10 British TV Detectives That Aren't Sherlock Holmes

By Andy Hughes in Daily Lists, TV
Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 8:07 am
If you ever cozied up under a blanket to watch some PBS at your grandparents' house in a frosty November, chances are you caught an episode or two of Mystery! This show, starting in the 80's, broadcast episodes from various other British mystery shows until just a few years ago. Anyone who watched multiple episodes learned an important fact: nobody likes a mystery more then the British. Seriously, at least 80% of their economy has to be dependent on mystery stories and their adaptations. And Sturgeon's Law says that 80% of anything is crap.

But that's not to imply that any or all of the characters who headlined these shows are second-rate. On the contrary, some lesser-known limey sleuths rank with some of the finest television has to offer. And some don't. The point is, while you're reading this sentence, 500,000 fictional British detectives are probably being born somewhere. Here's a chance to get to know the family a little better, both the good and the bad.

10) Lord Peter Wimsey
Ah, the gentleman sleuth, a man of class, money, jowls and heavy breakfasts by the bushel. There are many of these types cluttering up the British mystery landscape and Wimsey is exhibit A. A couple different TV adaptations of note have been produced but Ian Carmichael's amused portrayal is generally considered the best.

9) Hetty Wainthropp, Hetty Wainthropp Investigates
Patricia Routledge, star of the totally irredeemable Keeping Up Appearances gains a few acting credibility points as dowdy Mrs. Wainthropp, who checks out local Lancasharian wrongdoings with the help of her bumbling husband and a teenage Dominic Monaghan. Seriously. It's once again interesting to note how much these shows all tend to follow the same formula, despite the setting, although here we have a little more of that twee slice-of-life comedy the Brits like so much. Just try not to imagine Ms. Routledge bellowing BOO-KAY! too often and you should get along fine.

8) Miss Marple
You could almost do a whole list of Marples, as we have about four or five different series to choose from. There have been some big-ish names (Helen Hayes and Angela Lansbury) as well as small but the important thing is the enduring appeal of the character: a fiery old lady with a penchant for amateur detectivery, made of stronger stuff than the police and surprisingly sharp. She's one of those characters we're always going to have around with us, and has inspired a whole sub-genre of older tv crime-solver characters, none quite as memorable as she. Let's go with the Geraldine McEwan version, for the really quick shot of Derek Jacobi in this trailer if for nothing else.

7) Adela Bradley, The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries
An independent older woman in the roaring twenties (former Avenger Diana Rigg) and George, her lovably goofy attache' investigate occurrences too baffling for high-society. Crimes are committed, mysteries are solved, people get naked, etc. All the usual stuff. And like many other period mystery series, this one feels somewhat nostalgic at times, with its colorful costumes and Fats Waller songs on the soundtrack. Once again, we have a Doctor on display, this time in a supporting role, although this was before David Tennant's run. I'm starting to see a pattern...

6) Albert Campion, Campion
Ever wonder what Peter Davison got up to after dying of Spectrox Toxemia on Doctor Who? Well, aside from a hilariously unrecognizable cameo in the Hitchhiker's Guide series, he starred in this humble little show about an awe-inspiringly average 1930's aristocrat and his thuggish manservant, Lugg (the wonderful Brian Glover). Albert Campion is dull for a hero, but that's part of the point. As a parody of the Wimsey-type upper-class detective, Campion was originally conceived as a bland, foolish drone but became something of a genuine hero when he got his own series. Campion's adventures are generally more Tintin than Miss Marple but they still involve enough criminal activities, mysterious plots and the like to earn a spot on this list.
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