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MD & Freeman

Image created by Grace Gay for Research Professional News. Images: (Donelan) Gareth Milner [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr; (Freeman) Fiona McIntyre for Research Professional News

Ivory Tower: time to meet the new higher education and research crime-busting duo

Continuity announcer:

As part of the BBC licence fee settlement, we bring you an anti-woke detective series about universities. Yes, seriously. Viewers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland mercifully have their own programmes.

Episode One: Outcomes

1. Ext. An unmarked police car
A woman drinks from a Laura Ashley thermos mug and peers out through binoculars. On the other side of the street a man wearing an outsized coat is acting suspiciously, trying to catch the attention of young people passing by. He stops a young woman, they talk, he looks around as if checking whether anyone is watching. He reaches inside his coat to retrieve a book and gives it to the woman.

MD: [speaking into a walkie-talkie]: Right, that’s it. Everyone, go, go, go!

2. Ext. The street
The detective jumps out of the car and runs across the street, raising her badge aloft.

MD: HE police, stop right there.

The man panics and flees. MD gives chase through the streets of what is obviously a university setting. They bump into bicycles and scarf-wearing students. They overturn a second-hand book stall. The man runs down an alley into a dead end with nowhere to run.

MD: All right sunshine, you’re nicked.

The man puts his hands up, and in so doing we see his outsized coat is lined with pockets full of copies of the same book, a university prospectus.

3. Int. Westminster HE police station
MD enters the bull pen, with her collar walking before her handcuffed. MD is carrying a copy of the prospectus. She slams it down on a colleague’s desk.

MD: I caught this creep peddling this filth outside a university. Makes you sick, doesn’t it? I’ll leave him with you for processing. He’s blighted his last young life. And remember to do the paperwork properly—a tidy desk is a tidy mind.

Chief Inspector Zahawi appears at the door to his office.

Zahawi: Detective Donelan… if you have a moment.

MD: Sure, gaffer.

4. Int. Chief Inspector Zahawi’s office
Zahawi is now behind his desk, and standing beside him is a man in a blue suit, in his 50s.

MD: What is it boss? Did you read my report on low-quality providers?

Zahawi: Take a seat detective. Have you ever heard of Operation Save Big Dog?

MD: No, is it an undercover thing?

Zahawi: On the contrary, it’s very much out in the open, and we all have our part to play. I want you to clear your desk…

MD: My desk is always clear. Winner of the Westminster HE police best admin and filing system three years in a row.

Zahawi: I mean drop whatever you’re doing and concentrate on this. I want you to go out and make some noise. Let’s crack down and really make our presence felt. I want zero-tolerance.

MD: Of what, sir?

Zahawi: Tolerance.

MD: Eh?

Zahawi: Woke, communism, call it what you want. Let’s really turn up the heat in the war on culture.

MD: I think you mean culture war, gaffer.

Zahawi: Semantics detective. Since this is a high-profile case, you are going to have some help.

MD: But I work alone boss. I’m a strong female lead with a mysterious past that I don’t like to talk about.

Zahawi: Not this time. I’d like to introduce you to detective George Freeman. He’ll be your new partner.

MD: But, I don’t…

Freeman: Lovely to meet you too. Perhaps we could grab a spot of lunch at the Carlton Club. They do a rather splendid eggs benedict there.

MD: I don’t join clubs.

Freeman: Well, you can watch me eat while you tell me all about yourself.

MD: I don’t talk about myself.

Freeman: How about a cocktail at Annabelle’s instead?

Zahawi: No time for that now, get down to that campus and feel some collars.

Freeman: Perhaps later then. Maybe a show, followed by supper. I hear there’s something good on at the Young Vic at the moment.

MD sighs loudly and walks out, arms crossed in a huff.

5. Ext. An undercover police car, outside a university campus
MD is peering intently through the binoculars and sipping from her Laura Ashley cup. Freeman is elaborately peeling an orange in the passenger’s seat.

Freeman: Do you always talk this much?

There is no answer, as MD sips her cup.

Freeman: This could get awkward…

MD: Look, just because we’ve been told to work together, it doesn’t mean we need to like it. So, if you don’t mind, I’m working.

Freeman: Come on Michelle.

MD: Call me inspector or MD, or just don’t speak to me.

Freeman: Come on MD, you must have a past.

There is no reply as MD looks through the binoculars.

Freeman: What about your parents?

MD: They live in a village, that’s all you need to know.

Freeman: What a coincidence, I live in a village too.

MD: I don’t want to know about you. We’ve got a job to do and that’s it. I don’t want to end up caring… not like last time… not like Mandy.

MD looks wistfully into the mid-distance.

Freeman: Mandy?

MD: She left us.

Freeman: I’m sorry.

MD: She’s not dead, she was reshuffled into the whip’s office. I don’t like to talk about it.

Freeman: Aye, aye… what’s going on over there? Next to that statue of a former colonial administrator.

MD: Don’t just sit there, time to move.

6. Ext. Outside a college building
A group of students are protesting with banners and placards.

MD: It makes me sick.

Freeman: What does?

MD: All this, like the Battleship Potemkin. These students, being led astray by books and ideas when they should be in the library achieving their MBA.

Freeman: It’s just young people protesting about perceived injustice. Weren’t you ever young and idealistic?

MD: No.

Freeman: Don’t tell me, you wanted to be a Conservative MP at the age of 12.

MD: Six.

Freeman: Have you ever had fun? I remember my gap year, hitchhiking through Africa, freewheelin’ down the Zambesi, listening to Bob Dylan.

MD: Who?

Freeman: The wind in my hair. Believe it or not I had hair then.

MD: Look, all I’ve ever wanted to do was be an HE cop. I do what I do to stop this sort of thing happening ever again.

Freeman: It’s just a statue.

MD: No, young people being hoodwinked onto courses without adequate graduate outcomes. They just see a course, no one advises them. They don’t know it won’t lead to average earnings or a professional position five years after graduation.

Freeman: Maybe they are enjoying themselves.

MD: People from your background just don’t get it.

Freeman: Get what? Having fun? I’m rather good at that.

The crowd starts to chant, “Clive must fall!”

MD: They should all be in a computer lab.

Freeman: I thought we were against online learning these days.

MD: Face-to-face teaching is no excuse for…

Freeman: For what?

MD: Look over there. Who’s that?

They see a man in a Boris Johnson rubber mask conducting the chanting. He spots the detectives looking at him and starts to run.

MD: Come on, let’s go.

The detectives give chase through the campus, running through the refectory and student union. MD thinks she has him cornered but a black car with tinted glass, of the type used by government ministers, pulls up and he escapes inside. It drives away leaving MD breathless. Freeman catches up.

MD: He got away.

Freeman: Did he? He dropped this.

MD: What is it?

Freeman hands her a card for Annabelle’s wine bar in Westminster.

MD: What does it mean?

Freeman: It means there might be more to this HE crime than meets the eye. All this running about has given me a thirst. Fancy a glass of champagne, detective?

MD: No, I’ve got a flask of rosehip tea to finish.

The detectives wander off, squabbling, as the titles go up.

To be continued…

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