TV: New Blood from an old hand

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iF you can rely on anyone to push the envelope, it’s acclaimed writer Anthony Horowitz. And his latest endeavour shakes up the over-subscribed TV crime genre.

Keen to dip his toe into the 21st century, having spent the last 15 years of his life in the Second World War - “As much as I loved Foyle’s War, God I needed to move on; it’d been going on three times as long as the war itself” - Horowitz, 61, lists ‘white collar crime and big corporate crime’ among his inspiration for new BBC One crime drama New Blood.

Set in contemporary London, the seven-part series stars relative newcomers Mark Strepan - as Stefan Kowolski, a junior investigator for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) - and Ben Tavassoli, as young PC Arrash ‘Rash’ Sayyad, alongside veteran actors Mark Addy and Anna Chancellor.

As the explosive run kicks off, Horowitz reads us our rights...

From his Alex Rider series to his Sherlock Holmes and James Bond novels, Horowitz’s work has traversed a whole host of mediums and ages, but New Blood is the first to satisfy his interest in Generation Y.

“I think this is the first time the BBC has given a 9pm prime-time show to two relatively unknown actors - Ben and Mark - who are both in their 20s, both young characters who are at the beginning of their career,” the writer enthuses.

“I’m fascinated by the fact that London now, as much as it’s a powerhouse and a cauldron, is so difficult for young people to live in.

“This is the only crime show where the investigation gets halted while our stars demand a raise, because they can’t pay off their tuition fees.

“I love the idea of the powerless against the powerful,” he adds.

“I thought if you brought young actors onto the scene it would freshen things up, and give crime drama a new perspective.”

Horowitz deems writing to be an adventure, an opportunity to “challenge yourself, do new things and surprise audiences” - and his attempts to showcase this in New Blood are clear. “I wanted them to be outsiders in every way,” he says of his decision to include British-Iranian and British-Polish leads.

“Ben’s parents are half Iranian and Mark’s mother is Polish, so it’s the beginning of collaboration.

“London now is rootless,” he continues. “Everybody is in this melting pot and you don’t have to comply with the old rules of who your parents are and all that stuff.

“These guys are footloose, they’re out on the edge.

“It’s been really fantastic fun and exciting working with such new talent, new blood in every sense of the word, on a show that’s so action-full. “These guys have done so much over the last four months - everything we’ve thrown at them.”

From visiting forbidden criminal enclaves in Hong Kong to climbing and operating a 150m crane opposite the Houses of Parliament for his novel Point Blanc, Horowitz - a bit of a polymath - takes his research very seriously.

In the case of New Blood, it was the Metropolitan Police and the SFO that provided the basis for his accurate portrayal.

“The SFO has never been on a screen before, and having the boys in different organisations gave the show a different shape,” he exclaims, talking 10 to the dozen in his posh, clipped voice.

“It’s an amazing organisation; it really is David and Goliath. It’s so small in terms of resources and how many staff it has, and yet it takes on the biggest criminals in the world with real passion and conviction.

“We visited the SFO quite a few times, and we actually had a full-time advisor on the show. So the fraud aspect, in all of these stories, is thoroughly investigated.”

In addition to lots of action, gun-wielding assassins and some gore, Horowitz - who resides in London with his producer wife Jill Green and two sons - promises to lift the lid on timely headlines.

“We’re starting off with a three-parter episode based on a huge pharmaceutical scandal; the second episode looks at property and property development, and the third story is about a charity that gets itself into trouble for one reason and another,” reveals Horowitz, who shares some of the writing credits with young co-writers Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan and Marlon Smith.

Of the viewers he hopes to capture, he confesses: “I really hope that the Foyle’s War audience will come with us.

“What I love the most is story, structure and surprise; stories that work and mysteries that have a proper resolution.

“I also hope this will capture the Alex Rider audience, who are now in their 20s and even 30s. They’ll come in and see young heroes.”

He admits he’s hoping a second season will be commissioned, noting: “We’ve got so many characters to take forward.”

One element he believes will help draw success is the broadcaster’s decision to premiere the drama exclusively on BBC iPlayer, ahead of its transmission on BBC One.

It will be the first prime-time drama series to do so.

“I think it’s exactly the right way to go,” he states. “We have to recognise that young people don’t watch TV the way we did, and it’s very much in the spirit of New Blood that the show will premiere on iPlayer.”

Episode 1 of New Blood is on BBC iPlayer now, then BBC One, Thursday, 9pm