I am not a big fan of television. Ask me to choose between the box and the radio and it is no contest. I would miss it of course, as it went flying through the window. But not much. Channel Four Racing would be the only serious loss and I may briefly yearn for The Antiques Roadshow and The Chase. But these days, for me, it is little more than a glorified DVD player. I only agree with the contentious licence fee because of beloved Radios 3 and 4 and, sometimes, Radio 5. Wasn’t always the case. TV plays from Dennis Potter, Jack Rosenthal, Allan Prior and others regularly graced the screens thirty odd years ago. But along with Armchair Theatre, The Wednesday Play, Play of the Month, all have been ditched in favour of reality and celebrity. And mindless talent shows. The more channels you have the less there is to watch. Or that is how it seems. Especially on the licence charging BBC.
But, in spite of disgracefully and shamefully ditching all their horseracing coverage, they still have one little jewel in their tarnished crown. It is called BBC Four. This channel not only occasionally churns out interesting programmes, biopics, history, music, art, books, but they do them better than anyone else. They entertain you on the assumption that you might just have a passing interest in the subject, are not still at primary school, and that your attention span stretches slightly further than a gnat on Ritalin. Chivalry and Betrayal – The Hundred Years War was a recent three part history programme which showed this channel at its best. Intelligent presenter, in depth detailed commentary, and stunning photography not destroyed by mindless music and quirky styles. A sheer gem. Not surprised though that some political cretins and others think it is a channel that should be ditched. It caters for those who do not want a constant diet of Soaps, Celebrity, or Trivia. Such folks are dangerous.
That leads me on to Arne Dahl, the latest little gem on this unheralded but essential channel. There are lots of dangerous folk in this, and the ten week series on Saturday nights absolutely gripped for a number of disparate reasons. For the uninitiated Arne Dahl is a Swedish detective thriller writer and the series dramatised five of his novels. For some inexplicable reason subtitled dramas used to be considered anathema in the western world, only God knows why, but the powers that be have belatedly woken up to the fact that it beats dubbing any day. No longer do we get plied with flat and unemotional voices at variance with physical emotions. The actors are now allowed to speak for themselves, as it always should have been. Even in Swedish. They do so brilliantly in Arne Dahl’s complex and gripping pieces. A team of seven detectives, lead by the magnificent Irene Lindh as Jenny Hultin, solves cases that bemuse all others. Miss Lindh must be Sweden’s answer to Helen Mirren. She is brilliant for both grittiness and economy of style. And all of her A Team are beautifully crafted characters both in the acting and the writing. As well as getting strong and hard hitting storylines, no political correctness with this lot, we learn about all their frailties and passions. These cops don’t just drive the stories, they are the stories.
The last two-parter – Europa Blues – was a classic example of the set. Nasty murders in a cemetery and a zoo, horrifying executions of a group of prostitutes, echoes of Nazi medical experimentation, and a detective puzzled by an unexpected inheritance. All links beautifully in the end and along the way we get a consummate performance from Niklas Akerfelt as the featured cerebral cop Soderstedt. But it was like this throughout the whole series. Narrative gripped and realistic scenes stunned. Yes it was in a foreign tongue and you did need to pay attention. But that is BBC Four for you. Doesn’t like to make things easy. I shall miss it on Saturday nights. If it comes out on DVD get it. Unless you are a gnat. Roy Hall.