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A taster of my book Being Human – unofficial and unauthorised

Taken from the section about the mythology behind our favourite supernatural beings, this introduction is all about the vampires.  The book also has detailed reviews of the pilot and the first two series as well as sections on locations, costumes and characters.  An affectionate, humorous (and slightly sarcastic) exploration of the world of Being Human…

If you would like to read more the book is available direct from Classic TV Press as well as from Amazon.

Now, are you sitting comfortably?  Then we’ll begin…

Vampires and werewolves and ghosts, oh my…

Writing about the supernatural has a weight of tradition and expectation to contend with.  Anyone planning to tell tales of the undead, partly dead or just plain hairy has to start by taking a stroll down the pic ’n’ mix aisle of the supernatural supermarket.   Everyone knows what vampires are like and that werewolves just love the full moon, and we all have a dodgy ghost story to tell, but all that adds up to is a high level of expectation.  After all, we already know how it works.  Don’t we?

So where do the Being Human supernaturals fit into the accepted mythology?  Do they resemble the accepted lore and the much-loved fiction and, given all that, how can they be both mystical and still fit into Bristol society?

Let’s face it, ghosts, vampires and werewolves – they’re not actually real so every writer can use them in the way that best suits their needs.  Toby Whithouse himself agreed that “the bottom line always had to be ‘What gives us the best story?’”  (BBC Being Human blog, February 2009.)

The Vampires

Let’s talk vampires, because right now vampires are hot.  Or cool.  Either way, they’re box office.  We all know they died but are immortal, hate garlic, crucifixes and daylight, and can’t be filmed or seen in mirrors – the perfect recipe for a series of very bad hair days.

The grand vampires of fiction vary enormously.  Anne Rice’s vampires can’t eat or drink and – despite a series of erotic obsessions – don’t or can’t have sex.  They can only come out after sunset and they fall into an irresistible unconsciousness at daybreak.  In HBO’s True Blood (2008- ) there’s no food, but sex seems rather more of a preoccupation and silver is toxic.  Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula (mistakenly thought to be the first fictional vampire) can go out in daylight but his powers are dramatically reduced if he does so.  No shape-shifting for example – always a knotty problem, I find.

As in life, budget plays a part in setting the vampire rules for Being Human.  They cannot be filmed, photographed or seen in mirrors, but the work involved in removing stray reflections in windows or shiny surfaces would have been prohibitive.  So they do reflect but not through lenses or in silver-backed mirrors.  This unsettling notion is used to full effect in the vampire snuff movie, and also when Fleur disbelieves and then rationalises what she sees when Mitchell is not beside her son in her hand mirror, and when Lauren first approaches George.  It is also a serious moment of truth for Lucy when Mitchell is still in her bed but not visible to her in the mirror.  When Lucy and Kemp consider the evidence on their giant whiteboard, it’s interesting to compare WW1 photos of Mitchell with the drawings of his present-day look.  There are photos of recently recruited Lauren and Cara, but only drawings of Herrick.

Of course vampires drink blood.  That one is non-negotiable – or is it?  The Being Human vampires can live without blood and Mitchell tries repeatedly to give it up, with the obvious parallel being that blood is an addiction.   To other vampires a clean vampire looks pale and ill; most cannot understand why anyone would give up what is for them an immense pleasure.  Some have tried but it all seems rather doomed.  Carl stayed clean for 20 years before killing his lover in an action that seemed to be beyond his control, almost inevitable.  The main reason most fail is that once they are free of the immediate desire for blood, the memory of every single one of their kills returns to them in excruciating detail and these memories torment them.  The only way to stop it is to drink again.  Mitchell told Josie that for him killing was cowardice because he couldn’t face the pain of the memories.  Mitchell tries to help them all stay clean with Vampires Anonymous, but what support group (however good the biscuits) has a chance against the strength and physicality of a vampire’s nature?  Maybe it would have worked, but thanks to Lucy and Kemp and their fun with nitro-glycerine we’ll never know.

It is only when they are about to attack and drink that the Being Human vampires’ fangs appear and their eyes go completely black.  Their eyes can also darken when they are tempted or close to blood – Mitchell’s do this when looking at blood bags in the hospital and when retrieving Lauren’s vampire porn film from the bin.  It also seems to be something that vampires can do consciously and Mitchell darkens his eyes to scare off the boys bullying Bernie in series one.  There is a very good effect in series two after Mitchell has massacred 20 people on the train, when his eyes are not completely dark but the irises are black.  It’s extremely unsettling, a very effective touch of evil.

One very useful thing in the making of TV or films featuring vampires is that they don’t age or change their appearance.  It means they can be filmed in flashback entirely convincingly with just a change of costume and hair as we saw in the 1960s sequence with Herrick and Mitchell.  I suppose the opposite of this is that, as they don’t age, the prospect of a Coronation Street-length vampire saga would have to find a solution for the inevitably aging actors!  Doctor Who did it with regeneration, so why not?  I suppose employing real vampires is out of the question – photos for Spotlight would be a problem, as would be actually filming them in the first place.  OK, so that was not one of my better ideas!

Daylight is OK for our vampires, although sunlight isn’t great for them, meaning sunglasses and covering up are de rigueur and – of course – rather cool.  Only being able to film most of the cast at night would have been unduly restrictive and a lower budget show can do without the expense of continual night shooting.

Vampires cannot cross the threshold unless they are invited in and as Lauren said in episode two: “That is such a mental rule.  Who made that up?”   It was used to great effect in Buffy and works well when Herrick almost manages to stake Mitchell, only to be foiled by the invisible barrier preventing him from entering the house.  There’s a slight addendum to this in series two, when Mitchell only needs to be invited to enter a block of flats, not each individual dwelling.  This is how he gets into Josie’s flat to hold her hostage.  In series one, George and the very nervous vicar also repel vampires from the hospital by repeatedly telling them they are not welcome, and the chaplain uses the same ploy against Mitchell when he is looking for Lucy at the end of series two.

Classically, all vampires are repelled by religious symbols and Being Human is no exception, although, of course, there are variations.  Mitchell can look after George’s Star of David without harm because of the affection between him and George.  Presumably this is why the preponderance of crosses and other Christian paraphernalia in Lucy’s flat doesn’t seem to bother him in the slightest.  George discovers his Star of David will repel one vampire but not many, as the effect is diluted.

Vampires, being dead, do not register on the hospital’s monitoring equipment and Mitchell is a complete and utter mystery to the nursing staff after he is stabbed.  He heals far too quickly and seems to need to be conscious to register any signs of life at all.  He also tells us that vampires cannot make new blood, so if they bleed or are hurt then only drinking fresh blood will cure them.  It’s not clear what would happen if they didn’t – maybe remain weak for ever, or just fade away.

There are some examples of the healing power of a fresh kill.  Josie sacrifices herself to heal Mitchell, out of love, and so he can fight Herrick.  When Daisy rescues Cara from the caves where Mitchell had left her after smashing her fangs, Daisy takes her a child to drink from and Cara is restored.  Restored enough for her and Daisy to bleed all over Herrick’s resting place and wake him up at the end of series two!  No rest for the wicked…

Vampires are immortal but can be destroyed.  In Being Human, the classic stake in the chest seems to be the foolproof method and we see Seth and Lauren go that way.  Ivan and the other vampires are destroyed in the explosion set by Kemp at the funeral parlour and I suppose that the catastrophic damage to their physical bodies was what killed them, although it could have been the almost total blood loss.  Herrick is dismembered by George as the werewolf in series one; George tells us he tore off his head.  His remains are buried but he is not dead (or not entirely) and is resurrected by the blood of Daisy and Cara – presumably the older vampires get, the tougher they are.  We have yet to see just how recovered Herrick is – maybe there are some consequences to being reanimated after being beheaded?

Being Human’s vampires always seem to be cold.  Mitchell is rarely out of his fingerless gloves, and layers of shirts and T-shirts and sleek black overcoats abound.  However, there may be an exception to this rule in Daisy.  She certainly doesn’t seem to feel any drafts, unless she has a pair of substantial thermal knickers under her flimsy tea frock.  Somehow, though, I doubt that!  She doesn’t look like a Damart girl…

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If you enjoyed this and want to read more – then you’ll just have to buy the book!

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