By Rhian Davies of It’s a crime! (Or a mystery…)
If you are going to become a crime fiction lover, I believe it starts early and not just through reading. As a child of the sixties I can confirm this also includes TV viewing, and family viewing from the formative years. When you’re too old for Watch with Mother or Blue Peter another staple of TV viewing can kick in during teenage years: a wonderful cop show with a challenging puzzle to solve. Competition in my family home was rife: who could take pride in being the first to guess whodunit? (Extra kudos was earned for getting motivation and method right when such point scoring was available due to the presentation of plot.)
From Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars to Juliet Bravo and Kojak, to Inspector Morse, Prime Suspect and so on, we have been spoiled with many series of TV cop. A clear and enduring favourite over the years has to be Inspector Morse which started in 1987. Then, nearly a decade later in 1996 along came Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe. For TV, this was obviously initially modelled on Morse – BBC’s competition to ITV’s Morse perhaps? – with a brooding score from the same composer, Barrington Pheloung, and an echo of older cynic cop with younger and greenish sidekick, both male.
Now, before anyone hits the comment button, I am aware of the first attempt at adaptation here. I am happy to say that it passed me by at the time, as most people consider the episode completely dire with the inappropriate casting of comedians Hale and Pace in the lead roles. I have been reliably informed that Hill referred to them as ‘Hake and Plaice’ as a result. But then came 1996…
With the casting of Warren Clarke as Dalziel, Dalziel and Pascoe caught the attention of viewers, but for far more reason than Clarke’s perfection in the role as this adaptation hit all the right notes. And who can forget first learning of Dalziel on screen? From the first episode based on the first novel in the series, A Clubbable Woman, this picture of one scene says all you need to know about one side of Dalziel. This is the side of authoritative; “Don’t mess with me”; can-be-scary; all-seeing and all-knowing through discreet observation; direct in any form he chooses. There was, of course, another side to Dalziel. This was a side that made him an “Eek!” man to me, but one that still called for and received respect for being human: a ball-scratching, never politically correct, belching and no-holds-barred Dalziel.
I have to admit that the screen Pascoe never really did much for me. He may have been a foil for Dalziel but he was a little too vanilla for me; vanilla to the point of being little more than a sounding board.
When pursuing some retrospective viewing for this article I was very surprised to find that the episode I remembered the most was as early as the second in the series: An Advancement of Learning. I remembered certain aspects of the plot: a piece of art removed from the grounds of a university to expose a long dead body and a bloody good twist feeding into the ultimate whodunit, with a detective out of his comfort zone when it came to his suddenly enforced surroundings.
A personal delight for me is a vague memory that I actually watched this one with my parents during a visit home, albeit this may even have been during the time of a repeat on the TV. My father had been a little bit older than Reginald Hill, and he was a quiet man plagued by deafness from an early age. I will always remember the slight and wry smile that appeared on his face when Dalziel appeared on screen, especially when he outwitted those around him, and with verve. I suspect my late father, an introvert, loved Dalziel’s ballsy manner and would have loved to have been him.
And in that family viewing experience, Dalziel and Pascoe also offered what British TV is best at: an ensemble cast drawing in British actors of superior quality. In An Advancement of Learning we have the always great Prunella Scales being a Christian stalwart of firm morals; Desmond Barrit as an erudite lecturer loyal to friends but with a roving accent (Yorkshire for the programme’s purposes but easily reverting to his native Welsh – just listen carefully); and Dominic Jephcott as the resolute academic that I feel he has repeated on Morse or Lewis since, but to an industry standard. You can never want for more in a well-produced TV series from the UK.
Unfortunately, the series did not prove to have the endurance of Morse. Many devoted Hill fans put this down to a move from adaptations of the existing books to organically produced in-house TV series stories. Indeed, at one point the TV series’s biggest links were more akin to
the opening titles visually resembling the book covers (or vice versa), with everything starting out “up north” in the dark. But, for me, there is another “memorable” from later in the series and that is when Dalziel and Pascoe do Van De Valk in Amsterdam. I think it’s the location that hooked me in the most as I loved seeing the different places of the city in Wrong Place, Wrong Time. The plot was decently good but the acting a bit of a lottery. Paris-born Dutch actor Pierre Bokma was simply terrible in this one. By this 2006 episode, Dalziel and Pascoe was firmly into an opening score that reflected the title of the episode; all sense of on screen “branding” was lost, albeit Wrong Place, Wrong Time was a haunting melody for the episode.
Authors, when the rights have been sold for screen adaptations, frequently face loss of artistic control and Hill was no exception here. I suggest you take another look and start with the first three episodes on DVD, available from Amazon. For me it’s been a blast to the past.
I can only thank Reginald Hill for creating such a wonderful series that did so well on screen and captured the imagination of my family. Dalziel will never stand alone for me: he will always evoke loving memories of my parents and that family TV viewing experience. And hey, when it comes down to it, I think we were all running evens on the “whodunit” scores while my parents were alive. Hell, my mother was a sharp one; I wish we’d all managed to meet Reginald Hill while he was with us. If my childhood imagination of heaven is a good one, Hill and my parents are in a garden of rhododendrons now, discussing plots with their dogs and cats in attendance. Love goes on. And as I scratch that sudden itch on my neck I think of Dalziel…
I hope you enjoy the further following pictures which I hope bring the series to life.