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The A-Z of top telly sleuths

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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