Anthony Clavane: Why I’m a little obsessed with the BBC’s Line of Duty

Line of Duty star Martin Compston. (PA).
Line of Duty star Martin Compston. (PA).
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Television viewers have been tuning into the latest BBC thriller in their millions. It is a ratings hit, boasting a tortuous plot and some extraordinary characters. It is unbearably tense, full of skulduggery and has more twists than a corkscrew.

No, not Line of Duty. I’m talking about BBC Parliament’s high-octane, highly-addictive offering: TM’s MV4. Yes, after three rollercoaster episodes, Theresa May’s Meaningful Vote has returned for its much anticipated fourth instalment.

I called it TM’s MV4 because I am a little obsessed with Line of Duty. Since last Sunday’s opening episode, I have been suffering withdrawal symptoms. So I stayed up all night to watch BBC4’s re-runs of the previous series and bored friends by talking in LoD-speak. Which consists of using abbreviations instead of proper words. Often my friends have no idea what these abbreviations stand for. “There’s an RTC up ahead.” Sorry? “Three FOs dead at the scene.” Come again? “ED-905’s in the hands of the OCG.” Whatever. Perhaps the Beeb should provide sub-titles.

I apologise to those of you who haven’t caught the bug. It’s just that Jed Mercurio’s gripping thriller is a television masterpiece. More than eight million viewers last Sunday night, and a further four million more on catch-up, can’t be wrong. Nor can the almost four million viewers who have been watching BBC Parliament every month as Brexit emerges as the high-octane, highly-addictive thriller to end all high-octane, highly-addictive thrillers. The high drama of meaningful votes, no confidence motions and croaky-voiced, state-of-the-nation, prime ministerial announcements from the pale wooden lectern outside No 10 Downing Street has provided me with my fix.

Yes, I’m terrified by it all. The prospect of crashing out without a deal, followed by a spike in food prices, the collapse of businesses and the undermining of peace in Northern Ireland fills me with dread. But it would be wrong to deny the thrill of it all as one MP resigns from the Conservative party live on the telly, another imparts a rude message to his Chancellor – “up yours” – and a third (TM herself) approaches the famous lectern to announce a gobsmacking twist even the great Mercurio would never have dreamed up.

This next sentence contains spoilers. On Tuesday evening, the PM asked PENO to help her get MV4 over the line and persuade the EU27 that the ERG and DUP were no longer calling the shots and WTO was off the agenda.

In other words, May asked public enemy number one (Jeremy Corbyn) to help her get her latest meaningful vote past the European Union, thus marginalising both the hard-Brexiter European Research Group and Democratic Unionist Party so there would be no need for a World Trade Organisation deal.

Only a month after leaning over the despatch box to denounce him as “a national tragedy”, May was suddenly making eyes at Corbyn. With the clock ticking louder than ever – and her withdrawal agreement rejected three times – she locked her ministers in a room for seven hours, confiscated their phones and, apparently behind their backs, declared her eternal love for The People’s Jezz. The terrorist-supporting, jam-making, Marxist pensioner was now a man of great integrity, a force for stability, an avuncular figure along the lines of Superintendent Ted Hastings.

Ted, you see, is the real star of LoD. He is the crusading head of anti-corruption unit AC-12, wonderfully portrayed by Adrian Dunbar; a tad short-tempered and financially hopeless but a man I would unhesitatingly recommend, if he weren’t a fictional character, as our next prime minister.

I can’t get enough of Tedisms like “Holy Mother of God”, “Superintendent Hastings – like the battle” and “I’m on to you fella.” I worry about him, though, now that he’s become a sad divorcee living in a downmarket hotel with a faulty hotel toilet cistern.

Unbearably, hints keep being dropped about Ted being the dreaded “H”, the bent copper who masterminds a shadowy network of balaclava-clad criminals.

Before the great Mercurio reveals this holy mother of all twists, I demand a people’s vote. I mean, if we can’t trust Ted, who can we trust? God give me strength, fella.