ITV1 is quietly carving a niche for itself as purveyor of nostalgic drama to the nation. After years of success with Heartbeat (1960s) it did well with last year’s Foyles War (1940s) and has just commissioned a second series of Heartbeat spin-off The Royal. Now it’s trying something different – a four-part series set in the present day, but about a man who’s the last remnant of an earlier, gentler age. The show’s hero is “Dangerous” Davies, an ageing DC in the North Willesden CID. He’s played by Peter Davison, with a large hint of his downtrodden husband persona from At Home With The Braithwaites. The series is based on books by Leslie Thomas (The Virgin Soldiers, Tropic of Ruislip), arguably Britain’s finest chronicler of postwar suburban life. With that pedigree, and the full two-hour treatment, it really should be good.
And so it is, although you do have to be in the right mood. This week’s episode was fairly depressing at first, with Davies saddled with all the rubbish jobs by his boss, banished to a bedsit by his wife for simply being too dull, and ridiculed by younger colleagues for his lack of aggression (A black youth – caught after a hilarious chase in which pursuer and pursued limped as fast as they could – even told Davies it was a pleasure to be arrested by him).
But then slowly (very slowly) he turned things round, netting a major villain from a seemingly pointless surveillance, and solving a 20 year old murder case as a bonus. He also netted an invitation to stay over from his wife, but got a chillier response from his DI, who’d been embarrassed by his success. Back to square one then, and ready for the next episode.
Humour, pathos, the small victories of a trampled man – classic Leslie Thomas themes, and perfect material for Davison, who put them all across with quiet feeling.He had good support too, from horribly thuggish workmates (led by ex-Soldier Soldier hard man Rob Spendlove) to an oddly-cast but effectively comical Sean Hughes as Mod, his even-more-trampled drinking buddy. The original Last Detective novel was published in 1976, and at times the film had a near-period feel, as if they’d forgotten that this was a present-day adaptation – but then, as Heartbeat’s rendition of 1960s Yorkshire keeps reminding us, change does come more slowly as you move away from the cultural epicentres.