Farewell to New Tricks and the bunch of out-of-retirement coppers who became the BBC’s secret weapon

At its height it was a ratings hit and a sure way to torpedo a rival drama on ITV. Now, those old dogs get their last trot around the block...

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So farewell, then, New Tricks… On Tuesday night the veterans of the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad strut their last on BBC1.

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It’s a sad end for a TV institution, albeit one that, let’s be honest, never troubled the BAFTA judges. At its height, New Tricks used to get nine million viewers, and it didn’t do that by frightening the horses. It did it by serving up straight-ahead, join-the-dots crime drama with the twist that our heroes were all over 50.

That meant they could tackle unsolved murders while grousing about political correctness or police computer systems or whatever bugbears might chime with the audience. It was Grumpy Old Men with dead bodies.

At its height it became an unlikely cause célèbre, the BBC success the corporation was ashamed of, or so newspapers claimed. The tastemakers of the BBC were said to be embarrassed by a middlebrow procedural that played it safe and catered to an uncool demographic – but proved a monster hit.

It soon became the schedulers’ secret weapon. If the BBC ever needed to torpedo a new ITV drama – without sending a fresh offering of their own into battle – they would counter-schedule with a New Tricks repeat knowing their bunch of out-of-retirement coppers would nobble the ratings for them.

Then came the cast changes and a slow decline. First James Bolam left, then Alun Armstrong, then Amanda Redman. Decent replacements (Lawson, Lyndhurst, Outhwaite) couldn’t hide that this was a team of invincibles no longer.

At the start of this series the last of the original Tricksters had his testimonial. Dennis Waterman’s ageing swordsman Gerry was never the strongest link in the cast, but the two-parter (written and directed by Julian Simpson) came up with some believable back-story for him, fleshing out the character in ways that would have been good to see about eight series ago.

That showed there was life in the old dogs yet. Fans will feel that, like one of UCOS’s many cases, New Tricks is a file that deserves to be reopened.

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The last ever New Tricks is on Tuesday 6th October at 9pm on BBC1