If you want to see what a provincial newspaper office full of reporters looked like a few years ago, watch tonight’s conclusion to Denise Mina’s TV adaptation, The Field of Blood. More importantly, you will actually get to see some out of the office, doing what they’re paid to do.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s a crime drama set in Glasgow during the miner’s strike of the eighties; one of those where a plucky young reporter called paddy manages to defy family poverty, sexism so institutionalised it may as well be in the company handbook, and solve crimes the police can’t.
It’s also interesting as it pitches itself at a turning point for an industry and a decade; one in which publishes got fed up with the sort of strikes it’s reporting on, clunky technology and chunky expenses.
It mixes all sorts of stereotypes; new female boss who barged wide-shouldered through the glass ceiling to direct her smart-ass patter at cost-cutting, saddo-yet-principled editor who never goes home, whisky flasks in drawers, older hacks being shunted aside, younger ones catching the eye.
But the staff dress as charity-shop they did, act as they did, mention NUJ every time someone challenges the status quo and gather in smoky bars after work to whinge.
A good test is whether real-life journalists rate it, and the reviews so far have been good. But there’s daftness too. The reporters travel in pairs like cops (do they make their notes separately too, like judges always ask them?) plucky Paddy, the one who solves all the crimes, happily takes a £50 bung in front of McVie, her grizzled old mentor, then gets all persuasive on a picket line to grab a background chat with an activist about a dead lawyer and hardly musters a pertinent question before letting her drift off like an old college pal she see later.
And what was that about coppers and hacks never mixing? A Detective in the press club? Don’t recall that being a rule not to break. Some of the best story investments I ever made were cash in the police social tombolas.
At least it doesn’t over-rely on the biggest cliché in period scene setting; background music. And it does put the eighties in perspective. These were problem days. The miner’s strike followed the Falklands War and Afghanistan, President Reagan’s Soviet sabra-rattling had anyone who could afford it musing over planning permission for nuclear bunkers. Wall Street, privatisation, and the loadsamoney economy were yet to be enjoyed.
Last night’s episode ended with McVie’s car being bombed. That’s where fiction kicks in hard, although this was a time of IRA threats and controlled explosions. And if you follow Reporters Without Borders, you’ll realise such threats do become fact sometimes.
Not sure if McVie survives to complete the crossword he was doing while Paddy emptied someone’s dustbin. If he doesn’t you can bet there’d be some good to come of it.
The villain behind it all would be, to be all eighties about it, bang to rights. And they’d save a wallop on the redundancy.