Classic TV Revisited: Van Der Valk


Channel ITV, 1972-1977, 1991

Starring Barry Foster, Susan Travers, Joanna Dunham, Meg Davies, Richard Huw and Nigel Stock.

Crime drama series offering up cases of a Dutch cop with big hair and even bigger theme tune.

Moody detective show set in Amsterdam, with plenty of scope for corpses in canals and houseboat chases.

Why was it so good?
Blond, curly-haired Barry Foster was perfect as tenacious cop Piet Van der Valk as he tried to stamp out crime in the Dutch capital. What sticks in the mind now is the catchy/irksome theme tune Eye Level, which the Simon Park Orchestra took to Number One. Ba, Ba Ba Ba, Ba, Ba Ba Ba.

How did it begin?
ITV company Thames made the first series in 1972 as a rival to the BBC’s French sleuth Maigret. Barry Foster landed the role after his frightening portrayal of a serial killer and rapist in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Frenzy. At first 26 episodes were made, watched by up to 14m people, and there was a dispute with an Austrian company which wanted to make a Van der Valk movie.

How was the script?
With his knack for comic pay-off lines, Van der Valk should have become known as Two Quips From Amsterdam.

Did he ever go Dutch?
He paid his way at the bar and was often to be found in sleazy strip clubs and in Amsterdam’s red light district while investigating.

Did he always make his excuses and leave?
He never cheated on wife Arlette who was played by three different actresses.

Was there a big gap between series?
It ended after five years in 1977 and was revived as four two-hour episodes in 1991, with Van der Valk as a commissar. It was not a ratings success second time round.

Who else was in it?
Three actresses played Van der Valk’s wife Arlette – Susan Travers, Joanna Dunham and Meg Davies. Based on Nicholas Freeling’s books, it also starred Richard Huw as his son Wim and Nigel Stock as his boss Samson.

Was it Barry Foster’s finest hour?
One of them. He always said he was glad not to be playing a British cop. Foster once said: “Who would want to be Barlow from Z Cars? He is just a mindless bully. Van der Valk thinks.” His other screen credits included Ryan’s Daughter, Wild Geese, Smiley’s People and Hotel Du Lac. He was in the West End hit Art when he died. He leaves a widow and three children.

Wasn’t Barry Foster always being confused with other actors?
That was his plaintive cry as people could not remember his name. Because of his curly hair he was often mistaken for Dr Who Jon Pertwee and Duty Free’s Keith Barron. Foster, who once played Sherlock Holmes in a radio series, also found himself mistaken for Inspector Morse star John Thaw after he guested in an episode of the detective series.

Distinguishing features?
Drug busts, prostitution, canals, barges, blond bouffants and Edam cheese.

Do say:
“Holland’s most famous crime fighter. Poirot is a mere Belgian.”

Don’t say:
“It was all double Dutch to me. There weren’t enough windmills or clogs.”

Not to be confused with:
Dick Van Dyke, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Denise Van Outen, Later With Jools Holland, Van Morrison, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Fosters Lager.