Saturday, 18 July 2009


Ageism seems to be amongst the latest issues tormenting the BBC these days, with the expenses of its executives (1) and the state of its dramas - catalyzed by the debate between eminent producer Tony Garnett and Ben Stephenson, the controller of BBC drama commissioning (2). After the controversial replacement of Arlene Phillips, 66, a veteran choreographer, by pop star Alesha Dixon, 30, as a judge in the popular Strictly Come Dancing show (3), the return of the acclaimed New Tricks on BBC1 for a sixth series comes with an unsuspected irony.

Launched in 2003 with a pilot episode and shown since 2004, New Tricks is a "cold case" comedy/drama show with a difference. Headed by Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman, played by Amanda Redman, UCOS (Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad) is a very special unit composed of retired and burnout aged police officers: Jack Halford (James Bolam, of the Likely Lads fame) - haunted by the death of his beloved wife, Gerry Standing (the legendary Dennis Waterman) - a gambler and a ladies man with three ex-wives and three daughters, and Brian Lane (the wonderful character actor Alun Armstrong) - a recovering alcoholic with OCD.

Both the humour and the sensibility of New Tricks come from the simple idea of these men coping with their personal demons but proving you "can't teach old dogs new tricks" when they're back to the job. And they are with virtuosity but also with a total lack of discipline and professional orthodoxy, plus the weaknesses of age (but the strength of experience). The ensemble cast of this great show is solid and it's a treat to watch British television legend Dennis Waterman (the original Minder) ageing well in the shoes of John Thaw - his former "Guv" in The Sweeney.

Faithful to his own myth, Waterman sings It's alright, "da feem toon" (as his parody by comedian David Walliams would say in Little Britain) of the show. Unfortunately French viewers were deprived of the song when New Tricks arrived on French public channel France 3 in 2008, with It's alright replaced by Rien n'est écrit, a song in French performed by Murray Head (whose brother Anthony played in one episode). With all the respect due to the talented Murray Head, say it ain't so, Joe please... (sorry, couldn't help).

The sixth series of New Tricks, launched with more than 8 million viewers on July 16, claimed 34% share in 9pm slot, beating nearest rival by more than 4 million viewers ( In many respects the ratings of the series premiere echo with a poetic irony not only to the Arlene Phillips replacement but also to the "Hollyoaksing" of the cast of Doctor Who - Matt Smith (the new Doctor) being 26 and Karen Gillan, the Doctor's new assistant, 21.

New Tricks
star Amanda Redman, 49, fears she could lose out on top jobs because of her age, in the wake of the Phillips situation ( This would be a terrible mistake because Redman is all charm, class and talent. Anyway the Beeb can argue that the main character of its flagship franchise is 905 years old, which is far far more older than the Strictly Come Dancing iconic presenter Bruce "Brucie" Forsyth, 81.

« It's alright, its OK
It doesnt matter if you're old and grey... »
(Dennis Waterman, the Guv of British television)

(2) + +

No comments: