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'Prime Suspect is always in my brain'

As Prime Suspect celebrates its 30th anniversary, Lynda La Plante reveals how she'd like to bring DCI Jane Tennison back. By Hannah Stephenson

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By the book: Lynda La Plante

By the book: Lynda La Plante

Press Association Images

By the book: Lynda La Plante

Lynda La Plante is contemplating how she would like to bring her dogged detective DCI Jane Tennison, originally played 30 years ago by Helen Mirren, back to life.

"I've been asked this so many times. I thought, 'What is she doing now?' She's past retirement age. I've started a novel, but she's retired."

La Plante reveals Tennison may be brought out of retirement to investigate a cold case.

"I'm working on it. It's on the back burner. I'd love it for the screen. I'd love to meet Helen and say, 'Come back now! One more time, Helen!'

"But she's so hugely successful and such a big movie star now that I don't know if she would be interested. It would be wonderful, though."

La Plante may be 77, but the former actress from Liverpool, shows no sign of slowing down.

She's been productive during the pandemic, written two books - Judas Horse, the second in a new series featuring detective Jack Warr, and a new young Tennison novel, Unholy Murder, out in the summer - and is to launch the second series of her forensics podcast, Listening To The Dead (on Feb 24).

"I'm so used to being solitary in writing that it's galvanised me. I'm like a lunatic. I can't stop!" she enthuses. She's also hoping to make a number of appearances to celebrate Prime Suspect's 30th anniversary, pandemic allowing.

She recently found the original Prime Suspect script she had written, inspired by the experiences of ex-Flying Squad officer Jackie Malton. It cast Mirren as DCI Tennison, the first woman in the history of the Met to lead a murder investigation after years of being overlooked, and aired in April 1991.

She always had Mirren in mind for the part, she recalls.

"It was quite a fight. The [TV executives] were very much bringing up names [of actors] who were completely wrong for her. I kept saying no.

"Then I was met with, 'Well, I don't know Helen's work - has she done a lot of TV?' I said, 'No, she's a great theatre and film actress, she's the right age to be a DCI.' Thirty years ago there were only three high powered female Detective Chief Inspectors in the Met."

La Plante parted company with the TV detective after the third series and was not impressed at the way the character turned into an alcoholic battling her demons, the older woman who had sacrificed everything for her career, struggling to solve her last case before retirement.

In 2015, La Plante brought back the detective in the first of a series of prequel novels as young Tennison, rewinding to the Seventies as the eponymous 22-year-old newbie WPC is drawn into her first murder case.

Despite falling out with ITV executives over creative differences concerning the 2017 TV adaptation, Prime Suspect 1973, which was axed after one series, La Plante has continued to pen her young Tennison novels, with Blunt Force, number six in the series, about to come out in paperback. "I'm taking the young Tennison through the Seventies when she's just out of training school, up through the Eighties and Nineties to the point where she becomes DCI Jane Tennison.

"I'm able to construct her life, her disappointments, failures and dogged persistence. It's been very informative to go back to talk to women who were officers then. Which means Prime Suspect is constantly in my brain."

What would DCI Tennison make of the world today? "I think she'd take it in her stride," La Plante reflects.

Blunt Force by Lynda La Plante is published by Zaffre in paperback on March 4, priced £8.99. Judas Horse is published by Zaffre on April 1, priced £14.99. Prime Suspect is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £7.99 paperback

Belfast Telegraph


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