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Charity buy leads to region's success; Drama to be filmed in the North East.

Byline: David Whetstone

AMAJOR new television detective series is to be filmed in the North East this summer following the chance purchase of a book in an Oxfam shop. ITV, whose decision to axe Wire In The Blood caused dismay in the region's TV sector last year, has commissioned three feature-length episodes of a detective drama called Vera.

Starring award-winning actress Brenda Blethyn in the title role of Detective Vera Stanhope, they will be shot at various North East locations from a base at the former Swan Hunter shipyard in Wallsend, which is now owned by North Tyneside Council.

The three two-hour dramas will be shown early next year along with a pilot episode, made here last year, which impressed bosses at ITV.

The commission was hailed yesterday as more "wonderful news" for the North East broadcasting sector, but it is also thrilling for Whitley Bay author Ann Cleeves who wrote the novels on which the series will be based.

She said: "I did a short film for Border TV that I wrote but that was more like a competition. This is the first option on one of my novels that has been taken up so it's all very exciting."

She said ITV decided to pursue the project after one of its executives, Elaine Collins, bought one of the Vera Stanhope novels, The Crow Trap, in an Oxfam shop in London.

Ann, whose first novel was published in 1986 and who first introduced Vera Stanhope in The Crow Trap, published in 1999, said Vera's progress to the small screen was "a really lovely story".

The pilot episode, which will begin the series, also stars Gina McKee, who was born in Peterlee, as Julie Armstrong, the mother of a murder victim.

The commission means North East drama is to be back on the ITV and BBC networks.

After the axing of Wire in the Blood, which was also based on the novels of a North East writer, Val McDermid, there was an outcry.

Regional screen agency Northern Film & Media complained that the North East had all but vanished from the nation's TV screens and warned that professionals in the sector would move away. Since then the BBC has started to make children's series Tracy Beaker in the region and filming of the series Inspector George Gently was transferred from Northern Ireland to the North East.

An ITV film made in the North East - Joe Maddison's War starring Robson Green and Kevin Whately - is to be a highlight of its autumn schedule.

Northern Film & Media invested pounds 30,000 in the pilot episode of Vera.

Chief executive Tom Harvey said: "TV and film production is annually worth about pounds 7m to the North East.

"Major dramas like Vera provide vital work for our crews and facilities and a significant boost to the wider economy.

"They also provide a fantastic opportunity for our locations and people to be seen across the UK and beyond."

He added the recovery of the North East TV sector was "wonderful news for the region and senior BBC and ITV executives put their faith in our locations and talent".

Laura Mackie, director of drama commissioning at ITV, said they had been keen to introduce new crime dramas following the demise of A Touch of Frost and "to create the iconic detectives of the future".

She added: "Brenda's portrayal of the sharp but shambolic Vera Stanhope is a wonderful addition to our slate." The commission is also a measure of the wealth of writing talent in the North East.

Ann Cleeves, who won the Crime Writers' Association's coveted Gold Dagger Award in 2006, said she invented the character of Vera as an "antidote" to some of the female crime-busting heroines.

"I love some of the American feminist crime writers, like Sara Paretsky, but even their central characters are good-looking and they can run, and they always manage to get a bloke," she explained. "I just thought that wasn't terribly feminist in a way, so Vera is middle-aged and her skin isn't terribly good and she's overworked."

She said she was pleased her books were being adapted for the screen by Paul Rutman who also worked on Miss Marple and Lewis.

She was also pleased he agreed to tour the North East with her and her husband, Tim, before he started writing, saying: "We didn't just go to the pretty bits but also to some of the grittier, post-industrial areas so he could get a real flavour of the place." The first three Vera films will be based on Ann's books, Hidden Depths, Telling Tales and The Crow Trap, while the fourth episode will be written by Paul Rutman based on her characters.


DRAMATIC Above, a shot from the new detective series Vera, based on the books written by North East author Ann Cleeves, below
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 22, 2010
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