'Now we're suckin' diesel', Line of Duty returns to our screens
It's been 22 months since we last watched AC-12's activities and, mother of God, we've missed them. With the sixth series to start tomorrow evening, we have conducted our own deep dive of what's to come in Line of Duty...
Line Of Duty characters: DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON), Superintendent Ted Hastings (ADRIAN DUNBAR), DI Kate Fleming (VICKY MCCLURE), DCI Joanne Davidson (KELLY MACDONALD) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
Line Of Duty characters: DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON), Superintendent Ted Hastings (ADRIAN DUNBAR), DI Kate Fleming (VICKY MCCLURE), DCI Joanne Davidson (KELLY MACDONALD) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
"To be honest we're counting our blessings that we were able to do our work, and there are a lot of people out there suffering enormous hardship. If this is a distraction from that then I think we'd be honoured."
So said Line of Duty creator and showrunner Jed Mercurio at the series six press conference just a week ago when asked if the new series has come at the right time to our screens. Weekend got an opportunity to watch proceedings and gorge on the first episode of season six, starting tomorrow.
To say that some Line of Duty fans have been on tenterhooks waiting for series six's arrival isn't an understatement. Since the final scene of series five, fans have been keen to know what's happening in AC-12 and which police officer and department the anti-corruption unit will have in its sights next.
Despite having to postpone filming thanks to lockdown - and devise new safety procedures such as building a new set and operating a traffic light lanyard system - the series finally wrapped and viewers are ready to see what AC-12 has up its well-ironed sleeves.
"There was talk of us doing our own makeup, which I was sad that that didn't happen for one day just to see how that would look like," joked Vicky McClure (Kate Fleming) at the press conference.
"Suddenly we were near enough in the position of understanding everything right through to the end," explained Adrian Dunbar (Ted Hastings) on actors knowing more about the episodes than they would normally.
"Jed had to remind me or the director sometimes would have to remind me exactly where we were because we were jumping between scenes. It's sometimes difficult to know how to pitch something when you're moving between directors and episodes. I did find that pretty difficult.
"Normally you'd be shooting two blocks, so we have one director for the first three and another director," he continues.
"You can keep the three block storyline and then we have a system whereby we usually get four and five. And then because of shooting and because Jed is watching and the editors are watching what's coming in, decisions can be made about [block] six that may suddenly change how six was looking initially.
"We're used to that system and Covid just threw that completely in so in a way because it's taken so long to do it, when I saw the trailer the other day it was quite a shock to me because suddenly I saw the whole storyline compressed. Because we'd taken so long to do it, there were lots of elements of the storyline because we're not all, as actors, in possession of all the elements, we're doing our storyline. Once you see it all put together, you go, 'God, this is really is going to be something else.'"
Superintendent Ted Hastings (ADRIAN DUNBAR) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
And Line of Duty wouldn't be the same without Teddisms, his nuggets of Belfast phrasing that only further endear him to a local audience.
"They've taken on a life of their own, haven't they, they've become kind of bingo games, drinking games. You can do all kinds of things with the 'fellas' and the 'mother of gods' and all that sort of stuff, so," said Adrian.'
"You know the 'mother of gods,' they kind of come from my dad. He used to say this all the time. So it's kind of a little nod towards him to those things."
Adrian doesn't think anyone is pulling his leg when a new phrase is found for Ted.
"They're all well located, and they're all things that Ted actually could say. In fact the police always say that they always know somebody like Ted; whether he's originally from Edinburgh, Cardiff, there's always someone in the police force that is a bit of a Ted and [it] comes out."
Newcomer Kelly Macdonald, who plays DCI Joanne Davidson, was aware of the show prior to filming, though she hadn't watched it.
"I spent a number of years in New York filming, and I missed a huge amount of British pop culture," she told the press conference. "When I came back after I finished Boardwalk Empire, I had missed out on a lot of TV and there was people I didn't know, there were comedians I didn't recognise that were really popular. Line of Duty had sort of happened while I was away, as did Broadchurch I realised."
She describes her friends as 'really excited from the get-go' when learning of her Line of Duty role. "I had just started watching it and my friends were getting ridiculously excited and sort of screaming in my face, 'Am I H?' and I didn't know what it meant," she said.
"I wear a 'K' around my neck, I was thinking I should get one that's got a 'H' on it just to mess with them. Everybody asks; they're desperate to know but before you can even think how to respond, they immediately say, 'I don't want to know!'"
Vicky too is frequently asked about plotlines and says she's gotten used to keeping quiet. "The theories that people come up with even just from the trailer, I've had a lot of fun yesterday, looking through people's comments. The stuff they pick up and they find and they run with whether it's right or wrong, I love it, I think it's fascinating.
DI Kate Fleming (VICKY MCCLURE) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
"But in terms of friends and family, they've not going to get anything out of me and they don't want to. If my mum pressed me, to the point where I was going to be in trouble, I still don't think I'd tell her because she genuinely wouldn't want to know.
"I think it's exactly the same as Kelly was saying, people think because they're close to you that they can get something out but then the minute you go, I'll tell you, they don't want to know."
Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio spoke at the press conference on bonus episodes and doing the unthinkable
Jed, the deeper we go into this series, the more connections and references there are to earlier episodes. How do you keep track of everything? Are you ever concerned that you're going to forget which bit is connected to which?
We have a great team and we have the resources of the previous scripts and episodes so I think we all are very familiar with things that have happened in the past and the cast are, they remember things that characters have done in previous seasons.
When we want to create a connection with the past, often the thing we don't quite know straightaway is the exact detail, but then it's just a case of going back into the script and we can see exactly what date something was meant to happen and exactly what location it happened on and then, even better if we've got some visual reference, if there's some way that we can show an image that is in the AC-12 files of the past and that's something that we do in this season, we do delve into past cases a little bit.
The way that we do that is show that like any police unit, they keep records and when we dig into those files, hey presto, we see reminders of previous seasons.
Is this a return to the old school early days of Line of Duty when it was more focused on a single bent copper case and less on AC-12 internally?
I think it finds the balance. I think each season is different. We look to make each season have distinctive elements in comparison to the rest, and so there is a slightly different balance here in terms of the way in which AC-12 interacts with the team under investigation in Kelly's team and that particular case. It's hard to go into too much detail about it because ultimately that is built around plot points.
Why do you think this series in particular needed seven, rather than six episodes?
Because it would have ended early if we'd done six, because we had more stuff.
So actually it wasn't the case of planning seven, it was just the effect of the interruption of shooting and when we went back, we ended up for long periods working with two units for all kinds of reasons related to safety just getting through the shoot faster, being able to have crew who could step in if departments had to self-isolate.
That meant that we were able to shoot more additional material than we normally do.
We tend to overshoot, because we tend to shoot a lot of explanations of things, and then in the edit we decide whether we need them or not, whether things are clear enough without all the intervening stages being explained and laid out for the audience.
What we found was that when we got to the end, we'd initially conceived having a 90-minute episode six, but with all the additions, it was pretty clear that it was going to be two hours and then we got into a conversation with the BBC about the best way to handle that and everybody agreed that it was to split the last episode into two, and that created episode seven.
Have you ever considered killing the golden trio off?
Oh, it's never far from my thoughts, honestly. I think we all get on brilliantly but everybody knows that we're serving something bigger than ourselves which is Line of Duty.
One of the things about the show is that nobody's safe, it's what keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. I know that it would be a sad day, but I think all the main cast realise that it's possible.
We're mates; we talk about it, we joke about it and it's something that no one would relish but everybody would understand.
With Bloodlands, Line of Duty, a new BBC crime show Hope Street coming up and Marcella just ended, is there something about Northern Ireland that makes it the perfect place to film crime dramas?
It's a good place. You've got a choice of fantastic locations and you've got great crews and great facilities there.
So it's brilliant to see that Northern Ireland is being represented so well on screen. A lot of the time when things are shot in Northern Ireland they're standing in for somewhere else and that's something that we do in Line of Duty.
It's a challenge that the region lives up to: we kind of make Belfast look like an anonymous English Midlands town, and in Bloodlands, the challenge was completely different, it was to show off the landmarks of the region.
How involved are the cast about story ideas?
We have a discussion which usually happens when we hear the news that we've been lucky enough to be recommissioned. Generally we pass that good news on. And then we'll just have a chat - where do you think your character's going to be? What other loose ends do you have for your character at the moment? That's always interesting because I'm starting to focus on something that's very specific which is who the new guest lead is going to be.
That is the thing that shapes every season. But things that are kind of up for grabs are elements like how long is it since the last season ended in story terms. Those things are very helpful to shape what the arcs might be for the regulars coming back.
DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
We’ll forgive you if your Line of Duty memories are a little rusty – here’s all you need to know from the last five series:
AC-12 investigated DCI Tony Gates, the perhaps poorly titled Officer of the Year but supposedly model detective, for laddering, when an officer puts additional offences on a criminal’s charge sheet. DC Kate Fleming was placed undercover in Gates’ team.
Gates had agreed to help his lover Jackie Laverty after she’d hit an animal while drink driving. The problem was… she told him she’d hit a dog but it was actually her accountant (who had discovered Jackie’s money laundering for local gangster Tommy Hunter).
While Gates was prepared to reveal everything, he was framed for Jackie’s murder when his fingerprints were placed on the weapon while he was unconscious.
A group of balaclava-wearing figures began shadowing him. Then Hunter blackmailed him, dangling the fabricated evidence over Gates unless he behaved.
Gates tried to track down Hunter, with AC-12 in pursuit naturally, and agreed — reluctantly — to lead the department to Hunter, who confessed to Jackie’s murder and those of three drug dealers. Cue one arrest and Gates walking in front of a lorry to his death. At the end of the series, viewers learned that ‘The Caddy’, one of Hunter’s inside men, was none other than DS Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan. It was Dot’s instructions on what to say to the police that got Hunter into a witness protection programme. Sneaky.
The second series began with a bang with an armed attack on a police convoy transporting a protected witness. Only one police officer survived — DI Lindsay Denton — and she was, perhaps naturally, — suspected of being a criminal insider. But who is the protected witness who ended up in hospital after the attack? Well, someone called Tommy Hunter…
While undercover in Denton’s department, Fleming sees her making a call to the hospital where Hunter is being treated. Arnott and new recruit Georgia Trotman head to the hospital, to find an assailant dressed as a nurse killing the witness. Arnott is knocked unconscious and Georgia is thrown out of a window.
But Denton proves to be one tough cookie; she outwits and antagonises the AC-12 trio, highlighting their perceived weak spots. She’s remanded in custody and is subject to some pretty horrific attacks, including having boiling water poured over her hands.
The husband of DS Jane Akers — the officer who died in the attack — is later questioned when it transpires she received money before her death, which confirmed her as the person who’d tipped off the gang members.
Richard, Jane’s husband, led AC-12 to secret recordings she’d kept as leverage against Hunter wherein he threatened to reveal The Caddy’s identity.
Denton is released after raising concerns about DCC Dryden’s activities outside the job.
It was going reasonably well for Denton until Arnott, who got to know her, er, a bit better, found a holdall of cash, confirming her role in the attack. Motivated by the cash needed to pay her mother’s nursing home bill, Denton agreed with Akers to help set up the convoy, thinking that Carly — Hunter is revealed to have been her pimp — would escape her abuser.
But — no surprises here — it’s discovered that Dot planned the attack, and Hunter and Akers’ deaths to protect both the gang paymasters and his identity.
Denton was left alive so she would take the rap for the attack, despite being an accomplice — though she was unaware that Dot was behind it. She was convicted of conspiracy to murder and the helpful Dot became a permanent employee of AC-12. His job? Identify The Caddy.
After a suspect was killed in suspicious circumstances, Sergeant Danny Waldron was placed in AC-12’s line of vision. But by the end of the first episode, Waldron was dead, supposedly killed by one of his team.
It came to light that the police officer had a list of those who had sexually abused him and his schoolfriends and was taking revenge. Waldron had tried to leave the list for Steve but Dot — who was leading the investigation — destroyed it.
But it didn’t end there. Denton’s conviction (remember her?) was overturned on appeal — with the trial revealing failings on AC-12’s part. However, despite their previous strained relationship, she agreed to help Steve with the abuse case by finding a back-up list.
Not only that, but she realised just who Dot really was (i.e., a corrupt bad guy). Sadly, a bit late for her, because Dot shot Denton, killing her — but not before she was able to send a digital copy of the list to AC-12.
We especially love the interview scenes in Line of Duty and the series finale did not disappoint, as Dot was revealed as The Caddy. He wasn’t planning on sitting and accepting his fate, however, fleeing the interrogation room chased by Fleming. It was Dot who placed himself in front of Fleming as an assailant had started shooting, recording his final declaration before dying, alerting AC-12 to the existence of ‘H.’
At the heart of this series was DCI Roz Huntley who was fortunate not to meet a similar end to Danny Waldron. After a tussle with forensic investigator Tim Ifield, she was knocked unconscious and awoke to find him about to dismember her (yes, really). Ifield was the one to die and Roz spent most the series ‘investigating’ his demise while doing everything she could to hide her involvement, all because he told the unit that she had deliberately ignored forensic evidence to press charges against a suspect.
When Roz learned a sample of blood had been taken in Ifield’s flat — where she hit her head — she (obviously) incorrectly labelled it. She then tried to build a case to link Ifield to her original suspect.
When Arnott went to visit Huntley’s husband Nick, he was subject to a vicious attack (by a man in a balaclava) and left for dead.
As the net closed in, Huntley appealed to ACC Hilton for help. Happy to do so, he gave her information to discredit AC-12. Oh, and gave her his number, one she wasn’t aware of.
While the case against her was dropped, she had to have her arm amputated, thanks to contracting MRSA in a wound.
When she was rearrested — after the unit found a new line of enquiry — Huntley also tried to pin the blame on her husband Nick.
Hilton played Hastings Dot’s final words — obtained from his insider Maneet — and accused Ted of being the mysterious H, and served him with a formal notice to answer the allegations.
Under questioning, Huntley admitted to killing Ifield but then arrested her lawyer, Lakewell, outing his connection to the balaclava gang (she’s later given a 10-year manslaughter sentence). Lakewell later stated there were multiple balaclava men, operating as an organised crime gang (OCG).
Hilton is later found dead with everyone concluding that he must have been H, thus exonerating Hastings. But who is H?
When an OCG attacked a police convoy transporting drugs and killed three officers, AC-12 suspected undercover police may be involved. That undercover officer was DS John Corbett.
Maneet was interviewed by the unit in which she works and after she contacted the crime group, ended up being killed.
Hastings’ financial woes looked like they were worsening, as Mark Moffatt approached him regarding his failed property investment. Is that a big brown envelope we could see…?
Corbett tipped Arnott off about a raid on the Eastfield police depot — after the unit identified that the crime group was involved in sex trafficking — but Corbett shot the senior police officer at the scene, DCS Hargreaves.
Using false AC-12 identification, Corbett entered Roisin Hastings’ flat, attacking her. There’s a link there that’s closer that anyone thought when it was revealed that Corbett had history to Northern Ireland. Though Hastings urged Arnott to shoot Corbett when he had the chance, Arnott refused. Corbett reveals the location of a meeting between the OCG and H. When the group transported women to their base to be trafficked, Corbett wanted to free them. In a twist, the group killed Corbett, realising he was the rat.
Hastings — who had made contact with the group and continued to do so — was suspended and investigated, later charged with conspiracy to murder Corbett.
Another series, another unmasking of a high ranking member of police staff. This time it was Police and Crime Commissioner’s legal advisor Gill Biggeloe whose dodgy dealings were unveiled. Biggeloe was linked with the OCG and a player in the plot to frame Hastings. Plus, she was largely responsible for John Corbett’s vendetta against the AC-12 boss — she recommended Corbett for the undercover job and convinced him that Hastings was the reason why his mother was murdered by paramilitary forces.
A further revelation came with the realisation that H was not one person, but a group of police staff in league with organised crime. If that included Cottan, Hilton and Biggeloe, who is the final H?
Maureen Coleman: I am living for the drama to return
Maureen Coleman is a Line of Duty superfan: fact. She reveals why it’s in a different league to other crime dramas
You know you’ve reached superfan status when a show’s theme tune is enough to induce levels of excitement normally reserved for a hefty scratchcard win or a weekend away with the girls.
It’s been two long years since we last heard that heart-racing, crescendo-building, Line of Duty score (trailers aside) and, ‘Mother of God’, I am living for the crime drama’s return.
Well, I say two years, but in truth, I was given a sneak preview of the opening episode of series six last week, ahead of a virtual Q&A with show creator Jed Mercurio, executive producer Simon Heath and cast members Adrian Dunbar, Vicky McClure and special guest, Kelly Macdonald. Did it live up to its hype? Put it this way, I watched it again the following evening; this time taking notes in my little, black AC-12-styled notebook. I don’t intend to miss a trick. Tomorrow night’s airing of episode one will be my third viewing but there’ll be no spoilers from me. Like the dutiful fan that I am, I shall conduct myself to the letter of the (BBC) law.
Crime is my favourite genre of television, dating back to a pre-teen obsession with Charlie’s Angels and a crush on one half of detective duo, Starsky and Hutch. As a birthday treat, many moons ago, a friend arranged for me to spend the day on the set of ITV’s long-running cop show The Bill, where I was put in handcuffs and locked up in a prison cell for the craic.
If there’s a crime show on, I’ll watch it – Morse, Murder, She Wrote, even Midsomer Murders at a push.
But Line of Duty is in a different league, because it makes the viewer think. With its fast-paced action, intense interrogation scenes, complicated twists and turns, red herrings and so many acronyms, you’ll need a PhD to know your OCGs from UCOs, it really puts your brain to work.
Pop out to make a cup of tea mid-episode and you could miss a vital look, a word or a key character getting chucked over the stairs.
I first stumbled upon LoD back in 2012 when it was launched on BBC2 with little fanfare. In series one, the three central characters were DS Steve Arnott, played by Martin Compston, Vicky McClure’s DC Kate Fleming and flawed ‘super-cop’ DCI Tony Gates, played by Lennie James. AC-12 boss, Superintendent Ted Hastings, played by Fermanagh man Adrian Dunbar, had a lesser role but as the show began to gain momentum, that changed. Ted Hastings, of course, is now a national treasure and his colloquialisms are as legendary as the man himself.
‘Now we’re suckin’ diesel’ had non-Norn Iron viewers scratching their heads and rushing to Twitter to decipher what the heck Hastings was on about. If Ted turns out to be the fourth member of H, the bendiest of bent coppers, I’ll issue a REG-15 on Mercurio myself.
In its BBC Two home, Line of Duty became the channel’s best-performing drama in 10 years. Its move to BBC One in 2017 saw even more viewers tune in. The finale of series four, featuring Thandie Newton in the guest role as the cop under suspicion, drew in a whopping audience of 10 million. Each series Mercurio pulls off a master-stroke when it comes to casting his guest actors. Stars like James, Newton, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays, Stephen Graham and this season’s Kelly Macdonald, are all brilliant at their craft.
But it’s the core team of AC-12, on its relentless quest for those bent coppers, that is the glue that holds this show together.
Let’s hope they don’t become unstuck when ‘H’ is finally revealed.