G.F. Newman

Attending a script conference for Z Cars, G.F. Newman's first suggestion was an episode which started with Sergeant Watt being offered and accepting a £500 bribe.... A graduate of the "all coppers are bastards" school of thought, Newman was deemed unsuitable for work on Z Cars, but instead came up with his own Law and Order in 1978, with each of the four episodes concentrating on one aspect of the criminal justice system. Both the police and the Prison Officers Association were outraged, particularly the former over the episode The Detective's Tale, which featured the brutal Detective Inspector Pyall (Derek Martin), who made Jack Regan and the boys from The Sweeney look like a bunch of boy scouts. Far from being "the one bad apple," Pyall was presented as the terrible norm, his actions condoned and abetted in by his colleagues. Interviewed in 1993, the writer observed: "The person who becomes a policeman has almost exactly the same pathology as the criminal."

More sensitive was Billy, a 1979 Play for Today about child-battering, directed by Charles Stewart, while Newman's next major target was the contemporary run-down of the NHS in 1983's four-part The Nation's Health. Produced by Euston Films, it was one of the first major drama series for the fledgling Channel 4, with each episode being accompanied by a studio discussion the following night.

1989 saw two Newman single plays. Here is the News featured Richard E. Grant as an investigative journalist - with questionable sexual tendencies - attempting to find the truth behind various government conspiracies, only to have his sources betrayed by his editorial masters, both press and television. The play landed the BBC in hot water when journalist Duncan Campbell sued them, claiming that Grant's character was clearly based on himself. Nineteen 96 was a more circumspect interpretation of recent events in Northern Ireland, particularly the alleged shoot-to-kill policy by the security services and the claims of former MI5 officer Colin Wallace about sexual misconduct at an orphanage, but with the action transposed to Wales seven years into the future. Keith Barron starred as the John Stalker-esque Met officer assigned to look into the allegations, but undermined by MI5, MI6 and - possibly - the government. Newman elaborated on some of these themes in his 1991 three-parter For the Greater Good for BBC2.

1991's Black and Blue returned to the police world, with a black West Country PC (Christopher John Hall) drafted into the Met to work undercover on a run-down council estate after the murderer of a local politician who was investigating rumours that the local CID had been secretly killing off drug dealers. The play was produced by Newman and Ruth Caleb, who had been responsible for Nineteen 96. Most recently, The Healer was a more fantastical critique - almost a Christian parable - of the current state of the NHS when a junior doctor with miraculous healing powers finds himself exploited by his Hospital Trust and the subject of intense press scrutiny.

It is somewhat surprising that while Newman continues to work, no comparable new writers have come forward to replace him, although during the late 1980s it did seem that Arthur Ellis - with his surreal The Black and Blue Lamp (1988), and The Police (1990) examining both the image and the effects of police culture - was a likely candidate. In the meantime, Newman remains a formidable thorn in the side of the Establishment.

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[Biography as submitted for inclusion in The Guinness Book of Classic British TV (1996, 2nd edition), with minor corrections]

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