Light, playful and possessed of a uniquely British charm, Lovejoy originally came into being in a series of novel's by author Jonathan Gash, before Ian McShane himself realised the wider potential of the character as a starring vehicle and obtained the television rights, which were then developed by the sublimely assured hand of Ian La Frenais.
Set in the stuffy, enclosed, specialised world of the antiques trade, the Lovejoy character is an opportunistic, charming non-conformist dealer possessed of the rare-near supernatural gift of being a natural 'Divvy'. (A diviner: Able to identify a genuine antique whatever it's condition, even if it's located in a room filled with otherwise worthless items). However, whereas the novels depicted the character in a rather harsh light, La Frenais wisely opted to tailor this Lovejoy to the charismatically likeable charm of its leading man. What emerged was a modern day variation on the time honoured Robin Hood riff.
Lovejoy became a slightly roguish, but basically decent man who would happily fleece the unscrupulous dealers he encountered, whilst ensuring that those who had fallen victim to the sharks received what was rightfully their due...usually for a small fee. As Lovejoy's chief nemesis, the superciliously underhanded dealer, Charles Gimbert, enjoyably fell foul of this type of retribution on numerous occasions. The core of the success of the series, as is so often the case, lay in the delightfully comic dynamics of the central characters. In Tinker, (seasoned veteran character actor Dudley Sutton) the older, erudite, alcoholically challenged right hand man, and the younger, enthusiastic, but ever-so-slightly dim assistant, Eric, the sense of good-natured family bickering and one-upmanship is wonderfully evoked. Lovejoy also employed a television technique known as 'breaking the fourth wall' to great effect. This called on McShane to talk directly to the camera, as if taking the viewer into his confidence.
Initially, the romantic interest rested in the "will they, won't they" undercurrent of mutual attraction between Lovejoy and his friend and sometime business partner, Lady Jane Felsham, played to drolly-aristocratic perfection by the accomplished Phyllis Logan until the actress opted to leave the show in 1993. (One of two major cast changes, Eric left to run his uncle's pub and was replaced by another young trainee, Beth). A succession of fleeting romantic interludes ensued until the arrival of university educated auctioneer Charlotte Cavendish in 1994 as the new permanent woman in Lovejoy's life. With its backdrop of beautiful Home Counties scenery, well written and amusing scripts and a cast of talented performers who obviously enjoyed their work, Lovejoy proved to be both a ratings winner and a delightfully finely polished gem of a series, which will continue to amuse and entertain.
Published on December 31st, 2018. Written by SRH (2000) for Television Heaven.