by Gil Brewer, Paul Denver, David Wilson & Max Franklin
The blurbs on the backs:
It Takes a Thief
Starsky & Hutch
American cop shows have always gone through fads and phases much more rapidly than their British equivalents, probably because there's so damn many of them. Consequently, you can't really draw any sociological lessons from their evolution, in the way that's traditionally done here (Dixon of Dock Green through Z-Cars to The Sweeney being the paradigm normally cited).
So here's a random sample - see if it makes any sense to you.
It Takes A Thief was a late-60s variation on the fairly standard theme (Nikita, xXx) of a convicted criminal being offered liberty in exchange for undertaking quasi-official missions that require a high degree of deniability. Starring Robert Wagner - who was trying to find something to keep himself busy between his ground-breaking role as a jazz trumpeter in All The Fine Young Cannibals and his rebirth as self-parodist in Hart to Hart and Austin Powers - it never really made much impact in Britain, mostly because it wasn't really up to very much. Wagner gets the dry one-liners that everyone was doing in those James Bond-obsessed days, and Fred Astaire (bizarrely enough) turned up in the later series as his dad, but there was little to distinguish it from half a dozen other shows featuring would-be playboys of the imperialist world.
McCloud, on the other hand, was a horse of a different colour. Or rather, he rode a horse of a different colour. Cos Sam McCloud was a country cop from the West who arrived in New York and worked in a precinct in the big city, while never quite losing his cowboy ways. A bit like Clint Eastwood in Coogan's Bluff, you mean? Er, yes, exactly like Clint Eastwood in Coogan's Bluff. It was a straight steal. And everything thereafter was entirely predictable, including McCloud's refusal to abide by the rulebook, which brought him into conflict with his superior.
Incidentally, wouldn't it be a joy, just once in a while, to see a cop who did play by the rules? Or alternatively, an office-bound senior officer who happily turned a blind eye to the fact that his subordinates were power-crazed self-important thugs who didn't give a shit about regulation and saw themselves as agents of true justice?
Never mind. Dennis Weaver - who played McCloud - had earlier done eight years in Gunsmoke and deserved a decent break. More significantly, he had just played the lead in Spielberg's brilliant debut Duel. He was a competent enough actor and, whilst McCloud wasn't exactly Columbo, it was mostly harmless.
Sam McCloud came from that celebrated little bit of TV history when every 'tec needed a gimmick: he was a cowboy, Cannon was fat, Ironside was disabled, Kojak had a bald head and a lollipop, Columbo had a scruffy mac and a cigar, Banacek was boring and so on and so on. Then we found that single coppers weren't enough - apparently we needed buddies. And so we got Cagney and Lacey and we got Starsky and Hutch.
Now obviously I wouldn't want to upset a whole host of people for whom Starsky and Hutch was an essential part of childhood, but round my way, we didn't rate them at all. Paul Michael Glaser played Dave Starsky and he wore pullovers that his Gran gave him for Christmas, while David 'Hutch' Soul insisted on releasing records that were really very poor indeed.
Let me be clear about this. 1977 was, as any fule kno, destined to be the Year of Punk, and yet the first #1 of the year - and ultimately the biggest seller - was Soul's 'Don't Give Up On Us', a record so lame that had it been a racehorse it would have been on a one-way journey to the glue factory. Worse than that, it was our fault - we didn't import the man's recording career into Britain; we bloody created it. That song and 'Silver Lady', which followed it to #1, were written by Tony Macauly, and Soul didn't have a hit in America until after his British successes. It was all deeply embarrassing and I'm not about to stoop to a kitsch I Love the 70s type revisionism. Starsky and Hutch were rubbish because David Solberg (as he was born) was the anti-punk.
The books? Oh, they're exactly what you'd expect. They're all competent because the US market had TV novelizations pretty much sorted by this stage, but I can't imagine anyone really wanting to read any of them. If you were to do so, then It Takes A Thief is the best of the bunch.
A thief and his minder yesterday...
Note: When I first put this page online, I queried whether Gil Brewer was a single person or a house name - a thought that occurred to me because his name turns up on such a regular basis over a lengthy period of time. I am now advised, however, that he was indeed just the one man. A very prolific man. Max Franklin, it turns out is a pseudonym concealing Richard Deming, who wrote - inter alia - novelizations of Dragnet and The Mod Squad. And finally, David Wilson is believed to be a house name. See the Acknowledgements below.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 2/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5