Thu
Dec 11 2014 12:00pm

Hands Off That Series, We’re British

We’re the Sweeney son, and we haven’t had any dinner. You’ve kept us waiting. So unless you want a kickin’ you tell us where those photographs are.

Detective Inspector Jack Regan knew how to make a point. If he were writing this he’d be telling you, “We’re British son, and we haven’t had our BAFTA. You’ve kept on stealing. So unless you want a kickin’, stop takin’ our programs.” That’s what I’d be telling you as well. Thankfully The Sweeney hasn’t been Americanized, although there was an appalling cinema remake, but you’ve taken the next best thing. So let’s start there.

Life On Mars was a BBC production that wore its heart on its sleeve. It wasn’t so much a thinly veiled homage to The Sweeney (which was shown on ITV) as an out and out salute to the gritty earthiness of the 70s cop show. DI Gene Hunt was Jack Regan incarnate. The police stations were dingy and the pubs were dark and smoke filled. They even used the same copper coloured Ford Granada. Anybody watching it who had grown up with The Sweeney could taste the DNA (if you can taste DNA). The shows were twins separated at birth. So how can you expect them to replicate that in America? The answer is, you can’t. Instead you get a gritty 70s New York cop drama with a twist. And long sideburns.

Another show that tried and failed to emulate its British counterpart was Prime Suspect. I’m sorry but they were on a hiding to nothing trying to replace Helen Mirren. I mean we’re talking about HELEN MIRREN here. As much as I love Maria Bello, and I do on all sorts of levels, she was doomed along with the show trying to follow in such illustrious footsteps. And why do female cops on TV always look so glamorous? I worked 30 years in the West Yorkshire Police and never met anyone who looked remotely like a supermodel. As an aside, thank goodness for HBO and The Wire. Actors that looked like real characters not pinups. (Two of the best of which were British. Who’d have guessed?)

A couple of other shows that spring to mind are, Cracker, played in the UK by Robbie Coltrane with such delicious Scottishness that poor old Robert Pastorelli should have tossed his caber instead of remaking it. And Broadchurch, which transposed a Dorset village to a town in Northern California for Gracepoint. Not much difference there then. I mean come on. Can’t you come up with any ideas of your own?

To be fair, there have of course been some success stories. I don’t want this to come across as just sour grapes. House Of Cards at least had the passage of time between the 90s set BBC show and the US version. It also benefitted from the star wattage of Kevin Spacey giving a powerhouse performance. Similarly, The Office had Steve Carell taking over from Ricky Gervais, although the whole fly-on-the-wall-documentary feel never sat right with me in the UK show anyway, so that’s a double strike for me.

While we’re at it why don’t we include two glaring offences. Both movies. Both starring Michael Caine. Both slaughtered by American remakes.

Back in the 1969 Caine made an ode to the swinging 60s with The Italian Job. It was so quintessentially British you could watch it with tea and biscuits. The red white and blue of the car chase Mini Coopers were as British as you could get. Not to mention Benny Hill. Then in the 1971, Caine turned nasty as a vengeance-seeking gangster in Get Carter, as hard as nails with hardly a spare line of dialogue. What happened next? You turned one into a Mark Wahlberg chase movie and the other into a Sylvester Stallone action vehicle. Oh my god.

I can’t leave without mentioning the most grievous travesty of justice though. Between 1974 and 1977 the BBC brought us the best television sitcom EVER. Porridge was the story of two prisoners serving their porridge (prison sentence for you Americans) in the remote environs of Slade Prison. It was quite simply the funniest TV show I’ve ever watched. Lightning in a bottle. And it still hasn’t aged. So what do you do over there? Hijack the writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and turn it into On The Rocks, remaking each episode practically word for word but with a complete lack of chemistry or timing. It was nothing short of criminal. For this, and all the above, you should be sentenced accordingly:

You are habitual criminals who accept arrest as an occupational hazard and presumably accept imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for such offences. You will go to prison for five years.

Fade out…

This sweepstakes has ended. Thanks for entering!

Comment below for a chance to win The Resurrection Man Series by Colin Campbell, including Jamaica Plain, Motecito Heights, and Adobe Flats

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TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

The Resurrection Man Series Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2014/12/hands-off-that-series-we're-british-colin-campbell-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) December 11, 2014. Sweepstakes ends 11:59 a.m. ET December 18, 2014. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


Colin Campbell is the creator of Jim Grant and The Resurrection Man thrillers: Jamaica Plain, Montecito Heights and Adobe Flats. His 4th, Snake Pass is due in April, 2015.

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102 comments
Sharon Haas
1. kazul
This would be amazing! Thanks for the chance & I agree, all the Brit versions of those shows were so much better!
PAUL BISHOP
2. bishsbeat
I actually thought the American version of Prime suspect was better than it is given credit for being. I agree it was silly to remake, but there was still several episodes with sharp writing...
Katherine Marion
3. stitchkat
What a great giveaway! I agree with you on the Ameri an derivatives - they just don't work. Perhaps it's because those involved in making these copies get lazy about writing and careful casting. I couldn't agree with you more about the use of real looking people in your shows. It is very hard to identify with the gorgeous actors that are cast for American TV. There are some fine performers, but more normal looking players would be a relief.
Jody Darden
5. jldarden
Originals are (almost) always better! Sometimes our American sensibilities throw everything off.
This series sounds good. I'm in.
Joyce Mitchell
6. JoyceLm
I liked the American version of Prime Suspect & never felt a super model vibe there. Thanks for the chance to win.
elizabeth findlay
7. eafindlay
Hate when us Americans screw up a great British series. Would love to win this one.
8. ColinCampbell
Thanks for all the kind comments. I mustn't forget to mention that you have some terrific shows in the US. I grew up with The Rockford Files and modelled my police career on NYPD Blue. More recently there was The Wire and Southland, and I was blown away by True Detective. I can't imagine any of those being transposed to the UK. Thank god. I love America. That's why I set the Jim Grant books there. Oh, and by the way. A screw in England is a prison officer or a sexual act. Or one of those curly things you fasten bookshelves with. All the best. Colin.
Colin Campbell
9. ColinCampbell
Thanks for all the kind comments. I mustn't forget to mention that you have some terrific shows in the US. I grew up with The Rockford Files and modelled my police career on NYPD Blue. More recently there was The Wireand Southland, and I was blown away by True Detective. I can't imagine any of those being transposed to the UK. Thank god. I love America. That's why I set the Jim Grant books there. Oh, and by the way. A screw in England is a prison officer or a sexual act. Or one of those curly things you fasten bookshelves with. All the best. Colin.
peter greene
10. shanachie
It's true that not everything translates. Some programs fail like On the Rocks, but then you have All in the Family based on Til Death Us Do Part and the American version of Shameless. Then some programs fail even when the concept is imported including the talent an example is Anne Robinson and the game show The Weakest Link. Imitation happens, The Golden Girls was remade as Brighton Belles, That 70's show as Days like These. As an amateur genealogist, I particularly like Who Do You Think You Are be it British, Australian, Canadian or American.
Marcia Taylor
14. Met123
Another series I cannot wait to read!
15. zbleck
Don't forget, there are some successful transfers--The Thick of It to Veep--although Veep isn't quite as vicious at the former, it comes close--and both are pretty funny.
16. GJMattia
I agree with the above article. The British have a certain flair that normally can't be copied into an American version. I would very much be interested in adding a new author to my list.
Greg Mattia
17. gjmattia
I agree with the above article. The British have a certain flair that normally can't be copied into an American version. I would very much be interested in adding a new author to my list.
Sandy Klocinski
19. SKlocinski
Thanks so much for this great chance to win
20. LaurieCoussoule
Looks like a great series.
21. runner
Groovy Hands Off That Series!
John OBrien
22. meiobrien
Looking forward to reading these, whether I win or not.
23. Roberta123
Would love to win this prize!
Lynn Ristau
24. Elsandra
Would love to try your series. I never even tried the American "Prime Suspect", no one could replace Helen Mirren to me. I haven't seen all the British versions of the shows you've mentioned but some are on my list. Police work is more like "Hill Street Blues" than "NYPD Blues" even though they were written by the same producer.
Colin Campbell
26. ColinCampbell
Elsandra. I agree about Hill Street Blues, another of my early favorites. But when it comes to authentic portrayal of police work nothing beats The Wire. I could smell the crime scenes from my past. From an English perspective, back in the 70s I knew coppers who talked and acted like The Sweeney. Chicken and egg situation. Were we copying them or did TV get it so right they sounded like us? Thanks for all the interesting feedback. Without readers or viewers there'd be no writers. All the best. Colin.
Janice Santillo
37. themommazie
Very interesting comparison between British aand American TV detectives. Would love to win.
38. JP Coussoule
Would love to win. I need some new interesting reads
Martha Gifford
39. seeword
Your comments on House of Cards is interesting. I avoided watching the American version because the British one was so good.
LAURI COATES
45. blclcc1
I only recently became a fan of Brit TV, but I am in love....all the series I have been watching are great, and can't wait to discover more!
Andrew Kuligowski
46. KuligowskiAndrew
>>A couple of other shows that spring to mind are, Cracker, played in the UK by Robbie Coltrane with such delicious Scottishness that poor old Robert Pastorelli should have tossed his caber instead of remaking it.<< I had to go look up Pastorelli's roles to even FIND this one ... strangely, he made it AFTER he became well known but still long before he died. ALSO - Looking at comedies: I think Norman Lear did a good job with All in the Family and Sanford and Son, not sure about their British forerunners which I never saw. BUT, having been a fan of "Man About the House" on Canadian TV (I lived in a border town), I wasn't as big a fan of "Three's Company" as I might have been when it came out.
Michelle Brown
48. michelle.brown
Such great contests on here, all the time!! Hope I win this one, so awesome!!
Jackie Wisherd
49. JackieW
I would love to win this sweepstakes...interesting info on the British shows
Marie-Louise Molloy
53. Wezzie
A win would be a Christmas present for me!
David Morgan
55. davndan
Have they done an AbFab copy over here (US)?
Lori Rutherford
56. keirma
This would be a great gift for my hubby. Thanks for the chance! Merry christmas!
Lori Provenzano
57. Mountainesque
I'm surprised at the number of British series and American re-makes profiled here that I've seen, and am currently working my way through The House of Cards Trilogy. More often than not I prefer the original series but I'm game to let the upstart adaptations try to win me over.
Great 'The Resurrection Man" giveaway, by the way. I'll have to be on the lookout for future dramatizations and imitators.
Karen Terry
58. bblol65
I love British mystery as well as American mystery.
59. dej
I usually like the british versions better. I preferred Broadchurch to Gracepoint. Oddly enough though, I never connected the american Prime Suspect to the british Prime Suspect until I read this article. :)
Michael Carter
60. rubydog
Great giveaway!
Yes, please enter me.
Thanks ---
Anna Mills
61. Anna Mills
When this was called highlights from the blog, you were not kidding! I love British to American remakes.
DJ Shatley
62. dejs
I didn't even realize that some of these were remakes of british shows...
I usually like the british versions better. I preferred Broadchurch to
Gracepoint. Oddly enough though, I never connected the american Prime Suspect to the british Prime Suspect until I read this article. :)
JAMES LYNAM
63. jpl123456
I want. This is the best ever.
My turn to WIN???????????????????
Phoenix Vie
64. Phoenix
Michael Caine & Helen Mirren, two of the finest.
susan beamon
65. susanbeamon
I've liked the British versions when I've been able to see them. Not many get shown around here unless you order megachannels on the cable, which I can't afford and don't really want because of the heavy dose of Sports involved. To expect that the American and British versions of a show would be the same would mean you expect the audiences to be the same. Americans are not British. Our humor doesn't match and our tastes in sex and violence are markedly different.
Daniel Morrell
68. godan
they sound great always like reading series'
Crystal Blackburn
69. lovesmysteries
I think both versions of Prime Suspect were good. But they really weren't the same series. They were just titled the same. Helen Mirren was outstanding as always.
Cindy Hipolito
70. mysuccess
Don't get to see a lot of BBC programs, but did watch the British version of Merlin a few years back; I must confess I watched Life on Mars (US version) and I was quite taken with it. Never saw the British version. Put me in for the giveaway. Looking forward to reading these books offered for giveaway.
Heather Martin
71. CrystalMirror
Usually prefer the original. Not a mystery, but the best example is Being Huamn. Americans ruined Life on Mars. Although, Showtime did a good job when they took over Torchwood.
Shana Skaletsky
72. shanaelyse
I would love to win this series! And I almost always prefer the British series to Americanized ones...
Heather Freeman
76. MissieFaye
I would love to win this. I love good television no matter where it comes from.
Cheryl English
77. RoyalCheryl
All I can say is Fantastic. Happy Holidays Everyone!
Colin Campbell
78. ColinCampbell
Susanbeamon; I agree. It's the old story of being two peoples seperated by a common language. And tastes. I guess I'm just a bit protective of the UK shows. If I could promote one show above all others though it would be, THE SWEENEY, THE SWEENEY, THE SWEENEY.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmUOee7fRRQ
patricia gibby
79. pgibby1
WOW! I hope I win. A british mystery fest for Christmas and my birthday.
Andra Dalton
80. andra77
Can't think of a more perfect giveaway!!! Thanks for the opportunity to win & good luck to all who enter!!! Many Blessings & Happy Holidays to all!!!:)
Carol Gowett
82. clynsg
The fact that British shows and American shows most often do not translate well into reinterpretation into the other location just shows another proof that we are truly countries separated by a common language!
David
84. TopDragon
My American family almost exclusively watches British TV these days, both modern shows as well as those filmed back in the day. The realism of "normal" people can't be beat as opposed to the supermodels of American TV. Would love to win this series for Christmas!
85. Pattie M
Looks like a great series - can't wait to watch!!
Linda Knowles
87. strigoivii
The British versions are usually better...better acting and better quality in general.
Kristin Sims
90. janeycat1
Great job reviewing this, I would love to read the series, thank you!
Buddy Garrett
91. garrettsambo
I would love to win this series. It sounds gret.
Laura DeLaRosa
95. bluecat731
I love British comedies. Are You Being Served?, One Foot in the Grave, Keeping Up Appearances, As Time Goes By, Last of the Summer Wine, Waiting For God. Just to name a few.
barbara stenby
97. wikichoco
I wach a lot of BBC shows and no of the American attempts. Helen Mirren is my favorite in Prime Suspect.
98. Tim H. Moss
Good deal, count me in!
Heather Cowley
99. choochoo
We Americans sure do try...God bless us!
101. ROSEANN
I would love to read this book. Thanks.
Karen Koziczkowski
102. zoom38
Need some Good Cold Weather Reading.. Want! Thanks for the chance!
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