Articles

INTERFERENCE – CV: Tony Garnett

PAUL HOGGART (THE TIMES THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 14TH 2000)

READING BETWEEN THE LINES
The legendary Tony Garnett has been described by Mark Thompson, the former Controller of BBC2, as: “simply the best television drama creator and producer there has been.” His portfolio is a catalogue of some of the most powerful, innovative and controversial work in TV history. It ranges from the bleak social realism of Up the Junction, Cathy Come Home and the feature film Kes, through the radical polemic of Law and Order and Days of Hope, via critical police dramas such as Between the Lines and The Cops with the occasional detours into ground-breaking quasi-soaps such as Ballykissangel and This Life.

Yet Garnett ranks with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and J.D Salinger in his intense dislike of publicity. He never gives interviews and won’t even submit an entry to Who’s Who. “The less publicity, the greater the mystique”, actor Neil Pearson (Between the Lines) told one interviewer. The third series of The Cops begins on Monday with Attachments, Garnett’s new internet-based drama, due on Monday, September 25.

DAYS OF HOPE
Garnett was a “scholarship boy”, born in Birmingham in 1935, he studied psychology at London University on a state scholarship. After graduating he became an actor and was soon working in television. Picked up by the left wing drama teams that flourished under Sir Hugh Canton-Greene, his first television role came in 1960, a soldier in Troy Kennedy Martin’s first TV play, Incident at Echo Six. He had small parts in Z Cars and Peter Dews’s memorable Shakespeare history series, The Age of Kings. His friend Don Taylor -described him as: “a passionate young Marxist … a good, sharp performer with … a Brummie twang. . . a working-class intellectual, ferociously intelligent and witheringly ambitious.’

But according to Taylor, Garnett was a good rather than a superb actor and may have made the move into production as an alternative route to greatness. His reputation, along with Ken Loach’s, was established with Up the Junction and consolidated by Cathy Come Home and Kes

TONY COME HOME
Later work such as Law and Order and the historical drama Days of Hope (which he made with the writer and former navvy, Jim Allen) proved intensely controversial. Finding himself in an unsympathetic political and financial climate, he accepted work in Hollywood with Universal Studios. Some say this was part of a midlife crisis, and the episode certainly did not produce his most memorable work. He was still depressed, apparently, when he returned to England in 1990, to help the education of his second son.

A FAIR COPS?
Garnett’s career surged back into overdrive with Between the Lines, the series on police corruption that greatly discomforted many in the service. All his productions are exhaustively researched, but the Greater Manchester Police have been equally displeased by the “scrote” – bashing bobbies – of The Cops, the more so because Garnett’s dramas often look more like reality television than documentaries do. But as Ballykissangel and This Life testify, he has what Gub Neal of Channel 4 called “an extraordinary ability to tap into what’s contemporary at any particular time.” See Attachments.

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