In the Prime of her life
The launch of Prime Suspect 30 years ago changed the face of crime dramas as the police got a female ‘Governor’
DAME HELEN MIRREN won a Bafta for her portrayal of tough, uncompromising Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. Tennison was a career officer who had to deal with harrowing murder cases as well as sexual discrimination in the office from her male colleagues. She told her team when she arrived: “I like to be called Governor or The Boss. I don’t like Ma’am – I’m not the bl**dy Queen”.
Prime Suspect launched on Granada TV 30 years ago, on April 7, with a killer at large and Tennison under pressure to find him and prove her worth.
The mini-series featured an early TV appearance by The English Patient and Harry Potter actor Ralph Fiennes.
The hard-hitting drama proved so popular that more cases were lined up for Tennison and Helen Mirren played the character in 15 episodes, until 2006. Creator and writer Lynda La Plante said of Helen’s performance “her depth as an actress is astonishing. It was wonderful to watch her really bring that character to life”.
Lynda came up with the idea for Prime Suspect after watching reality-television crime shows. After calling Scotland Yard and learning that there were only four female DCIs, she interviewed one of them, Jackie Malton, who impressed her so much that she decided to base the plot on her experiences during her career.
Jackie later said of her early days on the police force “as women, we were expected to only work on crimes that affected women and children, things like indecency, sexual assault and domestic violence.
“I felt I was equal and the system should allow me to be equal, and it didn’t. I respected the work policewomen did, but I just wanted to do the same as the blokes.”