Journalistic reports on matters of interest to writers, often practical, from a broad perspective.
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 09:26

Letter from London #28

Written by Edwin Riddell
Hampstead Heath Hampstead Heath


What’s in a name?

Quite a lot, it seems. Of all the topics raised over the TV series on which I’m working, none has generated quite so much discussion as its title.

I had come up with the idea of The Hampstead Detectives a few years ago, with a general plotline about a new kind of officer being recruited by police forces. The idea continued to grow in my mind, but needed something to take it forward.

It was then that I came across the ‘super-recogniser’ unit at Scotland Yard. This was a specialist group recruited for their pronounced ability to recognise suspects, often glimpsed only on poor-quality CCTV or surveillance footage. That was interesting. Although all were trained police officers, they were a very mixed group of individuals. That idea led to our company considering a new title, Facehunters.


When writing contemporary television material with a factual edge, one needs to keep a sharp weather-eye on the long lead-time involved. I once worked on a TV series which was intended to be a biopic of a well-known living author. In the course of pre-production, the author died. The whole thrust of the programme had to be reoriented into a kind of retrospective and eulogy. Not least, because the author himself was no longer available for interview.

In the course of developing our present TV detective series, we discovered that a production company in the USA had bought the rights to the use of the term ‘Scotland Yard Super Recognisers.’ As it happened, by this time our own ideas had moved on considerably, since it was generally felt that the super-recogniser focus was too narrow.  And we were also coming back round to the idea that the original title of The Hampstead Detectives suited our project best.

Subsequently, our decision was vindicated by the fact that the original super-recogniser unit had been disbanded in one of the periodic shake-ups in police organisation that often seem to follow the appointment of new leadership.


When it comes to the matter of actually creating TV drama, there is much more to consider than in the generally lone act of writing a story. Few television channels are prepared to consider submissions from individual authors – though it must be noted that things have opened up much more in this respect with the advent of Amazon Studios, which does have a submission process for individuals.

For the most part, however, the TV writer needs to attach himself to a production company or a director/producer with a track record. That will usually entail creating what is known as a treatment or pitch, often alongside an opening episode or teaser. Different channels have different requirements. The BBC now has a formal online submission process, but for the major US networks there is still something called the pitching season, where production companies present their ideas face-to-face with studio executives. Since our series is British and European based, we don’t need to get down to the gym just yet.


Sooner or later you are faced with the same blank screen or sheet of paper as any other writer.  Though I failed miserably when taking the super-recogniser test, I do habitually conceive scenes in visual terms, albeit ones overlain in my case by a strong recollection for the way people speak and sound. I can still hear the exact voices of my mother and father, though they died many years ago, not to mention dozens if not hundreds of people I have known to some degree stretching back over the decades.

Nevertheless, I have found myself still needing the comfort of writing a parallel version of the script in the form of a more conventional prose narrative. This, I find, can sometimes throw up nuances and elements that may not initially spring to mind when drafted as scenes in drama. Not all of these elements can be rendered into the script, but they provide a background of details, or a life outside the immediate story, for some of the characters and situations. To some this might become something almost as formal as what some writers call a concordance. To others, it might involve just imagining or sketching out scenes that lie entirely outside the immediate plot. 


Meanwhile, about that pesky title - one recent morning I woke up with the solution. The series would indeed be called The Hampstead Detectives. And the ‘Super-Recognisers’ in it would now be known as the ‘Facehunters.’

Problem solved.

~Edwin Riddell


  • Comment Link John coffey Wednesday, 15 November 2017 15:16 posted by John coffey

    I like your story on 'what's in a name?' and the picture of a Hampstead pond.
    You had an interesting race with the past before it was the past.
    The recall in the mind of a tone in voice is good, though hearing a silenced voice again from perhaps a tape recorder (long ago) can be stressful.
    I tend to recollect people of the past by words and phrases rather that by tone - but 'the smile, question, or frown on the face' is there with the words.
    Whatever - it all helps to get the imagination oriented to the writing.
    Thank you for the nice thoughts and the script writer's advice


  • Comment Link Edwin Riddell Sunday, 01 October 2017 23:21 posted by Edwin Riddell

    Replying to EA Wooldridge

    I'm sorry not to have replied earlier, but I gave only just seen your comments. Thank you very much for these. The story concerning colour blindness is particularly interesting.

    Best wishes

  • Comment Link E A Wooldridge Saturday, 09 September 2017 20:22 posted by E A Wooldridge

    I just joined Silver Pen Writers and read "Letter from London #28". I found your letter fascinating on a few levels. First, I joined here as I have an idea for a TV series and am not a writer. It also happens that both of my parents are from England. But as to your letter. I find it very interesting that some people have the abilities to recognize faces, or to spot certain behaviors in others (such as in the series "Lie to Me"). I once met a man that was unable to enlist during WW II because he was colorblind. A few weeks later he was asked to return to recruitment and take some tests. He was then told that they would very much like for him to enlist as they had found that those with colorblindness were uniquely qualified to spot camouflaged equipment on the ground from airplanes. He joined and spent the rest of the war in a two seated plane doing just that. I enjoyed reading your letter, wish you the best, and hope to see your series on the television.

  • Comment Link Edwin Riddell Thursday, 13 July 2017 02:58 posted by Edwin Riddell

    Hi Pam

    The article probably reflects the constant adjustments and compromises - because of the input of other people in the team - that have to be made by the writer in a cooperative project like a TV show. Very different, in my experience, from the usually rather isolated job of composing prose, fiction, etc, in isolation. That isolation is one reason, I guess, why writers find peer review sites such as SPW helpful. In the old days you had to wait weeks or months for an agent or publisher to deliver a verdict, which could often be scant at best.

  • Comment Link Edwin Riddell Thursday, 13 July 2017 02:49 posted by Edwin Riddell

    Hi Sherry

    Sometimes that recollection - which is involuntary - can be a curse. One of the police super-recognisers described their ability to remembe people as "like having Facebook in your head!"


  • Comment Link Sherri Ellerman Tuesday, 04 July 2017 06:13 posted by Sherri Ellerman

    I envy your ability to hang on to the sound of voices from the past. I have often sat in silence begging my mother's voice to come to me. I can hear the general volume and tone of it, but I can't hear her saying my name or just talking in general. I never thought I could forget that, but I have been without her much longer than I was with her.

    As for your current TV project--I can't imagine the ins and outs of completing something of that caliber. I love reading about all the different projects you are involved in--intrigued by your ability to do them. I'm glad you settled on your title and had to smile to see how you worked it out in the end.

    As always, I enjoyed reading your letter.


  • Comment Link Pam Ainsworth Saturday, 01 July 2017 22:42 posted by Pam Ainsworth

    I think that this article is well written but I did have some trouble following along with "is" this just an idea for a series, and the writer was looking for ideas or if it were a go project, just making a blanket statement, of the preview, of what lie ahead. I realize from the story that finding the right catch title is tricky, but still confused as to why the one story line/title was bought by some other company. Interesting story, but still not clear on everything...

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