Where is Line of Duty set? On a plausible liminal city

The main cast of Line of Duty. Image: BBC.

Line of Duty has created a plausible fictional city in which AC12 can hunt down bent coppers and corrupt politicians. And it’s taken care over every detail from its geography to its power structures.

The unnamed city has an elected mayor, as well a police & crime commissioner and a city council. It has both a train and a bus system. When Vihan tries to run in season 5 episode 1, he is brought down in front of a bus queue and half of them don’t even look up from their phones.

It’s also got at least three hospitals: City, South Central and St Anthonys. Both Birmingham and Nottingham have a City hospital, but there are no South Central hospitals in the UK. The only St Anthonys is a private one in Cheam. Line of Duty is not set in Cheam.

The unamed city has two local papers, the Herald and the Evening Post, but does seem to be mysteriously free from copies of the Metro scattered everywhere. The names of the two publications evoke local papers perfectly, whilst clearly not being either the Birmingham Mail or the Manchester Evening News. Plymouth has a Herald but Line of Duty is not set in Plymouth.

The neighbourhood names are the really great touch. The phone box in season five is in Moss Heath, which is a name that suggests both Manchester’s Moss-side and Birmingham’s many Heaths. There’s a Moss Heath outside Formby, but that’s an actual heath and is unlikely to have a phone box with cards for Nikki9.

The golf club where Matthew ‘Dot’ Cottan was recruited by Huntley into the organised crime group is in Edge Park. It’s a leafy and well-to-do surburb, according to the scripts. There are lots of Edge’s in various cities in the Midlands and the North – I used to live at Netheredge in Sheffield. But there’s no Edge Park. There is Edgsbaston in Birmingham, which is indeed a leafy suburb.

The police station at the heart of season 1 is in Kingsgate: perhaps one of the most generic placenames possible, and which seems very plausible as a English city name. Birmingham has both Kings Heath and a Kings Norton, and a Queensgate. Manchester has a Deansgate. This sort of precisely wrong naming infuses the city with plausiblity: each new name seems probable because it echoes parts of real cities we know.

Details like the roads (the M6, A38 and A51 are all named) and the maps do strongly push towards Birmingham. And so far in season 5, we’ve seen both Midlands Ballistics Forensics Laboratory and a Nottingham Forest scarf. The first season was filmed in Birmingham, and subsequent seasons have been filmed in Belfast. Both cities provide a plausible post-industrial urban landscape. Yet the city remains determinedly “the city”.

Why is it fictionalised? Why not name a real city, with real police forces, real hospitals and real suburbs? Line of Duty strongly recalls ‘Red Riding’ which was explicitly set in Yorkshire, but was also set in the past. It was easy for viewers to create a distance from it using time. The fictional city also means writer Jed Mercurio’s sources are protected, and the show does not accidentally damage any genuine investigations.

By making Line of Duty about a contemporary unnamed but plausible corrupt city, it makes it applicable to any city. It exists in a liminal space where it could be your city, and your officials. Just so long as one of them has a name beginning with ‘H’.


There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.

In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.