Father Brown and the curious case of the television adaption

Father BrownPhil: The BBC has decided to fill part of the void left by shunting children’s programmes over to their own channel with some drama. Based on characters from G. K. Chesterton‘s books about a crime solving Catholic Priest, Father Brown, the first 10 are running in a post-lunchtime slot this week and next. Attractively shot in the Cotswolds, with a cast of people you probably half-recognise from other things on the telly, an extra in the background you will recognise from this blog, they ought to do very well. So well in fact that I wonder why they aren’t on in primetime viewing.

Being the sort of person who can find time during the day to do some work while half-watching the telly and a sucker for a well-filmed whodunnit, I tuned in for the first few episodes. I don’t know the stories except from a series of radio plays vaguely recalled from many years ago. The opening episode was entitled “The Hammer of God” and it gave me an idea. Digging through my library, I found a book of collected stories, one of which was the very same I’d just watched. The book has been in the “to read” pile for longer than I care to remember but now I had a reason to take a look.

How did they compare?

Well, I enjoyed the TV version. And I quite enjoyed the book version. They just weren’t the same.

OK, the title is the same. Some of the characters are the same. The era is the same. The murder is the same. Everything else is different.

The clue is in the caption “Based on GK Chesterton’s characters”. Now I know that books are adapted for television. A couple of years ago, I watched a talk by prolific adaptor Andrew Davies, where he explained the process. I can’t help feeling that what the BBC have done this time is more akin to fan fiction. The adaptor has taken the characters from the books and written a TV story to fit our modern expectations. This isn’t bad – personally, I think it’s been done very well, but one wonders whether they couldn’t have just invented the who thing from scratch.

Of course, this wouldn’t have provided a handy hook for viewers. People don’t like new things, especially the sort of people watching at this time of day. Tell them it’s all based on a book, even one they have never read, and it’s a much easier sell. This has been done before. Readers of James Bond books bemoan the films lack of similarity. Indeed, when I become Director General of the BBC, just after I’ve introduced a Dalek family to Eastenders, I think some discussions will be had to film faithful versions of each Ian Flemings story. There might even be a good case for this. Father Brown seems to solve cases around 2/3rds of the way through the story which isn’t how we do things on telly today.

Of course, the best thing is that people can buy and enjoy the books and watch the stories on TV and double their enjoyment. With 51 stories to work through, there should be plenty of books sold.


Filed under Phil, Writing

3 responses to “Father Brown and the curious case of the television adaption

  1. Candice

    And if you want to know which episode I’m going to be in, its on next Thursday. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01q8knw

  2. Charles Hedgesd

    You are much too kind: this is faithful as Charles was to Diana. Sleuthing reveals that the BBC has a workshop training people to “adapt” according to formulae about what the public are supposed to want. But Chesterton should sue for damages.

    • True. The trouble is that the Father Brown stores don’t fit a conventional TV format for whodunnits.

      Now you might argue that this isn’t a bad thing – “creative” types in TV land are normally anything but. Ripping off another channels show, even when the programme being copied was originally nicked from that channel seems more common. Perhaps it’s time for unconventional shows to make it to air. Focus groups have told TV companies what people want and it’s pretty narrow rnage. Every so often though, someone innovates, it’s a success and then everyone copies. Maybe the problem is that not every innovation can succeed and failure is something that management say thay will accept as a price of looking for success, but in reality, won’t.

      I just don’t see why they used a character from storeis very few daytime viewers will have heard of as a hook for a show. Why not just invent the whole lot?

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