Back for a fifth se­ries, DCI Banks is the York­shire-based cop who just gets on with the job. Crime Scene meets Stephen Tomp­kin­son to dis­cover how his nonon­sense de­tec­tive be­came a global hit.

Crime Scene - - CONTENTS - By AN­DRE PAINE

Stephen Tomp­kin­son and Peter Robin­son on the nonon­sense York­shire cop.

WHILE crime drama has its roll call of quirky cops and dys­func­tional de­tec­tives – from anti-so­cial Saga Norén in The Bridge to out-of­con­trol John Luther – the real-life ha­rassed de­tec­tive is some­one like DCI Alan Banks. Pro­fes­sional, un­showy and with a bit of a tem­per, the York­shire­based cop­per cre­ated by au­thor Peter Robin­son is hugely pop­u­lar on the page and screen. Re­turn­ing for a fifth se­ries of DCI Banks on ITV1, Stephen Tomp­kin­son agrees that his de­tec­tive’s ap­peal is largely down to that every­man qual­ity.

“You know, Peter Robin­son said [that] what makes him ex­tra­or­di­nary is his or­di­nar­i­ness, and every po­lice­man that Peter spoke to, he said there’s a real mun­dane qual­ity to what they do,” Tomp­kin­son tells Crime Scene. “Banks, un­like most of the TV cops, doesn’t have frills and quirks, he just gets on with his job, and it’s al­most like it takes a lit­tle piece of him away every time. But he does that be­cause he has this faith in jus­tice, and when a crime has been com­mit­ted he wants to get it solved for the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of all the other peo­ple in­volved.”

Driven, un­lucky in love and a lit­tle dour, Banks is very dif­fer­ent from the man who plays him. Un­der of­fice lights at the police sta­tion in Leeds, Banks has a pouchy, pasty ap­pear­ance and dresses in a drab suit that screams over­worked, di­vorced de­tec­tive. But Tomp­kin­son is an an­i­mated and easy­go­ing 50-year-old in a flow­ery shirt, partly un­but­toned for the sum­mer. As Crime Scene takes in the view from the 14th floor of ITV’S London TV Cen­tre, the ac­tor makes small talk about opt­ing for fam­ily life out­side of the cap­i­tal in Sur­rey. “Peo­ple ac­knowl­edge each other in the street,” he says, ap­prov­ingly, in his fa­mil­iar Lan­cashire ac­cent.

He is af­fa­ble and re­laxed, his chunky, ex­pen­sive watch per­haps the only ob­vi­ous hint of his star power and bank­a­bil­ity for ITV. His per­for­mance as Banks has been a con­sis­tent rat­ings hit since it launched

in 2010. “Peo­ple have re­sponded to Banks very well – they can iden­tify with his or­di­nar­i­ness and his flaws,” sug­gests Tomp­kin­son. “It’s dif­fi­cult for crit­ics and re­view­ers to get a han­dle on it, be­cause it’s hard to cel­e­brate or­di­nar­i­ness.”

There’s a weary au­then­tic­ity to Alan Banks that means the se­ries has some­times been too eas­ily writ­ten off as a sort of sub- Prime Sus­pect. But while buzzy shows such as True De­tec­tive and Broad­church stum­bled with sec­ond sea­son plot­lines that con­founded some view­ers, DCI Banks stuck to solidly au­then­tic sto­ries given breath­ing space over two episodes. “You’re al­ways very aware that he’s got a uni­formed boss as well as bud­get re­straints, so it’s very much the mod­ern police pro­ce­dural,” ex­plains Tomp­kin­son. “A lot of his team are very strong fe­males, so there’s a re­ally nice dy­namic in that.”

That gen­der mix of de­tec­tives makes for an ef­fec­tive unit, de­spite the sim­mer­ing ro­mance be­tween Banks and DS An­nie Cab­bot (An­drea Lowe). “If they ever did get to­gether, it would be dis­as­trous,” laughs Tomp­kin­son. The lat­est se­ries in­tro­duces DC Vince Grady (Sa­muel An­der­son), a cock­sure de­tec­tive who man­ages to rub Banks up the wrong way. DI He­len Mor­ton (Caro­line Catz), his scar­ily ef­fi­cient col­league, is prob­a­bly the clos­est the show comes to a quirky cop. “She’s never know­ingly un­der-pre­pared and is go­ing for DCI her­self this year,” says Tomp­kin­son.


A ma­jor vil­lain has also been cast as Banks’ neme­sis for a story arc that will run across all six episodes – a first for the se­ries. York­shire­man Shaun Doo­ley ( Broad­church) stars as Steve Richards, a dodgy prop­erty de­vel­oper who has some­how avoided jail for mur­der – an af­front to a cop­per like Banks. “That’s been won­der­ful and it’s much more per­sonal to Banks that there’s been a sort of ‘Te­flon Don’ fig­ure that they’ve never been able to pin any­thing on,” Tomp­kin­son tells Crime Scene. “To the pub­lic he’s a very phil­an­thropic

Peo­ple iden­tify with his or­di­nar­i­ness and flaws

prop­erty de­vel­oper, who cre­ates a lot of jobs in the area and mixes on the golf cir­cuit with judges. But Banks knows that he was guilty of a dou­ble mur­der a long time ago. They couldn’t prove that he tam­pered with the jury and they’ve never been able to get him near a court­room since, so Banks is in danger of it al­most cloud­ing his judge­ment.”

Banks is a de­tec­tive with no time for spivvy busi­ness­men (“You got all this through hard graft?” sneers the in­cred­u­lous cop). Tomp­kin­son and Doo­ley make a com­pelling screen pair­ing in scenes that crackle with ten­sion. “I’ve known Shaun for ages and we’ve never worked to­gether be­fore, so it was lovely,” says Tomp­kin­son. “The in­ter­view scenes are al­ways my favourite – they’re like mini games of chess. By the end, the au­di­ence is re­ally gun­ning for a show­down be­tween them. Hope­fully we don’t dis­ap­point.”

Richards is a vil­lain who “brings out the worst” in Banks – in­clud­ing his fa­mous an­gry face – ac­cord­ing to the ac­tor, though the de­tec­tive is also ca­pa­ble of a more con­sid­ered ap­proach thanks to the char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and con­cepts from Robin­son’s orig­i­nal nov­els. “Peter has al­ways cre­ated these sort of morally grey ar­eas where you can end up hav­ing sym­pa­thy for the per­pe­tra­tors, be­cause more of­ten than not they’re peo­ple that never thought they would be in­volved in crime – it’s a sur­vival in­stinct to pro­tect their fam­ily,” says Tomp­kin­son. This se­ries opens with the bru­tal mur­der of a drug dealer in a creepy wood­land clear­ing, fol­lowed by a dis­turb­ing case of self-harm and a kid­nap­ping within the Chi­nese com­mu­nity in Leeds.

While the cases are un­doubt­edly gritty – DCI Banks has pre­vi­ously fea­tured child ab­duc­tion, a mid­dle-class par­ent who rapes his son’s girl­friend, and a live burial – it’s the York­shire land­scape of bleakly beau­ti­ful moor­land, rocky ravines and wind tur­bines that af­fords the DCI Banks direc­tors a lo­ca­tion to ri­val Scan­di­na­vian crime shows. “Oh, it’s gor­geous, and we’re spoilt for choice be­ing in Leeds, where you can do very metropoli­tan sto­ries, but then within half an hour you’re prac­ti­cally in the mid­dle of nowhere,” says Tomp­kin­son. “It’s where Banks goes to do his think­ing time.”

Nordic Noir has been mak­ing an im­pact since the launch of DCI Banks, but it’s worth not­ing the ap­peal of Tomp­kin­son’s de­tec­tive in places like Swe­den, the US and Hol­land. “There’s a beau­ti­ful art deco cin­ema in Amsterdam, and about 800 peo­ple turned up to watch the first in last year’s se­ries,” says Tomp­kin­son, “It was only a few days be­fore it came on their TV any­way and the place was packed – it was lovely to find out how cel­e­brated it is.”


Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Banks books are al­ready a global suc­cess. Peter Robin­son has con­tin­ued as a con­sul­tant on the se­ries since he was first per­suaded that Tomp­kin­son was right for the role. “I just read ev­ery­thing there was and tried to con­vince Peter that although I’m too tall and have the wrong colour eyes, I was go­ing to get as close to the spirit of the char­ac­ter that he cre­ated,” he says.

The ac­tor’s method ex­tends to keep­ing the char­ac­ter’s favourite piece of po­etry in his drawer and wear­ing a scar by his eye, as de­scribed in the books. “I put the scar on every day,” he ex­plains. “When Banks gets a break­through, it’s a bit like Harry Pot­ter – there’s some­thing about the scar. Peo­ple might see it or might miss it, but I know it’s there. And the quote that Banks keeps in his drawer by the poet John Donne: ‘Any man’s death di­min­ishes me, be­cause I am in­volved in mankind’. It should be a t-shirt for every de­tec­tive out there.”

And as for a sixth se­ries? Well, you can al­most bank on it. “As long as there’s an au­di­ence there that are still en­joy­ing it, I re­ally en­joy play­ing the char­ac­ter and I think there’s a lot more mileage [in Banks],” Tomp­kin­son tells Crime Scene. “The way I look at it is that Banks is 15 years from re­tire­ment, Peter’s still writ­ing the books, so I would like to keep go­ing for as long as I can.”

DCI Banks is on ITV1 in Sep­tem­ber.

And this one’s our last hol­i­day in Scar­bor­ough.

Oh, just give him the piece of pa­per. The fell-walk­ing club could barely con­tain their ex­cite­ment.

Few ac­tors do grumpy York­shire­man so well.

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