Category Archives: red riding quartet

The list – 11 reasons the Red Riding Trilogy on Channel Four didn’t quite do it for me (2009)

I was so looking forward to the adaptations of David Peace’s ‘Red Riding Quartet’ – even when it was announced that the Quartet was going to shrink to a trilogy, losing his third book of the four, ‘1977’. The trailer looked amazing, and I had high hopes because of the high quality of the cast, and the attention to (period) detail on display.

Now, with the final episode (the adaptation of ‘1983’) having aired last night, I cannot feel anything other than a slight sense of disappointment as I firmly believe that the production was an opportunity missed. The books, darkly complex, intricately and inexorably linked to each other, were simply too difficult to bring to the screen in any way that truly does justice to David Peace. That is not to say that these productions, taken as a standalone series of films, were not without merit. There were some outstanding acting performances (especially Sean Bean as John Dawson, David Morrissey as Maurice Jobson and Sean Davis as Bob Craven. However, Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Eddie Dunford is a brilliant, powerful study of a young man getting in way out of his depth.).

The grim and depressing interiors, full of browns and greys, the cigarette smoke and dimly lit rooms, the rainy roads and claustrophobic cars are a celebration of cinematography and attention to period detail. There was a real sense of evil, of a web of intrigue and plots and of the innocent and good being at the mercy of those who viewed the North as being a place ‘where we do what we want’. Also, the fact that Channel 4 was willing to take the time and effort to produce these dramas for television has to be applauded. Tony Grisoni, who wrote the screenplay for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, has worked with the material and succeeded in creating 3 screenplays that smoulder and fester in turn, reeking of seething Yorkshire machismo, police brutality, police corruption, with a frontier-type mentality of the ‘North’ all laid bare. The direction, from Julian Jarold (1974), James Marsh (1980) and Anand Tucker (1983) gave the stories life, bringing terror, misery and a ‘Yorkshire Noir’ to proceedings that Peace had infused into his books. Compared to anything else on Television at the moment the films are a step up in quality. However, taken in the context of these films being an adaptation of the books of David Peace, and being a great admirer of the books, I have now watched all 3 of the films and feel underwhelmed – and here are my reasons why;

1)Jack Whitehead. A central figure in the early books. His life falling apart, affected by the missing girls and the victims of the Ripper, he also appears to be under the influence of the ‘Reverend Laws’, and haunted by what happens to Eddie Dunford in 1974. In the adaptations, he is barely around in 1974, and 1977 was skipped anyway……….a great shame.

2)George Marsh. Unforgivable really. Ties in with the ending of 1983 (see point 10) being such a massive let-down. No George Marsh? You cannot really understand how John Piggott, BJ and Michael Myshkin were affected unless you have George Marsh, Martin Laws and the soiled memory of Piggotts father hanging in the air. His evil is an important element of the whole series. Why composite him into Laws?

3)Maurice Jobson and Mystic Mandy – you get no real sense of why or how they have ended up together, and then she just sort of disappears, when her fate is undoubtedly a trigger for Jobsons subsequent actions towards the end of ‘1983’. On film, the pairing did not make sense, and the lack of clarity on what happens to her is frustrating. Also, you get no real feeling for the fact that Maurice Jobson is a policeman mired in all this brutality and corruption. He sort of wanders through a lot of the scenes, and then in ‘1983’ he starts to get a bit irked by the beatings handed out to ‘suspects’ in the bowels of the police station. Then he gets a bit upset by Michael Myshkin. You get no real sense of a realisation from Maurice as you never got the feeling he was fully in on all the bad stuff, like he wandered through it all in a daze. That is not to criticize David Morrissey’s portrayal, as it was another fantastic performance from an accomplished actor, but Maurice Jobson was not a naif, or an onlooker to the many plots of the West Yorkshire force. He was party to them and an active member. This was never really shown, and because of that, his realisation of all that is bad within the establishment has less potency.

4)Not filming 1977. Ties in with point 1 (lack of Jack Whitehead) and point 6 (see further on). Apparently economics dictated that this could not be filmed as Grisoni has already written the screenplay. Without it, the flow of themes is disjointed. You get no real feel for the menace and seduction of Rev. Laws. More importantly you get no real sense of the terror that the Ripper unleashed (especially as 1977 was the year he killed 4 women), and also one of the central points of the whole quartet – that there could be 2 killers on the loose (and one of them is using the Rippers modus operandi to clear up unfinished police business).

5)Reverend Laws. See point 4. A truly evil character, reduced to standing around in the shadows for most of the drama. Only toward the end of 1983 do we (partly) see him for what he is. Where was the trepanning? You glimpsed at it, but it had no significance without seeing it in context of ‘1977’.

6)The Yorkshire Ripper. By the time you get through to the end of ‘1980’ (the book), the events surrounding the capture and interrogation of Peter Sutcliffe are electric. After such a build of tension, horror and suspense throughout ‘1977’ (the book) and ‘1980’, this is one aspect of Peace’s Red Riding Quartet that has a clear resolution. In the adaptations, he is on the loose for a bit and then they catch him. No real tension, no sense of achievement in his apprehension. It left me a bit flat, though the portrayal of Sutcliffe by Joseph Mawle was understated and well judged.

7)BJ – just under utilised. His story is the most tragic, and although you get to see glimpses of that in the disturbing last few minutes of 1983, you don’t really understand what a complete wreck of a human he is, and how important he is to the overall themes of police corruption and the abuse of power, the abuse of children and the destruction of women.

8)What happened to Paula Garlands brother in 1974 – because without the disappearing Rugby League player, what was the connection to John Dawson (the Chairman of the Rugby League team) that Paula had then? There seemed to be no sense to the connection, and it diminishes the character of Paula.

9)While we are about it – George Oldman? What happened to him then? Surely integral to the hunt for the Ripper.

10)The ending of 1983. Was.Just.Wrong. It was not the ending in the book. There was too much of a ‘resolution’. Peaces book ended as darkly as it began. I will say it again, where was George Marsh? (see point 2). WHY WAS THERE NO GEORGE MARSH???

11) Michael Myshkin. The heartbreak of an innocent man and his ‘underground kingdom’, his inability to save Jeanette Garland. Given no time or space, it was hard to understand why he had been framed, and hard totally sympathise with this brutalised innocent. One of the many victims of the bullying and corrupted West Yorkshire Constabulary, his story deserved more space and time.

Some of the reasoning behind the quartet becoming a trilogy can be seen here. Also, an html version of the Channel 4 press pack for Red Riding is here. I would like to know what anyone out there thinks. Was it a missed opportunity or great television drama?

Red Riding Quartet on Channel 4 – the trailer (2009)

I am a firm believer that David Peace wrote 4 of the most stunning British fiction of the last 50 years with his Red Riding Quartet. A few months ago it was revealed that they were being adapted for television for Channel 4. This looks like it could live up to the high standard of the books;

They look like they have got the period detail nailed, and the casting looks superb – how can you go wrong with the likes of Paddy Considine and Warren Clarke? The short answer is – you can’t. This is going to be special.

More details here;

David Peace and his bloody hymn to bloody Yorkshire

David Peace – The Red Riding Quartet books 1 &2 – ‘1974’ and ‘1977’

In an earlier post I wrote about the book ‘The Damned Utd’, a ‘factional’ account of Brian Cloughs short and ill-fated tenure as Manager of Leeds United in the mid 1970s. Prior to that, the author, David Peace, had written a quadrilogy of books known as the ‘Red Riding Quartet’ – titled ‘1974’, ‘1977’, ‘1980’ and ‘1983’. The use of the ‘Red Riding Quartet’ as an umbrella title is a clever play on words as it refers to the ‘west riding’ of Yorkshire where the books are mainly set and the red alludes to the blood of the murdered the books are so awash with. The use of Red Riding is not coincidental, as I believe this is a deliberate attempt to reference the tale of red riding hood, a young female at the mercy of a predator. This theme is threaded throughout the 2 books of the quadrilogy I have read so far. These stories are largely about a patriarchal society where women are perennial victims, a reflection on the time when these stories are set. In ‘1974’ the victims are pre adolescent girls at the hands of a paedophile. There are references to Stefan Kiszko, only he is known as ‘Michael Myshkin’ in this book. In ‘1977’ the victims are adolescent girls or women, the work of the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ and other unknown assailants.

Like a nastier, bloodier literary sibling of the BBC series ‘Life on Mars’*, David Peace uses police procedural drama as a narrative device to show the state of Britain at a particular period in time. The police, in the main, are portrayed as corrupt, violent, bigoted and often clueless in the face of serious crime. The policemen who are central characters in the books, such as DC Bob Fraser in ‘1977’, are flawed, unsympathetic characters, even though they are shown to be a cut above the morass of scheming and reactionary police they work alongside. The journalists who essay the work of the police and the crimes they try to solve are portrayed as nihilistic, selfish and flawed, as much a product of their time as the police. The uneasy alliance between police and journalists is documented as a fragile working relationship, where favours are constantly pulled, money buys silence and the freedom of the press, and the reporters (and one in particular – Jack Whitehead) are shown to be more adept at researching a crime and opening up new avenues for investigation. As if to expand on the suggestion that Journalists are frustrated wannabe police, the fledgling crime reporter of ‘1974’, Eddie Dunford, at one point claims to have wanted to be a policeman, but didn’t have the balls to go through with it, much the same as he wanted to write books, but didn’t.

The police in the red riding quartet are, by turns, vigilantes, hired hands, judge, jury and executioner. They have no moral ambiguity and they have no desire to revise their opinions once they have who they believe is the suspect in a crime. Their modus operandi can be seen as making a square peg fit in a round hole. That is, if they believe they have the guilty in their clutches, it is a case of making the guilty realise they committed the crime (regardless of whether they are the perpetrator). As is stated in ‘1974’ Yorkshire was populated with

“Hard towns for hard men.”

If you were not White, Male, Heterosexual and a Policeman, you were potentially a suspect. If you were Black, Irish or a Gypsy and a Male, then your chances of being implicated in a crime increased dramatically. The ‘liberal’ use of the words ‘wog’, ‘paki’ and ‘nigger’ used in casual conversation as well as in anger demonstrates how far we have needed to move forward in terms of respect and understanding a multicultural society in Britain. Further to this, the Yorkshire Male is a generic figure, seemingly reduced to base desires – alcohol is virtually eaten, such is the craving for it, and the main characters are driven by their sexual impulses, where getting ‘hard’ is a frequent occurrence. There is a self destructive pattern to their behaviour, willing to risk everything by following no particular moral code. They are unfaithful to their women and are absentee fathers, they drink heavily and fight, steal and pimp, beat and torture. They don’t seem to have love for anyone on unless that love is indiscernible from sexual attraction. The testosterone fuelled actions of the protagonists, the seediness of the settings, the base language and baser attitudes bring to mind some of the New English Library pulp books of the Seventies such as ‘Chopper’ and ‘Skinhead’.

The Yorkshire that Peace describes is painted in brushstrokes that bring to mind Pieter Breughel the Younger – a living hell, with the skies either black or slate grey, raining ‘cats and dogs’, populated with victims and predators, where conspiracy theories are only theories until ‘they’ catch up with you. Big Brother is alive and well and living in Yorkshire. Big Brother is watching over everyone. A place filled with faded people under oppressive skies, a place haunted by the dead and where the living seemed haunted by the past and thwarted ambition, this version of Yorkshire also serves as a microcosm of the state of the UK in the 1970s, a time of political turmoil, the ever present and real threat of terrorist attack and the drudgery of economic hardship.

In his later book that tells another story from 1974, ‘The Damned Utd’, Peace had no option but to use real life characters to tell an interpretation of the events that led to Brian Clough spending 44 days in charge of the English Football Champions. To not have the likes of Bremner, Hunter, Giles, Clarke, Revie and Peter Taylor explicitly defined in the book, the whole drama of the story would be lost. There is an assumption that you are aware of the personalities of these people – they were, after all, some of the biggest names in UK football in the 1970s. A little knowledge more than helps breathe life into the book. However, in the Red Riding Quartet, Peace uses artistic license. Out of (what I assume to be) sensitivity to the families of the victims of the real crimes documented in the books (and especially in 1977), there is an intermingling of real and fictional characters in these books. For example, George Oldman was the Detective in charge of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper but the victims in ‘1974’ and ‘1977’ are fictional. What Peace does do is ensure there is symmetry with his version of Yorkshire in the Seventies and the real Yorkshire in the Seventies by dropping in all sorts of real events to contextualize and drive the story. There is reference to the ‘Cannock Chase murders’ of young girls. There is reference to the Moors murders committed by Brady and Hindley. In ‘1974’ a man with learning difficulties is charged with the rape and murder of young girls, echoing the true life case of Stefan Kiszko. In ‘1977’ the real timeline of murdered women is mirrored in the book. Only the names have been changed……..The fake letters sent by ‘Jack’ ‘from Hell’ to George Oldman rear their ugly, unwanted head and there is constant background noise that references 3 day weeks, strikes, power shortages, the contemporary music of the day. It all gets blended into a dark and apocalyptic stew where the only Yorkshire glamour seems to be a woman singing cabaret songs at the local Press club, on a stage no bigger than 2 steps one way, and 2 steps the other.

Peaces style is breathtaking and audacious, conjuring Biblical imagery and Apocalyptic doom in a broken staccato style that bears comparison to Cormac McCarthy. In much the same way that McCarthy tears up the rule book on composition, so does Peace, evidenced when, at the startling end of ‘1977’, the recurring imagery and mantra-like phrasings that permeated the story congeal into a massive stream of consciousness that feels like a descent into the banality and viciousness of mans ability to produce misery and evil. That said, his style is unique and can take some getting used to. On occasion it is unclear what is real, what is fantasy, and what is in present time and what is not.

David Peace, in his ‘Red Riding Quartet’ produces books that are gripping in the most literal sense of the word. Once you enter this threadbare, grey and violent world, populated by the innocent, the guilty and those meant to protect and serve, you find yourself compelled to keep looking even when the creeping dread of horror becomes inevitable and then apparent in front of you. Both ‘1974’ and ‘1977’ mix the real and the unreal until the boundaries become blurred, like gritty British working class ‘kitchen sink’ drama shot through with a bad dose of pcp. Once I get to ‘1980’ and ‘1983’ I will let you know what I think. That will not take too long, because as soon as I finish one of these books I want to start the next.

*Page 69 of ‘1974’, in a pub, on jukebox, David Bowies ‘Life on Mars’ is playing……..


London review of books on GB84, another of Peaces books, this time about the Miners Strike

David Peaces top 10 true crime books

summary of the red riding novels and gb84

Article on Peace

peace on the red riding quartet

forum threads discussing the red riding novels

A link to let you know who Breughel the Younger is (if you don’t know)

Explanation of what a Riding is

The UK in 1974

The UK in 1977

Stefan Kiszko and the murder of Lesley Molseed

Finally I would like to acknowledge that the appeal poster that sits at the top of this post was taken from a great looking site called ‘the real 70s’ ( It looks fascinating and worth a look. Lots of archive material.