‘Sexy Men in Wigs’: North Square and the Representation of Law on British Television

Jason Bainbridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


North Square (2000) was a television legal drama set in Leeds which aired on Channel 4 for ten weeks from 18 October 2000. During its brief run North Square enjoyed critical acclaim (the Mail on Sunday declaring it ‘the best law series ever made in Britain’) and emergent cult status, and received a number of industry awards including the Broadcasting Press Guild Award 2000 for the Best TV Drama Series and the Best Writer (Peter Moffat). It was seen as both a British answer to American law shows like L.A. Law (1986–94) and the practice (1997–2004) and, more specifically, as Channel 4’s answer to BBC2’s successful series about young lawyers, This Life (1996–7). This article uses North Square as a case study to understand both how British television legal dramas represent the English legal system and what intellectual work they may be performing with regard to this system. Crucial to this analysis is a consideration of some of the difficulties inherent in representing the English common law dramatically and the ways in which a British legal drama like North Square has coped – most notably by displacing dramatic tension away from the courtroom onto domestic, political and ethical tensions. The article provides an outline of the generic characteristics of American legal dramas and then goes on to analyse the ways in which North Square represents the Engish legal system. North Square was taken as the focus of this study because it is both emblematic of trends in traditional British legal drama and innovative in its focus on the figure of the senior clerk. It is suggested that by relocating drama away from the courtroom and onto the figure of the senior clerk, North Square is involved in some serious intellectual work about legal procedure, contextualising courtroom appearances within a wider approach to legal procedure which challenges traditional notions of objective truth, access and impartiality by revealing law’s dependence upon embodiment, deal-making, greed and symbiosis with crime. This represents a fundamental dislocation of drama away from the courtroom and reveals the ways in which the courtroom has become only a small (if public) part of a legal procedure which is continually being articulated and negotiated in domestic (private) spaces and places. In this way, North Square both fulfils and goes beyond the characteristic model of British legal drama on television in a number of new and interesting ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-102
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of British Cinema and Television
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


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