Anna Lee was a bold move by ITV in 1993 to show that not all detectives were male and in fact some were both young and female. In the past there had been female-orientated detective series such as The Gentle Touch, Juliet Bravo, CATS Eyes and US imports such as Police Woman and Cagney and Lacey but this was the bravest decision yet by ITV bosses.
Detective series had grown to two-hour stories after the success of Inspector Morse and here was ITV giving us a two-hour prime-time Saturday night spot to Imogen Stubbs in the title role of Anna Lee. The pilot episode, Headcase was broadcast on 10 January 1993 and that led to a five-story series broadcast in February and March of the following year. Lee was a former police officer who hated the bureaucracy in the Met and tended to use excessive force and struggled with authority.
We join her as she's being interviewed for a job at Commander Brierley's detective agency. He's often shocked by her revealing short skirts and Lee also struggles to get on with his secretary Beryl. Lee is very much a modern girl who mends her own car and always gets one up on sexist guys, so don't dare call her darling. The role of Anna Lee was a bit of a change of direction for Stubbs who is mostly to be found in the theatre in Chekov or Shakespeare and had appeared in several films. Her most notable TV appearance had been as Ursula Brangwen in 'The Rainbow' in 1988, a long way from a street-wise detective.
The supporting cast included Brian Glover as Selwyn Price, a former wrestler who lived in the same building as Lee and dreams of making a comeback. That mirrors his real life and the wrestling posters in his flat are all of his career under the name Leon Arras. His acting career began with his role as a Manchester United mad sports teacher in the movie Kes. Glover appeared in a string of television shows including Doctor Who and Porridge as well as being a playwright.
We see Lee trying to solve cases involving missing teenage girls, stalkers, threats against the Notting Hill Carnival, trying to find out just who a client's husband is having an affair with and the death of a young pop singer. As with most two-hour detective series, there are plenty of twists in the tale. Guest stars in the series included Kate Beckinsale, Shirley Anne Field, Anthony Newley, Peter Firth, John Bird, Jesse Birdsall and Adrian Edmondson.
The series ends with Lee being accused by Brierley of letting her emotions cloud her judgement when getting a bit too close to a suspect. The temper and dislike of authority rise their ugly heads again and she resigns from the agency. The series was based on the books written by Liza Cody though she and her many fans weren't at all pleased at the changes that were made to her work and its characters. Cody had agreed on giving the rights to ITV for future Anna Lee novels but having seen what they did to her books, no more were written by the author.
There were no more episodes filmed and the series has never been released on DVD which is a shame as it was an entertaining series and the chemistry between Stubbs and Glover was a highlight. Perhaps the series came along a few years ahead of its time but it's still well worth a viewing with the occasional repeat on ITV3 and can be seen on YouTube.
Published on November 27th, 2018. Steve Ashfield (May 2018).