I was a huge fan of New Tricks. For those that didn’t watch, it was a British police drama about a small unit of 3 detectives and a DS that ran the show. The USP was that the 3 detectives were ex-detectives. They were retired police officers, taken on because of their unique strengths:
Brian Lane played by Alun Armstrong. Nicknamed memory Lane as he remembered names, cases, incidents going back many years. His character was an ex-alcoholic that showed symptoms and took medication for autism and ADHD.
John Halford played by James Bolam. Solid, sensible member of the team that was looked upon as friend and surrogate father even to the aged coppers. Wife killed in a hit and run incident carried out by a character that Halford had previously nicked. Would sit and talk to his dead wife whose ashes were scattered in his garden.
Gerry Standing played by Dennis Waterman. Always a suspicion of living on the edge of being bent, he was an old fashioned copper that drank with the villains so knew them and where they could be found. The character is what I thought George Carter from the Sweeney would eventually become so excellent casting in my book. Smoked, womaniser, hated PC culture and said it like it was. Good bloke.
Sandra Pullman played by Amanda Redman. Ran the Unsolved Crime & Open Case unit (UCOS) and was both boss and mother figure though not a softy. Unlucky in love and always put the job first, she was funny, stroppy and the perfect boss for such a bunch of IT hating coppers that were not used to the new rules on policing where just being guilty means not a lot.
The first 5 series were in my view, excellent. There was the ongoing clash of how policing was done when the objective was to catch criminals, the subterfuge, nicking evidence without warrants flied in the face of the modern form of policing where politics and being a social worker is of prime importance. Add in to this, the effect of the passage of time on our heroes where they were not averse to sitting around swapping tablets and notes on high blood pressure, cholesterol and rheumatism. The only thing that spoiled it was the ongoing faux jeopardy brought on by the impending threat of the unit’s closure. This was a silly thing to do as the stories of the characters was plenty for the viewer to feast on and, as the unit was always successful, was a pointless and un-necessary distraction that only made this viewer tut.
I won’t go through the episodes but the pilot episode summed up the thread of the series. Pullman was in charge of an operation to break up a Chinese dog fighting ring. After meticulous planning, the police burst in and in an attempt to shoot to wound a Chinese suspect that was escaping, she accidentally shot and killed a police dog – this being the incident that led to her being ‘demoted’ and picked to corral a bunch of ‘seen it and done it all the proper way’ ex-coppers. In a later episode, when a couple of tons of manure were dumped on her department from on high, an off the cuff comment of “You shoot one bloody dog in this job…”. I liked this attitude and the character.
Anyway, the episode that broke the spell for me was Series 6, episode 5 “Fresh Starts”. I won’t go in to the plot but it was very different to all previous episodes. It featured an exhumation where the body buried was not that of the person identified but an illegal immigrant that was fighting deportation. Throughout, characters were criticising the immigration system and highlighting the plight of illegal immigrants. At one stage, a character unintentionally let it slip that there was a factory owned by another whose staff were almost all illegals. As he was being shown out of the station, one of the UCOS officers said that he would give him 30 minutes head start to alert the workers that there would be a raid. This was completely out of character so I ask, what was the objective here?
Unusually again, a character made what I consider to be a political rant about racism and how difficult it is to be an illegal immigrant if brought to the country at a young age – all of course dressed up as a line of defence… this is the BBC remember.
Anyway, as the politics was relentless, I didn’t enjoy it and feared for the rest of the series. I do remember that for the first time, I didn’t look forward to the next episode, it was on and I was doing something else so wasn’t concentrating too much and eventually, I lost interest in the series. At this time, New Tricks was the most popular BBC programme with, if I remember correctly, around 13m UK viewers and watched in numerous countries around the World.
As I dipped in and out of the next episodes, it had become dull, formulaic and boring. No longer the anarchic coppers fighting the system to nick villains or sharing stories about bending rules in the past and highlighting their failing health but a dull, predictable cop programme that was being churned out in order to maintain viewership.
What a shame.
Eventually, James Bolam left as did Amanda Redmond but before they did, a couple of the cast had the teensiest swipe at the programme itself. It seems that they agreed with some of my observations and went so far to say that they helped in shaping some of the scripts in order for the features that the public loved to come through as well as some adlibbing. What will be obvious to anybody that watches it for the show it once was rather than the political vehicle it eventually became, was how well the cast got on and did clearly enjoy working with each other – this can not be created but is very easily destroyed.
One of the writers fought back over twitter – coincidentally one of the writers of the episode mentioned above – that denied any input from the cast using a four letter word.
New characters were brought in that I assume ticked the profile boxes that were thought to be what the public wanted. They were not. Dennis Waterman left later on and I think I remember him for saying in an interview that actors were not as stupid as writers tend to think.
So why did this series change so much and so quickly? I don’t really know. Given the topic and it being on the BBC, I can only imagine that it needed to become more woke. They couldn’t easily change the cast so change the plots to become more fashionable and reflect the BBC bubble better.
I did notice that one of the writers tweets about their dislike of Trump, Brexit and referred to IDS as “an animated bag of shit” though this isn’t unusual for anybody that provides content for the BBC is it?
It has oft been said that it is better to go out on a high and many, including myself, agree with that. This series should really have been the last but the BBC carried on flogging this dying horse, eventually replacing all the characters with stiflingly boring, dull placemen that nobody cared about – one has to care about the characters in order for the viewer to have some skin in the game as it were. If that vital element is not there then there is nothing. Anyway, New Tricks bumbled along until season 12 which is far beyond when this thing should have been put out of its misery. As what I see as a final insult, the last character from the original series was fired. Revenge of the writer? We will never know but what a disappointing and cheap way to seal the fate of one of the BBC’s best watched series.
© Ratcatcher 2020