The BBC Dalziel and Pascoe Mystery series is based upon Reginald Hill’s series of crime drama novels featuring the unlikely partners Detective Peter Pascoe and Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel. The tone and narrative of the work however, rises above simple police procedural crime drama. For example, Detective Pascoe, trying to comfort Dalziel who feels responsible for, or at least some self-doubt about, one of his subordinate’s death says, “Every living thing is born without reason and dies by chance. All we can do is learn from our mistakes” (Wright). This will be far from comforting for most people. This example is from episode forty-three of forty-six total episodes, and is in the final eleventh season of the series that ran from 1996 through 2007. Such serious dialogue delivered in a believable character and context, deserves literary consideration and classification. It further illustrates that although the film series diverged from the book series beginning in the fourth season, the writers did not forget the voice author Reginald Hill had given his characters.
The first episode in the series sets the dynamics between Pascoe and Dalziel. Pascoe is a thirtysomething university graduate in social sciences. Dalziel has risen through the ranks, unpolished, uneducated, and fiftyish. As Pascoe enters Dalziel’s office and hands him a file, Dalziel remarks to Pascoe as he scratches his belly and recalls their first meeting, “First bugger that ever got my name right. First time. Unforgivable that is. ‘Smart arse,’ I thought. And I was right” (Plater, A Clubbable Woman – Dalziel and Pascoe). Later in the same episode when Detective Pascose’s love interest meets Dalziel, he seems proud of his lower-class Scottish background, and brags to her about picking his nose, scratching his balls, and “farting more loudly than is biologically necessary,” all in public. He throws her out of the station for being a “liberal do-gooder.” On the way out she calls Dalziel a monster and asks Pascoe if he’s all right once you get to know him. Pascoe responds, “Nope. Monster all the way through” (Plater, A Clubbable Woman – Dalziel and Pascoe). Everyone hates Dalziel, criminals and colleagues alike. Almost no one calls him by name. He is either “The Fat Bastard,” or “The Fat Controller.”
The two men have a grudging admiration for each other though, and they form a formidable team. This dynamic allows the crime drama to look across cultural boundaries of perspectives, and gives the simple police procedural an ability to hold a mirror up to societies blemishes. In “Bones and Silence,” the symbolic search for life’s meaning is layered across the story. The two perspectives are highlighted immediately when Pascoe and his wife attend theater, while Dalziel gets drunk alone on single malt. “I’m looking for God,” says Eileen the casting director, suggesting Peter Pascoe for the part. “Aren’t we all,” replies her friend Elle who is now Pascoe’s wife.” But Pascoe says, “I don’t play God. But I often sit at his right hand.” Elle says “What, the Fat Bastard playing God?” In the very next scene a drunken Dalziel is confronting a pair of murder suspects and says, “I don’t like people breaking The Commandments on my patch. … It lowers the property values” (Plater, Bones and Silence – Dalziel and Pascoe).
Hill was renowned for creating fascinating, rich and layered characters. When asked why he thought his characters resonated so well, Hill himself responded that was because he couldn’t write about someone “who wasn’t interesting” (Ripley). The supporting casts all have their own story arcs. There are very few stock or throw away characters in the series, in keeping with Hill’s style. The actors playing Dalziel, Pascoe and Weildy are excellent in their craft and they are cast perfectly. The polished Pascoe, the politically incorrect in every possible way Dalziel, and the droll Weildy, are wonderful foils of perspective that reflect off each other.
Anyone who wants an updated hard-boiled cozy of a crime drama might find these very interesting. There is a linage to past detective fiction. In a flashback scene, Superintendent Dalziel is a twenty-something young assistant and his superintendent mentor says, “Murder has a certain sort of smell to it. It hangs in the air like the smoke of a cheap cigar. Instinct. The detectives best friend” (Prager). But if you like your mystery served with introspection and cultural indictment, there are few writers and series that can surpass this adaption of the Reginald Hill’s famous duo. Hill mentioned he had an Englishmen’s “ambivalent attitude” towards police, seeing them both as protectors and prosecutors (Ripley). This attitude winds itself through the narrative in every story. The pair are unrelenting and often disrupt the lives of innocent people in their pursuit of the murderer. There is gray when the reader might wish for black and white. But there is always entertainment and authenticity. These characters will be redone for many years, but there is no reason to miss this superb adaptation.
A Clubbable Woman – Dalziel and Pascoe. By Alan Plater. Dir. Ross Devonish. BBC. 1996.
Bones and Silence – Dalziel and Pascoe. By Alan Plater. Dir. Maurice Phillips. BBC. 1998.
Fallen Angle – Dalziel and Pascoe. By Dusty Wright. Dir. Ian Knox. Prod. BBC. 2006.
Recalled to LIfe – Dalziel and Pascoe. By Timothy Prager. Dir. Suri Krishnama. BBC. 1999.
Ripley, Mike. “Reginald Hill Obituary.” 13 January 2012. The Guardian. 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/13/reginald-hill>.