Where have all the middle-aged men gone? Are they in some big shed somewhere, caressing their orbital sanders and sobbing into the pages of Playboy (they really do have to read it for the articles now it’s dropped the nudes).
I don’t mean middle-aged men generally, as in real-life middle-aged men; I see lots of them every day. But drop into any given television drama and the only men you’ll find are buffed young cuties stripping to their undies. Less, even.
Or if you spot a gentleman past the first bloom of youth he’s bound to be a pervert (Line of Duty) or a ruthless, morally bankrupt shell of a man who buys his friends and lovers (Richard Roper in The Night Manager).
In the extreme case of Home Fires, men are almost entirely absent, either at war or dead, leaving the plucky women to manage back home in Britain. Honestly, after an hour of Home Fires I have to seek male company like a truffle hound in a forest.
But the lack of blokes is oh so very noticeable in crime fiction. Gone are the days when some gruff, not- youthful fella who liked a pie and a pint and had no truck with authority (Morse, A Touch of Frost) pottered around crime scenes… Yes, we still have Barnaby in Midsomer Murders and DCI Banks (and, arguably, Jimmy Perez in Shetland, but he has a female boss and a clever woman sidekick). But they are pretty much the only buffalo left at the watering hole and the lithe young panthers are prowling.
Let me say right here that I’m beyond delighted of course that there are so many women in leading roles – from Happy Valley to Marcella and the admirable Scott & Bailey. This is a good thing and long, long overdue. But surely not at the expense of an entire demographic?
I don’t think I’d lose any money if I bet that drama commissioners don’t want to see middle-aged male detectives leading primetime dramas anymore. I won’t count Maigret, which was a standalone drama and a museum piece even before it reached the screen. Or last year’s unspeakable River, which was really more about the relationship between an older man and his younger colleague. Yeuch.
But actual plod, plod, “Here’s a body, let’s look at the blood splatters before I indulge my maverick tendencies, flirt with a few age-inappropriate women and gather everyone in the living room to unmask the killer.” Can you imagine, for instance, ITV waving through Vera, but with a middle-aged man in the lead role, rather than Brenda Blethyn gallumphing about in her wellies?
I miss middle-aged men, I really do. This is possibly why I would willingly fall at the feet of Line of Duty’s (non-pervert, at least I hope so) Superintendent Ted Hastings (the great Adrian Dunbar). Ted has always been my favourite character, a kind of father figure to the young whippersnappers in his corruption-busting unit.
He is a man of undoubted authority; he exudes it, even when battling with his female boss (played by the wonderful Polly Walker), who even asks him out on a date. Poor Ted – he’s so decent, so devoted to the wife who’s left him.
The only middle-aged maverick cop currently on television is Mads in the Danish crime drama Follow the Money (Saturday BBC4). Ah, how times have changed. Trust the Danes and trust us to follow their example. With The Killing it was they who told us it was OK to have a tough, closed-down woman leading an investigation.
So we followed, with tough, closed-down women of our own (see all of the above). And doubtless, in perhaps five years’ time, we’ll loop a full circle, and have crime dramas led by middle-aged male maverick cops. And so the world turns…
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news