'Since Conan Doyle set the style with his Sherlock Holmes, most detective writers have traditionally wedded themselves to a single detective who figures in any number of stories,' wrote Michael Williams in introducing Radio Times readers, in March 1964, to the new BBC anthology series Detective. '-collectively, the crime writers have created as rich a gallery of eccentrics as to be found anywhere in literature. You will be meeting booming extroverts like Carter Dickson's Sir Henry of Merrivale, elegant academics like Michael Innes's Appleby, cosmopolitan connoisseurs like E.C. Bentley's Philip Trent, and many others including of course the great Holmes himself.'
The series Detective employed a team of top television writers to bring the fictional sleuths to life on the small screen (many of them for the first time), beginning with John Hopkin's screenplay of Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop, a story featuring Oxford professor and amateur detective Gervase Fen. Crispin had been lauded by critics as 'inventive as Agatha Christie, as hilarious as P.G. Wodehouse', but Hopkins, himself the writer of more than forty Z Cars episodes, had the task of presenting the murder mystery in just 60 minutes. Producer of the series David Goddard explained that condensing each tale required the cutting of "irrelevant colour", before admitting that material from each original story had to be "cut to a minimum."
All eighteen stories of the first series were introduced by no less than the great Maigret himself, as played in character by Rupert Davies, although no Maigret stories appeared in this anthology series. Detective also produced some expected and unexpected spin-offs. Expected was Sherlock Holmes (played by Douglas Wilmer), which sprung from The Speckled Band (18 May 1964), while unexpected was Cluff (played by Leslie Sands), which came from The Drawing (6 April 1964) and was immediately commissioned, and The Case of Oscar Brodski (6 July 1964) became the short-lived series Thorndyke. G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown (as played by Mervyn Johns) wasn't taken up for a series by the BBC but was picked up as a vehicle for Kenneth More by ATV in 1974.
There was a gap of four years after the first series before producer Verity Lambert revived Detective for a second run of seventeen episodes (1968-69). Despite boasting an excellent cast of guest detectives played by the likes of Edward Woodward, James Cosmo, Geoffrey Palmer and T.P. McKenna, and guest stars of the calibre of Michael Gough, Tenniel Evans, Phylidia Law, Gordon Jackson, Hannah Gordon and Philip Madoc, only one detective got his own series. Based on a short story, The Case of the Late Pig by Margery Allingham, this episode featured her 1930s detective Albert Campion (played by Albert Smith). However, Detective can hardly take credit for this inspiration as the series Campion, starring Peter Davison, didn't appear on our screens for another twenty years!
Detective returned for one final series in 1969 before handing in its badge.
Below is the full episode guide to both series (synopsis Radio Times 1964 & 1968 & 1969 where available):
The Moving Toyshop
A poet finds a body in a toyshop. But when he returns with the police next morning the body has disappeared ... and so has the toyshop
Embodying the law in the North-Country moorland town of Gunnershaw, Detective Sergeant Caleb Cluff finds violence and passion under its dour surface.
Trent's Last Case
The only crime story written solely by Edward Clerihew Bentley - barrister, journalist, biographer, and wit. Bentley wrote the tale of Edwardian crime reporter Philip Trent in 1913 after being urged to do so by his life-long friend G.K. Chesterton. In this story Trent is sent to cover - and possibly solve - the murder at an English country house of an odious American Millionaire. He meets the widow, a beautiful and obviously ill-used young woman, and finds that he is as susceptible as the next man.
End of Chapter
Proofs of a book have been mysteriously altered, threatening its publishers with a disastrous libel action. Nigel Strangeways (Glynn Houston), a mildly hypochondriacal private eye, is called in to try to solve the mystery, and soon finds himself with four highly promising suspects. The original detective novel was by Cecil Day Lewis writing under the non de plume of Nicholas Blake.
The Judas Window
The room is firmly locked from the inside. Both windows are closed tight with shutters. And inside the room a man lies murdered with an arrow piercing his heart. Nobody could possibly have got into the room - and yet a young man, with a rambling story of a doped glass of whisky, is discovered beside the corpse. Carter Dickson's barrister-detective of enormous ebullience and boundless self-esteem, Sir Henry Merrivale has to solve what appears to be an open-and-shut case.
When an Archaeologist starts investigating a 'barrow' or Stone Age burial mound he expects to find human remains. What he doesn't expect to find is a body which has been dead for only twenty-four hours. Nevertheless, this is precisely what Martin Cotterell (Alan Dobie) uncovers in the course of his 'dig' at Penverne, and the discovery is identified as Lord Garnish, a generally detested local absentee landlord. Cotterell, one of the few archaeologist-detectives in the business, was the creation of novelist John Trench. Judi Dench appeared in this production as Charlotte Revel, a girl who is in love with the dead man's son.
The Man Who Murdered in Public
To lose one's wife by drowning is tragic, but lamentably not all that uncommon. To lose a second wife in identical circumstances can only considered, as Oscar Wilde might have said, like carelessness. But when a third lady meets a similarly watery end it has to be regarded as downright suspicious. But remarkably enough, not a word of suspicion has been uttered at thrice bereaved George Carshaw. Not, that is, until the case reaches the hands of Inspector Ranson (Michael Hordern), head of Scotland Yard's Department of Dead Ends - the repository for all odd scraps of information which other departments have discarded as useless.
The Speckled Band
What caused the death of the terrified Miss Stoner's sister? Will she die the same way? And what was "the speckled band" to which the sister alluded in her dying breath? Sherlock Holmes is warned not to investigate.
The Night of the Horns
An American crime story. Bob Race is one of those tough West Coast attorneys and he is a detective only from necessity. A shady client has involved himself in an illegal act, and to clear himself Race sets to work to expose a major racket.
As good a place as any for a murder is an isolated anti-aircraft post in wartime. A group of browned-off soldiers, over-stretched nerves, a rigorous blackout - and an unpopular Sergeant-Major.
Death in Ecstasy
Knocklatcher's Row is an undistinguished street in Central London, and in it stands a building marked by a discreet plate which reads 'The House of the Sacred Flame.' Apparently as normal as the street, this could be a convent or a mission. But in fact it is something much more weird - the temple of the pantheistic sect whose high priest is 'Father' Garnette. A young newspaperman stumbles on the place, scents a story, and eavesdrops on a 'service.' And as the solemn ceremony reaches its climax, he sees a neophyte, who is misguidedly seeking a heightened spiritual life, find instead a squalid death. This play featured Detective Chief Inspector Alleyn of Scotland Yard (Geoffrey Keen), the creation of Ngalo (pronounced 'Ny-oh') Marsh.
A Connoisseur's Case
Why should anyone want to murder Seth Crabtree just to steal a little model barge? What was the link between the old job odd-job man and sometime poacher, and the people up at the big house? And where does the butler fit in? The man who has to answer these questions is Sir John Appleby (Dennis Price), one of the few titled detectives in the business.
The Loring Mystery
Jasper Shrig (Patrick Troughton) is one of the least run-of-the-mill crime investigators you are likely to ever come across. One of the famed Bow Street Runners-the body of men who stood for the law in the days of the Regency Bucks and highwaymen and before the advent of Sir Robert Peel's new-fangled police force. Eccentric, unorthodox, but every inch a detective from his steel-lined hat to his elegant shoes, Shrig is after a wicked baronet who usurps a family's fortune.
The Hungry Spider
Eve Gill (Jane Merrow) is a vivacious and pretty young woman who finds her looks can be both a help and a handicap to her investigations. A circumstance which is a constant embarrassment to Eve is that her father, a retired naval officer, is an incorrigible smuggler. In The Hungry Spider, she is investigating the murder of a gentle old invalid. But since she is doing so at a time when she is helping to deliver a consignment of uncustomed brandy, she finds some difficulty in placing the facts before the proper authorities. Peter Barkworth also appeared in this episode of Detective.
The Case of Oscar Brodski
Oscar Brodski is believed to have fallen to his death in front of an oncoming train. Passenger Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke (Peter Copley) believes it is murder rather than suicide. And what is the sinister Silas Hickler up to hanging around the railway station?
The Speaking Eye
Nick Mahoun travels to a Glasgow to audit an oil company prior to a takeover. What he discovers is widespread fraud and somebody willing to murder to keep it quiet.
Death of a Fellow Traveller
Husband and wife team Jane and Dagobert Brown (Joan Reynolds and Leslie Randall) live in Hampstead where she makes a living writing novels. Having committed herself to a book she now finds that she has writer's block. She can't even think up a title. The ever-helpful Dagobert then spots a strange limping man walking a large dog in the street and decides rather arbitrarily that such a character could be the starting point for a story. Implanting the seed, he packs Jane off to a Cornish village where it can be allowed to germinate. But on the way there, who should appear but the limping man...
The Quick One
Father Brown (Mervyn Johns) is a small, shrewd, and observant Roman Catholic Priest who becomes embroiled in a most untoward happening in a pub. At the 'Maypole and Garland' a once-honest alehouse now become a cocktail cavern, a forthright character renowned for his amateur racket-busting activities dies after taking a glass of his favourite tipple, cherry brandy. On hand is a gallery of suspects which includes a publican with a guilty conscience, a ranting prohibitionist preacher, and a sinister individual of Oriental origin. But as always Father Brown is looking for the man whom nobody else saw...
The Deadly Climate
Life in a quiet West Country village is not exciting as a rule, and Robert Carmichael (Dudley Sutton), a local reporter, usually finds little to write about. But one night he hears that a strange, frightened girl has taken refuge in an outlying farmhouse claiming to have seen a murder. This episode also starred Jack Woolgar, Georgina Hale, Jean Kent, Lally Bowers and Jean Marsh.
Dover and the Poison Pen Letters
An outbreak of poison-pen letters in a remote village provides the Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard (Ballard Berkeley) with a longed-for opportunity to get rid of, at least for a while, Detective Chief Inspector Dover (Paul Dawkins), a man he considers overweight, lazy, and unintelligent. Dover's efforts are, as usual, desultory, and their immediate effect is to produce a suicide. Only Detective Sergeant MacGregor (James Cosmo), Dover's assistant, suspects that the suicide is actually a case of murder.
A Man and His Mother-In-Law
In Scotland Yard Inspector Rason (John Welsh) sits around by clues which have led to 'dead ends,' and waits - waits for a criminal to make a move which will connect him with a clue. In the Blagrove case there seems to be no motive - the victim had no enemies. The only thing found at the scene of the crime that seems out of place is a book of love poems.
Lesson in Anatomy
The Vulture quietly sat and eyed the assembly - and after the corpse grinned two minutes before the lights went out. In the darkness murder was committed. Inspector Appleby (Ian Ogilvy), called to the scene, finds himself involved in a world of academic back-biting. That the re-enactment of an eighteenth-century anatomy lecture should be a yearly event in a university is strange enough - that a murderer should choose this time and place for his crime is stranger still.
The German Song
Reggie Fortune (Denholm Elliott), plump, good humoured, and perhaps just a little idle, is helping his friend Sidney Lomas (Ralph Michael) of Scotland Yard to clear up a possible unnatural death, when they are presented with a problem which both intrigues and baffles them. It is not a murder but a robbery. Priceless and irreplaceable antique jewellery has been stolen from the house of Sir Henry Exon (Felix Aylmer) and there seems no trace of its whereabouts. Reggie astounds the professional police investigators by solving the crime. But the vital clue upon which his deduction is based is given to him by his wife, Joan (Elizabeth Shepherd).
The Beast Must Die
Poet Laureate C. Day Lewis is well known to many enthusiasts of detective fiction as Nicholas Blake. In this story, adapted for television by the writing team Pip and Jane Baker, his private detective Nigel Strangeways (Bernard Horsfall) is called in to help solve a strange case. An attempt has been made on a man's life. This attempt has been foiled and the would-be murderer revealed, But later the same day the intended victim dies. This death is no accident - nor is it suicide. Clearly more than one person feels that the Beast must die.
The Avenging Chance
It appears that there are a large number of people who would be glad to see Sir William Anstruther (Tony Steedman) dead. The question is - who? Roger Sheringham (John Carson) is determined to find out in this 1930s set detective story. Unhappily, Sheringham has hardly started his investigations when a tragedy, in which an innocent woman dies, takes place.
Bobbie Markle, a thirteen-year-old girl who lives in mid-west America, disappears from her home one Saturday morning while her mother is out at work. The night before she attended her first formal dance. The local police chief, Fellows (Lee Montague), is called in and begins the routine of finding the girl. What starts as a straight-forward search develops in a more sinister way and the hunt for clues involves a number of people who at first seem to have no connection with the missing girl or her mother. This episode of Detective also starred Sheila Hancock, T. P. McKenna, Cyril Shaps and Bernard Hepton.
The Unquiet Sleep
'The Executive's Friend' - a drug designed to give the needed lift to a tired man at the end of the day. Harmless - indeed beneficial, this is what Mecron intended it to be. But suddenly there are disquieting rumours of doubt from the medical profession. Charles Russell (Roland Culver), head of the Security Executive, decides to take action and alert the Minister to the potential danger of the drug which at present is being sold over the counter. But other people have heard the rumours and they have decided to take a hand in discovering the true nature and power of Mecron. (With this episode Detective moved from its regular Friday night slot to Sunday night).
The High Adventure
In this romantic Regency adventure Jeremy Veryan (Mike Lewin), heir to the estates of Veryan, leaves his guardians house and goes in search of 'The High Adventure.' Mysteriously he is struck down by an unknown assailant. Jasper Shrig (Colin Blakely), a Bow Street Runner, hears of this assault and comes to his assistance. Together they set out to track down not only the threat hanging over Jeremy, but also the shadow that darkens his childhood - the mystery of his parents' death.
Cork on the Water
Mr Montague Cork (Colin Douglas), head of a large insurance company, lands a salmon in a highland stream. Catching this fish is the start of a long and mysterious trail which he follows with the help of his young assistant Robert Macrae (Martin Jarvis).
The Case of the Late Pig
Life in the village of Kepesake in the 1930s has an idyllic, peaceful appearance. But a stranger who appears in this backwater has the power to upset and disrupt the calm. He presents a threat to a way of life and one member of the close-knit community takes the law into his own hands and removes the threat. Albert Campion (Brian Smith) and his assistant Lugg (George Sewell) are called in to clear up the stranger's death and find themselves involved in a mystery unguessed at by the people they have come to help. Campion went to school with the late "Pig" Peters - and it appears that he has now died twice.
The Golden Dart
The strange launch which sails into Commodore Gill's (John Laurie) private creek brings both him and his daughter, Eve (Penelope Horner) a feeling of foreboding. Apparently unaware that they are observed, the visitors come and go. Is this part of the Commodore's smuggling activities which he wishes to conceal? Is it, perhaps, some legacy of his past life bringing with it threat and danger? Or is it something more sinister unconnected except by accident with the life of Marsh House? Eve Gill decides to take practical steps and find out. In doing so she becomes involved in danger and tragedy.
Crime of Passion
The story of Dr. Crippen has the fascination of real-life drama which far exceeds in macabre fantasy much fictional writing. In a departure from the usual format, this episode of Detective, written by Colin Morris, a writer and producer known for Jacks and Knaves (1961), leaves fiction behind and concerns itself with a real-life case. This study of Crippen (Bernard Hepton) and his crimes reveals no new facts but relates a great deal of the emotional background to the murder of Belle Elmore (Pauline Delany). There is an intense drama provided by the part that chance and coincidence play in the story and in the steps that lead Dew, the detective (Glynn Edwards), firstly to suspicion of murder and eventually to the certainty of the crime and the arrest of the fugitive doctor.
Artists in Crime
Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn (Michael Allinson) and his assistant, Inspector Fox (Clifford Cox) investigate a macabre murder case set in a country house. Not a conventional country house since it is owned by the artist Agatha Troy (Tracy Reed) and she has gathered there a varied collection of artists. The relationships in this group of temperamental people are extremely involved and there are many bitter jealousies and rivalries. Inspector Alleyn finds himself falling hard for the independent-minded painter Agatha Troy. The problem is, she might be a murderess.
Death on the Champs Elysees
No hotel likes to feel it is the scene of a crime. To a hotel of the irreproachable respectability of the Henri IV in Paris, the effect of such an event on the management is catastrophic. Their wealthy and distinguished guests cannot be disturbed by the vulgar clamour of a police investigation. Surely the businessman found dead in his hotel room must have died accidentally. Commissaire Bignon (Derek Godfrey) thinks otherwise. Undoubtedly this is a murder and he intends to pursue his investigations no matter how inconvenient his pressure and his questions may be. And his questions reveal many strange facts about the guests at this luxurious hotel.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Paris. 1841. Night is a time for terror that walks the streets and invades the most closely guarded privacy. Who could have penetrated the locked and shuttered house in the Rue Morgue? What superhuman agency could have committed such atrocities on the innocent, elderly victims? And will the terror walk again - will the horror be repeated? Auguste Dupin (Edward Woodward) and his friend Edgar Allan Poe (Charles Kay) test their theories of deductive reasoning and discover the seemingly impossible events.
The first detective story ever written was the last presentation of Detective series season 2.
The date for Ernest Jackson's (Philip Madoc) execution has been set. In 17 days he will go to the chair for the murder of his wife - brutally killed three years earlier. In despair he appeals to Police Chief Fellows (Lee Montague); the evidence which led to his conviction is purely circumstantial; no motive has been proved. Disturbed at the possibility of a miscarriage of justice, Fellows spends his vacation pursuing the now cold trail. Was some vital clue overlooked? Did some other person have a motive for the killing? The days pass and gradually, Fellows begins to uncover the truth. Also stars Maurice Kaufmann.
The Singing Sands
The night train to Scotland roars on its way bearing two passengers whose destinies, unknown to them, are to become deeply involved. Stars Gordon Jackson, Phyllidia Law, Windsor Davies, Kevin Stoney.
The Public School Murder
(Dramatised by Roy Clarke)
The murder of the headmaster of a famous public school causes a great scandal; Sir Luke Frinsby (Cyril Luckham), a Governor and Mr Smith (John Nettleton), the Senior History Master, succeed in solving the crime when the police have failed. Also stars Hugh Morton, Terence Alexander and Henry McGee
Put Out the Light
Jamaica Court is the home of Anthea Vine (Rachel Kempson), rich, autocratic and powerful. Her tyranny embraces not only her adopted family but also her servants and business rivals. The pleasure she derives from her power is mixed with fears that haunt her day and night. For she is aware that many hate her and many wish her dead. She tries to dismiss these fears as groundless - raised in her imagination by the emotional tensions ever present in the house. Miss Pye (Angela Baddeley) sees the reality of the dangers surrounding the victim and tries to warn her of them. Also stars Michael Jayston and Angela Douglas.
In the steamy heat of a fashionable Turkish baths, emotions can become heightened and lead to a fantastic and mysterious death. Stars Hannah Gordon.
Hunt the Peacock
Inspector Ghote (Zia Mohyeddin) visits London and finds that life in England is not quite as he had imagined it. Also stars Brigit Forsyth, Sally Geeson and Geoffrey Palmer.
A race against time as Ian Firth (David Buck) and John Smith (Meredith Edwards) try to find the reasons behind the apparently motiveless murder of a British Wimbledon semi-finalist.
And so to Murder
On the Eve of World War II Sir Henry Merivale (Martin Wyldeck) finds himself involved in the world of film makers, investigating a curious case of apparent sabotage. Also stars Bernard Spear, William Russell and Roger Tonge.
Always unable to resist an appeal from a beautiful woman, Commisaire Bignon (Edward Woodward) becomes intrigued by the curious behaviour of a girl who first runs to him for help and then refuses to tell him anything about her troubles. Ignoring his superior officer's advice to leave matters alone, he begins a few tentative enquiries and suddenly finds himself involved in a highly complex case. He discovers the secrets of the Dangeville family; their tangled emotions and the strange pattern of the life they live behind a facade of aristocratic and academic respectability.
Mr Guppy's Tale
'A man with an extraordinary story to tell (Bill Fraser), and a most singular way of telling it,' entertains the parish of Brampton Cotterell. Written by Hugh Whitmore, Mr Guppy's Tale is derived from Charles Dickens' Bleak House. Also stars Geoffrey Rose and Michael Craze.
Published on November 14th, 2021. Written by Malcolm Alexander for Television Heaven.