Jasper Carrott and Robert Powell make like dumb and dumber in this DVD release of the BBC’s crime comedy from 1993…
I don’t think that anyone would actually admit to watching The Detectives, would they? I remember admitting to liking Last of the Summer Wine when I was about 14 and the classroom that I was in at the time awkwardly fell silent. Very silent. But even I drew up against saying that I had a liking for The Detectives. That, like having a sexual preference for farmyard animals, is just wrong.
And yet, wait for the show’s fourth season and it was obvious that there were millions of viewers out there and the morning after the showing of Fur Coat, No Knickers, it was easy to spot who they were. All that I can remember of that episode was the re-enactment of a medieval battle and of a murder but the subplot was of a football quiz set by the Chief Constable in which the detectives had to work out the suffixes to all the English and Welsh football clubs in the four major leagues…(Leeds, Manchester) United, (Tottenham) Hotspur, (Bristol) Rovers, (Accrington) Stanley, that sort of thing. Me? I only watched it whilst waiting at an airport but later that night in the pub and the next morning at work, it was the one thing on everyone’s lips and like waking up in Stepford to find that your previously chain-smoking, drinking-at-breakfast and babydoll-wearing tramp of a wife was offering to cook waffles, the world the morning after that episode was a strange and very different place. I felt tempted, in a Kevin Connor way, to go running down the street warning everyone about the invading pod people…all of whom had a fondness for The Detectives.
That it’s getting a DVD release would certainly seem to suggest that there’s an audience out there for The Detectives but it still remains quite remarkable that it’s here, particularly in light of The Detectives‘ humble beginnings. At first, The Detectives was only a five-minute guest spot for Robert Powell on Canned Carrott, the Saturday Night comedy show fronted by, if you can’t guess, Jasper Carrott. The singular joke in The Detectives was that Bob Louis (Carrott) was stupid but Dave Briggs (Powell) was even more so. Dave checks a cupboard having had a hunch there was no one in it – he’s proved right by the way – and, thank the era of postmodernism for this, both of them wonder aloud what other television cops might do during their investigations. Hence a murder in a country house has them asking one another what Morse might do, at which point they sit at the bar and enjoy a couple of pints of best bitter. The gags, though never of a particularly high standard, do tend to limp into the plot but it’s a show where the situations are funnier. Carrott’s lines may not be that great – he’s done better in his stand-up – but the sight of him sat hostage with an aerial on his head isn’t one that’s not worthy of a laugh.
Of course, there was a little more characterisation to The Detectives than that…but not a great deal. Carrott, with a face suited to the part, played the taciturn Bob in the manner of a cop who’s counting down the days to retirement while Robert Powell can do, and did, the suave womaniser with ease. She’s so far out of his league that he ought to need a telescope to see her but the scenes between Robert Powell and Jerry Hall in What The Butler Saw do actually carry some sexual frisson, admittedly of a pre-watershed kind but a kind nonetheless. And these special guest stars are a particular aspect of the show that make it more appealing than it might otherwise be. As well as Jerry Hall, Jimmy Tarbuck shows up in Teed Off as Johnny McKenna, an arms dealer and, naturally, a keen golfer, Leslie Grantham crosses over from The Paradise Club when an investigation moves to the East End and, in the best episode of the series, Louis and Briggs manage to upset Jim Bergerac (John Nettles) and Charlie Hungerford (Terence Alexander) when they go to Jersey in Studs.
Crucially, though, it isn’t that funny. Indeed, as a comedy, it’s really quite unsuccessful. The guest stars are good, there’s the occasional laugh from the stupidity of Louis and Briggs’ actions – and yet, they’re too stupid to the extent that it’s a wonder they manage to dress themselves – and George Sewell as their superintendent is often very good but it’s all not quite enough. By the time of The Detectives, it was already clear that Jasper Carrott was on his way out of primetime but it’s still a shock to see Jesus ham it up the way he does here and though it’s a long way from Galilee to Holby City, there are as many laughs in the Passion as there is in The Detectives.
Thanks to the BBC staging The Detectives in a rather expensive fashion – it was shot on film, often on location and has a look in its titles that suggests Inspector Morse – the show looks very good and has been transferred rather well onto DVD. Granted that it shows a certain softness in the picture but this looks to be more to do with how it was originally produced than anything to do with the transfer onto disc but in other respects The Detectives looks pretty good. Similarly, the audio track sounds fine but in the era before surround sound, there’s nothing to report other than it being clean and fairly free of background noise.
As one might expect from a 2 Entertain release, there are no extras on The Detectives.
That 2 Entertain have now started releasing The Detectives on DVD, one can only assume that the remaining four series and special will also make it out but one wonders at the BBC’s commitment to certain comedies when so much in their archives remains unreleased. At this rate, we’ll see My Hero long before such classic children’s television as The Enchanted Castle and The Phoenix And The Carpet or such dramas as The Houseman’s Tale or Fay Weldon’s adaptation of Pride And Prejudice. The BBC has such a massive archive that it’s a wonder to see something like The Detectives on DVD at all and I can only suspect that someone up there in Television Centre really likes it. But the glory days of the next day’s football quiz has passed but I’m sure they’re now in a minority of only a few
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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