Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty (BBC Two) was clearly intended as a companion piece to Jed Mercurio’s police corruption thriller and the three-part documentary’s near namesake. But a pacy and gripping first episode owed less to Ted Hastings and AC-12 than to shaggy-mopped Seventies favourites such as The Sweeney.
Ford Cortinas and sideburns were everywhere and phrases like “you’ve got me bang to rights, Guv” were deployed without irony. Fittingly, the geezer-ish narration was courtesy of Philip Glenister, aka anti-hero DI Gene Hunt from Life on Mars.
Yet for all the cheeky vintage touches, the story that director Todd Austin set out to tell was entirely serious. By the late Sixties the London Metropolitan Police reeked of corruption. A “firm within a firm” in the Met regarded criminals not as a social ill but an asset to be exploited.
That remained the case until The Times reporters Julian Mounter and Garry Lloyd convinced small-time crook Michael Perry to record his meetings with a trio of detectives extorting him for cash. When the story broke, the Met vowed to weed out the bad apples.
Alas, straight-as-an-arrow Inspector of Constabulary Frank Williamson – the real life equivalent of Line of Duty’s Ted Hastings if ever there was one – found himself frustrated at every turn. Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody was, outwardly, an enthusiastic ally of Williamson, but in reality he was deep in the pockets of the criminals (which explained the fancy cars and champagne parties).
Austin painted an unflattering picture of the police as a reactionary institution that regarded the white working-class as their natural enemy. Obviously, minorities had it even worse: in one shocking scene, representatives of the black community ask that police stop using racial slurs. A laughing copper responds by spouting those same insults to their faces.
Amid so much racism and corruption, this could have been a bleak snapshot of a bygone age. But Austin took the risk of injecting a note of fun. The retro charms of the period were emphasised with a funk soundtrack and shots of classy old-school motors zipping along the mean streets of Seventies London.
If it wasn’t for the questionable policing and rampant xenophobia, Bent Coppers almost made you yearn for a simpler, more swaggering era.