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Bradley isn't just a fair cop, he's a brilliant one

'THEY said it couldn't be done," proclaimed the adverts for Guinness Light, the famously misguided 1979 attempt to market a wimped-down version of the stout to young, primarily female drinkers who preferred lager.

It turned out "they" were right, and sales sank faster than a pint of the real stuff disappearing down Brendan Behan's throat.

Thirty years later, a different "they" also said Law & Order UK couldn't be done. I have to confess I was among them.

The idea of the longest-running crime drama on American television, with its unmistakable dum-dum-da-da-da-dada-dah theme tune, evocative New York City locations, fast-moving stories and an ever-evolving cast of streetwise but noble law enforcers, comfortably transferring to a London previously patrolled by The Bill and Dixon of Dock Green seemed absurd.

The original was too slick, too sharp, too polished, too American to be anything other than an embarrassment.

As the first British remake of a smash-hit US drama, it was likely to be a repeat of ITV's attempt to transfer The Golden Girls from sunny Miami to drizzly Brighton, which ended up face-down in the pebbles.

And then there was the star of the show, Bradley Walsh. People laughed when it was announced he would be playing Law & Order UK's lead character, DI Ronnie Brooks.

comedian

They probably laughed more than ever when Walsh was plying his trade as a comedian and gameshow host whose biggest straight acting role up to then was as Mike Baldwin's nephew in Coronation Street.

Five years, seven series (the eighth starts tonight) and an average audience of six million viewers in Britain later, nobody is laughing at Law & Order UK anymore. It's been a popular and critical hit.

Ironically, its greatest strength has turned out to be what most people thought would be its biggest weakness. Walsh, who has maintained his gameshow associations by hosting ITV's clever quiz The Chase, has been a revelation as Brooks.

A bone-weary, seen-it-all-before recovering alcoholic with 20 years in the job, two divorces and two estranged daughters behind him, Brooks is a great character. But to fans of the original Law & Order, he might look naggingly familiar.

He is the English version of Lennie Briscoe, played by the late, great Jerry Orbach – although Briscoe never had to suffer Brooks' tragically unfashionable side-parting or his grubby, crumpled mac, which looks as if it's been present at more gruesome crime scenes than Columbo's.

Tonight's episode is a cracker and scores 11 out of 10 on the gruesome-o-meter.

evidence

It opens with the discovery of a diamond trader, whose teeth have been pulled out and his arms chopped off, in the boot of a car.

This drags Brooks and his new partner, DS Hawkins, excellently played by rapper/comedian/actor Ben Bailey Smith, into a mire of complications involving the trial – in which Brooks has to give evidence – of a hardened criminal accused of murdering an eight-year-old girl.

The relationship between the two characters harks back to the wise old head/brash young turk partnerships familiar from classics such as The Streets of San Francisco.

tension

In keeping with the if-it's-not-broken- don't-fix-it policy, most of the show's scripts have been adapted from the US originals.

But it manages to bend them to a British sensibility, particularly in the matter of racial tension, a subject US television still dares to touch at its peril, even in the second term of a black president.

While Hawkins, a black man, is interrogating a somewhat blacker-than-he-is suspect, the latter taunts him with: "It's easier for you, detective sergeant. You're higher up the pigmentocracy. Shading has its benefits."

So, sometimes, does transplanting a well-worn formula to a new set setting.


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