William Aldridge - The man who allows Inspector Wallander to speak English

Since it launched on BBC, the series about Kurt Wallander, a police officer based in the small town of Ystad, just outside of Malmo in southern Sweden, has edged into near-cult status. Largely this is explained by its striking contrast with most other cop shows, British or American. There’s none of the endless blokeish banter of The Bill and little of the pervasive physical and moral brutality of The Wire (Barack Obama’s favourite TV show, by the way). The closest comparison is with Colin Dexter’s creation and this led the Guardian, in a rare spasm of wit, to hail the arrival of “Inspector Norse”. Richard Ingrams put his finger on the appeal of the series: “The ambience of the Swedish police force makes a welcome change. The offices look more like a fashionable café, the policemen wear casual clothes and I even thought I saw two of them playing chess in the background. There is a strange lack of technology, suggesting that the Swedish police rely on intuition rather than computers. The impression is heightened by the many close-ups of Kenneth Branagh, who plays Wallander, brooding, looking worried and occasionally anguished.”

I’ve lived those long winter days

William AldridgeBut what’s the background to the series? Kurt Wallander is the creation of Henning Mankell, now one of his country’s best-known writers, who’s been producing novels for over twenty years. He’s written around a dozen Wallander books, tales of a bleak complexity whose main storyline runs alongside accounts of the inspector’s troubled private life (father, wife, daughter). The books’ appeal to Mankell’s gloomy compatriots is obvious and some years ago a TV version went into production. As happened with Morse, there weren’t enough books to feed the series and so other writers, closely monitored by Mankell, were brought in. Wallander is available in several markets and goes out in dubbed and subtitled versions. And now it’s produced directly in English. William Aldridge (pictured), living far from Wallander country in Fayence in the Var, was the ideal midwife to preside over this rebirth. What’s his story? “I was born in Chelsea, raised in Battersea and schooled at the French lycée in South Kensington. I was eighteen in 1968 – the year of educational chaos across Europe. Anyway, I escaped all that by applying for and being accepted by the Moscow Film School and I spent six years there. There were some strengths in Soviet education: it was thorough and effective. I got an excellent training. And it was in Moscow that I met the first of my two Swedish wives. I then lived in Sweden for seventeen years, working in Stockholm as a scriptwriter. Eventually I moved to France.” He must have acquired an instinctive feeling for Swedish life. “Very much so. I’ve noticed critics sometimes mention the ‘darkness’ in Wallander that pervades some episodes particularly. But that’s Sweden for you. I’ve lived those long winter days and I understand their effect on the national character.”

Easily digestible everywhere

How did he become involved with Wallander? “There's a lot of transnational production these days. A German group decided it wanted to take up the series for wider distribution and it needed to have the scripts in English. I was bilingual, knew the Swedish context very well and knew exactly what was required in a television script. A certain amount of cultural specificity had to be given implicit explanation but in the event Wallander seems to be easily digestible everywhere.” How would he compare the original show with Krister Henriksson and the Branagh version? “For me, they are both impressive actors who read the character in their own way but bring us a Wallander who is unshaven, lugubrious, complex ... and fascinating.”

William Aldridge’s working world is largely related to Sweden and yet his daily reality is life in the Var. Does he like being there? “On the whole, yes. You can get bored living in a small place, wherever it is. One thing I’d say is that my children got an excellent schooling here. French universities, though, don’t impress me so my daughter’s at Aberdeen and my son’s at Essex.” Does he intend to stay here? “Could be or maybe we’ll move on.”