JACK SHEPHERD — WYCLIFFE, THE COMPLETE SERIES — 1994–1998
This is an old series, for sure, with old computers (I still have one from 1998) and old portable telephones and hardly any internet. It was England in its Major and post-Major time: it had been clearly cleaned up of some of the working class and trade union privileges and restructured along some privatized lines, and Blair was not going to change all that, and he was even going to deepen it with the entrepreneurial approach of anything like here police work.
The series is situated in Cornwall, which is a strange choice because of the very particular particularisms of this region of England. Cornwall was the heart of the old Celtic England, a lot more than Ireland and Wales and at the geographical center if Brittany was taken into account. The most Celtic heritage in England is situated in Cornwall and concerns Ireland and Brittany, slightly Wales and King Arthur’s England around this center. It is Tristan and Iseult. And strangely enough the Celtic heritage in Cornwall has been entirely erased by history, and it is true Tristan and Iseult was first written down at the end of the eleventh century under William the Conqueror, not in Celtic or even old Anglo-Saxon languages but in Norman French. Some old Welsh Triads have kept in old Celtic Gaelic language some elements of this very old story, tale, romance, epic even.
But the series explores the Cornish particularisms of the deeper old population of this area that has become a great touristic destination in England and has thus been “invaded” by a whole set of entrepreneurs from the Cornish landed upper class or from England with all it brings along including various criminal traffics like drugs and some others. The series reveals the deep hatred existing in the countryside among the old farming families that can use a gun to solve a problem like others used toothpicks to clean up their teeth. And fishermen are not much different along that line. At the same time in such large families that at times look like clans or tribes, there is an extremely strict hierarchy that leads to absolute power in one man or woman in these clans and these individuals, when confronted with the modern world, with tourists from outside and with entrepreneurs from England, can react like schizophrenic people. The term is used a couple of times though today this term is no longer acceptable and should be changed to psychotic. But psychotic they are for sure.
That is the main interest of the series. The exploration of such deep inherited social structures that are dysfunctioning in modern times.
The second interest is the police itself, with its various strata and hierarchies, with the ambitions of local bosses who want to get into the Home Office or simply to some bigger city like Bristol and of course London. These ambitious police social climbers are climbing by using their “underlings” as steps to go up the police social ladder, and what’s more, with the newspeak of entrepreneurial understanding of anything that brings together more than two people and that is nowadays referred to as Human Resources. In this conception, men and women are just pawns on a chessboard, with the particularity of having psyches that may react in a strange way and have to be brought down under control, by retiring the concerned individuals, by framing them if necessary.
The various and successive plots, one plot per episode, are always well sewn up with a twist at the end that generally is more in the method to bring the criminal down rather than to reveal his or her identity we have often subsumed before. It thus is a rather entertaining and intriguing thriller of a series that can be watched from root to land’s end with interest and pleasure.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU