TV review: Scott and Bailey

Gary Day finds the writing sharp and the acting compelling in ITV's new female detective series

June 30, 2011

Credit: Miles Cole

Beware of small, balding men. They are probably serial killers. If you see a small, balding man, especially one in a fleece, shout, at the top of your voice: "Watch out! There's a serial killer about!" It doesn't matter where you are - on the street, in a shop or even a crowded theatre - it is your duty to warn people that small, balding men who wear a fleece and who are almost certainly called Geoff may at any moment snatch someone and bore them to death with their theory that The Lord of the Rings is really an instruction manual written by aliens for the building of a city that they are going to rule when they return to Earth, which, incidentally, will be Wednesday 25 May 2016.

Such is the stereotype of small, balding men perpetrated by Scott and Bailey (ITV1, Sunday 26 June, 9pm). Well, almost. The small, balding man called Geoff in this six-part series prefers good old-fashioned violence when it comes to dispatching his victims. Nothing too messy - only asphyxiation or, as the investigating team call it, "vagal inhibition". They enjoy the look of incomprehension the term engenders in subordinates and so use it frequently.

It was DC Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones) who realised that she and her partner DC Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp) were on the trail of a serial killer. Amid a crowded love life, she found a moment to make connections between murders that go back more than 30 years, which just goes to show that women are better at time management than men.

This week's corpse was identified as one Lyn Stott, who worked as a packer in a factory. It was presumably because the job did not pay very well, and was boring to boot, that she moonlighted for a chatline called Shagaholics Anonymous, a revelation that brought much mirth to a team whose own sexual shenanigans give an extra charge to the term "incident room".

As if being a police officer doesn't offer enough drama and excitement for one life, DC Scott has a fling with DS Andy Roper (Nicholas Gleaves). He now wants her to leave her family, but she "can't do that to Adrian and the kids". All very amusing when you know that Gleaves is Sharp's real-life husband. DC Bailey, meanwhile, is plotting revenge against her ex-lover, lawyer Nick Savage (Rupert Graves), whose first and last names tell you all you need to know about him and his profession. But DC Scott warns her partner that if she brings him down, he will take her with him; "he's got you by the wire wool", she explains in language DC Bailey will understand. For DC Bailey has her own colourful turn of phrase, her own rather tangy expressions. Caitlin, Lyn's daughter, couldn't see her mother's body because "rats, not that I mind them - they're only doing their job - have eaten her face".

The writing is one of the strengths of the series. Another is the acting. Lesley Sharp is, as always, compelling. I can still vividly recall her as the greasy-haired Valerie in Jim Cartwright's brilliant Road (1987), spitting her lines to convey the disgust she feels at the fumblings of her drunken husband. More grit than glamour, Sharp's performances are never less than authentic.

Unlike your standard Miss Marple, Scott and Bailey does not end with the identification of the killer. The panoramic shots of Manchester at night suggest greater evils at work. The city is dark, fathomless, but dotted everywhere with ironic points of light. I came to this female detective duo as I do to most good things, late. But that just makes me relish them all the more. And on the evidence of this episode, I would say that Lynda La Plante, the queen of TV crime drama, can no longer sleep easy in her bed. The shadow of Sally Wainwright, creator of the series, can be seen on the wall. And she has a dagger in her hand.

"Smell is our least understood sense," announced the narrator at the beginning of a new three-part series, Perfume (BBC Four, Tuesday 28 June, 9pm), and, on the evidence of the first programme, it's going to remain that way. There was a lot of twaddle talked about the mystery of scent, much of it by Veronique Gabai-Pinsky, president of Estee Lauder's designer-fragrance division. She spoke of the need to "push the boundaries of collaboration between music and perfume". The result was Loud, a pinkish pong that came in bottles shaped like the old long-playing record. The launch, at a Debenham's store in London, was conducted with evangelical fervour. Exhorted to be "passionate" about what they do, the sales team chanted: "We are Loud, we are proud." And they looked as if they were too. It was profoundly depressing to a small, balding man.

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Reader's comments (1)

Thank you for repeating the phrase I wanted explained. But I've already HEARD it and want it's meaning. "He's got you by the wire wool" has yet to be explained...A little help here?

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