The popularity of New Tricks

Our TV editor examines the appeal of BBC's detective drama New Tricks


Only New Tricks could get away with a sustained tirade against modish chocolate bars.”You know what your trouble is, you like all of his boutique, 70 per cent Fair Trade cobblers,” sneers one of the old geezers.


Ah yes, in the world of New Tricks, even modern chocolate is rubbish – poncey falderal and not a patch on the old stuff. “I like me chocolate to taste like sugar,” says another geezer.

It’s a scene from a forthcoming episode in the new series, New Tricks’ seventh. But substitute the word “chocolate” for just about any other workaday object/comestible/profession that’s suffered the dead hand of gentrification or political correctness and you have New Tricks in a nutshell. And a salted peanut nutshell at that – none of your la-di-da pistachios.

New Tricks tickles every reactionary nerve in anyone who has ever railed in impotent exasperation at the myriad irritations of modern life, which is probably all of us, thus explaining the series’ popularity.

It really, truly can do no wrong with viewers, who adore its bluff and bluster, its unashamed old-fashionedness and its refusal to have any truck with newfangled nonsense.

The truly great thing about New Tricks is that it goes against every trope of contemporary drama; two of its male leads, Alun Armstrong and Dennis Waterman, are in their 60s; its third, James Bolam, is in his 70s; and its female lead, Amanda Redman, is in her early 50s.

Any young characters are invariably nerdy halfwits or jobsworths whose sentences are strangled by management-speak, as the old guys snigger in exasperation at these shiny arrivistes who don’t know what it’s like on the streets.

Plots are daft to the point of imbecility, guest characters are constructed from the thinnest cardboard, and there are supposedly comic set-pieces (such as Bolam and Waterman’s characters getting drunk in a brewery) that are, well, terrible.

Yet it all works. I really want to despise New Tricks, but I always watch and I always enjoy, even the repeats. Because you know where you are with it. No one is trapped in a submarine, the murders are cartoonish and inoffensive and – gasp! – there’s no bad language.

It’s a bit of fun, with clownish characters who get up to silly japes, who talk tactics in pubs and deplore the iniquities of modern policing. This is a particular favourite New Tricks theme, as the old fellas all remember the good old days when you could beat up suspects with impunity and deprive them of fags to get a confession. This was before the smoking ban of course, another bugbear.


It even has a jaunty title song, sung by Dennis Waterman, with silly lyrics: “It’s all right, it’s OK, listen to what I say,” with opening titles where everyone is grinning and happy. It could have been made at any point during the past 35 years. There’s no gloss and no sheen; it even looks old-fashioned. I think it will go on forever.