For me the test of a good tv drama is if it's believable or not. Sadly Paula, the probation officer in Public Enemies, the recent three-parter penned by Tony Marchant for BBC 1 was almost completely unrecognisable. Eddie on the other hand was a very familiar face and I've come across him many times. So, why is it so difficult to write a realistic part for a probation officer? Remember the author had the benefit of assistance from Harry Fletcher of NAPO no less. The answer lies partly in it's inherent conflicts and multitudinous dimensions, not easily portrayed in a three-part tv drama by someone who has little or no knowledge of our work.
I have to say that I found watching this drama very uncomfortable indeed. For some reason I kept thinking it was a training film that could be stopped every now and then so that people could chip in comments on the ubiquitous flip chart 'oh that's not how to talk to him', 'that wouldn't happen', 'that's definitely not right', 'oh bloody hell!' you know, that sort of thing. As a training film demonstrating how not to supervise a lifer case, it might just have an enduring role, but for me it's absolutely vital that the public understand it's not how we work at all.
In order to be clear, I'm not just saying it was Paula's general demeanour, her poor judgement and method of operation, it includes important factual errors such as contact with the victims family. In my experience the clients supervising probation officer would never have direct contact with victims or their families. For sound professional reasons, this delicate work is undertaken by colleagues in a dedicated unit and there exists a 'Chinese wall' between the two parts of the probation service.
Even in accepting the authors intention of showing the difficult journey an officer returning to work from suspension has to tread, Paula's behaviour is just breathtakingly unrealistic, naively stupid and crankily-scripted. I have never come across that level of unprofessionalism, collusion, obfuscation and lying, and I've seen my fair share of bad practice over the years, believe me. However, what's really worrying is some of the comments from probation staff in London on their website. Some apparently think 'it was a realistic representation of probation work.' OMG - I feel one of my heads coming on again and need to lie down!
PS - the NAPO forum site is strangely silent on the topic and some of us would like to hear a bit more from Harry Fletcher........