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simon collis

musings of an omnivorous biped

So did you get the clue from last time? You did? Oh well done you. But it’ll have to wait. You see, I was having this discussion on Twitter and suddenly I thought of another possible British Columbo. One that might – just – shoot straight to the top of the charts.

image: Wikipedia

image: Wikipedia

For those of you who haven’t read the title at the top, let me paint a picture for you. It’s London, 2014, and you decide to see a play. Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” is on, and the 88-year-old Angela Lansbury is playing Madame Arcati, maybe you’ll go and see that. And then you realise it closed last month – June 7th 2014, actually. So instead, you watch the 1950s version, starring Margaret Rutherford as Arcati.

Well, as good as that is – and trust me, it’s magnificent – there’s perhaps four other Rutherford films you ought to see as well. Read more

My favourite Doctor Who has always been Patrick Troughton. I don’t really know why, but he feels more Doctor-ish to me than any of them, past or present. So when “The Enemy Of The World” and “The Web Of Fear” were recovered (or, mainly recovered), last year, I was downloading them at quarter past midnight. In other words, fifteen minutes after they were released. They’re both good stories, but for me, “Enemy” is the better of the two. It deals with scenarios – dictatorships, food shortages, mass murder – that we can all recognise in the world today.

But my favourite character is Salamander’s henchman, Benik, played with joyous evil by Milton Johns. I mention this because I frequently confuse him with Colin Jeavons. In fact, I wrote the original draft of this thoroughly convinced that Inspector Lestrade was Benik. Read more

Of course, you all got the clue in the last one, right? You know, “Deep Thought”? The computer from “The HitchHiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”. Played, in the 2005 film, of course, by Helen Mirren. Her other big roles have included Queen Elizabeth II… and Detective Chief Inspector (later Detective Superintendent) Jane Tennison in the series “Prime Suspect”.

Prime Suspect is renowned for its gritty realism, its accurate depiction of policing techniques, its treatment of Tennison as a hard-boiled character who regards her femininity as more of a hindrance than an asset… and for the sheer quality of its writing and directing. Read more

image: signs unique. Click to buy it as a fridge magnet from them. Hope they don't mind me borrowing it...

image: signs unique. Click to buy it as a fridge magnet from them. Hope they don’t mind me borrowing it…

In October, 11 missing episodes of “Doctor Who” were found in Nigeria. I mention this not in passing, but because it’s directly relevant to the subject in hand today: “The Avengers”. No, not the Marvel ones. This is the 1960s series starring Patrick MacNee, and heavily influenced by Sydney Newman, creator (not entirely coincidentally) of “Doctor Who”. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.

“The Avengers” began life in 1961, airing on ABC television in the UK (part of the ITV network). Starring Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel and Patrick Macnee as John Steed, the pair initially teamed up to investigate the murder of Keel’s fiancee. A strike meant the first series was cut short, and by the time they were ready for a second, Hendry had left to pursue a film career (spoiler: not a wise move), leaving MacNee as John Steed to hold the show. Read more

That was a tough clue, wasn’t it? “Alice Where Are Thou” – about President Roosevelt’s daughter. Could that be a clue? A detective named Alice? “A clue so large…” was a quote from Poirot – could it be Poirot? Sung by Ernest Pike? Any detective series named Pike? Or a detective who’s also a fisherman? Or likes Edward VII’s favourite tenor? Well, none of the above. Compare the music in these two:

On the right is the opening from “Open All Hours”, the 1970s comedy series starring Ronnie Barker and – in probably his third most famous role – Sir David Jason. His most famous role, of course, has to be Derek “Del Boy” Trotter in “Only Fools And Horses”. But the second? Read more

The search is starting to get difficult.

Not because I’m running out of British detective series, quite the reverse: there’s too many of them and I don’t have a mountain of available time.

So far, I’ve only had to research one or two – Dixon Of Dock Green I watched some online, whereas The Sweeney I remembered a lot but still had to look it up. Some, on the other hand, I’ve seen most of the episodes (Lovejoy, Bergerac), some I’ve seen them all (Morse, The Racing Game), and some I’ve seen all the episodes more than once (Randall and Hopkirk).

But now I’m into that hinterland and having to pick something on reputation, research it and then write about it. This starting to feel like a full-time job, and I’ve already got one of those.

So I’m going to be continuing the series, for the foreseeable. There’s still plenty of detectives to go, and some “big hitters” left (that is, ones I think could go into the lead in the chart).

Now, one last order of business. Usually, I leave a clue in the last paragraph as to what the next post will be. Since I didn’t really know what it will be, I didn’t. So now that I know, I will give you “a clue so large that nobody believed I had found it”:

I know… I’m mean, right?

Have you ever seen the old noir film DOA? It’s from 1950, and opens with probably one of the cleverest openings in cinema. The protagonist would like to report a murder: his own. But what if he had died in the murder? What if he was solving his own murder from beyond the grave?

image: Wikipedia

image: Wikipedia

That was the premise of the first epsiode of Randall and Hopkirk (deceased). Private detective Marty Hopkirk (Kenneth Cope) is a victim of a hit-and-run, in an attempt by the criminals to cover up their misdeeds, and decides that the only way is to haunt his former partner, Jeff Randall (played by Mike Pratt, who is also famous for writing Tommy Steele’s hit “Little White Bull”).

Marty has some suitably ghostly powers: he can generate wind storms by blowing, can break glass through mind power, and Read more

Cover of the first edition of "Whip Hand"

image: Wikipedia

After leaving the RAF following World War 2, Dick Francis became a leading jockey. Winner of over 350 races, and champion jockey in the 1953-4 season, he was riding Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s horse, Devon Loch, to victory in the 1956 Grand National when the horse inexplicably stumbled with 40 yards to the finish.

Francis retired from racing, becoming a journalist and author. A best selling author in fact – over 40 of his novels became international best sellers. But we’re really concerned here with Odds Against, which introduced the character of Sid Halley. Like Francis, a former jump jockey, Halley’s retirement is forced after a racing accident sees his hand crushed – and eventually, it’s amputated. His father-in-law (well, ex father-in-law) suggests he take up detective work. Not keen, he’s invited to his father-in-law’s house for a weekend and … let’s just say things start from there.
Read more

image: Wikipedia

image: Wikipedia

Lovejoy. Has it really come to this? Lovejoy. Have I sunk so low as to include a crime drama where the protagonist is not a policeman? And after such a lame clue as that (I know, I know, some of you thought “ranking” was a clue for Ian Rankin, the writer of Rebus, but the Rebus TV series was such a clunker…)

Where was I? Ah yes, Lovejoy… Ian McShane you probably remember from Deadwood. Diane Parish from Eastenders. But Dudley Sutton will always be Tinker Dill.

What makes Lovejoy into a contender, of course, is pretty much the content of the programme – like Columbo, there is little to no onscreen violence, and the vast majority of Lovejoy’s solutions come from his own personal province – antiques – and that’s as it should be, being as how he’s an antique dealer.
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morseCrossword addicts will have noticed that I embedded “MORSE” into the last paragraph of the previous post. That’s appropriate for today’s candidate, as the series itself played the same trick, embedding clues and red herrings into the soundtrack, appropriately in Morse code. Indeed, Morse’s name was embedded in the opening theme (although some CW pedants complained that the timing made it sound a bit like t-t-o-r-s-e…)

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. The crossword addict, opera-loving, beer-swilling Inspector Morse, as played by John Thaw, was Read more