You’re nicked is a genre study of police series produced by UK television from 1955 to the 2010s. It considers how the relationship among production practices, visual stylistics, and resultant ideology has evolved over the past sixty years, and how this has had an impact on changing cultural definitions of the police series genre. To chart the development of the genre each chapter focuses on a particular decade to examine how key series represent the changes that gendered identities and social-class demographics were experiencing economically, socially, and politically in light of the disassembly of the postwar settlement. Depictions of the police station, domestic scenes of criminals, and the private lives of police officials are examined to unearth the complex ideology underpinning each series and to determine how the police series genre can be used to document socio-economic changes to British society.
This introduction details the key conventions that define the police series genre, sets out a rationale for the book, identifies the key gaps in existing knowledge, and summarises the book’s structure. The methodology adopted merges feminist studies of television drama with theatre semiotics to discern how socio-economic changes to British society have been visually communicated through representations of the police station and domestic settings.
This chapter explores how the mobile camerawork of Z Cars (BBC, 1962–1978), compared to the conservative visuals and ideology of Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955–1976), enabled the programme to uncover the emerging cracks in the postwar consensus. It argues that establishing the British police series as a permanent fixture of the television schedule was underscored by a new candid form of social realism devoted to the stresses of working-class men’s experiences.
This chapter explores how Waking the Dead (BBC, 2000–2011), New Tricks (BBC, 2003–2015), and Life on Mars (BBC, 2006–2007) use digital stylistics to engage with nostalgia and the iconology of sci-fi. It examines how each series provides differing views as to how technological innovations can be balanced effectively with traditional methods of detection to combat crime and maintain a stable society. The chapter then considers how each series explores the impact that the internet and associated surveillance technologies had on civilian life, given increased postmodern awareness that a person’s identity can be fragmentary, temporary, and contingent over time.
This chapter examines Prime Suspect (ITV, 1991–2006), A Touch of Frost (ITV, 1992–2010), and Cracker (ITV, 1993–2006). Each programme utilises the visual iconography of the horror film to capture a rising dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system’s continued adoption of rational-actor policy. Then, the chapter explores how each series uses horror-film stylistics to depict perceived threats to society, including the underclass of Prime Suspect, middle-class femininity in Frost, and Cracker’s working-class ‘masculinity in crisis’. Lastly, an examination of The Cops (BBC, 1998–2001) determines how digital, handheld cameras combine docudrama’s emotional realism with the ‘horizontality’ of contemporary social realism to embody the precariousness and existentialism of Anthony Giddens’s ‘new individualism’, whilst critiquing New Labour’s adoption of ‘left realism’ criminology.
The conclusion demonstrates how this study’s research aims have been achieved, and discerns to what extent television programmes can be considered evidence of social change. It concludes by stating that the biggest change the genre has undergone is the loss of its social-realist desire to use police characters as an incidental means of learning about people’s lives and wider British society.
This comparative analysis of Hunter’s Walk (ITV, 1973–1976) in relation to The Sweeney (ITV, 1975–1978) explores in what manner each series was able to engage in debates surrounding class- and gender-inequality in light of second-wave feminism and the fracturing postwar settlement. The chapter inspects how each series negotiated a changing public and political attitude towards crime invested in a deterrence doctrine.
Emergent feminist thought and resurgent video cameras
This chapter explores how Juliet Bravo (BBC, 1980–1985), The Gentle Touch (ITV, 1980–1984), and The Bill (ITV, 1984–2010) use video cameras and the rhetoric of melodrama to negotiate the disconnect thought to exist between the British police force’s increasingly militaristic practices and the public’s favouring of community policing. The analysis considers how each series interacts with contemporary rational-actor models of criminology in relation to this socio-political disparity. Moreover, the chapter determines how each series intervenes in debates surrounding class identity and gender roles in relation to Thatcherism: the political philosophy committed to reasserting Victorian values and displacing the responsibilities of the State on to individuals to decrease Government spending.
The last chapter analyses how Broadchurch (ITV, 2013–2017) and Happy Valley (BBC, 2014–) typify the British police series genre’s latest narrative and stylistic direction. It specifically considers how the use of HD aerial cameras mounted on drones in both series ideologically navigate the growing socio-economic inequalities of their specific localities in relation to gendered identities deriving from austerity politics.