MP Wright on adapting Callan and Heartman for TV

Mark WrightCRIMETIMEPREVIEW talks to writer MP Wright, who turns 50 next month and has just had his first crime novel, Heartman, published to wide acclaim. Not only is it in the running for four CWA Awards, but the BBC and World Productions are adapting his evocative, dark story – about a Barbadian former police sergeant turned private detective in 1960s Bristol – into a series. 

The hero of Heartman is JT Ellington, who we meet in the book when he’s virtually down and out during a bitter 1960s winter. He is approached by a wealthy Jamaican businessman in Bristol to find a missing girl, and embarks on a perilous search that takes him into privileged circles, where sexual depravity rides hand in hand with corruption.

Having previously worked as a roadie for the likes of Duran Duran, as a private investigator and in the youth offending and probation services, Mark harboured dreams of becoming a writer for many years. Now, famine has turned to feast and he is in demand, writing more Heartman stories, working on a reboot of classic late-1960s series Callan and even talking to Channel 4 about adapting a story set during the Spanish Civil War.

He lives in Leicestershire with his partner, a school teacher, and their two children.


Can you tell us a bit about Heartman and JT Ellington?

I’ve never been into police procedurals. A lot of my crime-writer friends write them, but I’ve never been into them. But because I’ve worked in that field [probation, youth offending], procedurals always felt dull and unreal to me. I’m looking at my bookshelves now and I can see Ross Macdonald and Raymond Chandler, and I’ve always loved those kinds of writers. Jim Burke and Walter Mosley. I love stories about the downtrodden and downbeat. When you meet Ellington he’s a broken man, and when you leave him, he’s doubly broken, but there is hope. The hope comes from Vic [his cousin, a budding criminal but loyal friend].

You are working on your next Heartman book, All Through the Night. What happens in that?

I was desperate to use real events, so All Through the Night involves corrupt orphanages, which was actually happening in the Sixties in Bristol, and the sale of children to members of US Air Force in based in Somerset. The children were moved out to wealthy childless couples in the US.

I liked the idea of Ellington going on the run with a white child in 1960s Bristol. And the only to do that is all through the night. The TV company loved it. The opening is that Ellington is asked to find a Jamaican doctor who is also an illegal abortionist. He’s run off with a number of death certificates for children who’ve apparently died at orphanages. The certificates are false and the doctor knows this. He’s agreed to sign the certificates for children that have been sold. The doctor takes the next child that is to be shipped out. I take the story to places like the Cheddar Gorge, and TV dictated that we’d end the next book at the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

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Heartman and Callan reboot in development for TV

Leicester author MP Wright sees his debut novel Heartman turned into new BBC1 series and is asked to script a modern update of 70s classic Callan.

Heartman HiRes CMYKYOU MAY not have heard of MP Wright, but in coming months you probably will. His first novel, Heartman, has just been released to acclaim from reviewers and is nominated for four Crime Writers’ Association awards. It’s a compelling tale about a Barbadian ex-policeman in 1960s Bristol and has created such a stir that it’s been snapped up by World Productions and has made a very busy man of Wright, 50, a former mental health and probation service worker.

Heartman is now in the hands of award-winning playwright and TV dramatist Tony Marchant, who was responsible for the excellent Garrow’s Law, and could be before the cameras before the end of the year, with a slot on BBC1 at the ready.

It’s a fascinating mystery focusing on JT Ellington, who has fled his home in the Caribbean after his life was ruined in a struggle against a powerful drug baron and corrupt police bosses. He winds up in Bristol, broke during a freezing 1965 winter, when he is approached by a rich Jamaican businessman in the city and asked to find a missing girl. This takes Ellington, an outsider in a hostile world of prejudice, into a dark conspiracy among the town’s elite. The TV project is rumoured to be attracting the attention of some major actors keen to get on board.

Further Heartman episodes planned

‘World Productions optioned Heartman before I had a book deal,’ the author tells me. ‘Producers, Simon Heath and Jake Lushington were eager to get the tone right and have worked tirelessly to bring in a great team. Our script is written by BAFTA
award-winning dramatist and playwright Tony Marchant, and we have a BBC 1 slot for the drama to be shown in two parts. World will be working on the other Ellington books – All Through The Night, The Restless Coffins and The Rivers Of Blood.’

Edward Woodward as Callan

Edward Woodward as Callan

As if working on writing and editing the proofs for all these stories, Mark Wright’s whirlwind success has also seen him offered another exciting opportunity – to develop a modern version of Callan, ITV’s gritty early 70s series about a government hitman played by Edward Woodward.

‘Last autumn I was approached by the James Mitchell estate [creator of When The Boat Comes In and Callan],’ Mark explains. ‘I have been asked to reboot Callan and I’m currently working on a pilot script called One Shot, One Kill, which will bring the self-hating, bolshy, British government assassin back out of the shadows.

‘All the series regulars are set to return – Hunter/Charlie, Toby Meres, Snell and of course, Lonely. All brought to life in a contemporary and gritty setting. It’s a challenge but its looking good, if I say so myself.’

CrimeTimePreview will post a full interview with MP Wright about these new series this weekend…

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