Somewhere between the laid-back Californian bromance of Starsky and Hutch and the short, sharp fist to the face of The Sweeney we forget that some detectives played by the Queensbury Rules.
Smart of dress, cultured of speech, and in total yet detached control they stalked, deduced and killed with a certain elan. We present for you now an elite selection of these debonair detectives.
*LORD BRETT SINCLAIR – When Sir Roger Moore played Simon Templar on British television in The Saint (1962 – 1969) you watched his audition for Bond. Fast forward a mere two years to Lord Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders (1971 – 1972) and you see him about to sign the contract and fly off to New Orleans for Live and Let Die (1973).
Cool, calm, handy with the fisticuffs, Sinclair sported a tasteful yet trendy wardrobe and acted as the perfect smooth counterpoint to the rather more brash slums to penthouse American Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis). Sinclair even drove an Aston Martin.
But that legendary Sir Roger raised eyebrow seals the deal – 70s Bond would possess an air of slight camp, a bemused and amused detachment in stark contrast to Sean Connery’s animal bravado. Lord Brett Sinclair was ex-army – you knew he could kill you if he wanted. He was also an ex-racing car driver – you knew he could outrun you too. But that raised eyebrow lets you know with absolute certainty that there’s a time and a place to wrinkle the Farrah slacks – and only Sir Roger Moore as Lord Brett Sinclair and proto-Bond knows when and where that will happen.
You just won’t be around to talk about it.
*JOHN STEED – Patrick Macnee starred as Major the Hon. John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed in The Avengers (1961 – 1969). Let your eyes run over that name for a second.
Of all our debonair detectives Steed stands as the bona fide real deal, even more so than Lord Brett Sinclair. Eton expelled him after a fight with the school bully. He served with the Coldstream Guards in World War II. He joined the Intelligence Corps soon after that and with a smooth and calculated assurance made his way into the ranks of the secretive and faceless Ministry, address unknown.
And if that doesn’t suffice, he lived in a smart mews flat in trendy Swinging London, drove (at various times) a Rolls Royce, a Bentley and later a Jaguar, knew his way around international cuisine and Champagne and wore a wardrobe that could kill.
Metal plate lined his trademark bowler hat and his umbrella contained a sword in the handle. However, the famous three-piece suit killed the most – the ladies, of course, most notably the lovely Mrs. Emma Peel.
Did they? Of course, they did. No sniggers at the back. A gentleman never kisses and tells.
*ADAM ADAMANT – Frozen by his nemesis The Face in 1902 and thawed out again in 1966, Adam Llewellyn De Vere Adamant (Gerald Harper) cuts a suave Victorian dash through Swinging Sixties London in Adam Adamant Lives! (1966 – 1967) as he fights crime and acquaints himself with new modes of transportation (his customized Mini Cooper S), new lodgings (his concealed town flat), and new ways of life.
Filmed at the transition point in fashion from Mod to Bohemian dandy, Adamant’s cape and cane don’t look at all out of place among the Carnaby Street military threads and Victorian granny dresses of his new contemporaries, but his attitude sets him apart.
Of all our debonair detectives he plays by the Queensbury Rules, invented a short time before his temporary demise, and he also knows Jujitsu. But his sense of fair play and his keen knowledge of the craft of swordsmanship mark him out as a true gentleman.
Jewelers refer to diamonds as adamantine, a medieval term, and that fits Adam to a tee. The series suffered in direct comparison to the slicker and trendier The Avengers, and thus they only filmed two series.
*JASON KING – ITC Entertainment’s Department S (1969) featured three agents: Jason King, Stewart Sullivan, and Annabelle Hurst. King gained the biggest and most rabid fan base, so ITC commissioned a spin-off series, Jason King (1971 – 1972) and Peter Wyngarde reprised his role as the bouffant-haired, part-time author, and full-time louche dandy King.
King travelled to various and ever-more glamorous international locations for research purposes for his Mark Caine series of adventure novels.
But, of course, he encountered the usual villains, turmoil, and intrigue – and quite a few beautiful and buxom ladies along the way. He did use to work as a spy after all and old habits die hard.
The series always claimed a string of successful novels. International travel doesn’t come cheap.
Thank you for your concern, but I never fly economy – Jason King
He always concluded the criminal activities on the side of the good with hints at Government orders from on high, but his heart remained with the good life. (He even bedded a pre-Good Life Felicity Kendall in Toki, 1972.)
Give him a Bentley, a large goblet of something red, a delightful companion for the evening, and a decent silk lounge coat and he was a happy man.
If only those damned ruffians would bugger off, darling.
*ROBERT MCCALL – However upper-class or cultured the true edge of a brilliant agent comes from a dark and troubled past.
Former British army officer Robert McCall (Edward Woodward) works in the shadows of New York in The Equalizer (1985 – 1989) and helps the helpless, the dispossessed, and the desperate. He does this pro-bono. Why? The series hints at atonement for Governmental sins committed during his time as an operative for a covert agency referred to only as The Agency or The Company.
We know that he lost the woman he loved, had a British father and an American mother, is divorced and is estranged both from his son and from a previously unknown daughter. And that’s all we know. Other operatives come and go and keep him from any sense of a normal life. He listens to classical music, lives in a smart penthouse, dresses in a sharp and expensive manner, and appreciates the finer end of food and wine.
But underneath the polish and the reserve, like the deadliest of coiled snakes, he can strike with immense, cold accuracy when needed. McCall combines that very best of British stiff upper lip with the basest of American street instincts, and yet still somehow manages to display a heart of gold – a legend if ever there was one.