Blue Lights: ‘Everyone still asks us why we killed Gerry’ - Behind the scenes of the hit Belfast cop drama as it returns for a second series

David Roy finds out more about the new series and discovers that even though poor old Gerry Cliff may be gone, he’s certainly not been forgotten....

Blue Lights series two behind the scenes
Behind the scenes. PICTURE: Christopher Barr (BBC/Two Cities Television)

“EVERYWHERE we go, when people find out who we are, they are like: ‘Oh my God, why did you kill Gerry?!’,” reveals Adam Patterson of how he and Blue Lights co-writer/co-creator Declan Lawn are still being chastised by fans for killing off Richard Dormer’s beloved character, Constable Gerry Cliff, in the first series of their hit Belfast-set BBC One cop show.

“When we started to write season one, we knew exactly what Gerry’s fate was going to be,” offers an unrepentant Declan, who also co-directed the new series with Adam.

“It wasn’t some kind of a whimsical screenwriting idea. And the reason will become quite apparent in season two.”

Fans can find out exactly what motivated the duo to terminate everyone’s favourite twinkly-eyed copper with a heart of gold on Monday, when Blue Lights returns on BBC One and iPlayer for its new series, but The Irish News gained some advance insight into what’s in store during a recent visit to the set.

Appropriately enough, the hit show – which has already had a third and fourth series commissioned – is now based in a former government building in east Belfast which has been converted into a convincing, detail-packed replica of an active PSNI station, complete with a custody suite, staff lockers, interview rooms, offices for senior staff and an open-plan desk area with functional PC workstations.

There’s even a hospital ward for those scenes when someone ends up battered and bloody while on the beat.

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As you walk into the new and expanded Blue Lights PSNI station, you pass a plaque on the wall bearing the inscription:

‘In memory of Constable Gerry Cliff, 1969-2023, Police Service of Northern Ireland. Who dedicated his life to protect us.”

Gerry's memorial plaque on the wall of the  Blue Lights PSNI station
Gerry's memorial plaque on the wall of the Blue Lights PSNI station
Richard Dormer as Gerry Cliff in Blue Lights
Richard Dormer as Gerry Cliff in Blue Lights

“Basically, all great teams are kind of forged in some kind of tragedy,” explains Declan of how Gerry’s death has impacted the rest of the Blue Lights cops, who include Gerry’s young PSNI trainee protégé Tommy Foster (Nathan Braniff) and Jen Robinson (Hannah McLean), the action-shy greenhorn who witnessed the veteran’s traumatic final moments before leaving the police to become a solicitor.

“Series one was kind of about how they find themselves as a team in the immediate wake of that tragedy. In series two, basically that’s now the thing that they all share, that makes them a section. So we don’t shy away from that.

Adam agrees: “We always promised ourselves that people would be remembered on the show – it’s not like they all turn up to work the next day and their colleagues never spoken of again.”

Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn
The Blue Lights writers, pictured here recalling the moment they decided to kill off Gerry

Also back for series two are music and grub-obsessed street cop Stevie Neil (Martin McCann), his English, mum of one, ex-social worker partner Grace Ellis (Sián Brooke), their firm but fair boss, Helen McNally (Joanne Crawford) who’s now an Inspector, camogie/booze-loving trainee Annie Conlon (Katherine Devlin) and Sergeant Sandra Cliff (Andi Osho), Gerry’s widow.

“She’s just trying her best to cope,” offers Andi of how her character juggles grief and duty in the new series, which picks up the Blue Lights story one year on from the tragedy and finds Sandra adjusting to her new role as a patrol officer.

Andi Osho and Joanne Crawford as Sandra   Cliff and Helen McNally in Blue Lights
Andi Osho and Joanne Crawford as Sandra Cliff and Helen McNally. PICTURE: Christopher Barr (BBC/Two Cities Television)

“I think that’s who Sandra is anyway, but also, because of her job, she doesn’t feel like she can wallow in it. But Gerry was her world, so at the start of series two, she’s thinking ‘where now?’.

She adds: “As an actor, Gerry’s death has definitely stayed with me, because a lot of people still want to talk to me about him.”

“For Tommy, he’s now struggling with wanting to pay homage to Gerry but also learning to be his own man at the same time,” comments Nathan Braniff of how his character has developed since we last saw him.

Nathan Braniff and Katherine Devlin as Tommy Foster and Annie Conlon in Blue Lights S2
Nathan Braniff and Katherine Devlin as Tommy Foster and Annie Conlon
Seamus O'Hara and Seána Kerslake in Blue Lights series two
Seamus O'Hara and Seána Kerslake have joined the cast for the new series (BBC/Two Cities Television)

Storywise, the new series centres on a young military veteran and his sister, Lee (Seamus O’Hara) and Maggie Thompson (Seána Kerslake), who are living in a loyalist area. When Lee has had enough of the local paramilitary godfathers, he decides to take them on himself – with predictably violent results.

We also see how Belfast city centre has become plagued by rival drug gangs and petty crime as it struggles with a huge homelessness problem (so far, so realistic), and that the PSNI don’t have adequate resources to police it properly: will the arrival of an enigmatic new transfer, Constable Shane Bradley (Frank Blake), help to alleviate the strain?

Frank Blake as Shane Bradley in Blue Lights series two
Frank Blake as Shane Bradley (BBC/Two Cities Television)

There’s also the odd bit of romantic intrigue developing between the boys and girls in Pantone Green, which finds the writers picking up on another thread left dangling at the end of series one – the chemistry between Stevie and Grace.

“It’s evident that there’s something fizzling between them,” offers Sián Brooke of the ‘will-they-won’t-they?’ tension between the veteran street cop and his naively optimistic new partner.

“In this series, we witness how successful they are in maintaining a work relationship.”

Blue Lights
Stevie (Martin McCann) and Grace (Sián Brooke). PICTURE: Christopher Barr

One year on from being a wet behind the ears rookie, it seems that Grace is now a slightly saltier prospect.

“She’s on slightly less solid ground in her personal life, so she’s become a little bit disheartened,” comments Sián.

“She’s also maybe a little bit more of a realist – but she’s still trying her best to make a difference.”

The actor is in a unique position among the Blue Lights cast, as her dad is a former policeman.

“He loved the first series,” she enthuses, “he’s probably one of our biggest fans. But I remember when Gerry died, Dad was devastated.

Stevie and Grace on the job in Blue Lights S2
Stevie and Grace on the job. PICTURE: Christopher Barr (BBC/Two Cities Television)

“He said: ‘But Gerry’s one of the old guys – *I* was one of the old guys!”.

“In season one, Stevie was maybe a little bit fed up – and then this wee ray of sunshine brought things out in him that he’d maybe buried after the death of his wife,” comments Martin McCann of how his character has been affected by his new maybe-more-than-just-a-partner.

“But that definitely won’t play out in the way you might expect.”

All will be revealed when the Blue Lights squad return to duty next week.

Blue Lights series two begins weekly airings on Monday April 15 on BBC One at 9pm, with all six episodes available on BBC iPlayer from 6am


Shane Bradley (Frank Blake)

Frank Blake as new transfer Shane Bradley in Blue Lights S2
Frank Blake as new transfer Shane Bradley
How does Shane fit into Blue Lights?

Shane is new to the team and has been brought in by Murray Canning (Desmond Eastwood) to boost the section as they are short-staffed.

Shane thinks he’s a bit above the response work and aspires to work in a job like Canning’s and perhaps get out of uniform. He’s a results-driven officer and doesn’t play by the rules, which gets him into a bit of hot water along the way.

How far is Shane prepared to push the letter of the law?

I believe Shane is a good police officer and he isn’t afraid to break a few rules to get the results they need.

He enjoys the thrill of the job however, his inexperience in some aspects of the job means he makes mistakes and gets him into trouble.

Fundamentally, he has the interests of the public at heart.

Annie (Katherine Devlin) and Shane (Frank Blake)
Annie (Katherine Devlin) and Shane (Frank Blake) (BBC/Two Cities Television)
Who does Shane interact with on the job?

Shane is partnered with Annie on the beat together and on patrol and they get on very well being a similar age.

I think Annie is intrigued by Shane’s method of policing and he likes to show off in front of Annie. There is a spark between them for sure, but where it leads to is anyone’s guess.

Shane also goes on patrol with Tommy and we see him interact with Grace and Stevie in certain situations they get called out to.

What was it about the show you were drawn to?

I watched series one when it was on air, really enjoyed it as a viewer and was delighted to come on board series two as one of the cast.

What are the underlying themes of Blue Lights?

It’s explosive and it’s about relationships with human interaction at its heart.

Lee Thompson (Seamus O’Hara)

Seamus O'Hara as Lee Thompson
Seamus O'Hara as Lee Thompson
Who is Lee Thompson and how does he fit into Blue Lights?

Lee Thompson has lived away from Belfast and seen a lot of the world during his time in the army.

After serving in Afghanistan, he sees a different kind of war on the streets of Belfast. He very quickly identifies a new enemy - drugs - as a threat to the wellbeing of his community, and he goes after that with everything he’s got.

Lee cares deeply about his people and has real pride in being a Protestant from east Belfast. A man who has fought for his country and is fiercely proud of the traditions he grew up with.

What are his ambitions for the Mount Eden estate?

Despite the pride he has in his roots, there’s a loss of self-belief among the people of Mount Eden and when they talk about being from Northern Ireland, these things really matter to their identity and ultimately their self-esteem.

Lee’s ambition is to restore that sense of pride because once they have that back they won’t let it be taken away.

He talks about “going back to how it used to be”.

Lee (Seamus O'Hara) and Mags (Seána Kerslake) in Blue Lights S2
Lee (Seamus O'Hara) and Mags (Seána Kerslake). PICTURE: Christopher Barr (BBC/Two Cities Television)
How would you describe Lee’s relationship with his sister Mags (Seána Kerslake) and his nephew, Henry (Alfie Lawless)?

Mags is fiercely protective of her son, as is Lee of his nephew. Despite living in a post-conflict world, it doesn’t feel like it’s post-conflict on the Mount Eden estate.

Having lost their parents at a young age, Mags and Lee are undoubtedly close - but, as the series progresses, we see her questioning some of Lee’s choices.

What was it like to join an established cast?

What I love about working in Northern Ireland is that everyone knows everyone, which means that as soon as you walk on a set you have a shorthand and it feels like an ensemble.

Everyone was so welcoming and gave me room to navigate and collaborate on the character, and that boils down to trusting the actor and giving them space to create.

What research did you do?

I knew a lot already but I did research the role because I was playing someone from a background I’m not from. That’s a world of tradition that I had to examine to ensure I had no preconceptions or assumptions about that community.

A fellow actor took me on tours of Belfast so that I could look at it with fresh eyes. What I wanted to discover most of all was what Lee was most proud of as a unionist man, and as soon as I started to explore that it pushed me in the right direction.

Mags Thompson (Seána Kerslake)

Seána Kerslake as Mags Thompson
Seána Kerslake as Mags Thompson
Who is Mags and where does she fit into Blue Lights?

Mags Thompson is the co-owner of The Loyal pub in Mount Eden in Belfast along with her brother Lee, who has taken it upon himself to try to take over running the estate in Mount Eden.

Mags watches this unfold as the story progresses while trying to protect her son Henry, and their way of life.

What threats does Henry face that Mags feels she needs to protect him?

Henry is 12 and is always involved in the running of The Loyal pub and around his uncle and his friends. Mags is fiercely protective of him, but he is at risk of being exposed to some hard truths and she wants to shield him from that.

His relationship with his Uncle Lee, whom he idolises, is fundamental to how the core story arc pans out. Henry looks up to Lee and his military background and his ideals about truth, honour and loyalty are all very admirable things that Henry is impressed by.

Is Lee a role model for Henry?

Henry’s father and grandfather are not in the picture for Mags and Henry so Lee is one of his core male role models along with his Uncle Rab. These two men are his only guides to show him how to behave in the world.

Blue Lights series two
PICTURE: Christopher Barr (BBC/Two Cities Television)
What is Mags’ relationship like with her brother?

Lee and Mags are extremely close because of the way they grew up in the family bar and losing their mum at a young age and then their dad too. They’ve had to grow up a little bit quicker because of that, and also through the environment in which they live.

Their relationship is really close and they definitely get through to each other more than someone else would.

How much does Mags know about what Lee is really up to?

She thinks she knows what’s going on, but throughout the course of the story we learn that he has been keeping many secrets from her.

It’s a grey area for Mags in what she knows and doesn’t know. What she chooses to turn away from and what she chooses not to be present for.

Underlying everything is her determination to protect her son and the lengths she is willing to go to.

Blue Lights series two
PICTURE: Christopher Barr (BBC/Two Cities Television)
What are her views on Lee’s ambitions for the Mount Eden estate?

Like the saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, I do think Lee fundamentally is a good guy and I don’t know why he goes down the road he heads down or where that change in him originated.

Some of the decisions she makes are the hardest she’s ever had to make and have massive repercussions for her.

What was it about Blue Lights that made it such a hit?

I was so glad to see a homegrown drama, shot in Belfast, with a really strong cast from Northern Ireland, Ireland and the UK. Character is always a driver for me and I think the humanity of the characters hooked me in.

Declan and Adam have really given us all something else to play off this series which is so exciting for an actor. I hope the audiences like the new storylines and take to the new characters.