Judge John Deed, BBC1

by | Nov 21, 2002 | All, Reviews

The first series of the courtroom drama was a scream, with its hero bonking his way through half the ex-public schoolgirls at the criminal bar, in between making fools of the Lord Chancellor’s Office and harbouring stolen dogs. Two episodes into the second and he’s watching his best mate squire his girlfriend and getting wrong-footed over a bunch of bent Freemasons. Has Deed got testosterone deficiency, or has the Establishment got to the BBC?

The series is written and produced by veteran dramatist GF Newman, who made his name with the 1970s series Law And Order, a tale of police and judicial corruption which so outraged the Metropolitan Police that they withdrew all cooperation with the BBC Drama department.

In the first series of Judge John Deed, Newman portrayed the legal establishment as two-dimensional beings driven by lust for power, lust for money or just plain lust. Among them strode Mr Justice Deed, the working-class boy made good with a taste for cardigans, impromptu soliloquies on the rule of law, and rogering the wives of senior law officials. It was a surreal mix, and terrific fun.

Series two, however, shows worrying signs of going straight. In episode one, Deed went bonkless after his favourite squeeze, the ethical-but-dreary Mrs Mills QC, dumped him for sending her client to jail. The show’s other staple theme – Deed’s heroic resistance to political interference – was present in the shape of government pressure to drop a murder trial but, by episode two, this was also gone. Instead, Deed tried to single-handedly nail a corrupt fellow judge, ending in failure with the Lord Chancellor’s Office smugly telling him they’d told him so.

Meanwhile, the man who’d once sent the underwear of England’s leading female advocates heading obediently southwards was reduced to being nice to a waitress for a whole evening in order to get a shag. Subtly, Deed’s image had changed, from rampant proletarian hero to over-cocky outsider against whom doors – and thighs – were beginning to slam shut.

Turning Judge John Deed into a straight legal drama would be a terrible mistake. Without its bizarre mix of the serious (the legal bits are obviously well researched) and the rollickingly absurd, it would just be Holby City in wigs. Anyway, it’s been cast as a comedy, with ex-Professional Martin Shaw gleefully hamming it up as Deed, Donald Sinden (always a laugh) as Deed’s former father-in-law, and former Lovejoy love-interest Caroline Langrishe as his ex-wife. A finer comedy-drama ensemble hasn’t been seen since they struck the set of M*A*S*H.

As for GF Newman’s conspiracy theory plotlines, it’s worth remembering that they’re probably not far from the truth. The Met stopped complaining about Law And Order when Operation Countryman showed it to have been even more corrupt than Newman had suggested. And anyone who believes that today’s Government wouldn’t try to fix a murder trial if a £10 billion arms contract depended on it is probably further out to lunch than Newman is. My guess is that most people aren’t that susceptible, and see the occasional off-message drama as a comforting reminder that the spin doctors aren’t totally in control yet. The BBC should consider that before taking the taming of Judge John Deed too far.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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