhere. At its best his dialogue expanded to take over the story, eating up the plot like a parasitic plant. Plot itself seemed to be more an annoyance than anything. In an interview this year he said
“I find doing the plot the most tedious thing about writing TV drama. The formula is, relatively speaking, unchanging. You have a murder. You have a line-up of suspects; one by one. The one that you think is the hot favourite is probably the next victim. It’s a mechanical thing, which actually I am not that good at. What I am good at is the little scenes between people. The back-chat between the two cops; I love writing that.”
Here’s hoping this approach can live on.