What could possibly replace New Tricks?

Alison Graham looks back at the series that seemed like it would never end - until it did

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I can just imagine what William Wordsworth would have said upon hearing that the BBC had axed its old geezer crime drama warhorse, New Tricks: “Oh that I shouldst be living at this year!”

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Of course, I have paraphrased you and subverted your meaning, but still, you bet, William. The reaction in my turret at Radio Times Castle was shared by friends, as we all marvelled: “Well, well, well, that we should live to see the demise of New Tricks.”

New Tricks has long been the biggest gun in BBC1’s artillery. If the channel needed to shoot down the opposition, or if it needed to make even the most half-hearted attempt to drag viewers away from a big football match on ITV, up would go an episode of New Tricks.

Not a new one either; New Tricks repeats are famed for being television schedule Blu-Tack. They crop up all over the place, holding peak times together, providing a reliable, sturdy bridge between one programme and the next. Audiences returned to the same stories again and again, which says a lot about the pulling power of what we must call a “brand”. And it has a whole new second life on multi-channel; Alibi runs daily repeats.

The current cast of New Tricks, L-R: Nicholas Lyndhurst, Dennis Waterman, Tamzin Outhwaite and Denis Lawson

But, after the next, 12th series in the summer, it will not return. Twelve series! Though it began in 2003, I feel I can barely remember a time when it wasn’t around. BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore and drama head Ben Stephenson have given New Tricks its carriage clock and valedictory wine-and-cheese party to “make room for new series and to continue to increase the range of drama on the channel”.

Fair dos, life moves on, nothing lasts for ever. Besides, New Tricks was never fashionable – a group of aged men led by a woman solved old crimes, had a laugh then went down the pub – but viewers loved it and New Tricks has always been a big favourite with Radio Times readers.

I was never a huge fan. Every week the gang would interview suspects, be given the bum’s rush (everyone was always too busy to talk to the police), before going back to interviewing them again, then someone would have a brainwave and boom, the first person they spoke to would be unmasked as the killer. 

But truly, I feel sad that the Tricksters are leaving our screens now, because the past couple of series have been darker and tougher (though ratings dropped dramatically, to around 5–6million, half that of the show’s heyday), and the addition of Nicholas Lyndhurst to the cast, as focused ex-detective Danny Griffin, worked so well. He had a hinterland, and not a happy one, either.

Besides, what will replace it? Every channel desperately needs a banker, a drama that’s solidly reliable and that has such goodwill with its audience that they return again and again.

But in the end, New Tricks couldn’t survive so many seismic changes in the cast and viewers simply fell away. The original line-up of Alun Armstrong, James Bolam, Amanda Redman and Dennis Waterman (who was the last man standing) scattered, with the actors moaning about the blandness of plots, among other things. 

Certainly a senior drama insider puts the end of New Tricks down to the loss of that first, adored team: “Those three men [Bolam, Armstrong, Waterman] were so loved and worked so brilliantly together, they had such great alchemy. Some things just can’t survive recasting.”

But hey, television isn’t Lenin’s tomb, dramas can’t be preserved, just as they were, for ever. Still, maybe we should have a little pause to say goodbye and to sing, one last time, the most annoyingly insistent TV theme in history: “It’s all right, it’s OK, doesn’t even matter if you’re old and grey…” 

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New Tricks’ final series will air this summer