I’ve spent much of the autumn and winter shooting my new TV series for BBC1. New Blood looks at the so-called ‘Y’ generation and focuses on two 25-year-olds who fight crime but who spend as much time worrying about their university loans, finding somewhere to live, arguing with each other and trying to kick-start their careers. It’s been fun watching our two young stars — Mark Strepan and Ben Tavassoli, watch those names — grow into the parts and I’ve thrown everything at them. They’ve cycled and run miles, been shot at, drugged, kidnapped, drenched, tortured and blown up. They’ve jumped off the roof of a hotel, escaped from a burning car and fought naked in a Turkish hammam. To their credit, they’ve never once complained . . . but then, of course, they’re young.
Which is more than you can say for the producers who gazed in horror when they saw the word ‘London’ in my scripts. They had good reason. Shooting in our capital city has become a nightmare — we were forced to move Foyle’s War, first to Dublin and then to Liverpool. Part of the trouble is that there’s no central point of contact —we had to negotiate separately with 32 separate boroughs for every permit and parking suspension. Worse still, private companies have sprung up as self-styled ‘film location agencies’ who make it their business to ring-fence everything from well-known landmarks to domestic properties. This has pushed prices up to the extent that only the big American producers can afford to shoot here. Marvel Comics are all over town with their spandex-covered heroes, outbidding us (Thwack! Kerpow!) at every turn. You’d have thought Boris Johnson might have done a little more to help local film-makers show off the city of which he is so rightly proud.
He might also have done more to ease traffic conditions. Anyone who lives in London will tell you that the congestion charge is almost useless. Even Transport for London has predicted a 60 per cent rise in congestion by 2031. So why not come up with a more radical solution? How long will it be before private cars are removed from cities altogether? Hamburg has vowed to become traffic-free in 20 years. In Paris, pollution fell 30 per cent when cars were banned, and traffic-free days, including along our own Oxford Street, are becoming increasingly popular. I spend more and more time in Venice which is of course a special case, but I’ve come to realise that a large part of the joy of being there is the silence, the absence of motor cars. Give us black cabs, buses, bicycles (with safer bicycle lanes) and deliveries restricted to certain hours. I really believe that this is the future and, indeed, that I will see it in my lifetime.
One simple answer to transport problems is staring us in the face — and I’m baffled why nobody has considered it. I’m talking about the much maligned Segway, the two-wheeled machine that makes users look like refugees from a Fifties science-fiction film. Twice this year, in Prague and Los Angeles, I have ridden them and I can tell you . . . they’re wonderful! Safe and silent, they whizz along, uphill and down, at a gentle pace and seem to respond almost telepathically to your commands. Even my cynical and style-conscious sons were both won over. Despite being environmentally friendly and extremely cost-effective, the Segway is banned in every major city — even the new version, which comprises just two wheels and a platform. It’s true that Jimi Heselden, the millionaire owner of the company that makes Segways, died in one of the only Segway accidents on record; a personal tragedy and a catastrophe in terms of PR. But surely we could at least have a reasoned debate on the subject? Why has this little miracle been consigned to tourists and shopping-mall police?
Another invention that doesn’t seem to be doing too well is the Kindle. According to Waterstones, sales of the e-reader have virtually disappeared, while in America, the Nook is losing $70 million a year. I’m not sure whether this is something to mourn or to celebrate; a triumph of bibliophilia over the new technology or the loss of an opportunity to promote reading. My old Kindle is useful on planes, but the technology is actually quite clumsy: the pages sometimes refuse to swipe and I’ve never quite got used to finding my place at ‘location 15,597’ or wherever. Anyway, I’ve always believed that books have an aesthetic quality, that they are more than the sum of their contents. I notice more and more bookshops are selling handsomely bound volumes of classics and the demand for signed copies seems to be insatiable. It’s really quite comforting that literature survives on its own terms in this technological age.
I’ll be skiing in Italy over Christmas. At least, I will be if there’s any snow. If not, I will walk in the hills and think about the year. I turned 60. My play, Dinner with Saddam, divided the critics. My wife became seriously ill but got better. I suppose the same could be said for Greece — where I spent most of the summer. If years have characters, 2015 was a touch temperamental, generally. As 2016 approaches, I hope it will be a kind one for us all.
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