1 9 8 5 (UK)
6 x 50 minute episodes
The first episode of Edge of Darkness was shown on BBC Two on 14 November 1985. Stars Bob Peck and Joanne Whalley appeared on the cover of the Radio Times, which introduced the thriller; “a detectives search for his daughter’s murderer takes him to the heart of the nuclear state.”
When Yorkshireman Detective Inspector Ronald Craven (Peck) watched his scientist daughter, Emma (Whalley) gunned down at his side by a shotgun-wielding Irishman, he initially believed the murder was a botched attempt to kill him. After all, he had been involved with terrorist informers in Northern Ireland.
However, the more he considered the case – and the more he discovered about his daughter’s links with an underground environmental action group called GAIA – the less certain he became.
Branching out into some lone detective work, Craven found himself immersed in political intrigue, egged on by devious civil servants Pendleton (Charles Kay) and Harcourt (Ian McNeice) and drawing in interested parties from around the globe.
The trail led to Northmoor, a disused coal mine which was revealed to be a secret nuclear waste dump that had been infiltrated by GAIA activists, including Emma, shortly before her death.
With the assistance of Darius Jedburgh (Joe Don Baker), an abrasive Texan CIA agent, Craven penetrated the site. Both of them were fatally contaminated and the whole affair was eventually swept under the carpet by the authorities. The only hope of exposing the scandal then rested with GAIA, with whom Craven filed a report.
The final frame of Craven falling to a sniper’s bullet on a lonely hillside and shouting out his daughter’s name (Peck’s own suggestion) will long haunt the blank depths of the small screen.
Written by Z Cars creator Troy Kennedy Martin, Edge Of Darkness was one of the BBC’s most successful drama series of all time. Screened initially to great acclaim on BBC2, it earned itself a repeat showing on BBC1 just a few weeks later, before picking up various awards the following year.
It won three BAFTA awards, with Bob Peck named Best Actor for his honest Yorkshire detective.
Peck almost came to grief during filming when he tripped and fell while being pursued down a tunnel by two Land Rovers. The driver didn’t have time to stop but Peck managed to roll out of the way and the vehicle missed him by inches.
The series’ dark, gloomy imagery enhanced the gravity of its subject matter; the ghostly appearances of Craven’s dead daughter, supplying him with snippets of information, added to the ‘out of our hands’ atmosphere, and Eric Clapton‘s bluesy electric guitar provided incidental music.
Making his acting debut in Edge Of Darkness was Labour’s shadow social services minister Michael Meacher, playing himself.
His speech on nuclear energy to a students’ union was worked out in collaboration with Troy Kennedy Martin.
Meacher got the part because producer Michael Wearing’s daughter attended the same school as his daughter and the two men met at a parent-teacher evening.
Despite the vision and power of Edge Of Darkness, it didn’t please everybody. MI5 was annoyed at the disclosure of their precious security codes, while GAIA, the fictional underground terrorist group, was discovered to be the name of a respected ecological publishing firm backed by Prince Philip. They were not thrilled to be associated with the CIA, guns and sabotage.
Edge of Darkness was given four BAFTAs, including Best Drama Series. It also featured in the BFI list of the 100 best British television programmes. In 2010 the original director and producer (Martin Campbell and Michael Wearing) remade the series as a feature film, starring Mel Gibson.
DI Ronald Craven
Joe Don Baker