At 65, Denis Lawson has a fully functioning libido, he told RT last week. Which is lovely, and I’m very happy for him, largely because I’ve always had a soft spot for Lawson, ever since he played the priapic hotel owner in Local Hero.
His character Steve in New Tricks, a no-nonsense Glaswegian cop, likes to show the ladies a good time so there’s nothing wrong with Lawson’s fictional libido, either. In the two opening episodes of the new series, set in Gibraltar, Steve locks eyes with a much younger woman, a comely hotel receptionist. She’s at least 30 years his junior, but never mind, she returns his come-hither gaze with a “light my fire, you old devil” look of her own. They later almost snog in a hotel room, before they are interrupted by flinty Sandra (Amanda Redman), the Tricksters’ boss.
These are an uncomfortable couple of scenes, and not just because they feel perfunctory – he’s old enough to be the woman’s dad and, come on, why make her so breathlessly pliant? Why would a hotel receptionist be such a floozy or at the very least so unprofessional? But then New Tricks has always enjoyed throwing in these queasy romance-ettes, though it’s usually Gerry (Dennis Waterman) who oozes torrents of leathery charm in the direction of a woman who could, chronologically, be his daughter or even, God help us, granddaughter.
But times have changed – oh yes, they have – and it’s time for New Tricks to catch up and learn from Last Tango in Halifax, which is almost on the same rarified plane of popularity.
If New Tricks needs to pepper episodes with love interest then its old geezers don’t have to cast sweaty glances at much younger women. Or “birds” as Gerry would have it. Audiences aren’t terrified by age-appropriate love and romance. In fact, they can be completely won over by two characters they believe in, invest in and care about. All of this applied to septuagenarians Celia and Alan in Last Tango and all of it applies to the Tricksters.
Viewers aren’t going to call the police or march on Ofcom with an empty tumbril and a guillotine if a man and a woman of a certain age want to share a bit of lurve (or a man and a man or a woman and a woman, take your pick, this is a sexual-orientation-equality scenario). Viewers really won’t run screaming into the night if Steve or Gerry transfixes a woman closer to his age with his laser-beam gaze and playful insouciance.
Hollywood’s been doing this for years, of course – Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Denzil Washington… the list is a long one, all of them frequently partnered with much younger female love interests because the big, wealthy film business is too scared to do anything differently for fear of terrifying its audiences.
But television’s always been braver than the movies and New Tricks in particular, just by being a TV series about resolutely, proudly unglamorous older people, has always gone against the grain. Right from the start New Tricks has swum against the tide. There’s a middle-aged female boss (Redman) and lead male actors well beyond the first bloom of youth, all of whom are cranky, headstrong and wilful, geezers who say the unsayable and the absolutely right off (as opposed to the right on), which is why they are loved by vast audiences.
So can’t New Tricks move forward when it comes to women and end the pensioner leering and the lechery aimed at young cuties? Come on, Gerry and Steve – find nice women of your own age. They’re out there.
Nothing to shout about
Soon I will have to start wearing industrial-sized ear defenders if I’m to keep on watching Countryfile. The cacophony as Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury yell at each other, their guests and us, the mugs sitting in our living rooms, is unbearable. Why do they have to SHOUT all the time? Particularly, why does Baker have to greet everyone with the hideous “Ow ya doin?” Matt, you’re no longer on Blue Peter; you’re on Countryfile on BBC1 on Sunday evenings. It’s a programme for adults who know how to moderate their voices.
New Tricks continues tonight at 9pm on BBC1