The 1970s Detective ready reckoner

Solving crimes with fast food, fags and floozies, here are some of the shows that clearly inspired Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes...

Steve McGarrett Hawaii Five-O (ITV 1970-82) Jack Lord

“Book ’em Danno!” was Steve McGarrett’s catchphrase which ended most episodes of the long-running Hawaii Five-O. The show began with one of the best signature tunes ever written for television. Exotic locations, high drama, action and mystery… what’s not to like? Jack Lord’s central performance as the bequiffed McGarrett was always watchable. Great though Lord was, the real star was Hawaii itself.

Charlie Barlow Barlow at Large, Barlow (BBC 1971-73,1974-76) Stratford Johns

The larger-than-life detective played by Stratford Johns, originally appeared in Z Cars, then together with Frank Windsor’s John Watt moved to Bristol for Softly Softly. These two series spin-offs saw the character go it alone. While the pedigree of the writing can’t be faulted, Barlow without Watt was harder to get used to…

Ad – content continues below

Lt Columbo Columbo (NBC 1971-78, 1991-92, 2001) Peter Falk

Lt Columbo from the LAPD may have lacked sartorial elegance but he had detective acumen in spades. The crumpled cop was a perennial favourite appearing in several series from the seventies to the current decade. Glass-eyed, cigar chomping, Peter Falk was an unlikely but engaging star.

Columbo would appear about 20 minutes into each episode (usually parking his car badly) to solve a crime the viewers had already witnessed. Occasionally he was accompanied by his ironically named, bored Bassett hound Fang. Stars as varied as William Shatner and Johnny Cash played the “villain of the week” (often a hero of the unseen Mrs Columbo). They dreaded the detective’s dogged pursuit for the truth and especially his catchphrase “Just one more thing…”.

Jason KingJason King (ITV 1971-2) Peter Wyngarde

If Columbo was sartorially challenged then Jason King was very much the man about town. Peter Wyngarde’s smooth ladies man was a successful author (crime novels about Mark Caine) who solved crimes almost as a hobby, the books paying for his champagne lifestyle. Previously seen in Department S, King was so flamboyant a character he almost demanded his own series. Whilst the series had panache, the leading man was seen as an ageing playboy with a decadent approach which felt out of place in the sober early seventies. Escapist stuff and no more…

Frank Cannon Cannon (BBC 1972-9) William Conrad

Ad – content continues below

Bulky William Conrad was Frank Cannon, a man few criminals got past, both metaphorically and literally. The series was an adequate schedule filler which the BBC used to show after the Nine o’ clock News throughout the seventies. Cannon lacked charm and a subordinate, having to do the legwork himself, not an easy task given his large frame. The show was much parodied and the stories were a bit predictable. Piet Van Der Valk Van Der Valk (ITV 1973,1977,1992) Barry Foster

Amsterdam was an unusual setting for a crime series. Van Der Valk used its locale to the full. Barry Foster was the rather cynical, seen-it-all leading man. The Simon Park Orchestra took Eye Level, the memorable signature tune written by Jack Trombey to the top of the charts – the first TV theme to reach such heights. The whole thing was a refreshing departure for its creators. Euston films had hitherto been renowned for dark thrillers set in London’s gangland underworld. That said Amsterdam had its own crime for Van Der Valk to tackle such as drugs and prostitution. It was a successful package, so much so, ITV resurrected the idea twice, in 1977 and again in the early nineties.

Theo Kojak Kojak (CBS/ABC 1974-78, 1989-90) Telly Savalas

Bald headed, lollipop-addicted, Theo Kojak arrived on British screens in 1974. Played by the ebullient Telly Savalas, Kojak was a natty dresser, never one to turn up to the scene of a homocide without a dazzling waistcoat and a jaunty-angled trilby. Savalas’ charisma lit up the screen and his disarming way of addressing people as “pussycat” fitted with his catchphrase “who loves ya baby?” Savalas’ real-life younger brother George played his colleague Detective Stavros.

Father BrownFather Brown (ITV 1974) Kenneth More

Set in the 1920s, Father Brown was based on the books by G.K. Chesterton. Kenneth More starred as the priest and mild-mannered criminologist whose motto was “have bible, will travel” Only one series was made.

Ad – content continues below

John ShaftShaft (CBS 1974-76)Richard Roundtree

A television series based on a successful big screen offering was a rare event in the seventies, the trend was normally reversed. Richard Roundtree reprised his role as the slick and stylish black private eye. Sharp shooting and fast talking, Shaft also had a funky soundtrack courtesy of Isaac Hayes.

Jim Rockford The Rockford Files (BBC1974-80) James Garner

One of James Garner’s key career moves. Rockford’s answering machine is one of the most famous opening titles on TV. The series only ran for six years yet, like the original series of Star Trek, has been repeated by most of the main channels ever since. Recently it had the dubious honour of being scheduled against itself on BBC2 and ITV1! Jim Rockford was an ex-convict. After serving five years for a crime he didn’t commit he was eventually proved innocent. His determination to help victims of crime led him to become a private eye. Working from a caravan on a beach, Rockford was arguably one of the most unusual detectives of the era…

Jack Regan Regan, The Sweeney (ITV 1974,1975-8) John Thaw

On TV the best cop is a maverick cop. Regan gave the maverick cop a bad name. Together with Dennis Waterman’s George Carter, Jack Regan of the Flying Squad tackled crime on his manor with the same insights into gangland culture as the criminals themselves. The empathetic quality of The Sweeney was unusual and controversial. Jack Regan’s “kick the door in first, ask questions later” approach was a world away from the epitome of the humble copper, George Dixon.

Ad – content continues below

Action was very much to the fore. Regan’s bronze coloured Ford Granada screaming around almost for the sake of it, was later nicely parodied by Squeeze in Cool for Cats. “The Sweeney’s doing 90 ‘cos they’ve got nowhere to go…” Euston films had a winner on their hands and it came as no surprise to see Dennis Waterman turn up in their next venture Minder, a year after The Sweeney‘s demise. In a far from happy ending Regan left the force after an angry confrontation with his superior Haskins.

Dave Starsky and Ken Hutchinson Starsky & Hutch (BBC 1976-8) Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul

An integral part of the classic BBC Saturday night line-up, screened just before Match of The Day, Starsky and Hutch was must-see TV. Two undercover cops driving perhaps the least subtle of cars, best mates working the same beat. Curly dark haired Starsky loved junk food, fair haired Hutch was a health freak. Four seasons were made though the final season was notably less violent and hard edged. David Soul later became a pop star, whilst Paul Michael Glaser started a trend for chunky cardigans.

Sabrina Duncan, Jill Munroe, Kelly GarrettCharlie’s Angels (ITV 1977-82) Kate Jackson, Farah Fawcett-Majors, Jaclyn Smith

The detective genre got an injection of “girl power” – well sort of… Despite their best efforts to be emancipated there was still a strong focus on glamour even in the Angels most dangerous undercover work. John Forsythe provide the voice of the unseen Charlie and the Angels trio changed over the years as the actresses followed other career paths. The trio mentioned above are the best remembered.

William Bodie, Ray DoyleThe Professionals (ITV 1977-83) Lewis Collins, Martin Shaw

Ad – content continues below

Although Ray Doyle had been a policeman, The Professionals was less realistic than many of the contemporary series around it. Violent and action-packed, it was consciously geared to suit the average 10 year old boy. Martin Shaw has since done his best to distance himself from his character. Collins and Shaw had been paired in an episode of The New Avengers and the work of CI5 is better viewed on a similar fantasy level. In short Bodie and Doyle’s clumsy attempt to muscle in on the success of The Sweeney underlines just how good Regan and Carter were.

James HazellHazell (ITV 1978) Nicholas Ball

Based on the books by Terry Venables and Gordon Wiliamson. Nicholas Ball played the cockney gumshoe with a cynical nature. James Hazell was forced out of the police at the age of 33 with a dodgy ankle. With the help of his cousin Tel, Hazell decided to become a private eye. Ball recorded a knowing Chandleresque spoof commentary which added to the quirkiness. One of the series’ writers was actor Brian Glover. Although popular at the time, the series isn’t as well remembered as some of its contemporaries, perhaps because it hasn’t been repeated as often.

Fred Pyle Law & Order (BBC 1978) Derek Martin

GF Newman’s series of feature length plays about Police corruption and brutality turned TV’s relationship with the police on its head. At the time few policeman would condone what was portrayed in this gritty series. A generation later many accept the series to be truer to life than they recalled. Unusually the series examined the same case from different points of view. The detective’s story saw Derek Martin as Fred Pyle, extracting evidence using dubious methods. Pyle’s actions were rightly questioned yet one can see a direct influence on the more disturbing side of Gene Hunt’s character in Life On Mars. Derek Martin would return to play a similar (albeit marginally more sympathetic) character in The Chinese Detective a few years later.

Steve HackettTarget (BBC1 1975-77) Patrick Mower

Ad – content continues below

Steve Hackett, a divorced Liverpudlian detective played by Patrick Mower was the central focus of this series which drew much criticism for its violent approach. The character of Hackett was clearly devised to rival Regan but unlike The Sweeney, which was laced with black humour, Target played it straight and consequently was a very hard-hitting show with few redeeming features.

Eddie Shoestring Shoestring (BBC11979-80) Trevor Eve

Concieved as a replacement for Target, by Robert Banks Stewart, Shoestring was a different take on the private eye genre. Eddie Shoestring was an eccentrically-dressed, Cortina estate driving investigator based at Bristol’s Radio West. The radio connection gave him the nickname “private ear”. Well written and especially well played by Trevor Eve, Shoestring brought the gumshoe genre into the post-punk era, using a soundtrack featuring new wave music and making the most of its unusual Bristol locale.

Eddie Shoestring had overcome mental problems (a bout of technophobia lead him to smash up a computer) and drew cartoons (sketched by Gray Jollife) as a form of therapy. After two highly successful seasons it was a brave move by Trevor Eve to leave having made just 21 episodes. The production team armed with potential Shoestring scripts relocated their show to Jersey and created the equally successful Bergerac.