A skilful blend of humour and drama
In the world of television crime dramas, few shows managed to captivate our attention quite like the BBC's renowned series, New Tricks. Spanning over a decade and twelve seasons, the show became a beloved staple of British television, seamlessly blending elements of mystery, wit, and crime-solving skills. Through its well-crafted storytelling and exceptional cast performances, New Tricks firmly secured its place as a favourite among fans of the genre.
New Tricks (the title derived from the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”) takes viewers on an enthralling journey through the files of the Metropolitan Police Service's fictional Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS). Led by the charismatic Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman), a motley crew of retired detectives breathe new life into unsolved cases that have remained dormant for years. What set this show apart from traditional crime dramas was its refreshingly unconventional approach, introducing an intriguing blend of vintage detective work and contemporary investigative techniques and a dogged determination to solve the seemingly unsolvable.
At the heart of New Tricks lies a diverse ensemble of characters, each with their unique quirks, idiosyncrasies, and inimitable personalities. While some come straight out of the old-school era of policing, such as the veteran investigator Jack Halford (James Bolam – The Likely Lads, Only When I Laugh) and the charming and streetwise Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman – The Sweeney, Minder), others bring a fresh perspective to the squad, including the tech-savvy Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong – Our Friends in the North, Villains). Their dynamic chemistry infuses the series with undeniable charm and unwavering authenticity, drawing audiences deeper into each case.
Each of the officers involved carries their own baggage. Pullman, who is answerable to DAC Strickland (Anthony Calf – Holby City) had been demoted from a more senior position after a hostage rescue went down badly, which left her with self-doubt and anxiety, for which she now requires regular psychotherapy.
Jack Halford is still grieving over the sudden death of his wife, killed in a hit-and-run accident. Buried under a memorial in his back garden, Mary Halford is still the person to whom Jack will offload his worries whenever he needs to.
Brian Lane is a former detective with 35 years of experience. But he was forced into retirement when a drug dealer died whilst in his custody. Convinced that he was set up to take a fall, Brian is now struggling against alcoholism. He often displays signs of being a paranoid nervous wreck with an obsessive-compulsive disorder who relies on medication and the stable relationship of his marriage to the patient and understanding Esther (Susan Jameson – Take Three Girls, Coronation Street).
Gerry Standings' problems are more self-inflicted. A compulsive gambler and a serial womaniser with three failed marriages behind him, three lots of alimony to pay and three daughters to worry about, Gerry finds himself permanently on the point of bankruptcy. On the upside, he still remains on good terms with his ex’s and, more importantly, his girls.
Eccentric, quirky and full of rebellion, the UCOS team nevertheless are unflinching in their dedication to solving the serious cold cases that come their way despite them not having the full support of the Met’s resources at their disposal. The death of a 10-year-old boy is reinvestigated 20 years after the crime, the 17-year unsolved murder of a policewoman, the case of a barrister found dead, bound and gagged in his car in the 1980s, a woman who has been left comatose for eight years and the kidnapping of two 10-year-old boys over twenty years ago are just some of the cases that come under the team's scrutiny.
What truly sets New Tricks apart is its ability to skilfully blend humour with the intense drama of crime solving. Despite tackling dark subject matter, the show manages to infuse each episode with light-hearted banter, clever wordplay, and unexpected comedic moments.
James Bolam was the first to leave UCOS in 2013 to be replaced by Denis Lawson (Rock Follies, Bleak House, Holby City) as former DI Steve McAndrew (Bolam returned for a single guest appearance in series 10), and both Alun Armstrong and Amanda Redman left their posts during series 10, the latter being replaced by Tamzin Outhwaite (EastEnders) as DCI Sasha Miller, fresh from her successful SWAT raid on a group of Russian gangsters. Brian’s replacement was former DCI Dan Griffin played by Nicholas Lyndhurst (Only Fools and Horses, Goodnight Sweetheart). Although Dennis Waterman announced his intention to leave the series at the end of series 12, it was in fact the last season of the show as the BBC took the decision to cancel it. The last arrival on the team in that season was former Detective Chief Inspector Ted Case (Larry Lamb – EastEnders, Gavin & Stacey).
The theme song to the series, It's Alright was written by Mike Moran but was, inevitably, performed by Dennis Waterman. Co-creator of the series Roy Mitchell (Nigel McCrery being the other) cheekily named the original three civilian officers after "The Halfords Lane Stand", a section of the stadium at The Hawthorns, the home of West Bromwich Albion, the football club he supported.
With its gripping storylines, well-rounded characters, and ability to challenge conventions, New Tricks cemented its place as a classic crime drama. The series offers a compelling blend of mystery, emotion, and entertainment that keeps audiences hooked with every episode. The cast is a true ensemble of seasoned actors who bring their characters to life with depth and charisma. This camaraderie, forged through years of working together, makes the show a joy to watch.
Published on September 4th, 2023. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.