Representations of British Probation Officers in Film, Television Drama and Novels 1948-2012

Published 17/10/2012
Type Article
Author(s) Mike Nellis
Corresponding Authors Mike Nellis, Emeritus Professor of Criminal and Community Justice, School of Law, University of Strathclyde

This paper offers an overview of representations of the British probation service in three fictional media over a sixty year period, up to the present time. While there were never as many, and they were never as renowned as  representations of police, lawyers and doctors, there are arguably more than has generally been realised. Broadly speaking – although there have always been individual exceptions to general trends – there has been a   shift from supportive and optimistic representations to cynical and disillusioned ones, in which the viability of showing care and compassion to offenders is questioned or mocked. This mirrors wider political attempts to change the traditionally welfare-oriented culture of the service to something more punitive. The somewhat random and intermittent production of probation novels, films and television series over the period in questions has had no discernible cumulative impact on public understanding of probation, and it is suggested that the relative absence of iconic media portrayals of its officers, comparable to those achieved in police, legal and medical fiction, has made it more difficult to sustain credible debates about rehabilitation in popular culture.