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Drama Trails

ITV3 2008 • A ten part ITV3 documentary series exploring connections between the UK’s favourite TV dramas.

Baroness Ruth Rendell takes George Baker on a guided tour of the House of Lords.

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The Palace of Westminster is the democratic home to 745 peers. Somewhat surprisingly, amongst their number is one very famous British crime author. Ruth Rendell, aka the Queen of Crime, has sat in the House of Lords since becoming a life peer in 1997.

James Nesbitt

I am in here three or four days a week, always, but I never get blasé about the beauties of the building and about the chamber itself, which is wonderful. Much more beautiful than the Commons.

Ruth Rendell

Today, she’s meeting actor George Baker, who played her most famous literary creation, Chief Inspector Wexford, to give him a guided tour of these historic buildings.

James Nesbitt

[Scene from Simisola (1996)]

Wexford:
Chief Inspector Wexford.
Christopher Riding:
Yes, I know that. We met at a garden party. You won a teddy bear.
Wexford:
May we come in?
Christopher Riding
I don’t see why. This isn’t my house.
Burden:
We’d like a word with the childminder.
Riding:
You need a warrant.

[House of Lords]

Ruth Rendell:
I never did any police research.
George Baker:
No.
Ruth Rendell:
It didn’t seem necessary because I was writing about real people who happened to be policemen, not about policemen whose police work and police characters overcame every other aspect of them. It didn’t.
George Baker:
No, that’s right. I think that’s what makes it so easy to read. It is her genius.
Ruth Rendell:
No more genius!

[Laughter]

George Baker:
That she can write and give you all the clues. You are given everything. She hides nothing. And I have never yet managed to get to the end of a novel without being totally flummoxed by thinking “now why did?”
Ruth Rendell:
That’s what people want in a detective story.
George Baker:
Of course, it is.

Chief Inspector Reg Wexford first appeared in Ruth’s best-selling novels in 1964. He made his screen debut in 1987 and has since been the unlikely hero of 23 episodes of the Ruth Rendell Mysteries, investigating crimes in a very British manner, with integrity at his very core.

James Nesbitt

Wexford is a decent man. I think lots of other detectives are not quite like that. They have a great many flaws. Wexford has, of course, but he’s an ordinary man.

Ruth Rendell

He gets things wrong. He’s bullheaded and very short-tempered at times. He’s very human. Very human.

George Baker

[Scene from Simisola (1996)]

Wexford:
Got to grasp a few nettles. Stop pussyfooting about. You and I are going to get rid of Bruce and Caroline Snow. They’re really are beginning to annoy me!

Wexford has become an icon of British policing. But our improbable hero could have been very different if the producer of the Ruth Rendell Mysteries hadn’t done a spot of detective work himself.

James Nesbitt

The producer of the Wexfords was walking past the cutting room at Ealing, and he heard the voice, and he popped his head in and said, “who’s that?” Said, “George Baker.” “Did you enjoy working with him?” “Yes.” A script arrived the next day and an offer. I didn’t even have to go and meet him!

George Baker

I thought that he was very good and very good-looking. Too good looking for my Wexford. But I forgot that when he began to be Wexford, as he was so perfectly, it is out of the question that there could be another Wexford.

Ruth Rendell

[Scene from Simisola (1996)]

Burden:
Do you know what the weapon was?
Wexford:
Bare hands, perhaps. Whoever did this hid up the stairs, around the corner, and when she appeared, he struck her in the face with his fist, sent her rolling down the stairs, and all he had to do was to follow after her … perhaps make his escape ten minutes before we got there.

[House of Lords]

Ruth Rendell:
The people who made those early films were surprised. I don’t think they expected them to be the immediate success they were, do you, George?
George Baker:
They took off.
Ruth Rendell:
Yes.
George Baker:
And then they said, right, let’s go for it. Let’s do them.
Ruth Rendell:
That’s right.

[Scene from Simisola (1996)]

Wexford:
I think you’ve done enough for the unemployed. Let’s go somewhere private.
Swithun Riding:
Get in the car for God’s sake! You! Get out of the way! [Assaults Burden.]
Wexford:
What’s going on Mr Riding?
Swithun Riding:
Man’s entitled to stop his daughter from making a fool of herself.
Wexford:
Does not entitle him to hit a policeman.

[House of Lords]

Ruth Rendell:
You amplified and pulled out Wexford and made him more of a real person than he was before he came to the screen with you being him because you were so absolutely him so that people would not be able to think of the Wexfords without thinking of you. It’s essential. Absolutely.
George Baker:
Well, I must say, Ruth, I’ve been acting for 62 years and the twelve years that we spent making the Wexfords have been quite, quite the happiest of my acting career.
Ruth Rendell:
Well, I find that very gratifying, George.
George Baker:
It was just lovely.
Ruth Rendell:
I’m awfully happy to hear that.
George Baker MBE