Friday, August 04, 2006

DVD Review: Dempsey & Makepeace - Series 1 (Network - UK Region 2)

I remember watching the first episode of Dempsey & Makepeace when it was first broadcast on the ITV network in January 1985. I was only 7 years old, but I was immediately hooked onto this series, and I subsequently watched the entire three series and had both the tie-in annuals. Now, over 21 years later since the “pilot” was shown, Network has released the entire first series on DVD earlier this year. I was a bit worried that this might not be as good as I remembered it. Having been re-acquainted with this series, yes it is a bit silly and far-fetched, and yes it has dated quite badly (Makepeace’s hairstyle is a big factor), but these only adds to the charm, and it has a lot of good humour throughout. In fact, I find the series to be even more enjoyable than what I thought earlier. Jim Dempsey (Michael Brandon) is a NYPD cop who gets caught up in a corruption scandal within the police force. As a result, he is sent to England until things cool down. Working in a police division, he is partnered with graduate (and daughter of an English lord) Harriet “Harry” Makepeace (played by South-African Glynis Barber). Makepeace’s conscientious, strictly-by-the-book methods clashes with Dempsey’s brash, chauvinistic, gun-happy approach, but together they seem to click.
Their boss is the irascible Gordon Spikings (Ray Smith), who takes an almost-instant dislike of Dempsey. He needn’t have to shout his head off (or even speak) to show how angry he can get, as was demonstrated in the third part of the opening film. In this scene, Dempsey (along with Makepeace) is released from a military prison, only to be met by Spikings who, having learned that he shot five policemen, gives him an absolutely mad stare before giving the mis-matched pair a completely-calm explanation of the apparent operation that they were trying to foil.
This was made with the American market in mind, as it was a co-production between London Weekend Television (LWT) and US company Tribune (the latter company was not credited in the UK). But it is also true to say that LWT made this as a logical replacement of a similar (but more memorable) action show, The Professionals (Glynis Barber has suggested that some episodes were derived from rejected Professionals –and even The Sweeney – scripts). For what I heard, the show wasn’t a success in the US, but it was a ratings smash for the UK’s ITV network, and it ensured that a further two series were made.
There was an obvious chemistry between Brandon and Barber, so much so, that they eventually got married together soon after the last series! Brandon enjoyed working on this series, and was so fond of England, that he has now obtained dual-citizenship, and has appeared in numerous UK shows, most recently in a regular role in the abysmal ITV comedy Dead Man Weds. However, he still appears on US television, including providing the US narration of Thomas the Tank Engine.
But it has to be said, the late Ray Smith is a very underrated actor. His portrayal of Spikings is a joy to watch, portraying his grumpy demeanour without going over the top and without too much effort. Both Brandon and Barber have nothing but huge praise for his acting ability.

The picture quality is very grainy and washed-out, but considering this was shot on 16mm film it is understandable. However, it is disappointing that there was no digital clean-up, but I suppose that luxury can only be afforded on Network’s more-popular titles. Surprisingly (for a Network release), none of these programmes have the opening LWT idents and endcaps (it could be that these are new transfers from the original prints, and that the old transfers have the LWT idents added on, but that’s only my theory). There is some good news though: the adcaps are present and correct.
Bonuses include a new interview with the duo (now happily married together and living in the UK), in which they gave an insight of its production (including an account of their time being almost-crushed inside a car-crushing machine in the second episode). Further info can be found on the two commentaries featured. Brandon certainly has a lot to say in the first commentary, but both had run out of the steam by the second, with some pauses throughout. Nevertheless, a fine effort by Network on the extras front.
Overall, this is a fine DVD set that will satisfy nearly every D&M fan, and is an essential purchase. Here’s hoping that the second set is just as good, if not better (available now, but I’m going to wait until it hits the sales – I’m such a tight-wad!).
Images (C) Granada and Network
Text (C) Lee Glover. Not to be copied without permission.