TOP FIVE BRITISH TELEVISION MYSTERY SERIES
By Lady Penelope Pink
It is only natural that the country and the culture that gave us Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have their own long-running and distinctive television mystery series.
Lady Penelope Pink lists for us what she considers the top five British mystery series ever.
A. INSPECTOR MORSE (1987)
INSPECTOR MORSE is a British detective mystery series based on a series of novels by Colin Dexter. It starred John Thaw as Inspector Endeavor Morse and Kevin Whately as Sergeant Robbie Lewis. The entire series is made up of 33 two-hour episodes made between 1987 and 2000. The final episode The Remorseful Day ends with the death of Inspector Morse.
INSPECTOR MORSE was named the greatest British crime drama of all time by readers of the Radio Times. The British Film Institute ranked the series 42 on the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.
INSPECTOR MORSE was followed by two spin-off series a sequel LEWIS (Morse’s sergeant now an inspector follows in his mentor’s footsteps) and a prequel ENDEAVOR (we watch as a young constable Morse becomes a chief inspector).
Minus: Morse’s character is often too snobbish and grumpy. He rarely smiles and it is difficult to like him. The more sympathetic character is Sergeant Lewis.
Plus: Morse often makes mistakes and sometimes even arrests the wrong person. He always fixes it by the end but this makes his wrap-up of the cases even more interesting.
Rating: Four Gray Geeks
B. FATHER BROWN (2013)
FATHER BROWN is a British television mystery daytime drama based on short stories by G.K. Chesterton. It stars Mark Williams as a crime-solving Roman Catholic Priest. It began airing in 2013 and has been commissioned for a ninth series to air in 2021.
Apart from soap operas it is the third-longest running daytime drama on the BBC.
This was not the first British FATHER BROWN series. An earlier series aired in 1974 and starred Kenneth More as Father Brown.
Minus: Father Brown can be rather annoying at times. Sometimes you just want to grab his umbrella and hit him over the head with it. Not only that but the various policemen and detectives he has to deal with are even more annoying.
Plus: It is a period piece set in the 1950s and that is always fun to watch. The mysteries are good and if you pay attention you just might figure it out before the end.
Rating: Four Gray Geeks.
C. SHERLOCK (2010)
SHERLOCK is a British mystery series based on Sherlock Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This particular series was created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson.
The series is set in modern times and has been praised for the quality of its acting and writing. The show has won three Emmys and a Peabody Award.
The final series aired in 2017. Benedict Cumberbatch has expressed interest in continuing but Mark Gatiss stated in 2019 that a potential fifth series is up in the air due to the conflicting schedules of Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
Minus: I find nothing wrong with this show whatsoever!
Plus: This show is funny as all get out. I especially enjoy the fights between the two Holmes brothers.
Rating: Five Gray Geeks.
D. DEATH IN PARADISE (2011)
DEATH IN PARADISE is a British/French mystery television series starring first Ben Miller, then Kris Marshall, then Ardal O’Hanlon and now Ralf Little. It is a joint British/French co-production filmed on the French Caribbean island of Guadelope.
The basic premise is that the fictional island of Saint Marie needs a British detective to serve as the island’s detective inspector. So basically the chief investigator of the show is a fish out of water – solving murders while having virtually no clue as to how to live and survive on the island.
The amazing thing about this show is that for nine years it has been consistently popular while having changed the lead character four times.
In the first series Ben Miller played Richard Poole
In Season Three he was killed off and Kris Marshall played Humphrey Goodman who was called in to solve Poole’s murder and wound up staying.
When Goodman left to marry his girlfriend, Ardal O’Hanlon playing Jack Mooney replaced him.
Recently Mooney left and Ralf Little stepped in playing Neville Parker.
After nine years DEATH IN PARADISE continues to one of the three most popular programmes on British television.
Minus: Overall I have no complaints about this show. Naturally the tone of the show changes slightly with each different lead. But overall the style of the show remains the same and enjoyable.
Plus: This show uses the Agatha Christie style of wrapping up the mystery – gather the suspects together, review the clues, catch the killer. Some complain this is formulaic. I say pfui. I love that they end the episodes this way. I also love the supporting characters and the way they play off each other.
Rating: Five Gray Geeks.
E. MIDSOMER MURDERS (1997)
MIDSOMER MURDERS is a British television mystery series that takes place in the fictional English county of Midsomer. The senior police detective and his sergeant partner of the equally fictional Causton Constabulary travel to the various small villages and towns within Midsomer to solve murders. Anthony Horowitz adapted the series from the Inspector Barnaby book series by Caroline Graham.
The show has been on for twenty-three years and shows no signs of stopping. The series has had two leads. Originally John Nettles played Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby. After his retirement in 2011 his place was taken by his cousin Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby played by Neil Dudgeon.
MIDSOMER MURDERS is an extremely popular show not only over here in England but it is broadcast in over 200 countries.
Minus: I really don’t have anything negative to say about this show. After twenty-three years I feel I have been watching this show all my life and if it had anything that bothered me I should have stopped a long time ago. At first I thought I was going to be put off by the change in leads. But making them cousins was a nice touch and really I love them both.
Plus: This is a beautifully written show. The characters are well crafted and nicely interweaved within the story. Even after all these years the writers approach the stories in a way that keeps them fresh while still managing to give us what we know and love.
Rating: Five Gray Geeks.
I hope you enjoyed our look at British television mysteries and if you are unfamiliar with any of them I invite you to watch and see for yourselves. You shall not be disappointed.
Lady Penelope Pink is the nom de plume of Charmain Arnold and her sister Susan Arnold. They live in England and in fact live next door to Stonehenge – which I suppose gives them their rather unique take on anything mysterious.