Line Of Duty: creator Jed Mercurio interview

We spoke to the Line Of Duty creator about series 3, Lindsay Denton, The Caddy, Jimmy Savile, tension, thrillers and more…

Warning: contains spoilers for Line Of Duty series 3, episode 5 (NB interview took place before the finale aired. Here’s a spoiler-filled post-finale chat).

As Line Of Duty viewers might expect from the man who’s turned the police interview into an art-form, Jed Mercurio is a very measured, practiced interviewee. He gives precise, categorical answers unfurred by the usual hesitations and rambling false starts. Bring up the perception that Line Of Duty’s series two finale was hard to follow and he explains, patiently, that the most reliable evidence we have suggests otherwise. He speaks fluently in terms of suppositions, anecdotal evidence, arithmetical means and statistical outliers. When he completes a given response, he simply stops talking.

Mercurio’s voice only became heated twice in the next six thousand words. Once on the as-yet untold story of police misconduct in regard to Jimmy Savile, and once when he brought up the Daily Mail. He’s only human, after all.

We discussed Line Of Duty’s distinctive pace, alternate endings for Danny Waldron and Lindsay Denton, his non PR-friendly approach to institutions, villainy, ambiguity, his hopes to write a fifth series and much more…

Ad – content continues below

Let’s talk about one of Line Of Duty’s trademarks, those enigmatic silent scenes of a character’s expression, where in the audience’s mind, they cross from guilty to innocent, or sympathetic to hateful. Do you write those as moments of genuine ambiguity, or is there a precise idea of where you want the audience to be at the start and end of those moments? For instance, watching Keeley Hawes reacting to Dryden being arrested on TV in series two?

There are a number of elements in this. The first one is the script. Often those things will just be very clearly scripted. I can’t remember what the exact words were in respect of Lindsay Denton watching the TV, but it very clearly said in the script that her reaction to the news that Mike Dryden was being charged was one of ‘subtle intrigue and gratification’ but I can’t remember exactly what the wording was.

Then the other side of it is really the synthesis between what’s in the script and the actor’s performance and the way it’s directed. The script is the blueprint for that and I’m very lucky that I can write very specific things in the script knowing that I’m either going to be there or the subject is going to come up in conversation with the actor or director, or usually both, so everybody can know what I mean and what I’m trying to achieve.

Then the other side of it is editing. For those moments where we shot a lot of material where we’ve got reaction shots and close-ups, sometimes the way in which we create the ambiguity is just how the scene ends up being cut together in the final edit. When you go to a character’s reaction or allow the actor to be silent and just observing… It’s a synthesis of a lot of things. I’m in a very fortunate position that I’m on set a lot of the time and I’m involved in the casting, so I can just talk to them about it. One of the things I learned on medical drama Bodies was that actors can’t play ambiguity.

You’ve pre-empted my next question. You said once that Patrick Baladi [Bodies’ Roger Hurley, a consultant with a track record of surgical errors] couldn’t play Roger as anything other than in the belief he was a competent surgeon. In the same way, Keeley Hawes had to play Lindsay Denton as believing she was innocent, morally at least, if not legally. What sort of conversations did you have with Craig Parkinson in terms of how he approaches the character of Dot?

I suppose they’re conversations that aren’t a million miles away from the conversation with Patrick, which is that Dot feels he’s had a lot of bad luck and he just needs to make it right and then he’ll be free and clear.

Ad – content continues below

What we discover in series three is that Dot’s a reluctant plant within the police. In episode four, he revealed that he was recruited as a young guy and pushed into joining the police. That’s borne out in research, one of the ways in which organised crime gained an influence over police officers was just to pick some kid who could fit in with the police whose connections with organised crime would sort them out in terms of getting into the force so that when they come through their training, there’s one of their guys on the inside. That’s his story and he feels that he didn’t have enough choices in that matter and in a sense he was railroaded into it and now he wants to escape the past and draw a line under it. His rationale is that ‘none of that was my fault, people made me, and now I am trying to make my own choices, I’m making the right choices, I’m a good person and people should just be on my side’.

That’s kind of the exact conversation that I had with Patrick and conversations with Keeley [Hawes] and with Lennie [James] and also with Gina McKee in series one. Gina said ‘but I’m a criminal, I’m money-laundering and I killed my accountant’ and it’s like ‘no, you didn’t, you were just trying to do the right thing but things are going wrong’. It’s a different mind-set. People can lie to themselves.

It’s that thing where no-one wants to see themselves as a villain, however villainous their actions. Their thinking is warped entirely around justifying their own actions.

That’s what Steven Bochco [Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue producer) said in a piece I wrote, I think it was for The Times, about writing crime drama. I’ve worked with Steven in the past and I know him pretty well so I emailed him and said ‘Have you got one thing to say?’ and that’s exactly what he said about the psyche of the criminal.

It’s certainly true that you have to be able to allow an actor to tap into that side of the character. If the only way to play the role is to accept that the character is a little bit unhinged or a little bit involved in self-deception, then that’s the step they have to take.

As a thriller writer, do you like to keep your audience feeling anxious at all times?

Ad – content continues below


With Ted Hastings for instance, by introducing the Freemasonry stuff this series, you could say you’ve undermined the one person the audience had as our rock in a storm, morally. There are very few characters in Line Of Duty we can peg our trust on and think ‘they’ll do the right thing even if it’s hard’. Is it in your interest to keep viewers anxious, to take away certainties?

I wouldn’t describe it as anxiety, as I think most people would regard that as a negative emotion and some people believe you can medicalise it. I think it’s more tension, can we say tension?

One of the things we need to do is test characters. It’s a pretty fundamental principle that you only know if someone’s a good guy by testing them. If someone’s given the choice of doing the wrong thing or the right thing, then you have to see them choose the right thing. But also, it really helps if it’s a very finely balanced choice. There’s no point doing it if they’re choosing between doing a bad thing that has very few rewards or doesn’t have a specific reward that suits that character’s needs and doing a slam-dunk good thing.

In terms of Ted, it’s always been about finding the things that really get under his skin. In series two, it was his marriage, but in the end he had to challenge authority and forgo the opportunity of promotion and that cost him his marriage. He was prepared to do that. In series three, we’re testing him further, he’s in a situation where there’s a hell of a lot at stake and we will see whether he goes along with it or not.

You mention Ted’s marriage. I’m interested in the way you don’t choose to linger on personal, domestic strands in Line Of Duty or Bodies. Obviously you’re writing precinct drama, so that’s where it takes place, but there’s remarkably little of your characters’ home lives. Is that just a case of wanting to stick to the action or do you have the attitude that perhaps personal, domestic strands in thrillers tend to be the weaker material which is why you avoid it?

Ad – content continues below

I think it’s all those things. Part of me isn’t that interested as a person and a viewer in people’s personal lives. I’m much more interested in what people do in the workplace and what goals they set themselves. I guess that’s why I write a lot of precinct drama.

The other thing is that often there’s an expectation or pressure sometimes even to feel that the way to succeed with drama is to see all sides of a character by going into their personal lives, even if you’ve got nothing to say. What I would take as my decision is I’m very, very happy to go into characters’ personal lives if I think it gives us something of use about the character to hang onto and lets us understand why they do what they do in the main story, in the main point of the thing, which is the police work. But if you don’t need to go into their personal lives to do that. If you can play it out within their professional sphere, then you don’t need to. That’s kind of the balance that I look for.

Certainly in terms of the evolution of the characters in Line Of Duty over the years, we didn’t really do much about the investigators’ personal lives at all, and then we started to do more when they came back—we felt that we needed to—but only so that we understood more about how they did their jobs. In an ideal world, what’s going on in their personal life will have a direct effect on the main story. I think where it fails sometimes in drama, is where you feel that they’re showing the home life to tick a box.

The odds seem really stacked against decency in your work. You repeatedly show how hard it is to do the right thing, and how doing the right thing can often be a thankless task. Do you consider your writing to be realist in that respect, or pessimist?

If you took the view that what I was showing was representative of the majority of relationships then it would be pessimist, but I think you have to view it that I’m choosing to tell the story that I find most interesting within the world that the characters live in. So, in common with a lot of drama, I’m choosing to tell a particular, specific story that doesn’t necessarily represent all the routine stories that are going on. In Bodies I was looking at a unit that was failing and the doctors were engaged in a cover-up, which obviously isn’t every unit. And in the police investigations in Line Of Duty, they’re investigating incidents of police misconduct or corruption. I don’t believe on any level that all police officers are misbehaving, it’s purely that we are choosing to tell the exceptional story, the story we think will be most interesting to the viewer.

Bodies and Line Of Duty really appear to have struck a nerve in some quarters, to the extent that they’ve been accused of undermining public confidence in those institutions. Is your approach that it’s all fair game, drama shouldn’t be PR for these services?

Ad – content continues below

Firstly, I’d say that you can’t accept as fact that I’ve been accused of that because that comes from suppositions that people are making. I think if people say that they personally don’t feel that they want to go and see a doctor because they’ve seen Bodies, then that’s anecdotal. I don’t know that it actually does amount to undermining public trust when you’re just dealing with anecdotal evidence.

But in respect of institutions, then certainly our experience when we started with Line Of Duty was that the reason that police forces didn’t want to cooperate with us was because they felt that they didn’t want to support the view it gave of officers misbehaving and there being anti-corruption investigations. We formed the conclusion that probably police cooperation with police dramas is PR-led because they do support lots of other cop shows.

You write social realism, not escapist drama, which means you’re not an apologist for anyone or anything, I suppose?

I probably would describe myself as a social realist and I may have done it, so I think that’s accurate. What I would say is that I do think there’s a lot of something that is called ‘the drama of reassurance’, where we show our public institutions in a very positive light in drama, and not necessarily a light that people would recognise from their own primary experience. People are used to watching cop shows in which the cops are very straight down the line and they solve the crimes, but I think people actually have a much more sophisticated and varied view of the police.

If you look at surveys about public attitudes to police, then our police force doesn’t come out that well in comparison to a lot of police forces. That’s probably a perverse finding, but there is a lot of mistrust for the police out there and it’s odd sometimes when people hold up a drama and think that that’s a more important factor than people’s primary experience of the criminal justice system. If you look at people’s primary experience of the criminal justice system, you will find enormous levels of dissatisfaction.

Line Of Duty certainly isn’t the drama of reassurance. It’s quite a destabilising experience as a viewer. Recent years have shaken our faith in these institutions because of real-life news stories and inquiries—Macpherson, Yewtree, Midland—which makes Line Of Duty feel very apt and of this time, because of the way it feeds into those existing feelings.

Ad – content continues below

I would say that I didn’t invent police corruption for the purpose of the series! [laughs]. I often reflect on the genesis of Line Of Duty and I think the crucial event was the shooting of Jean-Charles de Menezes. I thought it was a very complicated story and the thing that came out post-the shooting about the way police officers had behaved showed both good and bad in the police, without going into massive detail. Certain things that came out at the inquest would make you mistrust the honesty of some of the police officers involved in that incident.

There always appears to be, every month, some suspicion—whether it’s a death in custody or an investigation that doesn’t appear to have been followed through—so I think actually when people watch a drama like Line Of Duty, they do at least place it in an authentic world. They may say ‘oh, that might have never have happened like that’ or ‘that might not have happened to the same people’ and of course that’s a valid argument, but in terms of whether the show is set within a constructed world which has a relationship with the authentic world outside then I would say that’s actually a feature of pretty much all the drama I’ve made. Added to which, I’ve also been subject to people commenting about whether things are authentic or accurate and I think that’s always a very interesting conversation.

You mention the Jean-Charles de Menezes shooting, which was obviously a starting point inspiration for series one, but in that, you didn’t make an overt link between real and fictional events. In series three, by including that photograph of Jimmy Savile and mentioning Yewtree and so on, you have. Could you talk me though a bit of the thinking behind that, what discussions there were behind the thinking of ‘we’re going to out-and-out say it’s Midland, it’s Yewtree, we’re going to put Jimmy Savile on screen?’

It’s an important issue, not just for Line Of Duty but for all drama, and it’s something that ends up being discussed with the broadcaster. With the BBC it’s with the Editorial Policy Unit. They do sometimes take the view that drama should steer clear of dealing with things which have real-world parallels. I don’t agree with that. I think that the audience is smart enough to know that just because a drama is relating to real-world parallels, it doesn’t mean that its story is exactly that story. It’s like watching a historical drama in which events happen against the backdrop of things that we know really happened in the past, it’s the same principle. The events of Line Of Duty are set against a backdrop of things that we know are ongoing in the present.

But it is a controversial area, and that’s why it was discussed at great length and it ended up going reasonably far up the chain for someone to sign off on it and say ‘no, it’s okay’. The point we’re making is that there is a police corruption story, or a police misconduct story in relation to child sexual exploitation, historic cases of, that isn’t being told in my view.

How I would encapsulate it is that Savile is crucial to this understanding. Jimmy Savile cultivated relationships with senior police officers. Jimmy Savile boasted of his relationships with senior police officers. Jimmy Savile in fact threatened junior police officers who questioned his conduct by referring to those relationships he had with senior officers and effectively said to them ‘Don’t challenge me because it will mean your job’. So we know what Jimmy Savile was getting out of those relationships with senior police officers. What we don’t know, and which I think should be investigated, is what those officers were getting out of their relationship with Savile.

Ad – content continues below

It was obviously seen as a controversial decision, but you felt, a necessary one. You must feel there’s a purpose to a drama like Line Of Duty beyond cliff-hangers and hooks. That you’re presenting things through drama that need to be brought into the open?

There are a number of ways of looking at this. The first thing is that it’s hard necessarily to predict or survey what the audience as a whole feel in terms of their individual reactions. What we know is that about six million people have watched each episode of Line Of Duty so far. That’s composed of the three and half million who watch live and the people who watch in other ways. Out of those six million people, we can’t predict how many of them will have the kinds of reactions you’re talking about in respect of the Savile point. There will be differences in opinion.

What we can talk about really, factually, is our intention, which is to point towards a real-life parallel of this story which anchors the drama into current affairs and I think therefore works in the way that some dramas work, which is that they’re thought-provoking. They make the audience ask questions about the world outside of the drama. There may be many viewers who don’t have that experience, and it doesn’t make them ask questions about the world outside the drama, and there may be some viewers that reject the whole idea that fiction should relate to parallel real-world stories.

Moving to the cliff-hanger of episode five, when did you settle on Lindsay Denton’s death as her ending? Was there ever a chance she would get that fresh start, or was it always going to be snatched from her?

No, it was something that needed to be in play, because the character had to believe there was some point to what she was doing. I guess this is part of the character’s self-denial. She honestly—because she is slightly unhinged—believes that all can be forgiven. I guess it’s because she hasn’t had very strong relationships within the brotherhood or sisterhood of the police and therefore she’s isolated and therefore she hasn’t got a strong-enough formed idea of the fact that the resentment and mistrust for her will never go away. That has to be part of the outcome that she’s striving for. It’s always been a possibility.

It was a possibility in series two. In fact, the scene at the end of series two where Carly Kirk, the missing girl, is seen on the quay with a ferry coming in and it’s a nice sunny day, at one point that was probably going to be Keeley’s final scene. She did manage to escape with the money and she was off to have a new life. In the end, we decided not to do that. Once you get into this, some things feel inevitable but nothing ever is, really. There are always alternatives and certainly in terms of the end of episode five, we had a number of alternatives but decided to settle on that one because it felt like it was the best for the series.

Ad – content continues below

Could it equally have been someone else Dot killed in that car? Steve or Kate, for instance?

No, those wouldn’t have been the scenarios. The obvious scenario is that it could go the other way. The other scenario could have been that Lindsay effectively unmasks Dot, that she succeeds, she’s been very clever and unmasks the Caddy so it’s his undoing.

Or there was another scenario where it got a bit more complicated and he frames he for a crime so that she’s effectively going back to prison where she won’t be a problem anymore, but the problem with that one is that then we’re where we were at the end of series two, which is people just tearing their hair out going ‘I think she’s guilty’ and someone else saying ‘No, she’s innocent, she’s going to have a trial!’ because that’s where we were, so that was the reason. I thought dramatically that was the best option but downstream it was the most problematic and that’s why I rejected it.

Some of that head-scratching public reaction to the series two finale must have been quite a frustrating thing to be on the receiving end of. Is that why you’ve got the ninety minute finale this time, so things can be explained more fully to the audience?

I’m glad you asked me that because I do have quite a specific view on this, which is that the idea that somehow episode six of the last series is unsatisfactory is not borne out by the best information we have. You are correct that some people voiced their frustration with it, but what is useful information to a programme-maker is, is that something anecdotal? Does it represent a small point of view of people having a conversation with their mates and everybody agreeing, or is it something that represents a more representative truth. If you look at the audience research, which comes from the BBC and BARB figures, the last episode of series two is the most successful episode we’ve ever done, and in terms of the Appreciation Index—which the BBC doesn’t allow me to discuss, I’m not allowed to tell you the figure but basically, it’s a mark out of 100 as to whether people liked the episode—the AI for ep six of series two was as good as across the series.

That actually is the best piece of information that not just I have but anyone could have, because that’s based on tens of thousands of people who don’t have an axe to grind, they’re not going on social media to express their opinion and start a conversation, it’s just people who are being surveyed. What that tells me is that whether they’re frustrated or not or they didn’t think the ending worked or the episode didn’t work or whatever is an interesting conversation for people to have, and they’re very welcome to have that conversation, but in terms of high-value data, it isn’t that.

Ad – content continues below

There’s more than an element of press needing to create a story that’ll get lots of hits after a high-profile episode…

Yeah. This is what I said at the series three screening when I was asked that question by someone from the Daily Mail about the so-called ‘Twitterstorm’. Basically what they do is rip loads of stuff off Twitter to make up a story that they want to tell. And if they’re anything like the Daily Mail, they want to bash the BBC, so as soon as there’s anything on the BBC, which is every night of the week, they trawl through Twitter to try and find some person who may or may not have a view of any importance, which they’ll then name as ‘Mumblegate’ or whatever the hell it is.

I suppose you have to adopt quite a sanguine approach to all this then, as a programme-maker?

I’m very fortunate in that I’ve got an A Level in Maths [laughs] so I can interpret statistical data. When I seek out this information and I see the graphs and charts, my head doesn’t swim. I do see an AI which is actually rock-solid on the median for the show and also isn’t distorted in the way that arithmetic means are by statistical outliers. So I am able to just look at that data and say ‘Okay, we did a good job. Let’s pass that on to the team.’ If that data is telling me that we haven’t done a good job, then absolutely, I’d be the first person to say ‘there’s a problem here and we need to fix it’.

Sticking, somewhat tenuously, with mathematic and numbers at least, it’s been said that the material you’ve covered in series three could have filled say, twelve episodes instead of six. What’s your approach to pace? I know in the past you’ve said that programme makers ‘would be made to save things’ because of the risk of cancellation as audiences can sometimes be quite impatient for things to get moving, but with series three and four commissioned simultaneously, it occurred to me that could have allowed you a different, more steady approach?

You’re absolutely right. It is true to say that we burn a lot of story and it’s not something that we’re not aware of. There are script meetings where someone says ‘do you really want to have got that far so quickly? What are we going to do in the rest of the series?! You can’t kill Danny now! You’re supposed to do that at the end!’ or whatever it is, so we do do that.

Ad – content continues below

It ends up coming back to the same point. You just have to deliver the best episode you can, so the first episode has to be the best piece of work that you can deliver on that night and hope that enough people are switched on by the publicity campaign and word of mouth to watch it, and then, if it hooks them, great, now you just have to do it again next week. I kind of approach it in that way. If you were trying to do the whole season arc and put the tent-pole moments in, ‘this happens in episode two, and by episode four we’re doing this’, you do pace it out differently.

There was, obviously, an opportunity, you’re absolutely right that with a double season commission we could have come up with season arcs – end series three on a massive cliff-hanger and then cover it in four but that’s not the way we’ve made the show so far and I quite like the way that we do it.

Fundamentally, it’s because we’re playing the shot that’s in front of us. I don’t mean this to sound arrogant, it’s just that I’ve written a lot of TV scripts and so, like a good tennis player, I don’t need to know how every shot in a rally is going to pan out for me to have confidence to play that rally. I know that I can play the next shot and so that’s how I approach it. I just play the best shot I can, and then if the ball comes back at me, then I have to play the next best shot I can, and that’s how I approach it. That does lead to a series that has certain features that I think are—it’s probably wrong to say ‘unique’ as there are always other examples—but certainly in terms of the landscape of British drama, I think that we move at a very distinctive pace. We do have a lot of events in an episode and I think the hour that people watch ends up being a very concentrated hour of drama.

You mention killing off Danny Waldron and burning through so much of his plot so quickly. I was interested in something you said about writing Jessica Raine’s character in series two, that by appearing to set up some personal strands for her—the drinking and so on—you deliberately led the audience to believe that she was going to be a recurring character, and then pulled the rug on that. Were you doing the same thing with Danny when you had him chatting up Rachel in episode one?

No, actually, those are two separate thought processes. With Jess’ character it became pretty clear that we were going to kill her in that first episode, so then it was about what we needed to do to reverse-engineer the episode so it’s as big a shock as possible. That was the casting of Jess, the fact that we put a lot of publicity around her, and then it was also the thing you referred to about filling out the character’s backstory.

With Danny, the plan wasn’t to kill him off at the end. That was a unilateral decision made by me after I delivered the second draft. The draft had gone to the BBC with a different ending and then I was jetlagged in an LA hotel at four o clock in the morning, wide-awake and I just started thinking about the episode and worrying that it didn’t have a strong-enough ending. I rewrote the ending to the final version and then without any pre-amble, I sent it and said ‘I’ve had a look at the script again, read it and see what you think’, I didn’t say what happened at the end, so people read it and they were really shocked and then we had to have a meeting and they were like ‘Is this really the right thing?’ Because I was writing episode two in which Danny was walking around alive and well. It just ended up being exactly what I said before. This makes it the best possible episode we can deliver, let’s just worry about making episode two the next best possible one we can deliver. So, that’s where that came from. The two processes were very different.

Ad – content continues below

Your interview scenes in Line Of Duty are masterfully written and performed. Two questions: one) Do you approach those like a game of Blink, trying to make them as long and tense as possible? And two) Have you ever considered a stunt episode, entirely set inside an interview room?

With the interview scenes, what happened was that we did it in series one, we had a scene with Tony Gates—Lennie James’ character—and I wrote the first draft of that which was about six or seven pages long about him being caught at Jackie’s house, then I thought, well, that’s neither one thing nor another really, a standard scene might be a couple of pages, a long scene is maybe that length, but this feels like there’s more going on here, so I then tried to expand it, which was pretty easy to do. I could just add more stuff because it’s a procedural, they have to go through a whole process with it. So it then expanded to being about ten pages, which was the longest scene I’d probably written at that point in my career. So when we shot it and it worked, people really responded to it, that’s something we learned in series one.

Then with series two, there wasn’t an effort to make them as long as they possibly can be, it’s just that I feel the freedom that if they are long and there’s ground to cover, then it’s okay to cover it. We do end up in the edit sometimes cutting bits out.

To answer the last question, there was one point where I wondered whether the way to do episode six was for it just to have been one interview that lasts the whole hour. I kind of started working on that idea. In the finale there are two main interviews but at one point I was trying to make it work that there was one and it was just impossible to cover the ground we needed to cover, so that’s why it changed and then it became a ninety minuter.

Tell me something, does Tony Gates have a box-set of The Wire at home?


Ad – content continues below

Can you clear up a point about a line in series one when Tony seems to paraphrase Omar’s line from The Wire saying ‘When you come at the king, you best not miss’. Of an evening, would a middle-class officer like Tony sit down with a bottle of Pinot Grigio and settle down in front of an HBO box-set?

Well if it was Lennie, it’d be a bottle of Shiraz! [Laughs] Are you familiar with Emerson? The original quote is from Emerson [Ralph Waldo]. I know this is a horrible confession to make, but I wasn’t familiar with The Wire quote and I’m really, really not lying here. If I stole it, I would say. If I borrow lines from elsewhere, I’m really open about it. I was familiar with the Emerson quote, which is something like “If you try to assassinate a king, then you’d better make sure that you kill him” and obviously in The Wire, which I then discovered after the episode went out when people reacted to it, there is the line. What Tony Gates says is a different version of that as well, so it’s more closely related to the original Emerson quote, and less near The Wire.

You do include cheeky meta-jokes sometimes don’t you. In Bodies, I remember Rob saying “This isn’t television” for instance. Or Dot saying “This isn’t the Bronx”, even. You’re not above including little funny moments like that.

Yeah, I probably ought to be above it by now. I think I’ve been doing it long enough that I can’t really say I’m an outsider. When I did Cardiac Arrest, my first series, there was a line where someone, I think it was Helen Baxendale’s character, said ‘Oh, he heard that speech on Casualty and now he uses it all the time’. I could kind of get away with it when I was the outsider and now it’s probably harder to get away with. That line about it not being the Bronx felt like it was Dot’s kind of lugubrious way of talking about how you handle firearms.

It’s a tricky one in TV, you tend to not refer to other TV, particularly in drama, because it kind of pulls you out of the moment. The other thing that’s really hard is portraying television within television. Like we did in series two, it was always such hard work, the fact that the ambush was a news story and we had people reacting to the news, you can never quite get that right, it always looks wrong and fake. You do your best.

I wondered why Hari and his wife were always watching flamenco dancing whenever they were in front of the TV. I was ponderously thinking it was all a metaphor…

Ad – content continues below

[Laughs] It’s cheap. It’s just cheap. You don’t have to pay a lot of money for the rights to show it. That’s what that signalled.

Finally then, which institution is next for the Jed Mercurio treatment? Firefighters, the Courts, the Church…

[Laughs] I’d love to do something next but it’s just really hard. You would think that having a successful series means that people are very open to other ideas but actually it’s so hard to get other things up and running. I’ve got various things in development, but nothing that’s been picked up for production yet. I’m basically doing Line Of Duty 4. Then after that I’ll probably be asking the BBC if we can do Line Of Duty 5.

Jed Mercurio, thank you very much!

Line of Duty Series 3 and Series 1 – 3 Box Set are released on 2 May 2016 (from RLJ Entertainment’s Acorn Label)