The Corrupted, detectorists, and the Events at Black Tor

by Harry on January 27, 2017

GF Newman’s The Corrupted is back, this time covering the 1970s. (As of today, you have 11 days to listen to the first episode, 12 to listen to the second, etc: here). I think you can find the first two decades on youtube pretty easily. It is a masterpiece — mingling a fictional crime family with harsh but believable portrayals of real historical figures they interact with (Driberg, Thatcher, Robert Mark, Slipper of the Yard and more!). I thought it would wear out a bit after the first, riveting, decade, but it hasn’t. Each episode is punctuated by brief clips of pop songs from the year in question, and each musical selection is so perfect for the narrative that at one point I wondered whether GF Newman had selected the songs first and written the drama around them. But even he couldn’t be that good.

The Corrupted came back just after we started binge-watching (or the closest we get to it — 12 episodes in 4 weeks or so) detectorists (on netflix). This has had the strange consequence that pretty much every day I see or hear Toby Jones playing either the monstrous Joey — sorry, Joseph — Oldman, or the utterly delightful (as Sophie Thomson says in the penultimate episode, ‘and you’re lovely, Lance’) Lance. detectorists is as different from The Corrupted as Toby Jones’s character in detectorists is different from his character in The Corrupted. It, too, is a masterpiece — sparsely written, perfectly cast and beautifully acted. The casual in-jokes are adorable — if you’re over 40 you’ll grin in delight when the Simon and Garfunkel characters tell the police their real last names (Garfunkel brilliantly played by that bloke off Horrible Histories!). In common with the best sitcoms (is it a sitcom though?) the characters don’t really develop over the course of the show — instead they reveal themselves. Even Terry and Sheila, who appear to be objects of ridicule in the first few episodes, become understandable and real without actually changing. If you don’t shed a tear at the end of the 12th episode, there’s something wrong with you. And Diana Rigg and Rachel Stirling play mother and daughter. Again!

Apparently Alan Ayckbourn used to direct radio dramas. A lot of them! So, if you feel like a radical change of pace, try Roy Clarke’s The Events at Black Tor from 1968. Very much of its time, anticipating The Wicker Man, Children of the Stones, etc. A great way to spend three hours.



oldster 01.27.17 at 4:38 pm

“In common with the best sitcoms… the characters don’t really develop over the course of the show—instead they reveal themselves.”

A very strong claim! I would have thought that many of the best sit-coms involved the evolution and maturation of their characters.

Of course, there will always be some core to the character which makes it that character and not someone else. But if that’s all there is to your claim, then it becomes a weak claim, not a strong claim.


Harry 01.27.17 at 5:02 pm

I think I meant to delete the ‘in common with the best sitcoms’ but now I feel that it has to stay there, since you have commented on it!
Here are some examples where I don’t think the characters develop or mature, though, Hancock, Steptoe, Fawlty Towers, Till Death Us Do Part, Abfab, Dad’s Army.
Great sitcoms where they do: MASH, Roseanne (the two greatest American sitcoms — there’s a strong claim), the Mary Tyler Moore show, maybe Taxi.
So maybe its a British thing. The sitcom it most reminds me of is Reggie Perrin. I went back and watched an episode of Perrin, and think I know what it is. IN so many ways they are so unalike, but what they have in common is a kindness to the characters — Jimmy and CJ are absurd, in the same way that Terry and Sheila are, and at first seem like they are going to be the objects of cruelty. But somehow they are treated with kindness; what is decent about them is allowed to come out. (Jimmy, in the Reggie Perrin books, is much creepier).


Pavel 01.27.17 at 5:05 pm


“No Hugging, No Learning” -Larry David

Lots of significant 90’s sitcoms, from Seinfeld to Friends (and even Fraser) and more modern sitcoms like Arrested Development and The League follow this rule. They don’t represent the entirety of the spectrum, but they are a significant proportion of popular sitcom history.


mrearl 01.27.17 at 7:35 pm

Although not in a league with MASH and Roseanne, the characters on Cheers actually developed over the years as well.


oldster 01.27.17 at 10:23 pm

Fawlty Towers only ran 12 episodes, though, right? And the characters could not develop, because they were already perfect–Plato proves the immutability of the gods with the same argument, as I recall.


Shatterface 01.27.17 at 11:04 pm

I’d agree that in great sit-coms the characters remain the same. Once characters start to evolve it becomes a soap.

That’s why unconsummated love works so well: the sexual tension between Sam and Diane in Cheers, Niles and Daphne in Frasier, Ross and Rachel in Friends, etc. is an endless source of comedy – until they actually reveal their love for each other and the show turns to shit.

Tim and Dawn get away with it in The Office as they only get together at the very end.

And Red Dwarf writes out Kochanski because they know that Lister can only be an Everyman so long as he is the last human being.

Or look at Only Fools and Horses. This time next year they’ll be millionaires. That generates the comedy. And then they get rich and the show turns to shit and they have to lose the money before there are any more laughs.


Harry 01.27.17 at 11:32 pm

“Fawlty Towers only ran 12 episodes, though, right? And the characters could not develop, because they were already perfect–Plato proves the immutability of the gods with the same argument, as I recall.”

Yes. Same is true of The Office and AbFab (well, 13 episode of The Office, and only 12 originally of AbFab). detectorists is 13 so far — and, maybe that will be it (I can’t tell). Perrin was 18. Generally, British sitcoms have much less room for development because so fewer episodes, even of long-running shows (I think Dad’s Army was generally between 6 and 12 a year — compare with MASH). The format explains a lot — I keep meaning to write something about how the differences in the US and UK Offices (both great in very different ways) have a lot to do with the fact that a the UK runs sitcoms in batches of 6 or so. Even the British, with their morbid fascination with comic monsters, would find David Brent unbearable if they were watching him 23 weeks in a row year in, year out.

Fawlty Towers, though, is, indeed, sui generis, and is, in every way, perfect. detectorists is just almost perfect.


Shatterface 01.28.17 at 1:09 am

I’m glad you mentioned Sheila in detectorists. It’s really one scene which changes her from a characature to a character. Just an expression as Lance is talking about his daughter. It’s heart-breaking.


Harry 01.28.17 at 8:43 am

That scene is a work of genius: acting, writing, everything. But, as you say, with a single look Sophie Thomson explains everything — Terry and Sheila’s relationship, who Lance really is, and why they all try so hard to drink her lemonade. Heart-breaking, yes. But heart-warming too, no?


Warren Terra 01.28.17 at 10:40 am

On the side of sitcoms in which characters develop, there’s Cabin Pressure. They don’t develop an awful lot, there’s at least arguably as much revelation as development, but there is some significant development nonetheless.

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