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The Thin Blue Line
UK, BBC (Tiger Aspect), Sitcom, Colour, 1995
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Serena Evans, James Dreyfus
Rowan Atkinson and Mina Anwar

Blackadder alumni - writer Ben Elton, star Rowan Atkinson - reunited for this sitcom, centred around Gasforth police station. But although Atkinson's character was the focus of attention, this was very much an ensemble piece, with Elton attempting to create a series with the comedic style of Dad's Army a series he greatly admires.

Atkinson was cast as Inspector Raymond Fowler, the head of the station and an old-fashioned, by-the-book policeman, scrupulously honest and totally dedicated both to the job in hand and to his team of uniformed officers. These comprise his desk sergeant, Patricia Dawkins, Fowler's girlfriend of 10 years standing; veteran of the force PC Gladstone, an unexcitable and rather pedestrian officer; the fey and eager PC Goody; and Indian PC Maggie Habib, the level-headed, brightest one of the bunch. These uniformed officers clashed constantly with the other occupants of the station: the plain-clothed detectives, led by DI Grim and DC Kray. Considering themselves a cut above the 'beat' officers, Grim and Kray liked to believe that anything they were working on was more important than routine police duties. This 'enemy-within' scenario echoed the Verger and ARP Warden irritants in Dad's Army - and, again in the style of that earlier series, the storylines revolved more around the interplay of the characters than the task they were assigned: here it was catching criminals; in Dad's Army it was preparing for war.

This, then, was the set up. Typical of Ben Elton's work, there were plenty of convoluted lines for Atkinson to deliver, which he did with his impeccable style and to great comedic effect. But, on the down side, there were a number of aspects about The Thin Blue Line that refused to gel. PC Goody was something of an enigma, coming across as an over-the-top gay (in a manner reminiscent of Mr Humphries of Are You Being Served? whereas he was actually hetero and had a burning desire for PC Habib. Goody was thus presented to viewers as limp and wimpish rather than simply affected, and any sort of liaison with the sharp Habib seemed highly improbable. (To be fair, actor James Dreyfus still managed to attain plenty of laughs with his delicate delivery.) Elsewhere, to qualify the fact that Sergeant Dawkins would put up with the emotionally-cold Fowler, she was presented as a hopeless romantic convinced that he would eventually become the lover she desired, and such obviously blinkered thinking weakened the character and made her merely a cipher. The plain-clothed detectives carried on as if they were in The Sweeney and had little going for them beyond this, and the West Indian, Gladstone, was given so little to do that his inclusion almost smacked of tokenism. Despite these reservations, however, The Thin Blue Line had some fine moments and improved as the episodes ticked by.

Perhaps the show's biggest problem was in perception, however: The Thin Blue Line was so different to Elton and Atkinson's usual hilariously savage wit that the only way to derive any great enjoyment from it was to overlook the identity of these prime movers and simply view the series as one would have done any other sitcom of, say, the early 1970s. This proved impossible for many, who simply could not understand why the ever-radical Elton had so willingly created such a broad, old-fashioned piece of work.

Gallery Images - Click for a bigger image
Rowan Atkinson - Insp Raymond Fowler
Serena Evans - Sgt Patricia Dawkins
James Dreyfus - PC Kevin Goody
Mina Anwar - PC Maggie Habib
Rudolph Walker - PC Gladstone
David Haig - DI Derek Grim
Kevin Allen - DC Kray (series 1)
Mark Addy - Det Boyle (series 2)
Lucy Robinson - Mayoress Wickham

Ben Elton - Writer
John Birkin - Director
Geoffrey Perkins - Producer
Ben Elton - Producer
Transmission Details
Number of episodes: 14 Length: 30 mins
Series One (6) 13 Nov-18 Dec 1995 � BBC1 Mon 8.30pm
Special � 26 Dec 1995 � BBC1 Tue 8.50pm
Series Two (6) 14 Nov-19 Dec 1996 � BBC1 Thu 9.30pm
Special � 23 Dec 1996 � BBC1 Mon 9.30pm
Review by Mark Lewisohn.
Reviews supplied by Radio Times 2003 BBC Worldwide - used under licence from BBC Worldwide.
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