The Man Behind Foyle's War - Anthony Horowitz
- by Christopher Middleton; Radio Times; November 11, 2003
Some people are born to run, some are born to be wild - but Anthony Horowitz was born to write.
"For my eighth birthday, I asked for a typewriter," recalls the creator of Foyle's War, which returns this week for a second four-part series. "Right from the very earliest age, I had a love of telling stories."
The first drama by the young Horowitz was a play about Guy Fawkes trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament - written at the age of nine. Now, aged 48, he's still using historical happenings as inspiration for his plots.
"I have very deliberately set Foyle's War against a timescale of real-life wartime events," says Horowitz. "These four new episodes cover a clearly defined period of nine weeks, from the start of September 1940 to the end of October 1940. What's happening in the shows really was happening at that time.
"The really great thing about researching that this period is that there are so many stories that lend themselves to dramatisation. For example, I came across a report of one particularly shocking wartime event, and I knew straight away that anyone caught up in that would forever after have a motive for murder. You'll find that story featuring in this new series.
"Elsewhere, I read about the incompetence of German spies coming to this country. There was one unfortunate man named Maier who gave himself away by walking into a pub and ordering a drink before opening time. Not being British, he had no knowledge of licensing laws."
Posthumously, therefore (he was executed), poor old Maier has made an appearance in Foyle's War. According to Horowitz, the more he digs, the more aspects he unearths about wartime Britain that were, if not exactly hushed up, never very widely publicised.
"It's clear, for example, that one or two very big companies in the UK and USA were trading with Hitler even when we were at war with him," says the writer, who (yes) has used this as the theme for another episode in the series. "I would have liked to have used their real names, but you have to be very careful about being sued."
This minefield between fact and fiction is one that Horowitz is very used to negotiating. His numerous TV dramatisations (Hercule Poirot, Murder In Mind, Midsomer Murders
) are peppered with characters based on people he has known in real life - and not necessarily liked.
"There was an editor of mine at a large publishing company whom I featured in one of my Midsomer Murders scripts," he smiles. "That particular episode was called Strangler's Wood and he turned out to be the strangler! I was never very fond of the staff at school either. You'll find two of them in the first series of Foyle's War called White Feather. I cast them as a particularly loathsome couple of fascist sympathisers who were hosting the leader of a pro-British Hitler movement (played by Charles Dance) at their hotel.
At other times, I've put little cryptic messages into my scripts, using the names of people I haven't seen for years. Sometimes they respond. I was contacted by an old acquaintance whom I had put into an episode of one show and who had moved to New Zealand; we arranged to meet up when I was over there on a book-signing tour (Horowitz is a prolific novelist, too).
"Most of the time, these are private little references that only I would know about. You have to take into account what it is like sitting on your own writing for ten hours every day. You need to give yourself the odd little treat, just to keep yourself going.
"I wouldn't like too much made of it, though; I'd hate people to think it meant I wasn't serious about the drama I write - in particular the producer of Foyle's War (Jill Green), as she happens to be my wife!"
He isn't keen, either, on the idea he chooses to kills off figures from his past in order to 'get back' at the world. "I had very wealthy parents. I was brought up in a prosperous part of north-west London, and when you think about how some children are brought up, it would be absurd to say that I wasn't happy.
"That said, I suppose I was a slightly lonely child. The rather unsettling this was that my father managed to die without letting any of us know where his money was. It's a mystery I still haven't got to the bottom of."
Not a state in which he ever leaves his viewers, though. Clarity, stresses Horowitz, is essential for any effective whodunnit.
"The starting point for writing any murder mystery is always the same," he says. "You take person A and person B, and you need to find the missing ingredient C, which is the reason person A wants to murder person B. Everything stems from that basic formula."
As we all know, however, there is a lot more to Foyle's War than mere mathematics. At this year's Bafta Television Awards, Radio Times readers bestowed the ultimate accolade by voting for it to recieve the RT-sponsored Lew Grade Audience Award. Reasons? You name it. Intriguing plot, lovely setting (Hastings), nostalgia-soaked period detail. Plus, of course, marvellous performances from Michael Kitchen as the steadfast Foyle, Honeysuckle Weeks as his cheery, good-hearted driver Sam and Anthony Howell as the troubled. war-wounded detective Milner.
"There's no question at all that Michael Kitchen built enormously on my original Foyle, and continues to do so in this new series," says Horowitz admiringly. "His great skill is the marvellous way he manages to underplay things. In any given scene, he can tell the whole story just with his eyes.
"The character he plays is a very private, very moral and slightly depressive individual - and yet as viewers we somehow find we are very drawn to him. What appeals to us, I think, is that at a time when people are murdering each other in their hundreds of thousands all over Europe, here is this thoughtful and single-minded man who is prepared to spend a large amount of time deliberating over one death.
"The way I see Foyle, certainly, is as a searchlight in a dark world."