Watching the Detectives

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of my time watching the detectives. Only on the telly, of course. I’ve always been a fan of detective stories, from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales on the page to the many British and American crime-solvers that have appeared on the small screen over the years. In particular, I quite enjoyed a number of American sleuths who possessed such exotic names as Kojak, Mannix, Cannon and Colombo. My favourite of these shows, however, was The Rockford Files, which starred James Garner as the eponymous sleuth. Over the last few years, I watched a good few episodes of that show as well as Colombo and it wasn’t difficult to see why I liked them. The stories weren’t bad, but the performances of Peter Falk as Columbo and Garner as Rockford were the real selling points for me

While these guys were solving crimes in the US, The Sweeney were doing the same across the pond. I never got to see the show at the time, but I’ve been watching it lately and enjoying yet another great performance from John Thaw. For a laugh, I’ve also been watching Murder She Wrote with Angela Lansbury as best-selling crime writer Jessica Fletcher. Jessica is a retired schoolteacher who is never too far away from a murder to be solved. These untimely deaths happen quite regularly in her peaceful hometown of Cabot Cove and even follow her around when she visits family or friends, goes on holiday or makes a business trip. Sounds a bit suspect to me. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to beat this addiction. I’m currently in the middle of watching a brilliant Danish series that was originally called Forbrydelsen (The Crime), but has been renamed The Killing for its BBC screening. It’s due to finish at the end of March and I’ll return then to tell you more about it and to let you know how I get on

Despite their popularity on the telly, detectives and private eyes aren’t so common in the world of popular music. Elvis Costello‘s first hit single from 1977 is about a woman who watches the detectives on the telly as she disinterestedly files her nails. It was released after his first album, My Aim is True, and before his second, This Year’s Model. Costello wrote the song after staying up one night listening to The Clash’s first album on headphones. Its reggae style may have been influenced by that album’s closing track, Police & Thieves. The original had been recorded a year earlier in Jamaica by Junior Murvin and The Clash only added it to their debut in order to pad out its running time. The song about gangs and police brutality in Jamaica is extended to six minutes in their version, the same length as Private Investigations by Dire Straits. It was an unlikely Number Two hit in Britain in 1982 and the album version from Love Over Gold is a minute longer. Taken from their album of the same name, Private Eyes by Hall & Oates was one of three US number ones by the duo in 1981. The Bird and the Bee recorded it last year on Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall and John Oates. One thing those old detective shows I mentioned above had in common was a pretty nifty theme tune. Harry South‘s theme for The Sweeney is one of the best and I’m sure you won’t have to hire a detective to discover where to find it

Watching The Detectives – Elvis Costello

Police & Thieves (Junior Murvin cover) – The Clash

Private Investigations – Dire Straits

Private Eyes (Hall & Oates cover) – The Bird & the Bee

The Sweeney – The Harry South Orchestra

Image taken from Deviant Art


3 thoughts on “Watching the Detectives

  1. A hearty second for The Rockford Files! That was, is and will always be my favorite TV detective series. James Garner as Jim Rockford was absolute perfection in casting and performance. The show had an absolutely rock solid cast with great guest stars – Rocky was the best TV dad ever and Tom Selleck’s performances as Lance White led to his being cast as Thomas Magnum in Magnum, P.I.

    Castle is by far the most enjoyable detective show currently on the air, with great chemistry between the two leads and a strong supporting cast. It’s one of few shows I’ll go out of my way to watch. The Mentalist is worthy of some viewing time as well.

    There has been a recent spate of detective or detective-related shows that were canceled before they had the chance to truly develop a following and are among the most enjoyable series I’ve ever seen. Life, starring Damien Lewis and Sarah Shahi and Eli Stone, starring Jonny Lee Miller plus an excellent supporting cast. But the biggest series loss in recent memory was Pushing Daisies. While not a typical detective series, there was always a case to solve and it was easily the most original, creative and colorful show I’ve ever seen. I would have loved to see where they took that story line, such a loss…

    As for themes, I agree Pat, the detective/police shows have always had great theme music. Mannix, Mission Impossible, The Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-O, Hill Street Blues, Dragnet, etc. But the co-champs have to be “Secret Agent Man”, by Johnny Rivers and/or “Peter Gunn Theme”, by Henry Mancini.

    “Secret Agent Man” –
    “Peter Gunn” –
    “Peter Gunn” sung by Sarah Vaughn –

  2. Have you tried “Castle” yet? Very tongue in cheek take on both police procedurals and detective stories.

    • I have, Dave. I meant to mention it, actually. The stories aren’t all that original, but I like the main characters and the witty dialogue. In particular, I enjoy the banter between Castle & the detective & also between him & the two women at home. Good stuff

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