Writer Daragh Carville tells us why he’s so happy his major new TV crime drama is putting a Lancashire seaside town back on the map
WE are sitting in a dingy, cold room in a disused police station, somewhere in the low-rise sprawl where Manchester city centre gives way to housing estates and distribution warehouses.
It’s a long way from the ozone-rich sea air and wide open spaces of Morecambe Bay, but this is TV land, and the down-at-heel police station is where interior scenes are being shot for ITV’s new crime drama The Bay.
Set in and around Morecambe itself, The Bay is the work of Daragh Carville, a Northern Ireland born playwright and screenwriter, who has lived in Lancaster for more than a decade.
The six-part drama, which will air on ITV later this year, focuses on Lisa Armstrong, played by Morven Christie (The A Word, Grantchester), a police family liaison officer (FLO) who gets embroiled in the middle of a tragedy when two children go missing from their Morecambe home.
If you think of gritty Northern dramas, you’re more likely to think of where we, four or five journalists and Daragh himself, are now – urban Manchester – than a seaside town on the Irish Sea, so why did Daragh choose Morecambe for his setting?
“Well, because I live in Lancaster,” he says. “I’m from Northern Ireland, but lived in Lancaster for 10 or 12 years, and the kids have grown up there, so Morecambe’s just next door to us and I can see the Bay from my office at the top of the house, so it’s very close to home, literally.
“But there’s never been a show set there. A couple of years ago there was this map of the UK made up of TV shows doing the rounds on social media, so you can imagine London’s dense with them, and Manchester had loads ot stuff, Liverpool had loads of stuff, Glasgow, even Northern Ireland had the The Fall. Then there was this gap on the map around Lancaster and Morecambe, and that’s the bit where I live, so I thought it’s weird there’s never been a show based here, because it’s really interesting, with loads of history, and it’s beautiful and fascinating.
“So that was at the back of my mind, I wanted to write something here, specifically Morecambe, not Lancaster, because Morecambe is beautiful, but it’s also gritty.
“You know it’s a classic British seaside town, it’s struggled in recent years to have its own identity, because 50, 100 years ago it was booming, and you still see the remnants of that, there’s a faded grandeur to it.
“It’s got problems, problems of deprivation, poverty and drugs and all of that, so I felt that this was a world that I could write about.”
So did the setting come first, or was it the story?
Daragh says: “No, there were two separate things that came together. The other idea was that I was looking for a crime drama that was also a family drama. TV drama is so genre specific, and I come from the theatre, and in the theatre no one would ever ask you ‘what genre is this play?’ You just write whatever you want to write, but with TV it’s very genre focused, and I didn’t really see myself as a genre writer.
“But actually when I started to reflect on it I realised that a lot of the shows that I love most, whether it’s The Sopranos, Happy Valley, Line of Duty, are actually crime dramas.
“But in my other work as a playwright I would write things that weren’t genre, but were very character-led, often about kind of family dynamics, so I wanted to see if there was a story I could tell that was a crime genre piece, but was something very me and a family drama.
“And then I was listening a news report about a murder trial. The family of this victim were on the steps of the court and said they wanted to thank their family liaison officer, and they named her and they said without her we wouldn’t have got through this, and I just thought that family liaison officer is exactly the person who sits in the centre of that Venn diagram between crime and family.
“I did a bit of research and met some police FLOs and they’re interesting people, because they enter into families at the most emotionally extreme times of their lives – and they volunteer to do this. they go into these families that have been devastated and they work with them.
“They all have stories about how intensely involved they get and how they end up staying in touch with them, so it’s a very intimate and very intense relationship, so I wanted to write about that, so then I started develioping this character Lisa.
“All of the FLOs I spoke to were slightly cross about the traditional image of them, which is the person who makes the tea and passes the tissues, and they were all very keen to stress that the primary role of the FLO is as an investigator.
“You’re there first and foremost to help solve the crime, whatever it is. They’re not just social workers, or counsellors, or therapists, to be nice and helpful.
“They’re there as cops, and in some cases they’re kind of like spies in the house, observing everyone, trying to work out what the dynamics are in the family, cos as we know very often the perpetrator is within the family.
“So it was a coming together of this story about a family liaison officer and the world of Morecambe and the Bay.”
You might expect the people of Morecambe would object to being invaded by a film crew, making a story about crime in their home town.
“The people of Morecambe have been supportive, very excited,” says Daragh. “I did a talk at the Winter Gardens and the response was really warm, but they say ‘I hope you’re going to present the place in a good light’.
“I think there’s a concern that, you know, they’ve seen Morecambe represented in the media in a bad light, and there’s great pride in that community, they’re proud of the place, and they’re right to be, and I was very keen to stress that this show was written out of love for Morecambe.
“There is a dark side to the story, there has to be – it is a dark drama, a crime drama – and it’s not tourist travelogue, but I hope we show all sides to the place.
“I mean, it looks amazing as well, that’s another thing to stress, it’s beautiful to look at. So I hope we capture all of it.”
And what about ITV bosses? Did they object to setting the show in Morecambe?
Daragh says: “When I pitched Morecambe as the location to Catherine Oldfield, our executive producer, her eyes lit up, and it’s just one of those coincidences as her aunt lived there and she used to come and visit and knows it well.
“I did worry if it was going to be a hard sell to ITV, just in the practical side of it, you know maybe there’s a reason things aren’t done in Morecambe because it’s hard to get to, or there’s no crew or whatever, but that never really came up.
“Morecambe is a bit forgotten and I hope we will do something to address that.
“I was thinking in terms of making the story specific to the place, I mean one of the characters works on the boats in the bay, but the geography of the place and where things happen.”
“Stuff like the language of it is very important to me, and again this is rooted in the place, it needs to feel like Morecambe, the characters need to speak like people speak in Morecambe, and they need to speak like people speak in Morecambe and not like people speak in TV shows so I hope we have got some of that, kind of the music of the language.
“That’s the kind of thing I’ve put my foot down on, changing the rhythm of speech and language and things like that.”
The way Daragh speaks, it’s clear he has a passion for the place, and wants to show the Bay in all it’s messy, gritty glory.
“One place I wasn’t able to work in was the Winter Gardens, which I’ve got to find something for,” he says. “It’s an incredible music hall which closed down in 1977 I think it was, but has been kept alive by volunteers who have occasional events there, and it’s just the most magical place, but I couldn’t find a story reason to go in there. Series two perhaps!
“Then we filmed at is the lido in Grange-over-Sands, an extraordinary place. But it’s typical of the area, it’s got these fantastic things and because of historic underinvestment, some of them have gone by the wayside, but the local community are really passionate about keeping these things alive.
“I mean the community has run the Winter Gardens for 40 years and now there is a campaign to buy an old church in the West End, traditionally the poorer side of town, as an arts centre, so there’s a passionate community there that really cares about the place and wants to celebrate it.”
And what of the future? Could The Bay be part of the renaissance for Morecambe?
“The whole north west has been seriously hit by austerity. Having said that, things are going to potentially massively change in Morecambe in the coming years because of the Eden Project, which is causing a lot of excitement at the moment.
“It’s not guaranteed, but if it does go ahead, it’s exactly the sort of thing which could transform the place. That would give Morecambe the unique selling point that it used to have as a seaside town, which it lost when everyone started going abroad.
“You could see Morecambe rising like a phoenix from the ashes.”
The Bay is coming soon to ITV.