Alan Plater and translators in popular drama

Playwright Alan Plater died on 25 June. I grew up with The Biederbecke Affair, Big Al, Little Norm and Medium-sized Mrs Swinburne, suspiciousness of people with forward-facing haircuts and Peterson, the man with no name. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1982 adaptation of Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles that had Alan Rickman as the most slitheringly sinister Mr Slope you ever saw.

But I most recently encountered him as the writer of the episode of Lewis, Your Sudden Death Question, which had me dashing to the internet to find out who was behind the line:

“Are you aware of the hourly rate a Russian translator will charge at the weekend?”

Hooray for telling the Great British Public (if they were listening) that getting the entire contents of the victim’s computer translated from Russian into English might come a tad expensive. And that getting a translator to work over the weekend might be even more expensive still.

The fact that the murdered Russian literary translator had also interpreted for negotiations over a construction contract with dodgy Russian businessmen was a rather more unlikely portrayal of the profession but possibly there is only one Russian speaker in Oxford.

It’s not often that translators feature in TV drama. The BBC’s long-running radio soap The Archers featured Siobhan Hathaway, a German – English translator for quite a while but she wasn’t that great an advert for the profession either as she had an affair with Brian Aldridge (who has those little gold chains on his shoes) and then died leaving poor long-suffering Jennifer Aldridge to bring up her love child.

It would be nice to see more translators in prime time TV drama but next time it would be great if they weren’t either obnoxious or dead.

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