Inspector Lynley: The Books Vs The TV Series

Why adapting Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley’s novels was far from an open and shut case…

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries


The Inspector Lynley stories are so quintessentially British - crammed with toffee-nosed aristocrats, fierce working class heroes, vintage cars and sprawling green pastures - that some fans will be shocked to learn the writer of the novels comes from... Ohio. Yes, Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers are the brainchild of US author Elizabeth George, who became a committed Anglophile after first visiting these isles in the Swinging Sixties. Perhaps partly because she lives over in the States, bringing Lynley to life was a complicated endeavour - before the BBC had turned up, Elizabeth George had already been approached by film companies to turn her books into a TV show, but nothing had come of it.

Is there still life in Lynley?


Despite the previous failures in getting Inspector Lynley to the small screen, hopes were high when the BBC approached Elizabeth George and proposed their adaptation. The author was won over because the Beeb were looking to adapt the novels themselves, rather than simply taking the characters and plonking them into new stories written specifically for telly. There was an added bonus for Elizabeth George too - if they happened, the TV version of Lynley would make her the very first American crime writer to have her works taken on by the BBC. Quite an incentive, even if her only role would be as a "consultant", meaning she would be allowed to express her opinion on production choices, but wouldn't be able to veto any decisions. This would change later on, though, when George was given more of a say-so on what direction the series went in.


One of the biggest differences between Elizabeth George's original novels and the TV versions is the sheer amount of stuff going on. Due to time restrictions, her plots had to be tweaked, trimmed and generally slimmed down to fit into watchable portions. This means the TV Lynley is far more "crimey", with almost all of the emphasis being on the twists and turns of each case. By contrast, the books have a lot of non-crime-related things going on, with many more characters, much more space for characters' own individual sub-plots, and added commentary on British society in general. Elizabeth George herself has said she'd have ideally liked each novel to be turned into a mini-series in its own right, to accommodate all the separate strands, but this proved impossible.

Nathaniel Parker differs from the Thomas Lynley in the books in a number of ways.

Nathaniel Parker differs from the Thomas Lynley in the books in a number of ways.


Think Lynley, and Nathaniel Parker's darkly Byronic features will spring to mind. Yet, appearance wise, he's a far cry from the Tommy Lynley of the novels. For one thing, in the book Lynley is blonde. And while Nathaniel Parker is certainly very easy on the eye, he cuts a ruggedly handsome figure, rather than being the super-smooth, stereotypically ravishing Adonis type described in the books. It was enough to make even Parker anxious about taking the role on. "I admit that I was slightly nervous when I got to about page 17 of the first book and saw that Lynley had an 'aristocratic chin'," Parker remembers. "Being a typical actor, I'm rather worried about my chin, so I put down the book for a week or two before I picked it up again!" We're very glad he did pick it up again, because he certainly made the role his own.


Sharon Small was an even more unlikely casting for the role of disgruntled copper Barbara Havers. In the books she's rather brutally described as a "decidedly unattractive woman". She's overweight and "stubby", with "heavy, unplucked eyebrows [drawing] attention to the smallness of her eyes". A far cry from the delicately pretty Sharon Small, then. Saying that, TV Havers was made to look as dowdy as possible, and Sharon Small absolutely nails the "disapproving frown" and general air of angst which is so much a part of Havers' character. Small also brings a kind of vulnerability to the role, making her Havers more sympathetic than the one in the novels. Even if she is anything but "decidedly unattractive."