I had the great joy last week of going to see An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley with a friend at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.
My friend had seen the film which was why she was keen to see the play version. I love detective fiction and thought seeing one in a play format would be interesting. I was right – it was!
My problem is working out what to write about it. If I give any kind of review for this one, it will inevitably give away some of the plot. I will say the story is gripping, the acting excellent and there is a marvellous twist at the end. There is a strong moral to the story and this isn’t preached at you, it’s a natural development of the story and you pick up the moral for yourself. This is always a sign of great writing.
The set was also amazing with a street scene with lamp posts and cobbles and set towards the back, raised, was an interior house set. It’s the first time I’ve seen a split level set like that. Even in As You Like It the National Theatre Live production showed the Forest of Arden (made out of chairs and furniture – strange I know but it worked) as all part of one scene. An Inspector Calls even had rain on set, which did look impressive and added to the atmosphere of the story’s setting.
Incidentally for Doctor Who fans, Tom Baker played the role of Inspector Goole in An Inspector Calls in 1987. In the 1954 film version Inspector Goole was played by Alistair Sim, still probably best known for his role in the St. Trinian’s films.
So then I thought I would turn my attention to watching the detectives in general. Though I don’t write these myself, I have two other genres I’m especially fond of – history (fiction and non-fiction) and crime.
I guess knowing the detectives in the books and on the TV/radio/films will get their “man” is a consolation in a world where so often the bad guys do get away with it.
My favourite detectives are:-
1. Sherlock Holmes
The master detective in my view and with a great villain to test him in Professor Moriarty. My definitive Holmes is Jeremy Brett. Love The Hound of the Baskervilles though all the stories are great. My better half was a huge fan of the recent Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch in the role. I didn’t see that series (and am probably one of the few who can say this!) but I think for getting inside the intensity of the character, it is very difficult to beat Jeremy Brett.
2. Hercule Poirot
There are lots of “asides” by Agatha Christie to Holmes in her Belgian detective. For a start, he has to have a sidekick (Captain Hastings) as did Holmes. Naturally both sidekicks were intellectually nowhere near Holmes or Poirot.
There are also several references in the stories where Poirot mocks Holmes by telling Hastings he, Poirot, is not going to look at cigar ash etc, that the real solution to the current mystery is within “the little grey cells”. For me, David Suchet is the definitive Poirot. Favourite story is Murder on the Orient Express, which has an interesting moral to it – look at what can happen when the law fails people.
3. Inspector Morse
Great stories, brilliantly acted by the much missed John Thaw and one of the best TV theme tunes in my view.
Love the way “Morse” is spelt out in Morse code on the theme. Difficult to pick a particular story here though The Wench is Dead is particularly interesting given Morse is out of action and is researching a historical case, much like Inspector Alan Grant does with Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. Also unusual in that this series eventually led to Morse’s sidekick, Lewis, getting series of his own.
I also can’t think of another actor other than John Thaw who played two detectives in his career, both of which were highly successful roles. The other of course is Jack Regan in The Sweeney and it is hard to imagine a greater contrast to Morse!
4. Inspector Alan Grant
For The Daughter of Time. Loved his matter of fact approach as he tried to unravel the mystery of what happened to the Princes in the Tower and whether Richard III was guilty of their murders. Great book. Radio 4 Extra repeat the radio reading of the book from time to time and it has Sir William Walton’s beautiful music The Princes in the Tower accompanying it. If you can’t read the book, I would recommend a listen to the radio version.
Columbo is unique for a TV series in that those watching already know who the murderer is and what the motive was. The story here is how Columbo finds out. Can’t imagine anyone other than Peter Falk playing this role. I like the idea of a shabby detective having a truly brilliant mind and catching so many murderers out this way.
6. Miss Marple
Joan Hickson is Miss Marple as far as I’m concerned and my favourite story is Nemesis. There is also a good Radio 4 Extra adaptation of this which they repeat from time to time. (Finally the BBC have realised if you give people a channel, Radio 4 Extra, with repeats people want, it might do rather well!). Again love the idea of someone who looks harmless but definitely isn’t if you happen to be an evildoer.
7. Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
I quite liked the Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer remake but there is nothing to beat the original with Mike Pratt and Kenneth Cope. Loved the theme tune. And the idea of one of the detectives being a ghost led to some interesting story lines here (most notably the one where a medium is employed to get rid of Hopkirk for good).
8. Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files
Most of my immediate family had this listed as essential viewing. Was always fond of James Garner. Also loved him as Maverick. The Rockford Files again has one of the great theme tunes and I loved the “ordinary life” going on while JR investigated his latest case. That is, he worried about his aging father (who also worried about him!).
9. Inspector Goole in An Inspector Calls
There is a mystery to Inspector Goole, possibly an other worldly one as with Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) but Priestley does not tie up all the loose ends in his wonderful play. I can’t recommend seeing it, in whatever version, highly enough. He is, however, an upright character, carries out his duties, no matter what, and has a dignity about him that shone from the performance I saw on the stage last week.
10. Starsky and Hutch and their female equivalent Cagney and Lacey
The Americans have come up with some great detective series in their time and these are two of their best. I grew up with Starsky and Hutch and by the time Cagney and Lacey came along, I was more than ready for a female duo who were more than a match for any male detectives. Great theme tunes to both.
Haven’t really got favourite stories here but these were not to be missed TV viewing for me. Sad to say, there is very little on the TV now where I could say the same. Perhaps we were just fortunate in the 1960s to 1990s where ideas flourished and series were allowed to build up audiences. Now something has to be an instant ratings winner or it is axed.
I could, of course, have mentioned the very local Inspector Wexford (Romsey) whose stories were written by Ruth Rendell. He was played by George Baker who also played in some of the Miss Marple series. It can be a small world in terms of detective fiction too!
So who are your favourite detectives and why?
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