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Judge John Deed (2001-07)

Main image of Judge John Deed (2001-07)
One Eyed Dog for BBC1, 26/11/2001-18/1/2007
25x90, 4x60 min eps in 6 series, colour
ProducerG.F. Newman
Writer G.F. Newman
Directors includeJonny Campbell
 Andy Hay
 Tristram Powell

Cast: Martin Shaw (Judge John Deed); Jenny Seagrove (Jo Mills); Simon Chandler (Sir Ian Rochester); Barbara Thorn (Rita 'Coop' Cooper); Fraser James (Laurence James)

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The politically sensitive cases presided over by a maverick High Court Judge whose ex-wife, daughter, girlfriend and ex-father-in-law are also barristers.

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Judge John Deed is the longest-running legal drama ever produced by the BBC, but it is also one of the more eccentric examples of the genre. It offers a myriad of conflicting personal, commercial and political agendas against the background of a frequently inefficient and old-fashioned legal establishment but still insists, through its title character, that the system is ultimately a force for good. Martin Shaw plays a High Court Judge of working-class origins who, although he bucks the system at every opportunity, is in fact deeply entrenched within it, since practically his entire family and all of his friends practice law.

The essential premise is certainly unlikely, and has been the source of some derision from critics. Almost every week, Deed is seen presiding over cases being prosecuted by his ex-wife or defended by his on-off girlfriend (with occasionally help from his daughter), while pressure is invariably brought to bear by his ex-father in law - a senior judge - the Lord Chancellor's department or even the Home Secretary, his ex-wife's new partner. Although a little ludicrous, given the small, rigidly hierarchical and confined world of the law courts, this is nonetheless dramatically very useful. Writer-producer G.F. Newman has made this somewhat repetitive formula smoother over the years by moving closer to a serial format, with plots developing over several episodes.

The romantic entanglements of the passionate, relentlessly libido-driven Deed point to a compulsive, even self-destructive side to his nature. In fact, when he finally goes to see a sex therapist, he ends up in bed with her. In 'Nobody's Fool' (tx. 12/12/2002), he even rekindles an affair with the wife of his main nemesis, Sir Ian Rochester. This keeps Deed from being a completely idealised heroic figure.

The series is at its best when tackling such topical issues as reality TV ('Popular Appeal', tx. 17/2/2005), incest between mother and son ('Judicial Review', tx. 4/12/2003) and, especially, the potential danger posed by telephone masts ('Health Hazard', tx. 27/11/2003; 'Economic Imperative', tx. 26/1/2004; 'Silent Killer', tx. 27/1/2006). The prospect of jury-less trials appears in various episodes and Deed himself is called for jury service in 'One Angry Man' (tx. 3/2/2006). Its handling of the MMR jab controversy ('Heart of Darkness', tx. 10/2/2006), however, was widely criticised as irresponsible for going against the prevailing, and now largely accepted, medical wisdom that there is no causal link to autism.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
Newman, G.F. (1946-)
Shaw, Martin (1945-)
Sinden, Sir Donald (1923-)
Legal Drama
TV Drama in the 2000s