Friday, 8 January 2010

Bent coppers

One of the British cultural icons I'm very fond of is the TV detective drama. It always contains those classic ingredients that add up to a uniquely offbeat experience.

1)The brilliant but flawed detective. Usually a bloke, who is either terminally depressed, a hopeless alcoholic, a chronic womaniser or a dishevelled slob. Or all four.
2) The loyal and long-suffering colleagues who carry out his brusque commands and never dare to question his eccentric genius. A dazzling, nubile female is generally first in line.
3) A series of grotesquely mutilated and dismembered corpses, treated with blasé detachment and idle curiosity by the hard-bitten team.
4) Surly, uncooperative suspects who are bludgeoned into confessing by the brilliant detective's whispered threats to cut off their balls, beat them to a pulp or rip out their fingernails.
5) The dazzling female's rejection of this macho bullying in favour of a more compassionate, sensitive, beguiling approach. This tends to get better results.
6) A charismatic charmer, much loved by the local community, who turns out to be a perverted sicko enthusiastically mutilating and dismembering much loved local barmaids and beauticians.
7) A murder victim from a decent, respectable family who is tragically swallowed up by prostitution, drug addiction, anorexia or psychosis. Or all four.
8) A baffling string of crimes that is swiftly and effortlessly solved, unlike the thousands that the real police force can't make head or tail of. The brilliant detective and his loyal team then bugger off down the pub to get rat-arsed.

Could any other country have dreamt up such an inspired concoction? I can't wait for the next twist in the formula. How about a brilliant detective who's stalking the local beautician....

Pic: My personal favourite, Detective Inspector John Rebus, created by Ian Rankin. Rebus is a womaniser, a heavy drinker, a scruffy loner and has had a nervous breakdown.


  1. Nick, you too would be terminally depressed, a hopeless alcoholic, a chronic womaniser AND a dishevelled slob if you had to solve those cases in 50 minutes!

    Sure it is almost as exciting as our politics at the moment even with a forty year old plot!

  2. I hadn't thought about it but you're right. It is a tried and true formula in so many British detective series. Mind you it's better than the mind-numbing American CSI and SVU shite that graces our free to air TV at the moment. They are ALL the same!

  3. My personal favourite is DCI Gene Hunt of 'Life on Mars' and 'Ashes to Ashes'.
    Oh, and Columbo, of course!

  4. Grannymar - I know, it's a tall order. He's probably attempted suicide a few times as well.

    Baino - It's amazing how the same ingredients crop up time and again. We can't get enough of them.

    Cinnamon - Haven't watched Columbo for ages. My dad used to watch it decades ago! An American version of the classic formula.

  5. Oh you sexist you!
    How about Helen Mirren in the Prime Suspect series?
    Oh sorry, yeah, heartbroken, suicidal, alkie and all the blokes tolerated her eccentricity.
    Morse, now there was a man! A true loner, married to his Jag.
    And that poety guy, Marsden played him. Made my heart thump.
    Oh I could go on.
    Thin Blue Line?

  6. www - Indeed, there have been a few high profile female detectives like Helen Mirren's Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison, Jill Scott's Precious Ramotswe and Victoria Smurfit's DCI Roisin Connor. But they're still conspicuously rare among the hordes of oafish males.

    We could certainly do with a lot more female detectives, but it's the genre formula and all its oddities that intrigues me.

  7. Scarlet - Ah yes, Miss Marple. She's from a previous era where the formula was much tamer. Apparently batty but actually sharp-as-a-razor old lady solves baffling crimes with her brilliant deductive powers. That was before all the extra elements gradually got added on.

  8. Nick, we don't need fiction of any kind. We have real life characters to keep us entertained, aghast, disgusted and any other thing. I shall be posting about them soon in my blog and shall link to this post.

  9. Ramana - True enough, there are plenty of shocking and diverting real-life characters. But I just enjoy this particular brand of high-octane TV drama.

  10. Waking the Dead is my personal favourite, Wire in the Blood would come a close second.

  11. Thrifty - They're not bad. Plus Robson Green from Wire is totally gorgeous.

    And I'm sure Wise Web Woman would like to know that Wire in the Blood is based on books by Val McDermid, who is not only female but a lesbian!

  12. I've never really gotten drawn into detective shows, but now I know I'm going to have to watch one just so I can see all these elements at work.

  13. Tattytiara - You must, it's most entertaining watching all the familiar scenarios playing out. And most disappointing if one of them's absent.

  14. I love your summary. It's pretty accurate for most American detective shows as well...

    I love the genre, but as I know cops and police procedure very well and personally in real life, I am constantly aware of how very very inaccurate the shows are...I still watch them, though! Even Law and Order SVU (Baino mentioned it), which is just completely unrealistic.

    p.s. "Prime Suspect" and Number One Ladies' Detective Agency are both excellent, I think.

  15. Leah - I'm sure these shows are totally and completely unreal, artistic licence taken to its extreme limit, but as long as you realise it's fiction you can just sit back and lap up the absurdities.

  16. Hi Nick, I haven't been around for a bit but I'm back now!

    No, it's got to be Morse.

  17. Liz - Morse, eh? Wikipedia describes him as "the embodiment of white, male, upper-middle-class Englishness". I know I come from a similar background but I prefer my fictional characters a bit more rough and ready....

  18. There's a Rebus TV series?!? Must. Go. Find.

    How did I miss this post about one of my favorite subjects? Sob!

  19. Megan - There were five series from 2000 to 2007. Unfortunately the series was then cancelled because Ken Stott, who played Rebus, was no longer interested. Perhaps they'll find a replacement? It was produced by STV Productions for ITV, btw.

  20. I really used to like Cracker - Robbie Coltrane played the part so well!!! Of course he was only a criminal psychologist - the token police person was female I believe....

  21. Kate - Never watched Cracker for some reason. I suppose criminal psychologists are a sort of sub-genre. Not sure what the key ingredients of that might be!