Hustle is a British television drama series made by Kudos Film and Television and broadcast on BBC One in the United Kingdom. Created by Tony Jordan and first broadcast in 2004, the series follows a group of con artists who specialise in “long cons”—extended deceptions which require greater commitment, but which return a higher reward than simple confidence tricks. The eighth and last series ended on 17 February 2012.
Hustle was largely born from the same production team that created and popularised the early series of Spooks, a similarly-styled drama series first broadcast in 2002. Bharat Nalluri, that series’ Executive Director, conceived the idea in early 2002 while filming for the first Spooks series was ongoing. Nalluri pitched the concept to Jane Featherstone, Managing Director of Kudos Film & Television which was the production company behind Spooks, in the back of a taxi while returning from a day’s filming. Intrigued by the idea, Featherstone recruited Tony Jordan, the lead scriptwriter of the soap opera EastEnders, to develop it into a workable proposal.
Jordan quickly produced some initial script drafts, which Featherstone took to the BBC; Gareth Neame, Head of Drama Commissioning, rapidly approved a six-part series. Featherstone assembled a production team that had considerable overlap with the Spooks crew, including Simon Crawford Collins as producer and Matthew Graham as co-writer. In creating the first episodes, Jordan drew inspiration from the long tradition of confidence tricks and heists in Hollywood and television, including The A-Team, The Sting and The Grifters (and in a similar vein, the films and tv series of Mission Impossible). Featherstone remarked that “Ocean’s Eleven was on around the time Bharat and I first spoke, and I think it helped to inspire us, but really we took our inspiration from a whole catalogue of movies and books… we wanted to make something that had the energy, verve, style and pure entertainment value of those sorts of films” At the same time, the writers attempted to draw on the success of recent blockbusters such as Ocean’s Eleven and Mission: Impossible; speaking in an interview in December 2003, Crawford explained that “[such shows] worked because of the interaction within the group – the plotlines were almost irrelevant”.
With Hustle greenlit for filming, the production team began searching for actors to play both the main characters and the marks for each episode. The process was initially quite difficult; Crawford described his “immediate thought [as] ‘this is so good, how the hell are we going to get a cast to live up to these characters?’ … Tony had created incredibly strong characters, each with their own particular style and panache, but they also had to form a believable, if unusual, ‘family’ unit”. Robert Vaughn, the Academy Award-nominated star of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., was soon suggested as a natural choice to play Albert Stroller, the elderly ‘roper’ responsible for ensnaring potential marks. After meeting Vaughn over lunch, Crawford “[recognised] straight away that he could bring a whole new dimension to the part of Albert”. Vaughn was immediately offered the role, and asked to begin filming the following day.
Jordan’s script called for a group of five con artists or “grifters”, with a wide range of ages, appearances and experience. The production team cast Adrian Lester, at the time playing Henry V at the National Theatre, as Michael Stone, the leader of the group; Marc Warren as Danny Blue, Stone’s younger protégé; and Robert Glenister as Ash Morgan, the “fixer”; in August 2003. Although having numerous credits in film and on the stage, Lester was an unknown face in television, having had less than two hours’ broadcast screen time prior to the first Hustle series. Lester explained that he “couldn’t imagine playing the same character for years, but Hustle was completely different. In the very first rehearsal we were doing a dance routine and then the next thing I know I’m whacking out several different accents and I just thought, ‘I’m in heaven, this is great!'”
Jaime Murray completed the lead actors, playing Stacie Monroe who, as the grifters’ only female member, is self-styled as “the lure”. Murray, described by one of the Hustle production team as “that rare specimen – a stunningly beautiful actress who can actually act”, and who auditioned in platform shoes to match her 5 ft 7in height with Stacie’s description as having “legs that go on for miles”, was reportedly “terrified” to be working with the more famous actors Vaughn and Lester, saying “when we were filming the first couple of episodes I was absolutely petrified and was convinced that it would be really obvious on screen. So when I watched some of it on tape I was totally amazed that you couldn’t see how frightened I really was. I kept thinking, ‘Oh my God! I’m working with Adrian Lester and Robert Vaughn. Any time now someone is going to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to get my coat!'”
In addition to the lead actors, the production team recruited a number of actors, both major and minor, to play the marks in each episode; including David Haig, Tamzin Outhwaite, and David Calder.
With the cast and crew in place, filming for the first Hustle series took place in London between August and November 2003. The lead actors were given professional instruction in sleight-of-hand and pickpocketing; “all the tricks of the trade from card-shuffling to stealing watches”, according to Lester. The cast found the experience informative; Murray explained, “I realised that most cons are all about diversion – while you’re trying to con somebody you’re doing something to distract them in the opposite direction so they don’t notice and that’s exactly how pickpockets work”.
Several members of the cast described Hustle’s filming schedule as incredibly hectic. Vaughn said that “[the role] was offered to me, and I was told to get on a plane an hour after I got the phone call and start shooting the following day.” Speaking in 2009 after filming four series of the show, Lester explained that “when we start shooting Hustle we film two episodes concurrently, with the scenes out of sequence. Knowing where you are in the intricate plots at any one moment is… challenging”. Murray, by contrast, claimed that the hardest scene to film was from the fourth episode, when Danny loses spectacularly to Stacie in strip poker and ends up entirely naked. “It was the toughest scene for me of the entire six months we spent filming the series… Stacie is supposed to be calm, cool and collected… she looks down, checks him out and casually and suavely makes a comment. I kept looking down, dissolving into fits of laughter and was almost unable to deliver my line. So all you’ll see is me laughing”.
Although the programme typically contains few non-trivial stunts or dramatic special effects, the first episode includes an example of Ash Morgan’s favourite con, known as “The Flop”: having previously received a fractured skull in a bar brawl, Morgan deliberately steps in front of moving cars and exaggerates the accident. Although not actually hurt, X-ray scans show his fractured skull, and the driver’s insurance company pays out a compensation claim. Glenister balked at doing the entire stunt himself, saying “I got a stunt man who did all the smashing against the windscreen stunts but I did everything else… We all like doing the stunts involving driving fast because it’s boy’s-own stuff but when it comes to the dangerous stunts I’m quite happy to leave it to someone else goalie in soccer!”
The first episode of Hustle was broadcast on BBC One on 24 February 2004, driven by a strong advertising campaign organised by Abbott Mead Vickers, surrounding its slogan, “the con is on”. The programme was an immediate success, attracting over 6.7 million viewers, and attracting favourable reviews (see below). Before the first series had finished airing, the BBC had sold rebroadcast licenses to TV channels in twelve countries, including Italy, Norway, Germany, Israel, Russia and the Netherlands. Anita Davison, Commercial Director for BBC Worldwide, claimed that “The series [had] all the hallmarks of a huge international hit”. The series was later licensed to broadcasters in India and South America. In 2016 BBC Persian aired it in Persian language for Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
In response to the extremely positive reaction, the BBC recommissioned the show for a second series on 17 March 2004, after just three episodes had aired. The second series retained much of the initial production team including Jordan as lead scriptwriter, and introduced Karen Wilson as producer.
Filming for the second Hustle series took place in mid-2004, again in and around central London. Lester described the second shoot as “much easier” than the chaotic first series. “On the first series we didn’t know each other… we were trying to work out what roles we were going to play and the scripts were still being written as we were shooting it; it was all a case of finding out what exactly Hustle was going to be.. second time around it was much easier, much quicker… when we were reading the script you could really hear the other actors doing their lines because you knew kind of how they were going to do them…” With the success of the first series, Hustle’s team of writers were able to be more inventive in creating new plots for the second six-episode run, including issues some of the characters had to deal with, and stories which could keep the audience guessing until the end.
The programme retained all of the lead actors from the first series; guest actors appearing the second run included Lee Ingleby, Fay Ripley, and Robert Llewellyn. The second series was broadcast on BBC One from 29 March 2005, to a first-night audience of 6.7 million.
In the wake of the equally successful second series, the BBC took Hustle to the American market, securing a licensing deal with AMC. In addition to exclusive broadcast rights to the first and second series in the United States, AMC also took the position of co-production partner on the third series, already in pre-production, with the option to take the same position on a fourth series. The BBC described the move as “Securing the right platform… essential for a series to succeed in the competitive US market…”. The first two series premiered in the US in January 2006 on AMC The BBC also secured new licensing deals with broadcasters in Australia and New Zealand.
Capitalising on Hustle‘s international success, the BBC created a spinoff series, The Real Hustle, which premiered on 10 February 2006. The documentary follows three genuine hustlers – a magician and professional gambler, a glamorous actress, and a professional sleight-of-hand artist and crooked gambling consultant – as they pull short-cons on unsuspecting businesses and members of the public. The BBC described the series as an attempt “to reveal how the scams work so that the viewer can avoid being ripped off by the same con”.
All five of the lead actors again reprised their roles in the third series, which featured guest stars including Richard Chamberlain, Linford Christie, Sara Cox and Paul Nicholls. The series premiered on 10 March 2006, running until 14 April. The second episode, featuring Danny and Mickey running naked through Trafalgar Square, attracted a viewing audience of 6 million. Lester described the scene as one of his most embarrassing moments on-set, saying “you forget just how many phone cameras there are… we thought [the Square] was fairly deserted, but as soon as someone shouted ‘Action’ there was a tourbus behind us and the whole top deck suddenly started filming”.
With the backing of AMC, a fourth series of Hustle was virtually guaranteed, and by late 2006 it was clear that the cable network was taking a commanding role in the show’s development. Despite the increased funding AMC provided, which allowed the writers to set episodes in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the series was quickly mired in casting concerns. It was first rumoured in April 2006 that Adrian Lester might not return as Mickey Bricks in the fourth series; the BBC confirmed his departure in September that year, elevating Marc Warren’s character to the lead role and casting Ashley Walters as a new member of the group. The BBC was quick to dispel any suggestion that Lester’s resignation was connected to the shift in production focus, stating “it is a shame that, due to his current filming commitments, Adrian cannot join us this time round…”, while Lester explained his action as “need[ing] to do something else, be associated with something else”. However, Lester also admitted that he felt that the series “just got a little bit too ‘light'”.
Series Five debuted on 8 January 2009 with the return of Adrian Lester, the departure of cast members Marc Warren and Jaime Murray, and the arrival of Matt Di Angelo and Kelly Adams as their replacements. With the return of Lester’s character, Mickey Bricks, Ashley Walters’s Billy Bond was removed. The series resumed production in the summer of 2008; in addition, the title sequence that had been used in the last four series was changed with a new animation sequence and a much more electronic and contemporary version of the theme tune.
Series Six started 4 January 2010. All of the fifth series cast returned with production that moved to Birmingham, despite the show retaining its London setting. The series once again consisted of 6 episodes. Lolita Chakrabarti (Lester’s real-life wife) made a guest star appearance as Museum Curator Nishika Baboor in this series’ third episode, “Tiger Troubles”. Other guest stars in this series included Indira Varma, Mark Benton, Simon Day and Danny Webb.
The seventh series of Hustle began airing on 7 January 2011. All main cast members from series 6 reprised their roles. This was the second series to be filmed in Birmingham, the fourth in HD and the third series featuring all of the current cast. Episode 2 was partially set in Birmingham when the gang follow a crooked woman’s trick to the city. Guest stars in this series included Anna Chancellor, Angela Griffin, David Harewood, Clive Swift, Hannah Gordon double wall insulated stainless steel water bottle, Claire Goose, Denis Lawson and Roger Lloyd-Pack. Series 7 was the most watched series yet, with viewing figures reaching 7.2 million.
The eighth series started airing on 13 January 2012 on BBC1 at 9 pm after being pushed back from 6 January. Creator Tony Jordan said that it would be the last series for at least a while; later, the BBC announced that there would not be a series 9. Guest stars featuring this series include Sheila Hancock, Martin Kemp and Paterson Joseph and former Liverpool footballer Ian Rush. Peter Polycarpou and John Barrowman also revealed on Twitter that they had guest roles in series eight. This was the third series to be filmed in Birmingham, the fifth in HD and the fourth series featuring all of the current cast. Adrian Lester directed an episode, in which Mickey is kidnapped. Other cons see the team take on the world of slimming pills and pull off a gold heist. Jaime Murray and Marc Warren returned to their roles as Stacie Monroe and Danny Blue, respectively, for the final episode.
Each one-hour programme follows the team of grifters as they practise the “long con”, an extended deception practised against one or more “marks” (targets). Speaking in a documentary video, Adrian Lester described the difference between the long con and more common confidence tricks: “where you take a mark and convince them of a certain situation or a lie, and you send them away to get more money and come back and give it to you”. In the first series, Stacie explains to Danny the reason such long cons tend to work: unlike the more obvious short cons, “most marks don’t report a con because they think they’ve done something illegal, or better still, they don’t know they’ve been conned in the first place”.
The team adhere to the credo “you can’t cheat an honest man”, with all of their marks being people who have some kind of illegal or immoral activity in their pasts or who simply demonstrate a fundamentally negative personality; in one episode, Mickey stated that he selects marks that he personally has reason to dislike in order to ensure that the con is never exclusively about getting wealthy. Some episodes have even featured the crew performing cons that benefit people they have befriended over the course of the episode rather than having them be the sole benefactors of the con; examples include the teams’ faking a jewel theft from the Tower of London and allowing a member of the cleaning staff to discover it after she showed sympathy for team member Ash Morgan while he was posing undercover as an immigrant worker (“Eye of the Beholder”), leaving money stolen from a highly secure slot machine in a casino to a security guard at the casino who had advised Stacie Monroe during her brief employment (“Big Daddy Calling”), stating that they will ‘return’ an apparently stolen painting only after the rights to the security system that protected it had been returned to the wife of the original inventor (The inventor having committed suicide after he was cheated out of the patent) (“New Recruits”), and arranging for the niece of a friend to get a modelling contract with an agency that has a rivalry with the company that cheated her out of her money in her original application, to name just a few.
The series utilises several techniques from the stage and theatre and converting them to the screen. The series frequently breaks the fourth wall (purposely…and, usually, at least once per episode), as well as employing other stylised, cinematic devices such as cutaway scenes shot in a different style from the rest of the show. For example, in several episodes characters appear to “stop time”, interacting with other actors that remain frozen in place, while key members of the cast announce their intentions to us (the audience) or further develop their “con” between themselves and other characters by discussing plans with either each other—or even themselves; while certain members freeze in place, others of the cast are free to move around the set and drink other peoples drinks and pilfer other peoples pockets and the like. This technique serves many purposes—chiefly of which is a stylistic approach to theater, but it can also be said that it is used here as a metaphor for how the main characters of this drama can manipulate their environment at will—as opposed to average individuals who, most of the time, remain oblivious to what is going on around them. Examples of this can be seen in the pilot episode (“The Con Is On”), the first episode of the second series (“Gold Mine”) and the second episode of the fourth series (“Signing Up to Wealth”). Other fourth-wall-breaking moments are more subtle – a character might smile directly at the camera as the con begins to take shape, or an actor may make an editorial comment to the viewers, or they might even wink at us…as if we are in on it with them, or they are letting us in on a secret. Some episodes insert fantasy sequences – scenes shot like a Bollywood musical or a silent movie, for example, all well-known cinematic style choices used to elicit emotions or mood from the audience in just a few steps that might, otherwise, take up pages of dialogue in order to accomplish.
Each episode also amounts to a confidence game played upon the viewers through the use of misdirection and hidden plot details that are revealed at the end of the story. Not all cons depicted are successful, and some episodes focus on the characters dealing with the consequences of their actions. However, even if a con does fail, main characters usually come out on top in some way or other…or, at times, nothing is gained but nothing lost, either.
In addition to one long con, each episode features a number of short cons played by the major characters on members of the public. The short cons demonstrate the seemingly endless array of tricks professional con men possess and the ease with which short cons can be played upon the unassuming individual.
Each episode of Hustle is a stand-alone program, with usually little or no connection to other episodes in the series; however, it has contained some continuity before, for example:
In October 2005, it was announced that the BBC had sold United States screening rights for the first two series to cable television station AMC, who joined as a production partner for the third run. The series is also screened in Spain and Portugal through the People+Arts channel, partially owned by the BBC. The first two series aired back-to-back on CBC in Canada during the summer of 2006. The third series premiered on CBC on 13 February 2007.
Series 4 marked a departure from the usual airing of the series. Typically, the BBC would air the episode in the UK and then 6 to 9 months later they would air in the US on AMC. However, due to the additional funding that AMC provided for the production, Series 4 debuted in the US on 18 April 2007, prior to airing in the UK. As a result of AMC’s increased involvement, the first and final episodes of series 4 were filmed on location in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The series has also been shown in other countries such as New Zealand, Australia (both on ABC1 and Foxtel’s UKTV), Germany on RTL Crime, Japan, Sweden on SVT, Italy on La7 and Finland on MTV3. Currently series two is aired to the middle east (Mostly KSA, Oman & UAE) by Dubai One, a channel based in Dubai UAE. Virgin Media TV bought the rights to broadcast Hustle on its flagship channel Virgin 1.
The series received a spin-off documentary, The Real Hustle, in which Paul Wilson, Jessica-Jane Clement and Alexis Conran travel the country demonstrating cons to real people with the aid of hidden cameras. It is aired regularly on BBC Three.
The title sequence, created by Berger & Wyse, was nominated for a Royal Television Society Award (2005), a BAFTA (2006) and an Emmy (2007). The title music, composed by Simon Rogers was also nominated for the Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music Emmy in 2007.
Following much media speculation, including reports of the programme being cancelled and a motion picture spin-off, the BBC announced on 12 June 2008 that Hustle had been recommissioned for a fifth series with series 1–3 star, Adrian Lester returning to the show alongside Robert Glenister and Robert Vaughn. Due to scheduling conflicts, Marc Warren and Jaime Murray did not feature in series five, with Matt Di Angelo and Kelly Adams joining the cast.
In June 2006, 20th Century Fox acquired the film rights to Hustle; a film adaptation of the programme is currently being written by creator Tony Jordan, who has written several drafts but is still developing the script. In February 2009, executive producer, Simon Crawford Collins stated that the movie is to be produced by a major US studio.
The first series of Hustle, broadcast from 24 February to 30 March 2004, attracted generally favourable reviews and audience figures. The Guardian described it as “defiantly high-concept, tightly plotted, knowing stuff… a laugh; slick, glossy, and smart certainly, but a laugh all the same”, and The Times remarked that it had “the snap and style of a series that has been cryogenically frozen in the 1960s and brought back to life, like The Clangers… The wonderfully absurd result is a drama series that takes itself far less seriously than almost anything since The Persuaders“. A later review from the same paper summarised the series as “an engaging, well-acted, snappily directed drama… sleekly edited, flatteringly lit, and stylishly executed… Will you remember a single moment of it five minutes after you’ve watched an episode? Probably not. But who cares?” The first three episodes attracted an average audience of 6.2 million, peaking at over 30% of the total audience.
Several series of the show have been released on 2-disc DVDs in both Europe and North America with the final series 8 also released on Blu-ray in Germany but with the cut 50 minute versions. The UK, Region 2, release of Series One erroneously contained the US edited versions of the episodes, and not the full uncut episodes as originally seen on BBC One. A revised edition was released some time afterwards. The revised edition has a 15 certificate whereas the cut DVD has a PG certificate. The back of the revised case also contains the words “Each episode approx. 59 mins” under “Run Time” in the information table. The first four series have been released in Region 1 (North America), but BBC Video has yet to issue further series to DVD in that part of the world. The region 2 releases for series 1-6 each feature some kind of making of documentary with cast and crew interviews. No such features were produced for the final two series.
The Australian (Region 4) releases of series 1 to 4 use NTSC format despite PAL being the format used in that region, and being the original production format of the series. Some music has been replaced in versions available outside the UK.