Watching The Detectives

In the late 70s, I heard a song by Elvis Costello called ‘Watching The Detectives’. I thought the lyrics were great, and very clever.
“She’s filing her nails, while they’re dragging the lake”.
Still one of my favourite lines in a song, ever.

At the time, it got me thinking about all the detective shows I had watched. But I didn’t have the Internet then of course.

Detective/Police shows are one of the first genres I remember being interested in. And they were very popular, almost right from the start of television. One of the first I can recall dates back to 1957. Called ‘Sabre of London’, it was about a British man, Mark Sabre, working as a police detective in America. The second series featured Sabre now working in London, and later as a private eye. It extended location filming as far as Europe, or in studios representing European locations. I can’t be sure about that. The 30-minute episodes were rather exciting to me, as a six to eight-year old boy.
This is a whole episode, but it gives you the idea soon after starting.

By 1962, we had Roger Moore starring as Simon Templar, in ‘The Saint’. Suave, debonair, and in exotic locations, this private detective always got the girl, and solved the cases too.

Four years later, and the BBC had developed the popular cop show ‘Z-Cars’ into a full detective series, called ‘Softly Softly’. No-nonsense coppers, gruff accents, and no attractive stars. This was the first time such shows attempted to show the realistic side of policing.

A popular US import in 1967 was the show starring Raymond Burr, in a wheelchair. In ‘Ironside’, he played a consultant detective for the San Franciso Police. Paralysed from the waist down after being shot on duty, he solved his cases with the help of some sidekicks, and travelled around in a van converted to take his wheelchair.

1971, and larger than life actor William Conrad came to our TV screens, as the American cop, ‘Cannon’. Conrad had usually played a screen villain up to that time, and in this Quinn-Martin production, he played a cop who had retried from his job in the police to chase the money as a well-paid private investigator. It introduced the concept, new to me then, of famous ‘guest stars’, usually well known actors, or up and coming hopefuls who would go on to become household names. Unfortunately, it also taught me the golden rule of such dramas.
“The Guest Star Did It!”

Around the same time, pudgy-nosed film star Karl Malden, and new boy Michael Douglas arrived on British TV screens in the police detective series, ‘The Street Of San Francisco.’ Another Quinn-Martin production, this was filmed on location in that city, and ran for a staggering 121 episodes, indicating how popular it was.

Next to grace the TV screen in my house was the iconic ‘Kojak’, played to perfection by Telly Savalas. This epitomised the 1970s approach to modern police dramas. Filmed partly on location in New York City, and in other places purporting to be that city, the lollipop-sucking Theo Kojak was the king of his beat. He gave us a catchphrase that many people still remember to this day.
“Who loves ya, baby?”

I could go on and on. The popularity of the detective show endured, with series as diverse as ‘Colombo’, ‘Murder She Wrote’, and many more. It continues to this day; grittier, often more gruesome, and much more violent. Now we have Idris Elba as ‘Luther’, a revitalised Sherlock Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and evil adversaries who are as popular as the detectives themselves. Sixty-two years after ‘Sabre of London’, I am still ‘Watching The Detectives’.

Let me know your personal favourites, in the comments.

55 thoughts on “Watching The Detectives

  1. I think my first ‘had to watch’ was Starsky and Hutch, although I do remember many of those you mention, most likely watched by my parents. The Sweeney was always a good watch, if I was able to stay up late enough and Hill Street Blues is engrained in my memory. So many since of course, I really enjoyed Spiral and eagerly await season 7 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dennis Weaver as McCloud and Peter Falk as Columbo were among my favourites, but I’ve been a fan of cop/detective shows since a kid. So, thanks for stirring ‘the little grey cells’ – Poirot is another fave with David Suchet – and the comments threw up more. Now I’m an ex-pat living in the US, I’m watching re-runs on late night TV of Chicago PD – but the US network is showing them out of order and they’re not totally standalone.

    And cop shows are always giving me ideas for my own mystery stories. As does true crime shows like ‘Dateline’.

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  3. Wow! I hadn’t thought of several of these television shows in years. Detective shows are what I grew up watching. Kojak and his ever-present lollipop.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Let’s hear it for Hill Street Blues. I loved that. Cagney and Lacey. And a more contemporary British one with two women, the name of which I have completely forgotten. I think they did about three series of it but the last one only had about four episondes. Do you know the one I mean?

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  5. Ironside—the invalid detective. Cannon—the fat detective. Longstreet—the blind detective. I watched all those programs. But my favorites were Mannix and (Steve McGarrett in) Hawaii Five-O. The earliest TV series that I watched religiously, though, was The Fugitive, even though the detective was technically Lt. Philip Gerard.

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    1. Yes, I watched all of the original series of The Fugitive, and often looked at Hawaii Five-O, though I confess I sometimes found McGarrett a bit ‘laughable’.
      There are many more that I missed out, so there may be a ‘Part Two’ one of these days. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Love this post! Love the song and many of these shows. Columbo is one of my favorites (NOT the 90s version). I love True Detective, the first season. British series? Luther. Great show. Especially the first season with Alice Morgan. I also enjoy Wire in the Blood.

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  7. Great post. My personal favourite was Peter Davison in the series ‘The Last Detective’. It really captured the reality of life in a suburban CID team and subtly demonstrated the efficacy of diligent police work however mundane. On the other, more exciting, side of the pond, ‘Southland’ was a gritty ‘cop series’ I much enjoyed. For anything comparable in the UK, ‘The Cops’ was probably closest. Neither were specifically ‘detective’ shows, but worthy of a mention for anyone not familiar with either.
    ‘Keep ‘em peeled’ Pete.
    “Evening All’

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The earliest memory I have of telly police dramas is No Hiding Place. It provided the playground joke, what do you call two flies on a bald man’s head?

    There have been good ones but I feel there’s been too many. It’s become facile and formulaic and recently watching Channel 4’s world tv drama curation, no matter which country it’s set in, detective characters appear almost totally interchangeable.

    Having said that, I prefer emphasis on character to plot, the procedural is quite repetitive or a complete fantasy. I believe actual police work is a lot duller than depicted on telly.

    The other thing is the extreme violence trope, particularly on young women – rape, torture and violent murder. Women always available as ready victims. It used to be about catching thieves, robbery and burglary, but not anymore it seems. The Costello song is accurate.

    But I thought Endeavour was really good, more watchable than “groundbreaking” Inspector Morse and easily better than the pedestrian spinoff, Lewis. Police Squad was brilliant parody on the QM oeuvre. Montalbano for its creator, Camilleri’s sense of humour, though not outwardly a comedy. The Bridge for introducing the possibility of a detective with Asperger’s and Professor T for a similar approach with added OCD – interesting characters.

    Sorry if its a ramble, Pete. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The earliest cop show I can remember was Dixon of Dock Green: rather pedestrian, as I recall, although I might be doing it a disservice. Growing up, I really enjoyed The Sweeney, which very much set the pattern for a later firm favourite: Life on Mars, and its follow-up, Ashes to Ashes, both featuring the immortal Gene Hunt 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Detective shows are shown everywhere, with the ones you mentioned on re-run channels. Nowadays the king of the man-hunt is Dick Wolf, the creator of the Law & Order shows, including SVU which is still airing new episodes. And now he has the Chicago series for P.D., Medical and Fire. And I’m still a fan of them all!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t keep up very well with the current US shows, GP, as many are shown on satellite companies, or channels I cannot access. But we all know that the genre continues to be as popular as ever! 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Of the ones you mentioned the Saint I watched religiously…..Never a big fan of Cannon, Streets…Ironsides was my Mom;s favorite…..but she just liked Burr she would watch reruns of Perry Mason over and over…..chuq

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I remember all these except Sabre. I also loved Banacek (George Peppard was my go to swoon), McCloud – Denis Weaver on a horse and one I really loved I can’t remember the exact title of, think something like Petronelli and had an actor called Barry something who lived out in the desert in a trailer with his Missis, think he was an investigative lawyer, can’t find it on Google so hope someone knows what I’m on about! Fab post down memory lane 😊

    Liked by 2 people

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