Crime queen Ruth Rendell back on ITV after 12 years

Aug 6, 2012

Rendell returns with thriller Thirteen Steps Down as ITV plots to dramatise more of her new books


THE prolific British crime writer Ruth Rendell returns to television next week after a 12-year absence. A new ITV psychological thriller, Thirteen Steps Down, based on a 2004 novel of the same name, will be the first Rendell drama since 2000.

Long before the current spate of Nordic noir such as Wallander and The Killing, Baroness Rendell, 82, was the queen of British television crime drama.

Between 1987 and 2000, adaptations of her gripping whodunits were a mainstay for ITV, which produced more than 80 Ruth Rendell Mysteries. In the early Nineties the BBC's adaptations of novels written under her pseudonym Barbara Vine starred Helena Bonham Carter and Michael Sheen.   

Rendell's psychodramas have also attracted top European film directors - Claude Chabrol's La Ceremonie (1995) and Pedro Almodovar's Live Flesh (1997) were both based on her novels.

Rendell, a former reporter and now a Labour peer, published her first book in 1964. Since then she has written more than 60 best-selling novels and still writes a book a year with her latest, The Saint Zita Society, published to good reviews last month.

According to The Daily Telegraph the new two-part drama - about a young mechanic who worships a serial killer, Reginald Christie of 10 Rillington Place fame - is classic Rendell with its “haunted childhood memories, creepy obsessions and a main character who might be a psychopath”.

It stars Luke Treadaway, Geraldine James, Elarica Gallacher, Anna Calder-Marshall and Gemma Jones.

So why did Rendell disappear from our screens, seemingly falling out of favour with TV executives? Producer Neil Zeiger insists that, by 2000, ITV had simply run out of novels to adapt. “Unlike Morse, where they created stories [outside the novels], the deal with Ruth was that when you ran out of what she had written, you stopped,” he told the Telegraph. “It ran its course, as all TV does.”

But Rendell kept on writing, and there are now 20 new Rendell and Vine titles ripe for adaptation. Zeiger says both ITV and Rendell are keen for others.

  • Thirteen Steps Down premieres on ITV1, Monday 13th August at 9pm

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