From Cannon to Kojak, Rebus to Rockford, crime pays when it comes to TV. So here’s our A-Z guide of top telly sleuths and the occasional action hero.
A is for… The A Team
On the run from prison after robbing a bank in Vietnam, these ultra-cool mercenaries led by Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith (George Peppard) sprang into action in 1983. There was nothing they couldn’t do, from flying a plane to cracking a safe.
B is for… Boon
Modern-day cowboy Ken Boon (Michael Elphick, right) got on his motorbike in 1986 and soon had the Brummie baddies biting the dust. But what we remember most is sidekick Rocky’s (Neil Morrissey) shoulder-length hair cascading beneath his helmet.
C is for… Cannon
Frank Cannon was a 19-stone incredible bulk who never let work get in the way of a good meal. Without a sidekick, he was forced to waddle madly after murderers. ‘Whoever heard of a cops and robbers chase with the hero wheezing?’ asks William Conrad, who played him in the series which began in 1972. ‘I’m 5ft 9in and look like an overfed walrus.’
D is for… Disabled
Not only brainy – but brave too – because for Seventies sleuths having a disability seemed like a good career move. Ironside was in a wheelchair, Harry O had a bullet in his back which gave him grief and Mike Longstreet was blind but still cracked crimes.
E is for… Ethnic Minorities
Two of the greatest non-whites to turn detective were Shaft and Tenafly. In a spin-off from the Seventies movies, John Shaft, (Richard Roundtree) roamed the streets of New York quite literally dressed to kill. Very different was Harry Tenafly (James McEachin), an LA-based family man who fought off countless hungry-eyed villains fuelled by wife Ruth’s home cooking.
F is for… Father Brown
Filmed in the Seventies but set back in the roaring Twenties, Father Brown (Kenneth More) was TV’s original priestly private eye, coming way before Father Dowling and Cadfael. With his favourite motto – Have Bible, Will Travel – and his best friend Flambeau, he managed to solve mysteries and murders more efficiently than an entire congregation of coppers. Just to prove you can’t keep a good sleuth the BBC have recently revived the character with Mark Williams in the main role.
G is for… Gimmicks
No sleuth worth his salt solves crime without a gimmick. Our Top 10 is: 1) Holmes’ deerstalker 2) Lord Peter Wimsey’s monocle 3) Miss Marple’s knitting needles 4) George Bulman’s nasal spray 5) Insp Gadget’s gadgets 6) Poirot’s moustache 7) Magnum’s moustache 8) Jason King’s shirts 9) Ironside’s wheelchair 10) Inch High Private Eye’s inch.
H is for… Hazell
‘I would describe him as a Jack the Lad,’ says Terry Venables, James Hazell’s co-creator. Can that be the Terry Venables, former Spurs and England coach? Straight up, Guv, the very same. Terry dreamed up cockney wide-boy Hazell (Nicholas Ball), in the late Seventies and had him skulking London backstreets solving crimes with the help of the odd tipple and a .44 Magnum.
I is for… Insurance Investigators
Back in the Seventies, Thomas Banacek made insurance claims sexy. OK, as played by George Peppard he was way cool and had the advantage of not working for Direct Line, so rather than dealing with plumbing disasters, he chased stolen goods and collected the reward.
J is for… Jonathan Creek
Abracadabra, how’s this for a different take on TV detectives – magician Jonathan Creek (Alan Davies), who had us first spellbound in 1998. Helped – and lusted after – by writer Maddy Magellan (Caroline Quentin) he ferrets out the murderers with his most ingenious of theories. Classic Quote: ‘I know exactly how your painting disappeared, Mr Le Fley. I’m just not going to tell you.’
K is for… King (Jason King)
Jason King’s shirts lent new meaning to the word psychedelic. As an international investigator solving the world’s most baffling crimes, you’d think he might want to blend in with crowd – but no, it was his technicolour look that made such an impression in 1969’s Department S and it even brought Jason (Peter Wyngarde, right) his own spin-off series – Jason King.
L is for… Literary Heroes
Two of the top TV detectives were created by Agatha Christie. David Suchet debuted as Hercule Poirot in 1989, while from 1984 Miss Marple was played by Joan Hickson. Then there’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who’s been played by Alan Wheatley, Ronald Howard, Douglas Wilmer and Jeremy Brett.
M is for… Magnum
Magnum, PI was a kind of Eighties follow-up to Hawaii Five-O, even using some of the same sets and production facilities. It starred Tom Selleck as Magnum, who roared round the island in a big red Ferrari and poked his moustache into all sorts of funny business. Trivia: Frank Sinatra made a guest appearance as a New York policeman.
N is for… Novelist
Crime-crackers have often appeared in the guise of writers. Ellery Queen was a young American who helped out with his father’s police cases. Jason King spent all his spare time writing Mark Caine crime thrillers. Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) was a best-selling novelist in Murder, She Wrote and Max Beckett (Edward Woodward) wrote murder mysteries that didn’t sell in Over My Dead Body.
O is for… Oh dear,what a disaster!
The big mystery is why on earth some whodunnit capers ever got made in the first place. Having particular groan appeal were Father Dowling Investigates, complete with the swinging nun who could crack jokes, pick locks and play poker. And, holy smoke, what about The Return of the Saint in which Ian Ogilvy simply couldn’t compete with Roger Moore’s eyebrow-waggling.
P is for… Perfect Partners
Behind every great detective is a great partner. In Hart to Hart, Jonathan and Jennifer (Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, right) were millionaire sleuths. Moonlighting’s David and Maddie (Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd) were another top couple-in-crime.
Q is for… Quincy
Quincy was a pathologist by trade, but he was so suspicious that most of his autopsies seemed to turn into murder hunts. Outspoken and grumpy, Quincy (Jack Klugman) always went with his hunch, and was normally proved right. Trivia: Quincy’s first name was never revealed.
R is for… The Rockford Files
Jim Rockford (James Garner) was a favourite Seventies private detective. On the side of the underdog after being banged up for a crime he didn’t commit, he lived in a caravan and was constantly nagged by his dad Rocky to get a proper job. Remember the answerphone message at the start of every show? ‘This is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and message. I’ll get back to you.’
S is for… Scooby Doo
Scooby and his pals – Shaggy, Freddy, Daphne and Velma – always run into trouble. And despite spending most of each episode running from danger, Scooby and Shaggy usually solve the mysteries, mostly involving criminals dressed as monsters.
T is for… Top Totty Crimebusters
British gals Cordelia Gray (Helen Baxendale) and Jemima Shore (Patricia Hodge) always looked daisy fresh, while classical actress Imogen Stubbs put on sheer, leggy mini-skirted glamour, as private eye Anna Lee. But the biggest riddle of all is how on earth did the gorgeous Charlie’s Angels beat up the bad guys without ever disturbing even an eyelash?
U is for…Upper-Class Investigators
What ho, it seems that some of TV’s most spiffing detective chappies and chapesses come from jolly fine stock. Here are our top five: 1) Jemima Shore 2) Lord Peter Wimsey 3) Paul Temple 4) Charters and Caldicott 5) Albert Campion.
V is for… Vega$
Vega$ was a roulette whirl of bright lights and colourful casinos. Through it all stepped the denim-wrapped Dan Tanna (Robert Urich). With sharp looks and even sharper wisecracks, he had everything, including sexy assistants Beatrice and Angie. Vega$ was never short of bodycounts either. More criminals bit the dust in three seasons of the Seventies show than in 50 years of Poirot.
W is for… Women
Female sleuths have always figured on TV and they’ve tended to be leggy bombshells (see T) such as Charlie’s Angels or C.A.T.S. Eyes. Glamour puss is, however, not a description you’d use for Patricia Routledge’s Hetty Wainthropp.
X is for… The XYY Man
By a freak of nature, Spider Scott (Stephen Yardley) had an extra Y chromosome which meant two things: 1) he was very tall and 2) he liked to steal. Recruited for his burgling skills by British intelligence, he was also on the run from detectives Bulman and Willis. Don Henderson’s Bulman went on to get his own series as a clock-mending private eye.
Y is for… Youth
Who said the young ‘uns couldn’t solve a mystery or two? The Hardy Boys (Joe and Frank) were 16 and 18 years old, Nancy Drew was 18, The Secret Seven and The Famous Five were barely out of short trousers, and Young Sherlock Holmes (played by Guy Henry in 1982) wasn’t old enough to smoke a pipe, let alone wear a deerstalker.
Z is for… Zep
Zep? Captain Zep – Space Detective of course. Zep, played by Paul Greenwood and running from 1983, was an intergalactic Sherlock from the year 2095. He went on to teaching at the SOLVE Academy for wannabe space detectives. Alright, so he’s a bit out of the normal orbit but come on, this is Z, so give us a break!
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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