The Bay - new TV crime drama set in Morecambe

PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 March 2019

Detective Sergeant Lisa Armstrong in The Bay (c) Tall Story Pictures/Ben Blackall

Detective Sergeant Lisa Armstrong in The Bay (c) Tall Story Pictures/Ben Blackall

© Tall Story Pictures 2019

Morecambe is the setting for a gritty crime drama which has viewers on the edge of their seats, as Susan Griffin reports

Morecambe is taking centre stage in a new prime-time drama written by someone with plenty of local knowledge.

The Bay is a six-part series for ITV created by playwright and screenwriter Daragh Carville who was born and raised in Northern Ireland but moved to Lancashire just over a decade ago. ‘It was for love,’ he says. ‘My wife’s the novelist Jo Baker, a Lancashire lass, and she was offered a teaching job at the university.’

They settled in Lancaster but it’s nearby Morecambe that stole Daragh’s heart and he decided to make the town the backdrop for his first television series, which has just started screening.

‘My kids have grown-up with Morecambe on the doorstep. It’s a place we regularly go to and somewhere I love,’ says Daragh who enjoys views of the bay from his study at the top of their house.

‘Morecambe is a very distinctive place. It’s a classic British seaside town that has this faded grandeur to it. It’s beautiful and gritty and very evocative. I’ve only very rarely seen it represented in drama but felt this was a world I could write about.’

The setting might’ve been an easy decision but settling on the story was another matter.

‘I was thinking about the kind of drama I wanted to write for television,’ explains Daragh. ‘The shows I love are The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Happy Valley. They’re crime dramas but they’re rooted in character and family. That’s what I was looking for.’

He recalls one day listening to the radio when a news report came on in which the family of a murder victim thanked their family liaison officer following the end of a trial.

‘It just chimed with the kind of story I was interested in telling because that person, that job, is just right for the overlap between crime and family. It gave me the opportunity to write a crime drama that was different from others so that was the idea I pitched.’ He admits he was worried ‘it was going to be a hard sell’.

‘Just the practical side of it, you know, maybe there’s a reason why things aren’t filmed in Morecambe because it’s hard to get to or there’s no crew, but that never really came up’.

In fact, the executive producer Catherine Oldfield’s eyes lit up at the prospect. ‘It’s just one of those mad coincidences. A relative had lived there, so she used to visit and knows it well. From there things went very quickly,’ says Daragh.

At the centre of the story is family liaison officer DS Lisa Armstrong, played by The Replacement’s Morven Christie, who’s assigned to the case of missing teenage twins.

It’s only when Lisa meets the parents, she discovers her connection to the family might be more than professional.

As part of his research, Daragh met family liaison officers to talk about their experiences.

‘One told me that before they bring a family member in to identify a body, they always go in first because they don’t want to reveal an emotional response. I thought that’s an extraordinary idea, and the kind of moment I haven’t seen in other shows.’

Traditionally, family liaison officers have been depicted ‘as the person who just makes the tea and passes the tissues,’ notes Daragh.

‘They were all very keen to stress the primary role is as an investigator. They’re there first and foremost to help solve the crime, and that can mean they’re like spies in the house. They’re watching everyone and trying to work out what the dynamics are because, as we know, very often the perpetrator is within the family.’

The people of Morecambe were equally keen for their town not to be misrepresented.

‘People welcomed the show with open arms and couldn’t have been more helpful when we were shooting but at an event in the Winter Gardens a few months ago, the audience asked how it was going to be represented,’ says Daragh.

‘I had to say it’s a crime drama so there is a dark aspect to it. It’s not a tourist travelogue but I hope we show Morecambe in all its dimensions, which includes the fact it’s beautiful and a tight-knit, warm community. This show is written from a place of love and warmth and I wouldn’t have set it in Morecambe if I didn’t feel that way.’

The responsibility towards Morecambe and its residents was ever present as he formed the story.

‘The challenges facing Morecambe are the same faced by many seaside towns in Britain that have lost their unique selling point in terms of identity,’ he says.

‘Morecambe was created in the Victorian era and for a hundred years it was a prime holiday destination.

‘You can still see the evidence of that from the wonderful buildings, but then along came the sixties and seventies and people going on package holidays to Spain.

‘These seaside towns lost the role they’d always had and, in many cases, struggled to find another role. I’ve been very conscious of that and conscious of the impact of austerity in Morecambe but I’m also conscious that this place not only has a rich past but lots of potential for the future.’

There’s the Eden Project North for one, which is earmarked for the seafront, as well as campaigns to turn a disused church in the West End into a community arts centre.

Daragh hopes a second series of The Bay will be commissioned too. ‘It’s in the lap of the gods but the idea is that we could return with a new case and therefore a new family but still follow Lisa as a central character,’ he says.

‘That would be brilliant because I do think Morecambe has a lot to offer.’

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