Last night I watched the pilot episode of the flagship new television crime drama Wattle And Daub. Whoever commissioned this has a touch of genius. Set in prehistoric Britain, the series follows Jemima Wattle and Trixie Daub, a pair of female amateur sleuths, as they solve prehistoric British crimes in a gentle amateur sleuthy way. In this opening episode, for example, a body is discovered in a burial mound, a druid is crushed to death by a menhir, a blind pig is found wandering in the woods, and there are spooky goings-on in an important cave. I spotted many actors I am sure I have seen before in Holby City, Heartbeat, and Lork Roise To Candleford, barely recognisable as the costume designers had them dressed in animal pelts and covered in muck. Wattle and Daub themselves, being ladies of a certain age, and impeccably middle class, wear stout walking shoes and sun hats. The sun hats seem rather gratuitous, as the meteorological advisers have done their work and show, correctly in my view, that prehistoric Britain was a land of incessant wind and rain and fog and mist.
This fidelity to weather conditions occasionally made the action hard to follow. A lengthy scene involving Wattle falling into the hands of a band of roaming grunty men and being dragged off into the woods, was marred by taking place in a particularly thick swirling mist. It was not entirely clear to me how her rescue was eventually effected by Daub, armed only with a very modern-looking gardening trowel and a mosquito net.
I am given to understand that Het Internet has been alive this morning with twits and witterers complaining about other perceived anachronisms. The grunting of the grunty men seems unarguably authentic, but several people pointed out that a prehistoric British druid is unlikely to have used such verbal constructions as “thinking outside the box”, “pushing the envelope”, and “oi, leave it out, you numpty!”. I must admit I could never quite work out whether we were in the Stone Age, the Iron Age, or the Bronze Age. I will take a more careful look at that trowel should Trixie Daub be wielding it in a future episode.
This being the BBC, however, you will be pleased to learn that the show is properly inclusive. There are several black and Asian characters, though admittedly it is difficult to tell under the caking of mud, and a sympathetic gay couple. The chief Druid, who looks not unlike the Archbishop of Canterbury, is portrayed as a faintly ridiculous figure, and there is an explicit condemnation of capitalism, even though it did not exist at the time. At one point I think I spotted some of the more likeable grunty men going into a sort of prehistoric British mosque for morning prayers.
But Wattle and Daub are the stars of the show, mildly eccentric, occasionally acid of tongue, both dotty yet as sharp as tacks. Though neither of them has any training in detective work, their insatiable curiosity and ability to stumble upon clues is deeply charming. The scene where they go blackberry picking, only to unearth a body in a burial mound, was brilliantly handled. Similarly, when they decide to pop into the woods to scrape bark off a tree trunk and are confronted by the blind pig, the scene is at once heart-warming, gently comedic, and emotionally wrenching. I did not know whether to chuckle or weep, so I wept through my chuckles. Later, when the blind pig escapes from the pen they have built for it, I sobbed through my guffaws.
Which brings me to yesterday’s other drama premiere, Sob And Guffaw. Geoff Sob and Poppy Guffaw are a mismatched pair of detectives in Gritnorth, a fictional gritty town up north. Sob is an alcoholic widower, estranged from his teenage daughter, a maverick forever at odds with the police hierarchy. Guffaw is an alcoholic widow, estranged from her teenage son, a maverick forever at odds with the police hierarchy. But there the similarities end, for they are completely mismatched, both chafing at being sent on cases together, both sunk in brooding silences punctuated by occasional grunts, not dissimilar to the grunts of the grunty men in Wattle And Daub.
My only cavil with this show is that all the crimes in Gritnorth are committed by villains based in abandoned warehouses in an industrial wasteland. I would think that, if Sob and Guffaw had their detective heads screwed on, they would simply park their car outside the warehouses and wait to nab the malefactors, rather than speeding around the dismal rainswept streets of Gritnorth and leaping out of the car now and then to bustle, shouting, into hair salons or betting shops.
That said, the scene in which they bustle, shouting, into a hair salon and Guffaw realises, too late, that she is brandishing a gardening trowel rather than her gun, was matchless. I think it may well have been the same gardening trowel brandished by Daub in Wattle And Daub, but will have to watch both shows again to be sure.
Also on television last night, though I missed it, was Trowel, a new detective drama about a gritty northern gardener who moonlights as a sleuth. I am also looking forward to Sleuth With Trowel, in which a time-travelling gritty northern sleuth goes back to the Stone Age to solve prehistoric British gardening crimes.