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New Tricks: An Appreciation Part 3

June 14, 2021

The Newer Dogs

James Bolam was never going to be an easy actor to follow, so when Denis Lawson was brought in as Steve McAndrew, a Glasgow cop, it was very much a case of waiting to see how he fitted in. His first couple of episodes played with the idea of the new guy very well. Gerry bonded with him over a heavy drinking session and found that they were similar characters with a similar way of doing things. They were both instinctive policemen, happy to use their fists as well as their brains and possessing a healthy disrespect for authority in all its forms. Brian, on the other hand, was petty and spiteful as he made no effort to adjust. Steve did his best to mollify him, but the efforts he made seemed to make things worse if anything. Eventually, Esther took a hand in things and invited Steve over for dinner. Initially Brian’s rudeness and unpleasantness went up a notch when he refused to sit down at the table with him, but Steve stood his ground and promised Brian that he wasn’t trying to be a new Jack. Although there was some measure of acceptance eventually, Brian and Steve never really made a breakthrough. In that sense, Gerry represented the viewers who were happy to see change and a new dynamic while Brian represented the viewers who clung to the past and harked back to the old days.

Once Steve had fitted in, he brought a different approach to the job. Outwardly he was more content to toe the line, but his working practice consisted of hunches, occasional deception, and an ability to change his persona depending on who he was dealing with. He could be drawn into a case entirely on one side, due to sympathy with one of the protagonists, but if the evidence pointed in the direction of that person he would, regretfully, do his job to the full extent of the law. Of course, if he nailed someone he didn’t like he would often take an inordinate amount of pleasure in it. In a sense, Steve was more of an everyday copper with fewer quirks than his colleagues and, at times, provided a necessary corrective to their more offbeat approaches. When pure policework was needed, Steve McAndrew was your man.

With over 50 in years in the business and nearly 100 acting credits under his belt, Denis Lawson was a well-known face on British TV before New Tricks came along. He also appeared in the original Star Wars trilogy as Wedge, a role he repeated in the most recent film.

Brian Lane’s departure saw the arrival of a similarly quirky replacement, Danny Griffin. At least, that’s what he appeared to be on the surface. Erudite, full of facts about a huge range of subjects, and somewhat distant at first he found himself immediately at odds with Gerry who reacted really badly when the last of the original team left. Over the time they spent together they finally reached a kind of understanding, but they were too different to become close. One of the running jokes of the later series was either Gerry or Steve asking Danny, ‘What exactly did you do in the Diplomatic Service?’ as Danny demonstrated yet another skill that was far from commonplace. We never got an answer, but we knew he was a copper to be reckoned with for his intelligence, instinct, and approach to the job.  

As we got to know more about Danny, it was clear that he had built up barriers to protect himself from a world that had dealt him some very bad hands. His daughter, Holly, was left disabled after an horrific incident that had seen Danny’s wife sectioned. When he finally confided in Sasha what had happened, in an incredibly well played and emotional scene, she tells him to take as much time as he needs. His reply was direct and devastating.

‘That’s impossible. I won’t live that long.’

His growing friendship with pathologist Fiona Kennedy was an appealing diversion at first, but once it became more serious the history of his previous relationship loomed very large. At heart, Danny was an affectionate and loving man, as he demonstrated with Holly, but he was also very scarred and found it difficult to move on.

Nicholas Lyndhurst is one of the best loved actors in the UK. His extensive TV experience has seen him go from a young scene stealer in Going Straight with Ronnie Barker and Butterflies with Wendy Craig to national treasure as Rodney Trotter in Only Fools and Horses. His ability to blend comedy and pathos in every single role he has taken on has made every character deeper and more interesting than perhaps even the writers were expecting. A consummate performer, he has never played to type, with every role bringing out a different aspect of his personality. It is impossible to imagine TV over the last 40 years without this incredible and charismatic actor.

The final addition to the cast was Ted Case, a recently retired senior policeman who brought a very different approach to the job. He was first introduced in Gerry’s last case where his attention to detail managed to give UCOS the breakthrough they badly needed. An excessively superstitious policeman who refused to allow people to say that a case was going well in case they jinxed it, and saw signs in everything, he could have been very irritating if the approach hadn’t been underpinned with a knowing and mischievous sense of humour. When he was brought in, his first case saw him temporarily replacing Sasha, but instead of resenting his presence, Steve and Danny ended up playing an increasingly funny game of one upmanship to try to impress him. Ted was a no nonsense East End copper like Gerry, but he knew how to play the game and climb the ladder by getting people to accept him and being something of a social chameleon. Initially reluctant to reveal the fact that he was gay, his UCOS colleagues’ reactions to his partner was the final acknowledgement he needed that he was fully accepted. Despite appearing in fewer than 10 episodes, Ted made a huge impact in that time and became an integral part of the team in their final series.

Larry Lamb, like most of his New Tricks colleagues was an instantly recognisable actor from a host of programmes over the last few decades. However, he was, at the time of the final series of New Tricks, probably most famous for his role as Mick Shipman in Gavin and Stacey. The comedic flair he showed in that series definitely underpinned part of the character of Ted Case, but he showed in Eastenders that he could handle the grittier side of the character as well. A gifted performer, he has an ability to connect with the viewing public in any role and often lifts a programme just by making a well-judged guest appearance.

Colleagues, Friends and Family

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Robert Strickland took over the role of line manager for UCOS in the second series, and initially was seen very much as the enemy because of his apparently slavish adherence to rules and regulations. In truth, he was finding the job something of a poisoned chalice. Despite UCOS’ incredible clear up rate, the way they went about their jobs and the incompetence and corruption they exposed amongst police officers was never going to be popular. A number of the police who were shown to be corrupt were, by the time the cases were reinvestigated, very senior and very well connected. As a result, Strickland really had to tread carefully in order to avoid seeing the unit closed down. Eventually, the official mask slipped little by little and it became clear that in his way Strickland was UCOS’ biggest supporter and best friend. The way he put himself on the line for the Old Dogs time after time was appreciated both professionally and personally, but woe betide anyone who really overstepped the mark!

Anthony Calf can often be found in period dramas like Poldark, Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations where he took the lead role of the adult Pip in the 1989 production. Wherever he turns up you know you will get a performance of quality, and his significant role in the evolving story of New Tricks was a huge part of the success of the programme. With nearly 100 film and TV credits already I am sure it won’t be long before we next see him popping up on the screen to steal scenes and give real depth to more characters.

Esther Lane has been mentioned before in this retrospective, but her importance in the series, as Brian’s wife and an effective fifth member of the team cannot be overstated. Without Esther, Brian would be unable to cope with everyday life. She is often the only person who can reach him in his manic stages, and it is only by using her love as a kind of handhold that he can drag himself up from the depths of alcoholic despair. When he let her down, Esther’s devastation was total as was her anger both with him and with UCOS. It took a while for her to trust him or his colleagues again, but fiercely loyal wife and friend that she is, she will eventually accept someone who has proven to have learnt from their mistakes. Esther’s final appearance in the series saw her, very fittingly, becoming an investigator on her own account as she and Brian get involved in a mystery that eventually ends up dragging in the rest of UCOS.

Susan Jameson appeared in Coronation Street, Z Cars, Crossroads and Dixon of Dock Green in her early career before really becoming a familiar face in the 1970s series When the Boat Comes In. it was in that series that she met fellow New Tricks actor James Bolam who must have made quite an impression on her as she ended up marrying him! She also appeared as Christine Forster in the classic BBC series To Serve Them All My Days, which featured a very young Nicholas Lyndhurst in its early episodes.

Doctor Fiona Kennedy was a forensic scientist who the team first met when they were investigating a death connected with a re-enactment society in Series 11 where her attraction to Danny becomes apparent, and reciprocated, very quickly. She reappeared at the start of Series 12 when the team were trying to help Gerry prove his innocence of a 30 year old crime. After that she becomes effectively a fifth member of the team working both officially and unofficially to help them with their cases, as well as becoming Danny’s partner. In the final episode she tells Danny that she is moving up to Scotland for a new job leaving him with a massive decision to make which will decide their future.

Tracy Ann Oberman has an incredibly varied professional life with appearances in drama and comedy series interspersed with a successful parallel career as a voice artist in Thomas the Tank Engine and the Final Fantasy video games. Her characters are often very playful in nature and seem to be a step ahead of everyone else. She is funny and full of personality in whatever role she plays and she has been in such diverse series as Toast of London, Tracy Ullman and It’s a Sin. Her range is terrific and you never quite know what she is going to pop up in next!

Classic Episodes

Old School Ties (Series 9 Episode 2)

The first episode after Jack’s departure sees Sandra trying to keep the team focused and to keep their spirits up. The case is a very good one that revolves around a private school where the body of the former PE teacher has been found 5 years after he disappeared. His disappearance and the lack of help from the staff is not the only thing that seems to be amiss to Brian. How can they have such a healthy financial state when there are fewer and fewer pupils year on year? Two things make this episode stand out. Brian befriends one of the pupils who is undertaking an experiment to disprove the existence of a poltergeist. As the episode progresses we see that they have a lot more in common than they realise. The main guest star in this episode is the marvellous Nicola Walker who plays a support worker at the school. Her performance is the calm centre around which the story revolves.

Love Means Nothing in Tennis (Series 9 Episode 6)

This episode is one of my all time favourites because of the marvellous performance of Dennis Waterman. The investigation centres around the apparent suicide of a junior tennis champion and the team get involved in the case when doubt is shed on the original verdict. Gerry is horrified at the way that the young players are forced to pose for questionable publicity shots, and he stops a photoshoot by putting his coat round the young player who may or may not be involved. When she returns his coat Gerry finds a letter in the pocket that confirms his suspicions. The case shows Gerry at his most fatherly and he begins to wonder if he should have encouraged his football loving daughter to push on with sport. The main guest star, as the deceased tennis player’s mother is none other than Tamzin Outhwaite! Her performance is subtle and gives the viewer a feeling that something isn’t right. However, with the dead girl’s younger sister having made her way to the top of the junior game she could well be nothing more than a pushy tennis parent.

Glasgow UCOS (Series 9 Episode 9)

The burgeoning bromance between Gerry and Steve gets its own show in this episode where the two of them head to Steve’s old stamping ground of Glasgow to help start up a Scottish version of UCOS. It is a brilliant two hander that gives us time to get to know Steve McAndrew properly. We find out that his wife cheated on him with another policeman, but that he wasn’t exactly blameless for the breakdown of the marriage with his increasingly erratic behaviour. The case is quite grim throughout and Gerry is increasingly worried that they are being watched by people who will stop at nothing to keep their secrets. Some of the threads of Steve’s life are picked up in future episodes so it is quite a pivotal one for the character. It also has a fantastic ending when Gerry intervenes to stop Steve doing something stupid!  

The Little Brother (Series 10 Episode 4)

Brian was dismissed from UCOS in the previous episode, but he and Esther get a truly fitting send off in this story. One of Esther’s friends requests Brian’s help in finding out what happened to her brother. Before long, Brian, with Esther’s increasingly enthusiastic assistance, is embroiled in a case that starts to involve UCOS as well. Someone seems to be laying a trail for them to follow, but why? The performances of Alun Armstrong and Susan Jameson are superb as Brian’s swansong hits the heights. There is also a lovely scene at the end when Sandra and Gerry say a final goodbye to their friend and colleague in a fittingly offbeat and affectionate manner.

The One That Got Away (Series 10 Episode 8)

Sandra Pullman’s final episode is a very interesting one. At the time I was disappointed that she didn’t get an all guns blazing send off. Instead we are taken back to her very first case which remained unsolved. It is a case that has eaten away at her since, and after all, what is UCOS for if it’s not for finally bringing people to justice? In that sense it is incredibly fitting that her final case brings her full circle. The episode is memorable for a guest appearance that is very unexpected but extremely welcome, and for a lovely scene in the office at the end which is more about Dennis Waterman saying goodbye to Amanda Redman than Gerry saying goodbye to Sandra. He tells her not to look back and she doesn’t, but she knows that for 10 years she has done a hell of a job at UCOS and it’s time for her to do a hell of a job elsewhere.

Prodigal Sons (Series 12 Episode 5)

I wanted to choose a case from the final series featuring just the new team and I decided on this one. It really had so much going for it. The case is that of a cricketer who was found dead in suspicious circumstances. When the team ask why they are investigating it, Strickland mentions that it has something to do with his application for membership of the MCC! Sasha is back at the helm after her incapacitation and the Old Dogs, apart from Ted, are very unhappy with the fact that they are being forced to undergo training for a basic fitness test. We find out that Steve is struggling financially, so Danny takes it upon himself to get Steve out of trouble by setting him an incredibly strict budget. Danny himself is struggling emotionally as his friendship with Fiona has turned into a full blown romance and he is faced with the decision of how to tell his estranged wife. The case itself is very intriguing and eventually quite sad. Ted has the chance to face a former test match fast bowler, but his attempts to rile him so he will bowl fast backfire on him! Finally, we find out why Ted has been trying to avoid after work socialising. It is an episode where we really get to know the new team and it works well on every level.

Well, that’s it for my New Tricks retrospective. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Don’t forget, I have taken an in depth look at both The Queen’s Speech and Last Man Standing in previous blog entries.

To Amanda, James, Alun, Dennis, Denis, Nicholas, Tamzin, Larry, Anthony, Susan, and Tracy Ann, if you’re reading this I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Thank you for 12 marvellous years!  

From → New Tricks

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