Foyle's War

A Conversation with Anthony Horowitz - 20 November 2002
(from the Foyle's War DVDs)

Interviewer: Anthony Horowitz, you're responsible for the latest detective we've seen. What is so compelling about detective stories do you think?

Anthony Horowitz: That's a question I get asked often. Ahh, 'What is it that makes detectives somehow grab the imagination the way they do?' And I think that there are lots of reasons for this sort of success and popularity of detectives, the first of which is that they do tie in well with the English character. If you think about it, the English have always been very well known for making detectives, Sherlock Holmes. Poirot, etc. Ahh, the English tend to hide their emotions just as killers hide what they're going to do and the detective's job is to dig under the surface trying to find out what people are doing. So I think it does tie in very well with the English character and I think it's a reason why a lot of English detective series take place in the country side and have very strong traditional values, as does Foyle's War.

I think there's a second reason for it which is that it is the element of ...,... murder heightens things. You're not interested in the local baker until he is found dead with three knives in his back and then suddenly he becomes interesting, and his wife becomes interesting, and his son is interesting, and everybody in the village is interesting. So throwing a murder in the middle of an ordinary community, I think, automatically makes it very much fun and interesting to watch.

And I suppose the third and final reason is that everybody likes puzzles. You know, we are a nation that wastes enormous amounts of time doing crossword puzzles, any sorts of puzzles, illusions, tricks, those sorts of things, and that's just part, ... that's just a part of our heritage, too. So there are lots of reasons for it, but those are three of them.

Interviewer: So how did Foyle's War come about?

Anthony Horowitz: Well, Foyle's War was the result of the Network Center, who are the people of course who control everything we get to see on ITV, suddenly realizing they needed quickly a new detective series to go out on Sunday nights. The feeling at the time was that Morse of course had sadly come to an end, and other shows, Frost, Taggart, were going. Even Midsomer Murders at that time seemed to be on its way out. And so they put out an a tender to find a new detective series and I think got something like 300 different ideas sent to them. It must have been murder just going through them all. And they kept whittling it down. It was sort of the..., it was a Network Center's version of Pop Idol where they sort of, you know, every week, sort of, more people got thrown out till eventually there were only three left, of which Foyle's War was one. And those three were made and, ahh, ... and here we are.

Interviewer: So what made you decide on the Second World War as a background to it? Because of course that is classed as period and period is really much more expensive to do than other things which might have counted against your idea being accepted.

Anthony Horowitz: Well, they are, yes, they are, ...it was difficult and dangerous to go the period route. I do remember that when we did say Second World War, eyes glazed because it is a terribly expensive and difficult thing to do. I had decided first and foremost that I had spent so long, you know, I wrote a great many episodes of Midsomer Murders and as much as I loved that show, still do, ahh, ... I felt that all the work and labor that went into writing these scripts, and producing and making them - all they ended up coming to, or all they boiled down to was, you know, ... was 'The butler did it', 'The vet did it', 'The doctor did it'. That's it! And I was keen to see if the detective genre could be used to just write about something more general than its own inward world of murder. And it seemed to me that if you put the detective series against something really big, something major like the second World War for example, you would then have very interesting balance where actually the murder will become always the least interesting thing going on. You know, when England is about to lose the war, and Dunkirk is happening, and the Germans are going to invade any day now, as in the first episode The German Woman, who gives a damn that a body is found in an English country house. So that was, ...that was the impetus and the idea of doing it.

Why the second World War? When you say it's period, I never thought of it really as period in the sense of, ... it's not ruffs and sort of horses, and swords. It's still a very recognizable, modern time. These are still murders that are, ... used telephone and radio communications, and cars. So it is in a sense modern in one way, but still period in another, and I shied away or tried to persuade the Network Center that it wasn't really period. That said, of course it is! And it has been enormously difficult, you know, every single shot you have to, you know, ...you block out yellow lines, you have to block out sign posts, you have to take out satellite dishes, ahh...
Interviewer: ...double glazing...
Anthony Horowitz (laughs): ...double glazing! I mean, of course, the wrong sorts of windows, and of course, the war destroyed so many buildings that, you know, trying to do wartime London is, for occasional shots, is almost impossible. That incidently is why I decided to set it on the South Coast. I realized that London would just be an impossibility to do.

Interviewer: You've said that there is nothing more exciting for you than a new idea. So how excited did you get when you suddenly thought, 'Gosh, I think I'm on to a winner here!'?

Anthony Horowitz: Well, I didn't think I was on to a winner until the things were shown. I mean, one of my favorite quotes of all time is William Goldwyn in the book Adventures of the Screen Trade: "Nobody knows anything." And I always think that's true when you're writing a show, when you're producing it, when you're making it, when you're..., even up to the day it's transmitted. Nobody really knows anything.

I may have got the first buzz of excitement when Michael Kitchen agreed to do, ... to play Christopher Foyle. Getting an actor of that caliber and someone who was in a way untried, or unseen rather, in the sense of carrying a whole series on his own shoulders. And the fact that he accepted and agreed to do it gave me the first buzz, the feeling that 'hey, we could have something very special here!' And then of course as the series was shown on television here and the public came behind it, there was a fantastic sense of excitement and of achievement because of course one of the things that happens, in this country in particular, is when anything new happens the press and various other people are waiting really to knock it down rather than to try support it. And to realize you've done it, and you actually have done something, and done it not cynically either - you know, this wasn't a show that was bolted together to make money! It was a show that we've believed in and when something you believe in actually works it is a wonderful feeling, and of course, we're very happy!

Interviewer: Did you have a vague idea that you wanted Michael Kitchen to play the part when you started writing it? Did you have somebody in mind? Or were you writing it with a completely blank canvas?

Anthony Horowitz: Well, first of all you have to remember that when a writer writes a piece of television he is often the last person to get involved with casting. That's certainly true in my case. I don't have really a great deal of involvement in it. I'm not even very good at it. I do only remember that once the first script had been written and we were casting around for who would play it, there was a list drawn up, and Michael's name was very much the first name on that list, in a sort of a "if only" sort of feeling, "if only we could get him", and I therefore, ... I can't say that I had written the part specifically for him, but again it's interesting that historically the first episode, The German Woman, was written a year before the other three were made. This was because the Network were originally going to put it out as a pilot, but as it happened they recommissioned it and it just went out with all four, so creating the character - a lot of that happened in the year after the first one had been written when Michael had come to the table as it were and brought a great deal of ideas, and thoughts, and approaches with him, and so he was instrumental in making Christopher Foyle, and Christopher Foyle really was fully born after the first episode.

Interviewer: Did you find the way you wrote the next three was actually slightly different to the way you thought you might write the three once Michael Kitchen was on board?

Anthony Horowitz: I think what's interesting while looking at the four films together is how very different they all are. I mean, the first one is quite lighthearted in some ways. I mean, it has got the internment story which is more serious but basically the murder in it is quite a - it veers toward the Midsomer Murders' territory. Then in the second one you're suddenly into this very dark, antisemitic, fascistic world of the Black Shirts and Oswald Mosley, and all that. Then the third one is again different, and the fourth is actually quite a lighthearted and rather cheerful episode in many ways. They're very, very different films and the development of them was in a way accidental, unplanned. I mean, you know, we were working under a certain amount of pressure to get them done, and as I've said, Michael was coming up with ideas that were shaping the way his character would work and I suppose that's a throughline (??). In fact, all the actors brought ideas to the table that had to get incorporated, but it wasn't planned mechanically as it were. It just grew.

Interviewer: So how did you come up with the name Christopher Foyle?

Anthony Horowitz: Ahh, well, that was of course, ... that was, ... that's always a difficult thing to do: to get the title right! When we pitched it, it was called "The Blitz Detective". I'm very glad we dropped that although I knew at the time it was only a working title, ahh, ... and I knew it was going to be "somebody's War" because you talked about "How was your war?", you know, something one says about the 40's, you know, "How was your war?", and it seemed to me that there was a sort of a slight double play there, that Foyle's war, this person's war, was his own personal war which in this case is the war against crime as much as anything else. As to the name Foyle himself: I was doing a lot of research, always buying books, and I nearly always buy my books at Foyle's, the famous book shop in London and it sort of hit me one day that that was the perfect name for the detective as I was getting the job, there it was in front of me! If you've ever been to Foyle's, what's delightful about the shop, it is a very 1940's shop and of course it was owned by Christina Foyle (hence Christopher) who is one feels a sort of a Lady of Letters of the 40's particularly, and it is still. I mean, they've now modernized the bottom floor but if you go through and up the stairs you suddenly find yourself back in time, and so it was just a sort of an obvious thing. And then of course there is a little added extra which is that he foils crime. I mean, that's very subconsciously..., ... I mean, it's not intentional, but that to me was quite a nice little added thing to it, and so Foyle's War it was!

Interviewer: That's nice! Are names very important to your characters? I mean, are they an integral part of the character when you're working out what they're going to be?

Anthony Horowitz: Yes, I mean, I've always belonged to the sort of Charles Dickens school of names which is that the first thing a character ..., ... first thing that you know about a character is the character's name. And therefore, giving the character a certain sort of name will tell you something about that character. And you have to be careful about what not to go into like a Dickensian sort of Wackford Squizz (?) type names which wouldn't work in a modern drama. But even so, yes, names are very important, and in this one, you know, for Christian names obviously one is using a lot of 1940's names. You're into sort of, ... into sort of Howards and Alans and Stanleys and Arthurs. Those sort of names which are sort of redolent for 1940 immediately. And then you know, I ... , ...for the curator, ... the art curator who was in there, I always quite liked, in the fourth episode, "Austin Carmichael". Somehow you just know that a guy called Austin Carmichael is going to be a creepy antique dealer! And it's rather nice that the actor, Anton Lesser doesn't actually play it too Austin Carmichael-ish, you know? He pulls back and makes the guy real.

You know, Guy Spencer, in the second episode, I think that's a good name for a fascist character. I don't quite know why ..., ...Guy is ..., ... Guy and Spencer are so English, both of them. And yet somehow both together ...! I just know I'm not going to like this guy. So, yes, names are important and I spent a lot of time thinking about them.

Thanks to Gerda for the transcription.