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New Tricks: An Appreciation Part 2

June 2, 2021

The Original Old Dogs

Detective Chief Superintendent John Halford or Jack as he was always known was Sandra’s old boss when he was a serving policeman, so it was to Jack that she turned first when she had to put UCOS together. This made him the effective senior member of the team and both Brian and Gerry accepted his seniority … well most of the time anyway! Jack’s regular career had been brought to an end by his wife, Mary Halford’s death in 1998 after a hit and run. It was five years later that Jack agreed to return and it gave him the focus that he had been missing in the years since Mary had died. His methods were old school in terms of his approach to suspects which could be extremely abrasive, especially if he thought that this would trip them up. He liked the old methods of ‘proper’ policework, but he was also happy to use the new technology that became available if he thought it could help him get a conviction. He brought a sense of humour to the team that was as old school as he was and often Sandra would be left shaking her head in exasperation as he and the rest of the team started acting more like schoolchildren than pensioners! Despite the problems associated with becoming a subordinate of someone who you used to manage, Jack was seldom bothered by the reversal of roles unless it stopped him doing his job as he saw it. At those times he could be very cutting and sometimes downright unpleasant to Sandra. His occasional abrasiveness was offset by a genuine friendship with the other three members of UCOS, and he would often find himself either helping or covering for Brian and Gerry. The only time he lost control was when he was taunted by Ricky Hanson, an old school villain who he had never managed to put away. When he finds out the shocking truth about one of Hanson’s crime he decides to take the law into his own hands with disastrous consequences.

James Bolam has been one of the UK’s most popular actors for five decades with a string of hits like When the Boat Comes In, The Likely Lads, Only When I Laugh and The Beiderbecke Affair. Equally adept at comedy and drama he always delivered fantastic performances, seemingly without effort. With nearly 100 films or TV programmes to his credit he has built up a body of work that has made his name and face familiar to three generations of viewers.

Brian Lane was initially a character that seemed defined by his idiosyncrasies. His ability to recall every detail about a crime or a colleague earned him the nickname ‘Memory’ Lane. Despite its usefulness, his gift attracted snide comments from a number of the policemen he had worked with. He found it very difficult to maintain friendships due, almost certainly, to an autistic spectrum condition which, though never specified, was a fairly extreme form of Asperger Syndrome. His issues with everyday life led him to become an alcoholic. Although he had stopped drinking by the time he came to UCOS, the danger of relapse was never far away. When he was working on a case he could get completely obsessed to the extent of staying in the office all night and, on at least one occasion, refusing to take the medication that dampened his more manic side because of the effect it was having on his thinking processes. The only person who stood between him and disaster was his long suffering wife Esther who was completely loyal to him but also able to put him in his place at any time when he was becoming obsessed or in danger of slipping into bad habits. In this, she had willing accomplices in the form of Jack, Gerry and Sandra who would often intervene when needed. When she thought that his colleagues had let him down she could be incredibly angry and unforgiving, but that was purely because she loved him so much. For his part, Brian was, at times, the only person who could get through to Jack. When Jack went missing after a court case that saw a self-confessed murderer walk free, it was Brian who tracked him down, persuaded him to come back and kept an eye on him as he readjusted.  

Alun Armstrong has been a regular on British screens for many years, with nearly 150 roles on screen. He would often be a supporting character but he would steal scenes with aplomb. During the early part of his career his paths crossed with James Bolam in The Likely Lads and Dennis Waterman in The Sweeney. As well as his TV work he has been a prolific stage actor with extensive experience of Shakespeare, and as part of the original cast of Les Miserables in the West End.

The longest serving member of UCOS didn’t treat his superiors with quite the respect they deserved at time, so it was a good job he was such an effective policeman! Gerry Standing, born Gerald Lestade, came from a family of butchers. He turned his back on the family trade to become a policeman, much to the anger of his father. For that reason he does his best to keep those two sides of his life separate, although in one memorable case they collide head on. Gerry collected three ex wives and three children along the way and is constantly complaining how much they all cost him, but in reality he would give them his last penny. Add to this his penchant for gambling which Sandra tried to curb, and which came back to haunt him on a couple of occasions, and his long service with UCOS makes sense in financial terms. However, that is far from the only reason. He loves to belong and to feel like he’s contributing and UCOS allows him to do this. Perhaps more than any other old dog, Gerry Standing is prepared to do whatever it takes to get his result. He has a string of dodgy contacts from his past, although his nickname ‘Last Man Standing’ reflected his determination to steer clear of bribes when the rest of his unit were on the payrolls of criminals. Sandra and Sasha both had to dig deep to save him from himself on a number of occasions, but he was the type of copper who thrived on loyalty to others and expected it in return. Initially, he was at daggers drawn with DAC Robert Strickland, but over the years he realised that within the limits of his job, Strickland was prepared to protect UCOS with everything at his disposal. When he finds himself accused of corruption and murder it is Strickland who gives him the chance to clear his name. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the two men become friends over time.

Dennis Waterman needs no introduction to anyone who has been watching British TV since the early 70s. He has appeared in The Sweeney, Minder and New Tricks, three of the most popular programmes of their eras, and his acting talent and the twinkle in his eye have made him a popular actor across three generations of viewers. He is a superb singer who had a big hit with the theme from Minder, I Could be so Good for You, and of course the theme to New Tricks. On stage he appeared as Eliza Doolittle’s father in the revival of My Fair Lady to rave reviews. He is iconic, and quite simply one of the most popular actors on British TV in the last 50 years.  

Classic Episodes

Congratulations and Casualty (Series 3 Episode 8/ Series 4 Episode 1) – This is effectively a two-parter, with massive repercussions for UCOS and Jack in particular. Ricky Hanson is a nasty old time villain who Jack was never able to collar, and the case at the end of Series 3 sees an old arson conviction overturned when Luke Hanson is discovered to have an alibi. Jack is convinced that he was protecting Ricky and he decides to ruffle a few feathers as he desperately tries to pin the crime on him. It is a fantastically nasty, almost psychotic performance, from David Troughton as Ricky Hanson, and you realise why Jack’s failure to nail him has angered and frustrated him for so long. When he finds out that Ricky Hanson was responsible for another death Jack loses control and decides to take the law into his own hands. The first episode of Series 4 sees the aftermath of Jack’s decision as the full impact becomes clear. It is a tour de force from both James Bolam and David Troughton in both episodes as these two implacable foes square up to each other. New Tricks never shied away from the nastier side of life but never was it brought so much into focus as on these two episodes. It showed that New Tricks could be as powerful and uncompromising as any other police drama.

God’s Waiting Room (Series 4 Episode 2)

New Tricks had really got into its stride by this point, and it went from the deeply dramatic opener to Series 4 to one of the most comedic episodes of the whole run. However, even among the comedy, Amanda Redman turns in a beautifully conflicted performance opposite the magnificent Sheila Hancock as her embittered and largely estranged mother, Grace. It is due to Grace’s increasing frailty that Sandra decides to visit prospective care homes. A chance remark by a resident convinces her to investigate a care home where a murder may have taken place. In order to get the inside story Jack poses as Gerry’s father, much to his disgust and Gerry’s delight and becomes a resident of the care home itself! The digs that Gerry gets in are a delight as are Jack’s reactions, but the comic highlight comes later on in the episode. Gerry talks about what a brilliant singer his dad was, but he is talking about his own father. The other residents rope in a delighted Gerry and a seething Jack to sing a duet in one of the funniest scenes of the entire series.  

Loyalties and Royalties (Series 5 Episode 4)

This episode was pivotal in turning Strickland into a boss who the old dogs trusted and came to like. It is the story of Bad Faith, loved by both Gerry and Strickland, a 70s rock band who made one huge album then split up. There are a lot of jokes at the expense of the rock star lifestyle and a minor storyline of Strickland trying to sign a reluctant Gerry up as the lead singer for a band made up of some of Strickland’s fellow officers that is played for laughs. The other major element of this episode that made it important was the return of Jack after an absence related to the Ricky Hanson events of Series 3 and 4. It is a typically low key return for Jack but the whole episode brings into focus the effect that his absence has had on the team. It is interesting to see a series prepared to delve into the interpersonal relationships of co-workers in such a subtle and well thought out way.

The War Against Drugs (Series 6 Episode 1)

This episode sees Brian booked into a rehabilitation retreat for addicts run by monks, as a last chance to save his marriage to the long suffering Esther and his job at UCOS. He discovers that there was a suspicious death in the retreat, and he rings Sandra asking her to help him investigate it. Esther has already torn a strip off of Sandra, blaming her for the chain of events that have led to Brian succumbing to alcohol once again, and told her that no one in UCOS is to go anywhere near Brian. In order to help him, Gerry goes undercover posing as a sex addict! When Esther discovers the team there she is livid and Sandra has to explain exactly what is happening, but the truth is more disturbing than any of them could have imagined. Susan Jameson as Esther was always great in the series, but her anger at UCOS and protectiveness towards her beloved but damaged husband are powerfully portrayed in an episode where she really shines.

A Death in the Family (Series 9 Episode 1)

I really had to choose this episode because it is Jack’s final appearance as a member of UCOS. The episode itself has the Brilliant Tim McInnerny as the incredibly slimy and deeply amoral Stephen Fisher. He only appeared in three episodes but such was his impact that he became very much part of the unfolding narrative of the series. The case in this episode is the coldest cold case ever, as it dates from 1851! It is really interesting watching UCOS build up the case without interviews or even the family of suspects. James Bolam is marvellously brittle in this final episode but he also exudes a calmness which says that this is his time to leave. Jack’s last conversation with Brian is beautifully played by both actors. It is a fitting swansong from the leader of the pack of old dogs.

Next time

The newer dogs, the supporting cast and more favourite episodes.    

From → New Tricks

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