Charlie Brooker on writing detective spoof A Touch of Cloth in The Writer’s Room

Charlie Brooker and co-writer Daniel Maier discuss writing spoof detective series A Touch of Cloth, follow this link.

Here he discusses his inspiration.

Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier build the perfect TV detective in The Guardian


The Guardian newspaper (UK) contains a very funny interview with writers Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier for their upcoming spoof cop show series A Touch Of Cloth. Here, they discuss which body parts are needed to make the perfect TV detective.

The head of Lewis

LewisA bit of Lewis. Illustration: Matt Blease
Charlie Brooker If a TV detective didn’t have demons and spent their downtime surfboarding or playing Boggle and laughing, I don’t think you’d stand for it. You have to justify showing hideous murder by balancing it out in the life of your protagonist. Otherwise people might start to think, “Oh, this is almost like death porn I’m watching.” Every detective drama has to have the appearance of being a weighty examination of the human condition, otherwise people start to get uncomfortable.
Daniel Maier Everyone has to have a demon. The dead wife. The drinking problem. Dead wife is quite a good one: Lewis’s wife died in a car accident. It’s something the show can cash in on later.

The heart of Sarah Lund

CB You’ve got to have constant conflict. It’s not like they ever go home to their wife and she says, “I know you forgot our anniversary, but it’s fine.” Every 10 minutes in The Killing, Sarah Lund was getting phone calls from her fiance, or that fucking kid she had, always moaning on: “It was school sports day and you missed it.” And as a viewer you go, “For God’s sake, she’s on the trail of a killer … ” This new bloke her mother’s seeing has a nut allergy. Sarah Lund isn’t listening because she’s looking at a clue, so she nearly kills him with a cake.

DM It’s the married-to-the-job business. It’s the spirit vacuum, sucking all the life and hope out of you, and all the ability to love. There’s no point in falling in love, because everyone dies.

The tongues of Starsky & Hutch

CB They usually talk back, because the boss is an arsehole. Or one who is “I’ve got statistics I’ve got to keep up and you’re letting the side down … Can’t you cut a few corners?” We’ve gone for a slightly grand boss: he thinks the world swirls around him. Which it sort of does with some of the Steadicam nonsense we’ve got going on. The boss is an arsehole, and even if the cop is an arsehole, he’s generally still in the right.

DM There’s quite a limited range of boss tropes: the paper-pusher, so you get the renegade cop coming up against the suit. Starsky & Hutch’s boss was always, “I’ve got the mayor breathing down my neck – you’ve got 24 hours to clean up the town and get him off my case.”

The livers of Bunk, McNulty and Tennison

McNulty and Bunk give up their partsMcNulty and Bunk give up their parts. Illustration: Matt Blease

CB The Wire had Bunk and McNulty constantly boozing and they would play it comically. But you were also left in no doubt that they were two broken individuals. These detectives aren’t dancing around with traffic cones on their heads and taking Facebook photos. They like to imply that to catch people who are fucked up, you have to be fucked up yourself.

DM It ties in with the dead wife; it’s a wife replacement. And, of course, it’s more jeopardy, another thing to keep from the boss. It took them a few series before they did it, but they did it in Prime Suspect. “In case of emergency, you can break the ‘alcoholic’ glass.”

The stomach of Laure Berthaud

CB There was an autopsy scene from Spiral where Berthaud was like, “Let me just scalp this corpse and wear its hair like a hat.” There’s a cliche of a pathologist who is eating a sandwich while dissecting someone. One of the reasons these shows exist is to deliver a morbid thrill, like those supermarket magazines called ‘Take A Chat!’. The front page is always “I WAS STABBED IN THE EYE!” above a picture of someone smiling. It delivers horror and gore, but in a way that it isn’t like a horror movie. Showing your detective being miserable means you can have a five-minute autopsy scene, because it helps to illustrate why the detective is such a mess.

DM It’s quite a contemporary thing, very post-Se7en. It became more acceptable to do these baroque murders, to show the blood and guts. It gave rise to its own tropes: the vomiting rookie, the nonchalant pathologist. I call those “blue boob shows” because there’s always a woman in the mortuary, where you get a glimpse of a slightly rotten tit in the corner of the screen.

The groins of Rohde & Morse

CB If you put a man and a woman on screen, you start thinking, “Oh, I wonder if they’re going to do it?” When I first watched The Bridge I thought they were setting it up that the two of them [Saga Norén and Martin Rohde] were going to go off together. They still had to imply that he was a waster who sleeps around. You then realise that they’ve only done that to illustrate something about his past. Basically, the whole thing is his penis’s fault. He should have offered to blow his penis off with a gun.

DM Whenever that theme starts, whether it’s with Morse or Lewis or whoever, you’ve got this whole zip file that you can unpack to see what’s going to happen: a flirtation, a missed opportunity because he’s not going to want to expose himself to the risk. And if he does it’ll go wrong or the woman will be murdered.

A Touch of Cloth is on Sunday, 9pm, Sky1

The Trouble with News plus Charlie Brooker vs the Daily Mail

It’s often been said that newspapers are doomed due to most people getting their information online. This is true, but I also can’t help feeling that if they’d spent more time giving me actual news rather than who’s having Nazi sex I and others might have been more interested. Probably. I make no promises. Well, the online articles are so much shorter and freer, aren’t they…

Anyway, the other thing that concerns me in this situation is opinion. We’re all human and can’t help having opinions, but it only seems to be people with very fixed ones who write for newspapers – or they at least have a very clear idea what their opinion needs to be at each different newspaper.

I also can’t watch the news without wondering about the other possible angles and viewpoints of the story – which is a good thing I know – but can’t they just tell us everything that’s happened? Perhaps look down the camera lens and say, “Well, those are all the facts, this happened in war, that man said this, all of this happened on this list here look. I’m not going to pretend that some actor slept with some actress because the truth is they didn’t, there you go.” But it’s just never that simple, partly I suppose because the news would go on for about four hours.

But sometimes its like I’m at a cheese and cracker party full of tedious people all desperate to explain what they think is wrong with the world, or are keeping others from speaking because it might hurt their client. Just tell me what’s happening!

Anyway, something on the subject that amused me was Charlie Brooker’s column on Sunday about the Daily Mail, which I’ve included below. He’s an opinionated man but at least he’s only writing for entertainment purposes. For anyone unfamiliar with the Daily Mail, it’s a bit like Fox News in written form:

When the Daily Mail calls rightwingers stupid, the result is Dumbogeddon

(by Charlie Brooker)

             On and on the comments went – a chimps’ tea party of the damned

“There was a minor kerfuffle a few weeks ago when the Daily Mail website overtook the New York Times to become the most popular news site in the world. Liberals can whine all they like, but that’s a formidable achievement, especially considering it’s not really a conventional news site at all, more a big online bin full of pictures of reality stars, with the occasional Stephen Glover column lobbed in to lighten the mood.

The print edition of the paper is edited by Paul Dacre, who is regularly praised by media types for knowing what his customers want, and then selling it to them. This is an extraordinary skill that puts him on the same rarefied level as, say, anyone who works in a shoe shop. Or a bike shop. Or any kind of shop. Or in any absolutely any kind of business whatsoever. Whatever you think about Dacre’s politics, you can’t deny he’s got a job to do, and he does it. Like a peg. Or a ladle. Or even a knee. Dacre is perhaps Britain’s foremost knee.

Curiously, the online version of the Mail has become a hit by doing the reverse of what Dacre is commended for doing. It succeeds by remorselessly delivering industrial quantities of precisely the opposite of what a traditional Mail reader would presumably want to read: frothy stories about carefree young women enjoying themselves. Kim Kardashian or Kelly Brook “pour their curves” into a selection of tight dresses and waddle before the lens and absolutely nobody on the planet gives a toss apart from Mail Online, which is doomed to host the images, and Mail Online’s readers, who flock in their thousands to leave messages claiming to be not in the slightest bit interested in the story they’re reading and commenting on.

Now Mail Online has gone one step further by running a story that not only insults its own readers, but cruelly invites them to underline the insult by making fools of themselves. In what has to be a deliberate act of “trolling”, last Friday it carried a story headlined “Rightwingers are less intelligent than left wingers, says study”. In terms of enraging your core readership, this is the equivalent of Nuts magazine suddenly claiming only gay men masturbate to Hollyoaks babes.

The Mail’s report went on to detail the results of a study carried out by a group of Canadian academics, which appears to show some correlation between low childhood intelligence and rightwing politics. It also claimed that stupid people hold rightwing views in order to feel “safe”. Other items they hold in order to feel safe include clubs, rocks and dustbin lids. But those are easy to let go of. Political beliefs get stuck to your hands. And the only way to remove them is to hold your brain under the hot tap and scrub vigorously for several decades.

As you might expect, many Mail Online readers didn’t take kindly to a report that strived to paint them as simplistic, terrified dimwits. Many leapt from the tyres they were swinging in to furrow their brows and howl in anger. Others, tragically, began tapping rudimentary responses into the comments box. Which is where the tragi-fun really began.

“Stupidest study of them all,” raged a reader called Beth. “So were the testers conservative for being so thick or were they left and using a non study to make themselves look better?” Hmmm. There’s no easy answer to that. Because it doesn’t make sense.

“I seem to remember ‘academics’ once upon a time stating that the world was flat and the Sun orbitted the Earth,” scoffed Ted, who has presumably been keeping his personal brand of scepticism alive since the middle ages.

“Sounds like a BBC study, type of thing they would waste the Licence fee on, load of Cods wallop,” claimed Terry from Leicester, thereby managing to ignore the findings while simultaneously attacking public service broadcasting for something it hadn’t done. For his next trick, Terry will learn to whistle and shit at the same time.

Not all the respondents were stupid. Some were merely deluded. Someone calling themselves “Hillside” from Sydney claimed: “I have an IQ over 200, have six degrees and diplomas and am ‘right-wing’, as are others I know at this higher level of intelligence.” His IQ score is particularly impressive considering the maximum possible score on Mensa’s preferred IQ test is 161.

Whatever the numbers: intellectual dick-measuring isn’t to everyone’s tastes anyway. Simply by highlighting his own intelligence “Hillside” alienated several of his commentbox brethren.

“If there is one person I can not stand and that is a snob who thinks they are intelligent because if they were intelligent and educated they wouldn’t be snobs,” argued Liz from London. Once you’ve clambered over the broken grammar, deliberately placed at the start of the sentence like a rudimentary barricade of piled-up chairs, there’s a tragic conundrum at work here. She claims intellectual snootiness is ugly, which it is, but unfortunately she says it in such a stupid way it’s impossible for anyone smarter than a steak-and-ale pie not to look down on her. Thus, for Liz, the crushing cycle of snobbery continues.

On and on the comments went, turning a rather stark write-up of a daft-sounding study into a sublime piece of live online performance art. A chimps’ tea party of the damned. The Mail has long been a master at trolling lefties; now it’s mischievously turned on its own readers, and the results could only be funnier if the website came with free plastic lawn furniture for them to lob at the screen. You couldn’t make it up.”

All you need for spooky Christmas viewing

It’s definately wintery here; sometimes snowing, then raining, then both at once. Christmas will soon be upon us! I’ve decided in future to put up Halloween decorations for Christmas rather than the traditional although I’d still have a tree, just an unusually adorned one. I don’t abide by all this ‘I hate Christmas’ cynicism, put tinsel in your hair and run through the streets naked and weeping I say! I’m not remotely religious but there’s always time to do that. Unless you’re Jewish. Or Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Budhist. Or Sikh or…something else.

Anyway…rather than watching repeats of Only Fools and Horses for the 500th time I’ve concocted a witch’s brew of eye goodies to make Christmas a spooky, strange or otherwise unusual affair, as I often do each year. If you don’t own any of these things I recommend them.

1: The Last American Freak Show. A documentary by Richard Butchins covering the exploits of a modern day travelling freak show. Reality, as is often the case, never quite lives up to expectation and Richard, a disabled man himself, struggles with the implications of the show and the haphazard way its run.

2. Freaks. It just makes sense to watch it after viewing the first one. Made in 1932, Tod Browning’s film is as good as ever.

3. Psychoville Halloween special. I love all of psychoville, particularly the librarian, but the Halloween special is a good spooky/funny standalone hour.

4. The League of Gentleman Christmas special. Same as above but different and more Christmas orientated. And brilliant.

5. Amicus horror compilations. The above two are heavily influenced by such films as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. Entertaining fun!

6. The Others. I love this film. Alejandro Amenábar’s direction is extremely atmospheric with enough fog for an early Hammer horror. Plus Christopher Eccleston’s in it and I love him.

7. Oddities. It’s ridiculous fluff in the style of Pawn Stars for weirdos but I enjoy it, I think its fun. Watch it online somewhere or on Discovery Realtime.

8. Coraline. It’s cute! From a story originally by Neil Gaiman and directed by Nightmare Before Christmas’ Henry Selick.

9. Black Mirror. Disturbing viewing and best avoided during the festive dinner, but otherwise Charlie Brooker’s three stories are amazing and necessary watching.

10. Dr Who. The disturbing episodes are my favourites, usually either by League of Gentleman co-writer Mark Gatiss (also have a look at his History of Horror on BBC 4) or head writer Steven Moffat.

11. Dead Set. Again by Charlie Brooker its tense, atmospheric and Derren Brown co-writer Andy Nyman gets to spout some very inventive insults.

12. Derren Brown. Is it wrong to find him hammering nails up his nose and walking on glass slightly erotic? My favourites are the disturbing series Trick or Treat, live show Something Wicked This Way Comes, his latest offerings The Experiments and the third series of Tricks of the Mind.

13. Twin Peaks. Zavvi are currently selling the gold disc set of both series plus lots of extras of Twin Peaks for just over £20. Woo hoo!

So there concludes our festive list of fun. There’s bound to be things I’ve forgotten, but try not to wail and rend your garments until you’ve at least opened your presents. Farewell!

Black Mirror by Charlie Brooker and The Experiments by Derren Brown

For the love of God watch Black Mirror by Columnist and writer of Dead Set etc Charlie Brooker if you haven’t already. I mean it! Or I’ll come round your house and…be really annoying and stuff. For me the last two episodes do what good sci-fi should do which is reflect the fears and worries of a society at that moment. On the Twilight Zone DVD is an interview with writer and creator Rod Serling and the interviewer asks him whether he plans to continue with sci-fi or write something important. You only have to watch The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street though to see the terror of cold war hysteria.

I think its important viewing, like Derren Brown’s most recent forays in The Experiments, particularly Derren’s episodes on de-individuation and personal guilt.