Sunday, October 9, 2011
Goodbye to the TV detectives
Oh there goes George Baker, better known as Inspector Wexford, dead at the age of 80 of pneumonia. Just weeks ago Columbo popped his cloggs, as they say back home, and Inspector Morse, aka John Thaw, went some time ago.
Sadly all the cops who I grew up with appear to be heading off to that great beat in the sky.
And they are taking a part of me with them; that part that watched a small flickering walnut framed TV below brown floral wallpaper in the 1970s. No night growing up was complete without Kojak or Starsky and Hutch, an all action duo who seemed to be incapable of opening the door of their Ford Torino.
Kojak was played by Telly Savalas and I missed some of the subtleties here. For example I realized he was bald but missed the fact he was Greek. Apparently he smoked a lot in the early shows and the trademark lollypops reflected a growing anti smoking sentiment in the American public.
His sidekick Kevin Dobson once recalled: "The lollipops scene took place in the fifth show, when we're in the office and we're about to do the scene, he said, 'I need something, you know?' And here's a guy standing over there with the Tootsie Pop sticking out of his shirt. Give me a Tootsie Pop, huh? Telly, they flipped it to him, doing it like this, unwrapped it, stuck it to him and his head, his mouth and became a lollipop cop."
The guy with the Tootsie Pop had quite a few things to answer for, the loss of Savalas' teeth for one thing.
Savalas died in 1994 which always seems like recently to me until I realize it's getting on for 20 years ago.
I was also a big fan of Cannon which the Thrilling Detective Web Site described as "Quite a good series, rising far above the gimmick of having a fat man as an action hero." William Conrad who played the role of Cannon also died in 1994, clearly a bad year for TV detectives.
Despite his girth, Cannon apparently didn't live in doughnuts while he staked people out but had a taste for fine dining and good wine; which is unusual in a TV cop or P.I.
The Rockford Files starring James Garner was also on TV a lot in the 1970s but it never did much for me. Only later in life did I come to appreciate the cult feel of the show. Back in the 1970s it lacked the childhood appeal of someone's skin turning green and ripping through their shirt.
James Garner is still around and the Files are inspiring fans across the world to keep buying dog tooth check jackets to the present day. But given that he was born in 1928 I doubt if Garner is chasing too many bad guys.
And another funny thing about the TV detectives is the actors never made much of themselves after these roles; just look at the guys from Starsky and Hutch, whatever their names were.
For me these cops shows also gave me my first glimpse of America; a place where folks raced round after each other in brown Pontiacs and other gas guzzlers. It made America seem very dangerous but also very exciting. And there was never a Wal-Mart in sight.
Yours in nostalgia.