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Stepping outside the law in the fight for justice

The latest TV drama to be filmed in Birmingham is screened next week. Roz Laws went on location with the new crime series.

Mark Harrison, BBC publicity picture
New BBC drama By Any Means, stars (left) Warren Brown, Shelley Con and Andrew-Lee Potts

Whatever you do, don’t call it a cop show.

Perhaps Warren Brown is sensitive about being typecast, after playing policemen in the BBC dramas Good Cop and Luther – he was memorably killed as Luther’s sidekick DS Ripley.

So he bristles at the suggestion that his new drama, By Any Means, involves cops. Even though it does.

“He’s not a cop,” he says adamantly about his character, Jack Quinn. “Yes, he catches criminals, but he’s not part of the police. People assume he is but it’s a grey area.

“He runs a clandestine team who do things the police can’t do, who step outside the law to catch people, using any means.”

Warren is talking in between takes on set in Birmingham where the whole series, which begins on Sunday on BBC1, was made.

The unit also comprises Mistresses’ star Shelley Conn and Primeval’s Andrew-Lee Potts, while Gina McKee is an enigmatic police figure.

Guest stars include Keith Allen, Martin Jarvis and John Henshaw.

It’s made by the same production company, Red Planet, as Hustle and created by the same writer, Tony Jordan.

By Any Means has a similar feel to it, helped by the fact it’s shot in many of the same locations. In both cases, Birmingham stands in for London.

Filming for the £6 million production took 16 weeks between April and August.

The crew confused passers-by on Waterloo Street when they turned the outside of a building into the Colombian Embassy, complete with flags. A criminal takes refuge there, Julian Assange-style, and the team have to con him into leaving so he can be arrested.

The interior was filmed at Spring Grove House in the grounds of West Midland Safari Park in Bewdley, Worcestershire.

Other filming locations include Birmingham Magistrates Court, Hotel La Tour and the Hyatt, Colmore Row, New Street, the Mailbox and Cannon Hill and Sutton parks.

Aimee Spinks, BBC publicity picture New BBC drama By Any Means, stars John Henshaw
New BBC drama By Any Means, stars John Henshaw
 

The futuristic-looking base where the team hang out was created at The Bond in Digbeth on the edge of the canal.

Producer Tim Key’s last job was filming Death In Paradise on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, but he seems happy enough to have moved to a slightly less glamorous location.

He explains: “London is increasingly hard to shoot in, so we felt we’d get much more for our money elsewhere.

“I’ve shot in Liverpool and Manchester, but as I’m from Bewdley, I thought of Birmingham. The opportunity to come back home was too good to miss, and the company had a good experience filming Hustle here.

“I saw quickly how it could double for London really well, with a huge variety of locations that suit us. We can get across the city easily and get out to the countryside – in London, it can take an hour to move from one side of Tower Bridge to the other.

“I was especially pleased to film at Spring Grove House, because I remember going carol singing there with the church choir when I was a kid. I was head chorister at All Saints in Wribbenhall.

“We were trying to find an interior for the embassy and struggling. Having given up on finding somewhere in Birmingham, we started thinking about country houses and I remembered Spring Grove House.”

Tim began his broadcasting career at the BBC’s studios at Pebble Mill in Birmingham.

“I did work experience on Howards’ Way,” he remembers. “It’s very sad that the studios don’t exist any more, but it’s good that dramas like By Any Means are being filmed in the city.

“It shows how film-friendly Birmingham is. The more productions that come here, the better. We are good for the local economy, as we’re using local caterers and are basing our production facilities at The Bond.

“There’s a lot of money being spent here, and actually we are the first UK production qualifying for the new tax credit. The government introduced it in April to keep film production in the country and attract foreign shoots. It means we can claim back 20 per cent of our budget, so we can spend more money.”

Warren Brown is actually back in the city where his acting career began. Born in Warrington, he was a professional Thai boxer for 10 years. He travelled the globe for bouts and became World Champion twice.

“I knew I had to get a proper job eventually,” says the 35-year-old. “I wanted to learn a new skill and thought I’d try out acting for fun, so I started doing TV extra work.

“I got on set and something sparked, so I did more extra work and then signed up for acting classes in Manchester, where I was spotted and did a bit on Shameless.

“But my very first extra role was in Doctors in Birmingham. I played a patient, and I really looked the part because I’d just been fighting in Finland and came back with stitches and a black eye.

“I had got another part lined up as an extra but I had to cancel it because of my injuries, then they sent me Doctors.

“When I got there they said ‘Brilliant, it looks like we’ve already done your stitches’.

“I had to walk out of the consulting room and wasn’t supposed to speak. But the actress playing the doctor ad libbed ‘Next time, be more careful’ and I replied ‘All right, thanks’.

“The director said ‘What did he say?’. I thought ‘Oh no, I’m not supposed to speak’. But then he said ‘Say it a bit louder’, and that became my first line on TV.

“I haven’t been to drama school, I’ve just learned on the job. I kept my Thai boxing
career quiet at the beginning, but after 10 years of acting, I feel I’ve done enough now to prove I can act.”           

Philip Volkers, BBC publicity picture New BBC drama By Any Means, stars Gina McKee
New BBC drama By Any Means, stars Gina McKee
 

Gina McKee’s last experience of Birmingham was not a particularly pleasant one – she was left in a pool of blood with her throat cut.

She came to a messy end while filming the crime drama Line of Duty in the city. Now she plays the unit’s handler, Helen Barlow, in By Any Means.

“Birmingham is a very friendly city and it’s nice to have such an easy commute to work,” says Gina, last seen in two very contrasting roles – as feisty, scheming Caterina Sforza in the lavish historical drama The Borgias, and as Vic Reeves’ wife in the Geordie sitcom Hebburn.

“That’s the antidote to everything else I do,” she smiles of the comedy, which is returning for a second series. “I do get a lot of strong women roles, but I like to seek out variety.”

Shelley Conn admits she didn’t have the best image of Birmingham.

“I wasn’t too happy when they said we were filming there,” she reveals. “My only experience of the city was changing trains at New Street years ago, and I wasn’t impressed.

“I thought ‘Why can’t we shoot in London?’. But I admit, I’ve been seduced by Birmingham and I really appreciate it.

“Everyone has been welcoming and I love the Bullring.

“I’ve worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company before at Stratford-upon-Avon, which was nice, but I remember looking at all the terrible clothes in Marks and Spencer and thinking ‘I’ve got to get back to London’. But Birmingham has Selfridges!”

Shelley plays sassy Jessica Jones, who’s not afraid to use her feminine wiles to set up the criminals they’re chasing.

“She’s very driven and her passion is to fight for justice. There’s a moral ambiguity about what she does, but she feels that it’s OK to bend the rules if it’s for the greater good.”

* By Any Means starts on BBC1 on Sunday at 9pm.

 
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