TV re­view A no-non­sense sleuth makes a wel­come re­turn

The Herald Magazine - - ETC - ALI­SON ROWAT

VERA sailed back into view this week for a sev­enth se­ries (Sun­day, ITV, 9pm). Or did she hove? Maybe she lum­bered or am­bled? De­tec­tives of a more am­a­teur na­ture may have picked up on a ten­dency to tip­toe round de­scrip­tions of Northum­ber­land DCI Vera Stan­hope for fear of caus­ing of­fence. Yet ev­ery tele­vi­sion ’tec needs a unique sell­ing point, and Vera’s is that she is a woman of a cer­tain age and a par­tic­u­lar girth who looks as though she sleeps in a hedge. In short, she is the spit of mil­lions of other or­di­nary women at the end of a work­ing week. Clever, eh?

Vera’s lack of pre­tence is why fans adore Ann Cleeves’ char­ac­ter and Brenda Blethyn’s por­trayal of her. One day the fash­ion world will dis­cover the Vera “look” and send an army of size six mod­els down the run­way in bru­tally clash­ing pat­terns, souwester hats and sludge-coloured trench-coats. Karl Lager­feld prob­a­bly spent this first episode sketch­ing away like crazy.

Nat­u­ral Se­lec­tion was a typ­i­cally mor­eish mys­tery about a young woman, ap­par­ently alone on an is­land save for the birds she is there to mon­i­tor in her job as a con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer, who is found mur­dered. Ei­ther some of our avian friends have been watch­ing later pe­riod Hitch­cock, or hu­mankind is up to no good again.

It was a de­ter­minedly bleak piece. Even when the sun was shin­ing Vera kept her hat on, while each wit­ness seemed to carry their own per­sonal rain cloud wher­ever they went. It would have been a de­press­ing watch save for the cir­cle of warmth that is Vera. Not since The Likely Lads has the Ge­ordie ac­cent seemed so toasty and com­fort­ing. In­ter­vie­wees are never Mr or Miss to Vera; they are al­ways “pet” or “love”. If she ever had to ques­tion the artist known as Ch­eryl, and I don’t know why she would, the world would reach peak Ge­ordie.

Not that Vera is a soft touch, mind. Those who dare to un­der­es­ti­mate her are treated to a sharp purse of the lips, a fal­con-like tilt of the head and a terse “Hmmm”. One would not wish to be on the re­ceiv­ing end of a “Hmmm” from Vera, or to meet again many of the trou­bled souls she en­coun­ters, but Vera her­self, she is al­ways wel­come to stop by for a cup of some­thing strong and

am­ber. As is her sergeant side­kick, Ai­den (Kenny Doughty), whose job de­scrip­tion seems to in­clude haul­ing Vera to her feet at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. Nice gizmo if you can get it. Won­der if Ama­zon stocks Ai­dens?

Amer­i­can Jus­tice (Tues­day, BBC Two, 9pm) turned the cam­eras on Jack­sonville, Florida. It was a long way from Vera coun­try. As the open­ing frames of the doc­u­men­tary in­formed us, the US is the only coun­try in the world where vot­ers de­cide di­rectly who de­liv­ers law and or­der. A way of en­sur­ing the sys­tem works for the peo­ple, say de­fend­ers; the path to abuses of power, reckon crit­ics.

Di­rec­tors Jonny Tay­lor and Arthur Carey spoke to vic­tims’ rel­a­tives, the ac­cused, de­tec­tives and lawyers. All seemed in their own ways pris­on­ers of a rigid sys­tem strug­gling to cope with the num­ber of cases that washed up at its doors, though some paid a far higher price than oth­ers. Play­ing out against this back­drop was the fight for the post of state’s at­tor­ney, with the in­cum­bent, a hard­liner who has earned a na­tional rep­u­ta­tion for her back­ing of the death penalty, fac­ing a chal­lenge from a more lib­eral op­po­nent. Next week the pro­gramme tack­les race. Best buckle up.

Fif­teen min­utes into Tues­day’s Re­port­ing Scot­land (BBC One, week­days, 6.30pm), Jackie Bird had a sur­prise for view­ers. No, she did not shove her desk aside like An­gela Rip­pon and launch into a high-kick­ing dance rou­tine. Maybe that’s next week. No, since it was an his­toric day with Holy­rood de­bat­ing a sec­ond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum and ev­ery­thing, Jackie B an­nounced we were to be treated to a Mrs Mer­ton-style heated de­bate in a spe­cially ex­tended pro­gramme. Sud­denly, The One Show didn’t seem so bad af­ter all.

But view­ers in Scot­land were to be de­nied that treat for now. So here we were. Two politi­cians, the Con­ser­va­tives’ Adam Tomkins and the SNP’s Fiona Hys­lop, tak­ing ques­tions from host Glenn Camp­bell and an au­di­ence spe­cially se­lected to rep­re­sent Re­main/ Leave/Yes/No/Don’t Knows/Un­cle Tom Cob­ley and any­one else the re­searchers could think of. Voices were raised, the politi­cians said noth­ing we had not heard be­fore, and the whole ex­pe­ri­ence was about as il­lu­mi­nat­ing as a black hole. Only a few more years of this to go. Won­der if there is any room left on that is­land of birds?

In Ge­ordie DCI Vera Stan­hope (Brenda Blethyn) the au­thor Ann Cleeves has cre­ated a straight-talk­ing de­tec­tive whose side­kick Ai­den (Kenny Doughty) of­fers reg­u­lar sup­port to his boss

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