Dempsey & Makepeace - The Complete First Series Review
I'll admit it, I'm not really here for the cop action. Not that there isn't a good deal of it in Dempsey & Makepeace, more that my interest in this show was first piqued by the sight of Glynis Barber. Much like finding the all-girl CATS Eyes worth watching on a Saturday night, principally for Leslie Ash, and how gymnastics, thanks to Suzanne Dando, became almost as popular as football. Finding fame in pre-Loaded days, these three women were much like your old sister's best friends, albeit the kind that you get a hot flush in the presence of.
With a certain tomboyishness to them, they were the poster girls of boys you really only wanted someone to hang out and talk football with but who wouldn't have minded holding hands with on the walk back through the park. Actually, not dissimilar to a cross between Dee Hepburn and Clare Grogan in Gregory's Girl, one of whom can kick a ball whilst the other is there for dancing in the park after sunset.
As for Glynis Barber, she's probably better known now for refusing to disrobe during a tour of The Graduate, which led to near empty theatres but at the time of Dempsey & Makepeace, she'd been cast in Blake's 7, had tangled with Faye Dunaway and, more intimately, Oliver Tobias in Michael Winner's remake of The Wicked Lady and had fought crime, fallen in love and lost much of her clothing in the BBC's adaptation of the comic strip Jane. With Dempsey & Makepeace, though, she had stepped into primetime ITV with an unknown American, Michael Brandon, and with a haircut that would be the Princess Di of its day. A blonde bob, possibly even a pageboy, so much was it in demand that a picture of Glynis Barber, possibly cut out of the TV Times, would soon be de riguer in any decent high-street hairdressers. Women not at all suited to the cut were soon wearing it but the fashion for it passed as quickly as it had arrived.
And was it the same for Michael Brandon? Well no, actually, as Dempsey & Makepeace didn't quite cut the mustard with a generation brought up on The Professionals, Starsky & Hutch and The Sweeney. Much as I love those shows, particularly The Professionals, it was obvious that television couldn't continue in that vein. Even now, watching The Professionals is grimly violent in a way that it simply isn't so much today despite a quarter of a century passing. Not that audiences had demanded a reduction in the amount of blood that was shed on television, more that come the mid-eighties, a gentler touch was required, which would, although it was hardly considered at the time, bridge the gap between The Professionals and The Sweeney and the more thoughtful Inspectors Morse and Wexford. The Gentle Touch, CATS Eyes, Dempsey & Makepeace and even the US cop show Cagney & Lacey all showed a more feminine side to crime-fighting, one that was as much of a contrast to earlier cop shows as was the relationship between John Simm's DI Sam Tyler and Philip Glenister's DCI Gene Hunt in the BBC's recent Life On Mars, both capable of getting the job done but taking to it in different ways. Where Bodie and Doyle, and Hunt, would have beaten a suspect until they admitted the truth, Dempsey, Makepeace and Tyler would have extracted it by different, but often no less effective, means.
More importantly, though, was the will-they-won't-they relationship between Dempsey and Makepeace, mirrored offscreen by Michael Brandon and Glynis Barber falling in love and eventually marrying. The British public love an on- and off-screen romance - you have to look no further than Kylie and Jason for proof of that - and that of Brandon and Barber caught the public's imagination. Both good-looking with a definite chemistry, they didn't just bring in male viewers but also female, who were a trickier proposition and were often turned off by the excessive violence of The Professionals. Granted there was still a good deal of gunfire and brawling, even to some nudity as well as Barber's dressing in manner of a Playboy bunny as she's undercover in the opening episode, but it held back where The Sweeney and The Professionals had not. Hold onto the angry sergeant, Gordon Spikings played here by Ray Smith, make up some police department in the manner of CI5 (SI-10 here) and cobble together a set of scripts based on old cop plots - hijacking of security vans, money laundering and terrorism - and you have a show ready made for the public to take to. And how they did, giving London Weekend Television a follow-up to The Professionals but one that would last them three seasons and a pair of stars that remain in the public's mind, even to occasional appearances in Hello! and on Richard & Judy's sofa.
It's for this show that they'll be best remembered, though, being a decent cop drama that knows when to play on the sexual tension between its stars and when best to leave it alone. Similarly, the streetwise American can scrub up well when they're investigating the theft of a jade collection from a vast country pile whilst Makepeace looks just as much at home there as she does driving around in her battered old Mini. As a cop show, it's often as silly as you'd imagine Pygmalion-meets-Starsky & Hutch might be but it's not without charm and I've a sneaking liking for it. Typically, though, the police action isn't as accomplished as it was in The Sweeney, for example, but it's balanced nicely with the relationship between Dempsey and Makepeace. Then again, though, Dennis Waterman never looked quite so fetching dressed only in a camisole as Glynis Barber does here, which is more compensation than is frankly necessary.
Armed and Extremely Dangerous (94m38s): It's New York and cop Jim Dempsey is waiting in his apartment for a call from his partner Joey. When the phone rings, he meets Joey at the docks, where they're staking out a delivery of drugs but when Coltrane, Dempsey's CO, arrives in a car a minute before the dealer, he realises that he's being set up. Shooting the dealer, Dempsey's grabbed from behind by Joey, who's since drawn his gun on Dempsey, leaving him no option to shoot his partner. Going back to the station and finding that there's a corruption investigation in which he could be implicated, he takes the offer of a deal to take him out of New York but isn't, at least not at first, to hear he's going to England.
Arriving at Heathrow to join SI-10, he's brought into an investigation into smuggled caviar, which has ended in the murder of an undercover policeman. Spikings partners him with Harry Makepeace, or Lady Harriet Alexandra Charlotte Makepeace as she's more formally known, who discovers, following a shootout in a five-star London hotel, that the smuggling ring is closer to home than she ever imagined. Unfortunately, family ties count for nothing...
The Squeeze (47m59s): When a security van, transporting half a million pounds in cash, is ambushed by a gang wearing gorilla masks, one of the security guards is murdered. As the case lands on Spikings' desk, he puts Dempsey and Makepeace on the case, despite her complaints. They call on Gloria, a prostitute who works as an informant for Makepeace, who gives them a name, two Maltese cousins and a barge on the Thames.
Lucky Streak (48m08s): Out of his working clothes, Dempsey's enjoying a night out in a top London casino when a security guard is murdered. Spikings isn't happy, of course, but given that Dempsey was in the casino that night, he was well placed to see what made it different, eventually remembering that there was a disturbance only moments before the shooting, when James Bessel was escorted from the casino.
Given to Acts of Violence (47m07s): When Willie Ferguson is murdered outside of a London pub, there's only one witness but when put on the stand, he refuses to name gangland boss Frank Egan as the killer. With his phone tapped, Dempsey and Makepeace begin investigating Egan and find that Ferguson was killed for an old friend, Archie McAllister. Tailing Egan and Ferguson to a meet, they discover that they're planning a major raid on a transportation of cash from Scotland that's arriving at an airfield, leading Dempsey to break out his pilot's licence.
Hors De Combat (46m08s): Prisoner Frank Price is broken out of prison but is shot dead as he sits in the getaway car. Finding out that the driver was a member of a rival gang to Price's, Dempsey and Makepeace get involved in a war between two gangs that threatens to get out of control. Meanwhile, the identity of the killer remains unknown but something about a glamourous American woman visiting England on business piques Dempsey's curiosity.
Nowhere to Run (48m32s): When the road crew for a rock band - Eddie (Gary Shail, Spider from Quadrophenia) and Piglet (Nick Stringer) - returns from the Netherlands on a ferry, they don't know it but they're smuggling guns and drugs within their guitar cases and amplifiers. When they stop off at a service station, their van is stolen but not before Eddie is killed trying to stop it being driven away. As Dempsey goes undercover as a rock photographer, he finds that the smuggling gang is after one of their own, who may need protection.
Make Peace, Not War (44m29s): When three burglars break into a warehouse, they're interrupted by the owners, a major international drug-smuggling operation who don't take kindly to visitors. Ziggy, one of the burglars but who's also an informer for Makepeace, escapes but the gang has his name and are keen on silencing him. Meanwhile, Dempsey goes undercover to break the smuggling ring but when he pays a visit to the same warehouse, his cover is almost blown when Makepeace visits. She escapes but the smuggling gang believe that she's seen too much and ask Dempsey to bring back proof that she's been taken care of...a bloodstained shirt!
Blind Eye (46m51s): When a prisoner plans on turning informer, a gang of criminals kidnap his young son as a means of keeping him quiet. As Spikings hands Dempsey and Makepeace the case to begin investigating, they work their way in to the case via a car belonging to the chief suspect, with Dempsey remembering what a bag of sugar in the petrol tank can do to an engine. Meanwhile, they suspect that their case may have something to do with an attempt on Spikings' life, when a bomb is placed beside him on his commute in to work on the underground.
Cry God for Harry (48m40s): When a collection of priceless jade artifacts is stolen from the home of Lord Winfield, Makepeace's father, she and Dempsey take a trip out to his country estate, even to enjoying a pheasant shoot. Their suspicions are aroused when Lord Winfield collapses at a party and is diagnosed by his doctor as having been drugged after drinking a glass of champagne intended for Dempsey but things get worse when a corpse shows up in their bedroom. Calling in help from Spikings, Dempsey and Makepeace are forced to turn to medieval weaponry to defend themselves.
Judgement (47m22s): Giving her best friend, Sarah Hackett, a lift to the station to catch a train to London and to Harrod's to plan for her wedding, Makepeace is flattered to be asked to be the matron of honour. But the wedding won't take place as Hackett doesn't make it to London alive, her dead body tumbles out of the first-class compartment as it arrives. Sarah's father, the prominent judge Sir Lionel Hackett, takes a personal interest in the case and asks Spikings to investigate, who hands the case to Dempsey and Makepeace but they're unaware that Hackett is taking the law into his own hands. When Makepeace produces a photofit of a suspicious-looking man she'd seen at the station, he goes missing, assumed kidnapped by Hackett but is he the right one?
Only twenty years old, Dempsey & Makepeace looks much better than shows like The Sweeney and The Professionals, appearing cleaner, sharper and with less print damage. Not that it's entirely free of faults, mind, more that they're less noticeable but it's still a comparatively soft picture and there are spots and stray hairlines in the print throughout the series. However, given that Network are one of the very few companies to be actively handling archive British television, it remains better to have this than not and the picture quality is something that one can live with. The sound is in 2.0 Mono and is fine, with there being some background noise but not enough to really complain about. Finally, there are no subtitles.
There are two special features here - commentaries on two episodes (Armed And Extremely Dangerous and The Squeeze) as well as The Making of Dempsey & Makepeace (19m43s), a documentary that features Michael Brandon and Glynis Barber. The commentaries aren't bad but it is, unsurprisingly, like listening to an old married couple taking you through some holiday snaps. There's a good deal of, "Oh, do you remember that pub?", "Oh yes, that was where..." but there's clearly a chemistry between the two and although they're not particularly interesting commentaries, they're an easy listen.
The documentary is much better, though, as Michael Brandon and Glynis Barber talk about the characters in the show, the making of it and how well-received it was by a primetime audience. Given that they're a married couple, they complement one another very well and they both look much better than anyone of their ages - Brandon is sixty this year, Barber fifty - have a right to.
Dempsey & Makepeace really isn't a bad show at all, certainly more fun than something like The Sweeney whilst not as serious as many of the shows that would follow it. The relationship between the two stars is key, though, but it's enjoyable watching them together, really as a couple that work onscreen. This DVD is up to Network's usual standards but that's fine so long as they continue to release the next two seasons in the coming months. Oddly for them, there's even extras and good ones at that but so long as they continue in this vein on such British shows as Dempsey & Makepeace, they'll remain a welcome supplier.