The 90s Detective Ready Reckoner

The gloss gives way to the grit as Spender, Cracker and others go downmarket in pursuit of their quarry...

Freddie SpenderSpender (BBC 1991-93)Jimmy Nail Undercover copper Spender was an idea Jimmy Nail had while working on Auf Weidersehen Pet!. He convinced writer Ian La Frenais to flesh out the character and – using Newcastle as a backdrop – a decent midweek drama was forged. The late Sammy Johnson played Spender’s sidekick Stick, who could be relied upon to provide the humourous sub-plot. Nail, keen to move away from the character of Oz, grew his hair long and Spender was given to introspection whilst looking moody. Denise Welch played Spender’s wife, who was killed by a car bomb in the final series. Jane TennisonPrime Suspect (ITV 1991-2006)Helen Mirren Loosely based on the career of Jackie Malton, a senior policewoman who rose to the top, Lynda La Plante’s Jane Tennison proved herself more than a match for her chauvinistic colleagues, led by the always excellent Tom Bell as DS Otley. A superb central performance from Helen Mirren ensured Jane Tennison made her mark in an intermittent series of short serials. Tennison was a chain smoker, enjoyed a drink and possessed a ruthless ambition. Sometimes Tennison could be tactless, especially her haste to take over from DI Shefford who died of a heart attack at the start of the series. Tennison realised that to succeed in a man’s world, she not only had to match them but had to be better than them. Tony ClarkBetween The Lines (BBC1992-4)Neil Pearson Neil Pearson had been best known for comedy before winning the part of the hot-headed, passionate and charismatic Detective Superintendent Tony Clark. A rising star in the flying squad, Clark was seconded into CIB, the Police Complaints division under the wing of the shady John Deakin (played by Tony Doyle). Clark’s team consisted of career-copper DI Harry Naylor (Tom Georgeson) and the bright and resourceful Sgt Maureen Connell (Siobhan Redmond). Tony Clark’s personal life was ironically chaotic. Clark had several affairs (notably with a junior officer in the first series) and the bedroom scenes were presented in a more graphic way than the average 9pm drama, leading to the nickname “between the sheets”. The series can be seen as a direct descendant of Law and Order (UK 1978). Both shows were produced by Tony Garnett, whose production company Island World is a byword for credible television with an edge of realism. Sam SterneSam Saturday (ITV 1992)Ivan KayeThe adventures of a divorced, Jewish detective who works on the sabbath, hence the show’s title. Sterne’s Golders Green-connected investigations often involved him in his entangled (and in some cases estranged) extended family. Sterne lived in a terraced house, his sabbath work providing extra money to support his widowed mother. Unusual and fortunately not as tokenistic as it sounds. Maigret(ITV 1992-3)Michael GambonNearly five years after a pilot with Richard Harris, Granada recast the lead with Michael Gambon and produced a series of lavish two-hour Sunday night films. Inevitably Gambon’s portrayal invited comparisons with Rupert Davies’ well known version of the classic Georges Simenon sleuth from the turn of the sixties. Budapest stood in for Paris and made a convincing backdrop. Jack FrostA Touch Of Frost (ITV 1992 onwards)David JasonA straight role for the comedy king David Jason. William “Jack” Frost was a disorganised DI was a rather cumudgeonly outlook on life, and a widower with a chaotic approach to paperwork – much the chagrin of his boss, Mullet. Frost was teamed with a different sergeant for many of his cases. David Jason, having played Scullion in Porterhouse Blue, proved himself an accomplished actor in any role. Jason’s real-life brother Arthur White plays PC Ernie Trigg in the series. Anna LeeAnna Lee (ITV 1993)Imogen StubbsFeisty, short skirt wearing, Triumph Herald-driving Anna Lee was the creation of writer Liza Cody. ITV adapted the books about the junior PI into a ten part series. Imogen Stubbs seemed to have a lot of fun playing the role. Slightly scatterbrained and chirpy enough, if a little too upmarket to be convincing. Eddie “Fitz” FitzgeraldCracker (ITV 1993-96, 2005)Robbie ColtraneBorrowing the template set by Frost, another major comedy star turned serious. Coltrane’s first major dramatic outing saw him play the hard-nosed psychology lecturer “Fitz”. Robert Lindsay had been first choice. Fitz was a chain smoking, alcoholic, gambling addict whose personal life was a mess but when professionally on form, he was mesmerising. Coltrane’s excellent central performance was undoubtedly the hook for the series, but special mention should be made of Christopher Eccleston’s DCI Bilborough, who was shockingly killed off in the second series, in part due to Eccleston’s integrity of not doing any part too long (something with which Doctor Who fans are very familiar). Charles WycliffeWycliffe(ITV 1993-8)Jack ShepherdGood, if run-of the mill, detective series. A decent role for Jack Shepherd after several years of guesting in other shows. The thoughtful and objective Supt. Wycliffe was based in Cornwall. Places like Bodmin moor provided the scenery. Roderick AlleynInspector Alleyn(BBC 1993-4) Patrick MalahideMalahide, famous for his droll detective Sergeant Chisholm in Minder, adopted a cut glass accent and trilby to become Ngaio Marsh gentleman detective Inspector Alleyn. Simon Williams had played Alleyn in a pilot shown in 1990. Traditional period drama with impeccable forties accents all round. Malahide, though a great actor, looks a bit miscast here. Charlie ResnickResnick (BBC 1993)Tom WilkinsonDI Resnick was proud of his polish heritage, fond of a good sandwich and keen on jazz music. A pre-Full Monty Tom Wilkinson played the unusual ‘tec in this short series based on the books by John Harvey. Brother CadfaelCadfael (ITV 1994-8)Derek Jacobi Based on the stories by Ellis Peters, Jacobi played the monk whose saxon sleuthing was a touch out of the ordinary. Cadfael was a trained chemist and this often stood him in good stead in an early form of scientific detection. A young Sean Pertwee was Cadfael’s sidekick. Henry CrabbePie In The Sky (BBC1994-6)Richard GriffithsA detective who would rather be a chef. Henry Crabbe keeps his police work going to fund his culinary ambitions and his restaurant Pie In The Sky. Sharing Frank Cannon’s bulk and effectiveness at chasing villains, Richard Griffiths was much more convincing as Crabbe the chef than Crabbe the cop. Amiable Sunday night fare, the series was as worth watching for the food as the crime. John KellyNYPD Blue (CH4 1994-2005)David CarusoThe natural successor to Hill Street Blues. This time the officers’ home life was just as much a focus as their work. Detective John Kelly was an early star of the series. Coming across as brash but charismatic, red-haired Kelly was a successful, high achieving detective still possessing a soul despite 15 years of gritty police work. David Caruso, perhaps over-estimating his public profile decided to leave the series to pursue a film career. Elly ChandlerChandler &Co.(BBC 1994-95)Catherine RussellElly Chandler and her sister-in-law set up a private investigation agency to expose her husband’s infidelity. A strong series with some good female roles. Two series were made set a couple of years apart to show how the agency had developed. In the second series Susan Fleetwood played newcomer Kate Phillips. The show may well have continued but sadly Fleetwood died soon after completing her work on the series.

Andy Dalziel, Peter PascoeDalziel and Pascoe (BBC 1996 onwards)Warren Clarke, Colin Buchanan

Originally seen on ITV in A Pinch of Snuff. Dalziel and Pascoe had been played by Gareth Hale and Norman Pace. Unimpressed by ITV’sadaptation, author Reginald Hill was reluctant to write any more Dalziel and Pascoe novels. Revived a few years later by the BBC, looking for a good vehicle for Warren Clarke. Andy Dalziel (Clarke) is gruff, abrasive and lacking in social skills. Colin Buchanan’s Peter Pascoe is younger, more sensitive and better mannered. Industrial Yorkshire provided the backdrop to the cases solved by the chalk and cheese duo, who have been a successful combination for over a decade.

Jeff SladeCrime Traveller (BBC 1997)Michael French

Bland cop hero supported by Red Dwarf‘s Chloe Annett as a scientist with a secret time machine in her Maida Vale flat. A lightweight Saturday night escapist drama falling somewhere between Jonathan Creek and Doctor Who. French’s plain-clothes detective weirdly always wore the same outfit and (access to a time machine aside)seemed to be devoid of the usual gimmicks associated with a TV detective. A curious idea which had it been better executed could have run longer than the one series that was made. John BarnabyMidsomer Murders (ITV 1997 onwards)John NettlesThe former star of Bergerac polices Britain’s most dangerous villlage. Barnaby was very traditional compared to the problems of Jersey Jim.

Cordelia GreyAn Unsuitable Job For A Woman (ITV 1997-2001)Helen Baxendale

Baxendale played Cordelia Gray, a rookie private eye who inherits her boss’s agency when he commits suicide. Grey is clever and bookish with a strong sense of justice. She renames the agency and finds herself in very much in demand. PD James wrote this refreshing series, which raised the profile of the talented Helen Baxendale.Michael ColefieldUltraviolet (CH4 1998)Jack DavenportOne of Davenport’s first roles moving on from This Life saw him as Detective Sergeant Michael Colefield, faced with a particularly unusual case when asked to investigate vampires. Shot as a stylish modern noir, it compares well with the detective thrillers which surrounded it. The vampire storyline, whilst unusual, made the series all the more compelling. Isobel De PauliLiverpool One (1998-2000)Samantha Janus DC Isobel De Pauli, a young psychology graduate, found her new beat on the streets of Liverpool very hard going. Samantha Janus was clearly brought in to add glamour to a run-of-the-mill culture clash thriller but it was successful enough to run to three series. Maisie RaineMaisie Raine (BBC 1998-99)Pauline QuirkeA rather gloomy series about a uncompromising copper played with a certain inevitability by the inexplicably popular and ubiquitous Pauline Quirke. Mrs BradleyThe Mrs Bradley Mysteries(BBC 1998-2000)A witty twenties amateur sleuth, Mrs Bradley was played with a delicious lightness of touch by the doyen of leading ladies Diana Rigg. Neil Dudgeon was her faithful chauffeur George and genre veteran Peter Davison appeared in the occasional role of Detective Henry Christmas.

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