For blog items from previous years [2005-12], see links on home page.
@Connecting Up The DotComs
years ago, I mentioned
I’d abandoned trying to find positive news to update our ‘CyberCity’
blog and website section (begun in 2006), due to the only developments, news-wise, being backward
ones, progress-wise. Typically, even major fast-broadband connectivity schemes announced with
(‘making Bournemouth the UK's first Fibrecity’) would start digging up entire streets, sometimes
locals’ phone and internet connections off for weeks, then go quiet, having failed to get
the end money or contracts they needed. Nothing would be heard for a while, only for the backers
to the concerned Council that the scheme was not dead, that the apparent corpse would rise
again phoenix-like from its own ashes.
Ironically, London's 'Tech City' aka 'Silicon Roundabout' has run into the same
BT bottleneck with it taking months to get hooked up etc., leading to promises
to trial improvements. London's Tech City/Silicon Roundabout meanwhile
ran into other infrastructure problems, which led to startup-co
disillusion about greedy landlords and poor Council support, with start-ups
pulling out. Some cities and towns certainly have improved speeds. However what this means
is the 'digital divide' gap betwen municipal and rural broadband is widening.
A recent FOI request revealed
that very little of the money supposedly available to remedy the lag here by 2015 - under a
Dept for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) scheme called Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) announced
5 years ago - has actually been paid over to district councils. So far the only beneficiary
seems to have been BT.
local development is largely due to the presence of the Uni (BU), the ‘Arts School’ (now the
Arts University Bournemouth), and B-P-C aka The College (as it styles itself). These institutions
contribute here as, first, they have relevant media schools and academies which annually turn
out graduates with new-media skills in digital animation etc. For example, locally the Creative
Multimedia Design FdA is taught at the College but offers a foundation degree from the
Uni for direct "top-up" progression to a full degree in this area.
The 2026 Trust may have had something to do with the fact that the closest Bournemouth has had to an arts centre, the BCCA (a 19th-C building gifted by Shelley the poet’s son Sir Percy Florence Shelley to the people of Boscombe ‘forever’), set to be demolished to make way for housing, is to retain a 3-room ‘digital hub’ centre. (Background: Despite a community campaign to save BCCA, the Council voted to demolish it on the basis the 11 houses set to replace it would do more to ‘regenerate the local area’ than a community/arts centre, and there were already 19 ‘comparable’ community/arts venues in the neighbourhood, which the campaign strongly disputed. A legal application by the campaign for a judicial review has just failed, on the grounds it was out of time, i.e. over 3 months old.) There are also several networking setups in the area specifically for those in the digital-creative industries, like Meetdraw.
The Bournemouth conurbation's digital 'cluster', from Digital Dorset's interactive map. The map doesn't show it, due to the clustering effect, but there are at least 50 creative-digital businesses.
a larger, more public scale, for the past 2 years, there has been a techies’ 2-day conference
in town called “Silicon Beach”, featuring visiting speakers from the US and elsewhere, with
the 3rd coming up 5-6 September, exploring “themes of 21st century marketing” [details here].
Now the suggestion has been made this month by local entrepreneurs that Silicon
Beach should be backed as the new adopted nickname for the conurbation, as the region’s
recognised go-to place for new-media tech-company growth. The Silicon Beach place-name moniker
is of course to create an equivalent label to California’s Silicon
Valley, [which has grown to enormous extent since the 70s]. Since then, the designation
has broadened to describe more than plants making silicon microchips, and there have many attempts
to get centres around the world recognised as the go-to place for new-media / tech-company
Now, it seems, it is largely a matter of connecting up the dots, or rather a master plan to connect up the dotcoms dotted around the area via some joined-up thinking, so that there is a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Bloomsbury author’s E.M. Forster’s catchphrase (used as advice to writers), ‘Only Connect’ is sometimes cited as the watchword here, but perhaps more apt is the more recent term recognising how, historically, socio-economic and other circumstances come together to create a significant event: convergence.
The big local-interest media event of the year so far has been ITV’s Broadchurch, filmed partly in Dorset, around West Bay and Bridport. ITV's answer to the hit Danish series The Killing, the 8-week drama serial was meant as a one-off, the lead characters ending up dealt a cruel fate of the sort often found in a Thomas Hardy novel. (There are literary-reference clues in the drama to suggest this was no coincidence.) Nevertheless, a 2nd series has already been announced. The reason is not that the story was left open-ended (it definitely wasn’t) but that it achieved ratings of over 9 million viewers, which brought in £15m of advertising revenue - despite the original sponsor, a cruise-ship company, nearly pulling out after a scene showed a burning dinghy (!). The DVD release has been withheld till May 20, to allow time for showings in additional markets.
Broadchurch was ITV’s attempt at an English equivalent of the so-called ‘Scandi-noir’ type of brooding-crime drama-with-social-significance, in particular the Danish 20-hour Forbrydelsen aka The Killing, which in 2007 launched the current cycle of surprisingly exportable long-form, crime-in-a-social-context dramas. It and its two followup series were shown on BBC4 in their popular Saturday night crime-drama-with-subtitles slot, and it was also remade for US TV as Gracepoint (filmed on its rainy Northwest coast), again with a 2nd and 3rd series to follow, with similar single-murder investigations. The format of The Killing explicitly (note the use of the singular in the title) abandoned the approach ITV adopted in the 1980s, where there is an initial murder, and then another one (or a serious assault) just before each commercial break, sometimes ending with the lead detective being nearly done in by the killer in a confrontational final scene. Thus instead of setting up Broadchurch like an episode of Wycliffe or Lewis, where the background story would be disclosed in fragmentary interpolated scenes - which the viewer is meant to sift for clues but are in fact mainly red herrings - the background story was given equal time with the investigation scenes. To establish a ‘Scandi-noir’ mood, an Icelandic composer was brought in to score Broadchurch, and whole scenes have no sound apart from the music. (The song used in the trailer is "People Help The People" by Birdy.)
The traditional serial-murder story format of course is not suitable for any setting outside a major population centre. (Even then, it was notably unrealistic – all those endless murders in Oxford’s academic community in Inspector Morse.) Though the Danish prototype series limited itself to one killing, it had an urban setting (Copenhagen area) allowing the female detective to repeatedly wander alone into jeopardy in darkened factory buildings etc. Scotland Yard had a special ‘murder squad’ they would send out from London to help provincial forces, which provided the story template for many a British detective novel or drama (see e.g. the 1957 Town On Trial, with John Mills as the ‘maverick’ lead detective sent in to shake things up by being rude to all and sundry). Later, regional force HQs had their own teams, and the murder in a remote village was the standard story setup in the Cornish-set Wycliffe. But these did not deal with the community except as suspects and (inevitably reluctant) witnesses. The “town wrapped in secrets” (to use Broadchurch’s ad-line) is not new, and the chief interest of the locals is their desire to keep the lid on some personal secret the detective must uncover en route to solving the murder.
Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall has said a large part of his inspiration was Twin Peaks (shown on BBC in the early 90s and belatedly just issued in a complete DVD set), set in a quiet Northwest logging community. This small-town-big-crime story setup certainly gave the town characters equal screen time with the detectives. But this cult US series wandered away from its powerful initial depictions of grief spreading through the community into an almost laughable quirkiness imposed by co-creator David Lynch, along with a surreal plot that tried to integrate bizarre supernatural elements. The use of the supernatural here does have roots in the 'Northwest Gothic' (an early-20C American school of literary melodrama), but trying to make fun of the characters as hick eccentrics at the same time proved a self-defeating attempt to appeal to both traditional-romantic and more hip-urban audiences. (That’s American tv for you.) Viewing figures fell away, and the series was abandoned rather than concluded. (A feature-film was then commissioned, but this opted for a prequel rather than sequel, the series’ unresolved plot strands being impossible to tie up.)
to home, an earlier tv series filmed in West Bay and Bridport, the BBC’s quickly forgotten
1999-2000 drama series Harbour Lights, had an ex-RN officer returning to his home
town ‘Bridehaven’ to work as harbourmaster and getting involved with the local
policewoman chasing smugglers etc. This evident BBC attempt to create a south-coast counterpart
to their whimsical 1990s Scottish country-policeman series Hamish Macbeth suffered
from a depiction of the community as a lightweight set of ‘types’ to provide story
material, and there may have been a determination to avoid repeating this mistake here. Harbour
Lights itself switched to become more of a crime drama after its first series.
Broadchurch gave as much dramatic weight to members of the local community as the detective duo, who were not easy-to-like figures, neither The Local One (prone to make threats of assault, including of killing a suspect’s dog) nor The Outsider Specially Brought In (emphasized by his Scots accent). Normally the trope is that the Clever Lead Detective is socially dysfunctional; here the detective is dishevelled and gruff enough but the case is broken not by any particular insight, just circumstantial luck as he haphazardly pursues a missing laptop and phone. (Nor in the finale does he wrestle with the villain on a rooftop or clifftop, as scriptwriters of provincial detective series tend to opt for.) The rest of the police force are shown as almost useless ciphers who just stand around. The various community figures on the other hand – suspects, victim’s family and friends, witnesses, the local church, newspaper, etc. were treated seriously as they tried to achieve closure (that useful American phrase) in one way or another – getting past anger, grief, or suspicions about others.
That these character portrayals offered more than the usual set of stock figures and red herrings was likely a reflection of the fact the series creator, writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall, has roots in such a community: he has lived for ten years where the drama was partly shot, at Bridport/West Bay. (Scenes were also shot at Clevedon). His own comment was 'Broadchurch is set in the Dorset landscape where I've lived for about ten years. I was brought up on Merseyside, but the town where I live now is particularly wonderful, with a interesting, varied community. In a way, Broadchurch is a love letter to the town and the county and the landscape.' Certainly its high ratings would be partly the result of the massive advance publicity it received, and every other major magazine cover seemed to feature a still of the two leads posed against West Dorset’s red sandstone cliffs. There is no coy attempt to pass off the setting as elsewhere: though the detectives work for the fictional “Wessex Police,” dialogue references to popping over to the neighbouring town of Lyme [Regis] indicate fictional town and filming location match up.
The series' production company Kudos had sent script proposals with similar 'Killing' type stories to both BBC and ITV, perhaps assuming only one would be commissioned at best; in fact, such was the desire for a British tv counterpart to the Danish series that both were. (Online commentators have pointed out the child killer is the same figure in both series, which I won’t elaborate on here to avoid spoilers.) BBC’s Mayday went out as 5 x 1hrs Sunday-Thursday the same week Broadchurch launched in the Monday 9pm slot, but only achieved half the ratings figures. Mayday abandoned the successful formula balancing investigative and community scenes, had a less distinctive physical setting (filmed anonymously around Dorking in Surrey), and opted instead to have the drama revolve around shouting matches between the characters, who like other types living in rural communities also (as seen by urban-dwelling media types anyway) have sinister pagan leanings that come out when they are threatened. The killer is not caught in the end but instead haunted by the victim’s ghostly apparition, her vow to return to haunt the killer empowered by the paganism that (in urban eyes anyway) survives in English woodland. (The title is meant to be a pun: Mayday = help / ancient pagan festival, geddit.)
To be fair to the BBC, they did make a more successful stab at the genre with another gruff Scots detective, in their March crime series pilot Shetland, which is based on a crime-novel series and was filmed on location in this most Nordic part of the UK to achieve a vivid sense of place, and has now been commissioned as a full series. ITV on the other hand, has made less of an impact with another current seaside drama, The Ice Cream Girls, not an investigative serial but a 3-part psychological revenge drama about a dark secret buried in the characters’ teen years, supposedly set in Brighton but shot in Ireland for tax reasons. And despite writer-producer Chris Chibnall’s involvement with fantasy dramas like Life On Mars, Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Camelot, Broadchurch remained grounded in a specific time and place. (His acquaintance with Dr Who star David Tennant is likely the reason the lead detective is Scots.) There was only one scene with CGI elements, the clifftop beacon-lighting ceremony, introduced to help visualise the community's final ‘closure.’
did carefully respect the genre’s whodunnit-mystery aspect: there were no previews at
the end of each episode giving away half the next episode's plot, and advance press preview
‘screener’ copies were withheld for the last 2 episodes. (Given that Ep. 6 had
a rather action-packed ending with the killer attacking the detective etc, it may be the series
was intended to be shown as four 2-hr episodes, as with earlier ITV series like Inspector
Morse and A Touch Of Frost.) Much of the online commenting has been about unresolved
plot threads (e.g. the postman), indicating viewers were struggling to piece together clues,
trying to achieve their own ‘closure.’
scene of the crime. In fact, several different locations were combined for these and other
By Ep. 6, a betting-shop firm was offering 7-to-4 odds that the killer was X, though their correct guess, suggested by commenters, seems to have been largely through a process of elimination of former suspects. As usual in this genre, these had gone out of their way to appear guilty by Acting Suspicious and then refusing to provide a proper alibi - to maintain their privacy and avoid tabloid exposure, it turns out. The tabloid press were another element in the drama (with the Leveson Charter pending, a topical one), depicted in a less cut-and-dried manner than the slimy characters Inspectors Morse and Wexford would run across. The plot’s over-reliance on past cases of abuse of children (three unrelated instances crop up in the ‘back’ story alone) as a motive for obstruction of justice as well as killing warped the overall social portrait somewhat towards media cliche. TV producers inevitably claim lifting the trappings of the most sensational cases from the headlines is them “dealing with” a social problem; but here all the instances prove to be more tragic misunderstandings with their own set of additional victims. A more controversial idea was not taken up (beyond some threats to the local vicar) that one or more of the boys themselves might have been involved in blackmail (as in William Trevor’s BBC-TV dramatised award-winning 1976 novel Children Of Dynmouth, which has a similar West-Dorset seaside-town setting).
Series Two seems foolhardy, given the way the writer tried to avoid writing an 8-hour pilot
for a longer ‘detective’ series, sidelining the two police characters in more ways
than one. (See the Telegraph’s “The
Broadchurch Sequel Is A Mistake” [warning – spoilers].) Some are cynically
speculating the 2nd series will be to plug the gaps remaining in the story, a back-story prequel
like the Twin Peaks feature Fire Walk With Me. These gaps began right away,
e.g. why Det Sgt Miller did not get the Det Insp promotion she was expecting, and why DI Hardy
was given the job instead when he was [a] patently ill (passing out etc, so unsafe to drive
a car) [b] attacked in the national press (“Is this Britain’s Worst Copper?”)
for bungling a child murder elsewhere and (as commenters kept pointing out) [c] unable even
to shave himself or do up his collar. (He has the exact same unshaven stubble for the entire
59 day investigation, so this may be an American-inspired (remember Miami Vice?) attempt
to match the lead detective’s ‘iconic’ look in The Killing, where
the female detective famously wore the same pullover throughout.
ITV, being a set of regional franchises, took the lead in filmed location drama early on, when it decided to compete against the BBC Drama department - which was more focused on soundstage shooting (with perhaps the odd exterior filmed scene to show the characters arriving somewhere). Though some trendsetting ITV prestige productions were shot abroad, line producers complained ITV wanted the award-winning quality of Brideshead Revisited, Jewel In The Crown and Reilly Ace Of Spies without actually offering realistic budgets. The answer was to have a crime series set and filmed within the ITV company’s own regional franchise area. ITV had already developed a strong presence with crime dramas like The Sweeney (all location-shot) in the 70s, and later maintained it with feature-length i.e. 2-hr crime dramas like Inspector Morse and A Touch Of Frost, which ran through the 1980s, 1990s, into the 2000s, only ending as the lead actor was dead or too old. These have almost always begun as novel adaptations but have then branched off into original scripts, as with Morse spinoff Lewis (just finishing after 7 seasons) and ITV’s just-underway young-Morse prequel series Endeavour. BBC responded with their own crime series set and filmed in distinctive regional settings, most successfully with their 1980s Jersey-set hit Bergerac (which it is now looking to revive).
The need for a strong sense of place is confirmed by tourism enquiries to wherever the series is set. Local councils often make the mistake of thinking a story full of murders etc will put visitors off, but this does not happen. The Dorset area has not had the one-to-one association of tv crime series and locality as say, Jersey enjoyed with Bergerac, Oxford with Morse or Cornwall with Wycliffe, but crime novels, films and tv dramas have a long history of being set in the Dorset area: our two-part guide to this has now been updated to include Broadchurch. Given the inherent scripting difficulties, it may be a 2nd series will be a long time coming; in the meantime, West Dorset tourist offices have reported enquiries have shot up. In the event, visitors may discover tv producers' sleight-of-hand in combining widely separated locations to create a single locale (as many scenes were shot at Clevedon in North Somerset as in Dorset). But it seems people like to engage with this genre by exploring the scene of the crime for themselves, which will bring them to those red cliffs which are such a distinctive part of the Jurassic Coast.