Cagney and Lacey are back in Britain 25 years after the US series hit our screens. The New York cops (played by Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly) feature on BBC2’s The Graham Norton show on Thursday, July 5. They took time out to talk to What’s On TV…
Why do you think Cagney and Lacey was bigger in Britain than America?
Sharon: Mainly because you British have better taste. I’m serious, I think the British have always been more brave at theatrical work and innovative television and at the time Cagney and Lacey was considered a brave piece of television. In America we were taken off the air three times because the powers-that-be no longer wanted us. I remember when I asked Tyne who was the enemy, she said ‘fear’.
Were TV bosses worried because there were two strong women dominating the show?
Tyne: I think the TV bosses and advertisers were just very hesitant to turn an expensive hour drama over to women. To them at that time, women belonged in the ghetto with ethnic minorities. Therefore we only got lead roles in half-hour programmes, mainly sitcoms like Lucille Ball and The Mary Tyler More Show. They didnï¿½t trust a whole hour to women, nor to the emotional depths we were trying to go in the show.
And as a result you were cancelled. How short-sighted…
Tyne: Yes it was terrible, but there was a letter-writing campaign, a lot coming from Britain, demanding we were brought back. So we were. I was eight months out of work when I heard they were bringing back the show.
Cagney was a career-minded single woman and Lacey was family oriented, so do you think the two characters’ differences lent a special chemistry to the stories?
Tyne: Well, having the family aspect helped me develop some great stories ï¿½ for instance worries about not spending enough time as a mother, all that… There was a great episode when Laceyï¿½s young son Harvey Jr found her gun in her bedroom.
Sharon: Cagney was always wanting to get ahead in the police dept and trying to be one of the boys, where as Lacey wanted to get home to see her boys.
Tyne: With their different personalites and life experiences the two characters got to talk about so much and thatï¿½s what made the programme special. Their heart-to-hearts often happened in the ladies’ lavatory in the police dept ï¿½ our famous hang-out. We used to call it the Jane, rather than the John.
Sharon: In the early days of Cagney and Lacey, American television wouldnï¿½t allow a toilet to be flushed on screen, and you couldnï¿½t see us sitting on it. And then we broke the mould in an episode where Cagney thought she was pregnant, and you saw her inside the cubicle having just flushed the toilet. Yes, groundbreakers we were!
Did you get any proper police training to play police officers?
Sharon: We went to do gun training at a police academy. Iï¿½d never handled a gun in my life. Where as Tyne was ultra-confident with one. We needed to know what the kick was like on a real gun. You donï¿½t get the enormous kick if you use blanks, so we needed to know how to act as if weï¿½d fired a real gun. I hated firing a real gun, really hated it. The thing just scares me.
Tyne: Iï¿½d been in a Clint Eastwood police film The Enforcer so Iï¿½d done gun training for that and knew all about it. I did lots of research, and in fact I turned down Cagney and Lacey at first because I felt Iï¿½d already done the cop thing on screen. It was only after my agent made me read the script that I accepted because it was about their lives as well as their jobs. But back to guns – yes theyï¿½re terrifying. We only used fake guns, and Mary Beth was well known for keeping her gun in her purse and forever fiddling about trying to find it.
Sharon: Tyne was better with guns than me. She always hit bullseyes at the target range. In fact, I used cans of tomato juice to bulk out my handbag on screen because I preferred carrying them than a fake gun. The one I mostly used for filming, with a pearl handle, was eventually stolen! I never knew whoï¿½d whipped it. We also had women technical advisers from the police force who showed us cuffing and police procedure and how to look after yourself.
Did you get to do lots of stunts? You certainly kicked in plenty of doors…
Sharon: I hurt myself so many times kicking things in! Iï¿½m not sure my feet have recovered.
Tyne: There was a lot of running about in the first season of shows. But in the beginning the bosses were too cheap to hire us permanently and give us stunt doubles, so theyï¿½d always hire some stringer to play us in any dangerous scenes, but they didnï¿½t look much like us, so we eventually ended up doing a lot more.
Good luck on the Graham Norton show…
Sharon: Yes, I know we may need it. He always springs surprises. The last time I was on it years ago, he rang Tyne in New York and we had a three-way conversation over the Atlantic. Heï¿½s a lot of fun and a very nice man, if a little crazy. He loved our show, so I think thatï¿½s why weï¿½re invited.