by Kathleen Costa
As many will attest, British crime shows peek my interest every time. From dark suspense to quirky ‘dramedies,’ I revel in the varied accents, quaint village settings and it’s just far enough removed from American culture to be fascinating. So sitting enjoying a ‘cuppa,’ exploring YouTube to see if some of my favorites, long gone from even the most independent station, were available. What a delightful surprise to find a show with a wonderful twist on the crime-drama formula was accessible…Lovejoy!
Lovejoy, a BBC crime ‘dramedy’ first airing in 1986, then in 1991-1994, is based on the edgy novels by Jonathan Gash (pen name for John Grant). The series focuses on the adventures of a likable, but shady antiques dealer Lovejoy (Ian McShane). The more adult themes found in the books have been toned down, along with some technical jargon, but like the books, his first name is never, ever revealed. His reputation as a “divvie,’ one who has an exceptional skill at recognizing the ‘real deal’ from fakes and forgeries, is legit and gives him an advantage as he and his friends hunt down the next big money antique. However, it also gives him the unique ability to, let’s say, ‘create,’ (OK, forge) unique opportunities.
Joining in the adventures around the East Anglia countryside are some unique characters: Tinker ‘Tink’ Dill (Dudley Sutton), toned down, but still a well-inebriated “barker,” runs front for some of Lovejoy’s schemes; Eric Catchpole (Chris Jury), heavy-metal enthusiast and assistant, wants to learn the antique business, but more often ends up as chauffeur and flunky; Charlie Gilbert (Malcolm Tierney), a fellow antiques’ dealer and season one antagonist, tries to ‘one up’ Lovejoy at every turn; and Lady Jane ‘Janie’ Felsham (Phyllis Logan – Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Hughes), married aristocrat working as an interior decorator, becomes a ‘close’ friend and compadre, sometimes unwittingly, in Lovejoy’s antics.
Fortuitously, all ten episodes of Season 1 were found on YouTube for a wonderful weekend binge session. It was a nice “walk down memory lane” with the big hairstyles, fashions, delightful theme song, and 1980s background music. Enough time has passed since watching the original broadcast and limited reruns, that each episode seemed new with only a twinge of ‘deja-vu.’
After the first few episodes, connections and friendships between characters and reoccurring theme of schemes to make big money without effecting the integrity of the antique and its history were clear. This first season is said to follow the tenor of the books, but later seasons seem to find an independent voice.
The episode in season one that directly references Gash’s first novel is Episode 5 “The Judas Pair.” Along with a quick pace and unique to the series, is Lovejoy breaking the ‘fourth wall’ by speaking directly to the audience with his thoughts and Lovejoy-isms. Although theft, not murder, is the crime d’jour, in this installment a murder compels Lovejoy to search for a rumored pair of flintlock dueling pistols designed by well-known gunsmith Dars Egg.
Originally twelve ‘flinters’ were created, but the myth of a dangerously unlucky thirteenth pair and possible murder weapon sets Lovejoy on the search. How would one who knows his antiques do in a duel? His wits prove to be his saving grace, as in this and other episodes, Lovejoy prevails. His finances don’t always improve, often getting him further in arrears, but in the end he is exonerated, validated, or able to recuperate some of his loses with a wayward artifact.
The series was not immediately met with rave reviews, but returned five years later with the original cast. Now in 1991, the second season has Lovejoy sporting a longer hairstyle, adding a leather jacket to the personae, and breaking the “fourth wall” more frequently. His sex appeal (oops on an exposed ‘bum’) becomes more a part of the story as his liaisons include other art dealers, auctioneers, wealthy owners and seekers of antiques, and a continued flirtation with Lady Jane. Unfortunately, the cast would go through a few changes in the fifth and sixth seasons adding a more serious love interest Charlotte Cavendish (Caroline Langrishe), who runs a local auction house, and new apprentice, Beth Taylor (Diane Parish). It was rumored in 2015 that the series might make a comeback using the twenty-four novels as possible source material, but it is currently only in the talking stages.
I enjoyed my own ‘March Madness’ continuing to stream from YouTube the rest of the 73 episodes; sometimes shocked how late it was when I finally looked up from the computer screen. The search for missing treasures, big money schemes, family squabbles, mistaken identity, and the occasional stretch of the truth of an object’s provenance are all done with quirky humor.
The fifth and sixth seasons were enjoyable, but I missed Eric and Lady Felsham. Beyond the fun stories, I coveted ‘Miriam,’ the refurbished Morris Minor convertible, which sadly turned into a white mini truck in season 4; loved the cozy thatched-roof cottages, gardens, pubs, and country estates; and hungered for a pint and big bag of fish ’n chips! Love it, Lovejoy!
I give this series 5/5 Antique Italian Armoires!
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Novels by Jonathan Gash
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I adore Ian McShane. My two sisters and I raised boys while drooling over Lovejoy. His beauty holds up still today. Be still my heart, you handsome hunk.
He definitely got me going, and his Lovejoy’s ‘scoundrel’ personae is super. I wish the show would come back to TV. It is timeless despite the big hair and 80s music.