York 'no-brainer' setting for TV murder mystery show Patience

Matt Baker and Jo McGrath are writing and developing a murder mystery show for television. They tell John Blow why setting it in York was a no-brainer.

Strolling through the centre of York, it can feel like travelling through a fictional universe.

As TV writer Matt Baker, who was born in the city, says, it has “these little places that when you walk into them, you feel like you're almost going back 500 years, you feel like it was a place that somebody in medieval Europe walked through to get from A to B”.

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Perfect, then, for a murder mystery show. Matt is lead writer on Patience, an upcoming crime procedural set in York, in which a talented young woman forms a partnership with a detective.

Shambles in York. Picture: James Hardisty.Shambles in York. Picture: James Hardisty.
Shambles in York. Picture: James Hardisty.

Matt grew up in Pocklington, while, unbeknownst to him, his future wife Jo – who is chief creative officer of production company Eagle Eye Drama – was to study history at the University of York. Now, the London-based couple’s son, George, goes there.

Despite both enjoying York in their younger years, they never crossed paths at the time. That came later, when Jo was a commissioning editor at Channel 4. Matt had been a journalist who went into corporate communications for the broadcaster, and their offices were next to each other. He was still in that kind of role when pandemic started, working for what was Viacom/CBS, but took redundancy and now writes full-time.

His credits include writing on Professor T, Before We Die, Hotel Portofino and Suspect. Patience is now being prepared for the small screen by Eagle Eye.

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Matt Baker and Jo McGrath at premiere of their TV show Hotel Portofino.Matt Baker and Jo McGrath at premiere of their TV show Hotel Portofino.
Matt Baker and Jo McGrath at premiere of their TV show Hotel Portofino.

Jo says: “I love Yorkshire, I love York in particular, it is such an evocative city for me, and when we were developing Patience, we were looking for a location and the themes of the show and visually it just seemed to really fit with the series that we're doing. It was a bit of a no-brainer in terms of choosing York.”

Matt says: “The idea of puzzle-solving is that the centre of the drama and it's a crime procedural. We obviously know that the murder rate in a nice city like York is vanishingly small, but people like to watch brutal murders on television. So it's it's one of those types of shows where you have a murder every week, and Patience puts her puzzle-solving skills and other aspects of her character and aspects of her autism to work to help the police solve these crimes.”

The main character has hyperlexia, which can be characterised by enhanced reading abilities and is sometimes considered a splinter skill of some autistic people.

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Jo says: “The records will come across her desk, and she's able to put clues together in a way that simply computers can't. The detective who spots her talents takes her under her wing and together they form this fantastic duo.”

York’s labyrinthine streets lent themselves to that theme of puzzle-solving and being led down intriguingly stray paths.

“One of the things Patience does is, she keeps mice,” says Matt. “Because she works in the criminal records office, she doesn't want the mice to eat the files so she's constructed this thing called a Habitrail, which is a real thing - imagine a sort of series of tunnels and chambers in a giant maze – but set up so the mice find their way through it and they find some reward, something to eat. I think of the centre of York as a little bit like that, it’s a sort of human equivalent.”

Maarten Moerkerke, the director, was also inspired by York visually, and filming has been under way in recent weeks.

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The series, which stars Laura Fraser as Detective Inspector Bea Metcalf and Ella Maisy Purvis as Patience Evans, is due to air on a British channel next year.

Jo, 53, originally from the Birmingham area, says: “I would add that I think that one of the appeals of the series is it's got incredibly warm characters, but also really unusual crimes in unusual settings. And that really, I think, is a big plus as well. For us at Eagle Eye, setting a show in a city that has international recognition - which York does, it's world renowned and instantly you think of its historical background - that's a real plus two in terms of the international market.”

Matt, 56, adds: “Considering it's probably in the top five tourist attractions in the UK, I think it's a bit underrepresented on screen.”

The show on which Patience is based, French show Astrid and Raphaëlle, aired on Channel 4 as part of Walter Presents, the broadcaster’s foreign-language drama and comedy wing, which Jo co-founded.

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Matt says: “We've changed it a lot. And I think particularly the portrayal of the lead character and her autism has been changed quite a lot.”

He adds: “We did a lot of research and a lot of thinking about portrayal and we consulted a lot of people who have an interest in the field. The other thing to say, which I think is really important, is that all the characters in the show who are neurodivergent in some way, either autistic or have other conditions associated with it, are played by neurodivergent actors.”

Over recent years, there have been calls to make sure actors are cast appropriately for roles which feature particular characteristics – neurodivergence being one – and that such portrayals are well-informed representations.

Matt says: “As a writer I strongly believe that writers should be allowed to exercise their imagination. I don't think you want to restrict yourself, as a writer, just to writing your lived experience, because where does that end? That would mean the only characters I write would be a man of a certain age from a certain background.

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"I do think it is important – but permission to do that comes with a responsibility to do your research properly, be thoughtful and to listen, is the honest truth. And I think we've done that with Patience, I feel pretty confident that when people see the show, they willsee that it's very thoughtful but also it’s a portrayal that is very positive and very warm.”

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