Blue Lights: Interview with Joanne Crawford who plays Helen McNally

Upcoming BBC crime drama Blue Lights follows three inexperienced police officers as they navigate the dangerous streets of Belfast. Joanne Crawford plays Helen McNally in the series.

Who is Helen in Blue Lights?

It’s such a lovely character to play and we don’t really know much about Helen other than her life in the station. She is tough on the probationers because she knows what the job entails and the type of person who suits it. She is a mentor and minder. Even though the first time we see her she’s telling people what to do, she’s not just throwing her weight about – she’s trying to find the right path for these probationers. Her life is very much in the station so every decision she makes is very much about the people. For me I think she’s about the job rather than the career which is different to others around her.

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Was there much research involved and did you find it useful?

Our director, Gilles (Bannier), sent some wonderful documentaries that were very useful. On set we had an ex RUC/PSNI officer as our advisor, which was such a gift. You’re really in unknown territory in terms of the way people speak to each other; what can be casual and what can be authoritative. It would be very firm but calm and a lot more engaged. We see a separation between those in uniform and those in plain clothes and the whole process of unpicking what a uniform stands for was fascinating. Our advisor really helped us with that nuance.

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What about Helen’s relationship with Annie. 

Whatever haphazard way Annie approaches things Helen sees someone who is brave and has a particular determination. Just like Helen, Annie is interested in the job. She’s brave, grounded and will engage with what is going on around her. Helen sees herself reflected in Annie.

Tell us about working with director, Gilles Bannier.

It was truly wonderful to work with our director, Gilles Bannier. His impact on the piece is immeasurable. He was so gracious and kind to work with and it was so surprising to me to hear a French person speak with such love, knowledge and respect for Northern Ireland. On set his talent as a director was endless, detailed and comprehensive. Every department loved working with him and that sense of pride, love and going the extra mile fed into every aspect of the show.


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.