Detectives in novels and on screen

I am sure many other people will have read the article in today's (13 October) Times, in which P. D. James and Ruth Rendell (who also writes under the name of Barbara Vine) discuss their lack of regard for the TV adaptations of their novels. They weren't too keen on their respective leading detectives – Baroness James says that Dalgliesh does not have a moustache (you never see a senior detective with one, according to her), and Barnoness Rendell that Wexford was ugly (she thinks George Baker too handsome). I did see a few of these adaptations years ago, and I suppose I must agree. I invariably prefer books to TV or film adaptations, so have just learnt to see them as completely different entities.

If I were an author of a series, I'd find it hard to continue once actors were firmly established as my characters. As a reader, it is bad enough – can one read a Henning Mankell now without visualising Ken Branagh as Wallander? Whatever one may think of Ken Branagh in that part, he is not the books' Wallander. Everyone liked John Thaw as Morse – I was already a fan of Colin Dexter's books long before the TV series was dreamed up – but even though I did not see all that many of them, it is impossible to detach Morse from John Thaw in my mind.

The best part of the Times article, for me, is this: "Baroness James said that she had given up trying to make sense of changes made to her stories when they were adapted for television. “I don’t read a script of adaptations because I know I’m not going to like it. They do things sometimes that are nonsensical.”
Dame Ruth said that her stories were always augmented with irrelevant action sequences. “They put a car chase in all of mine. There’s no reason for a car chase but everyone likes one. In the end you don’t care.” "

Absolutely. Fewer car chases and more plot, please (ideally, a plot that actually makes sense). I doubt this will ever happen. But it is why I tend not to watch detective programmes (or anything else) on TV -  because it is always obvious what is going to happen after the first few minutes. One exception to this rule was Cracker, which started out being about a truly unpleasant person (Cracker, played by Robbie Coltraine) and some gritty police procedural, headed up by Christopher Ecclestone. He (Ecclestone) soon jumped ship, and before you knew it, Cracker had morphed into a "loveable old rogue" and I switched off. David Jason as Frost was (is?) similar: the character on TV had very little connection with the scurrilous, politically incorrect man in the books – superficially wisecracking with very off-colour humour, bursting with obsessive energy, but a very sad, lonely person at some level. Again, I switched off after a few episodes. Not because I'm a purist about differences between page and screen, but because the screen versions were boring in their predictability and sameness to each other (both within and across series).

Last words to the Baronesses: "Dame Ruth, who has written 21 Wexford books, said that she had no creative control over television adaptations but that they were not important to her. “I think that people expect us to be far more concerned with our television productions than we are. You can say that television makes you famous and sells your books but you don’t care very much about it.” "