The Chinese Detective
BBC, London, 1981
The blurb on the back:
John Ho is a young copper, born and brought up in London's East End. He speaks only English - but his blood is pure Chinese.
It's long been a cliché that ethnic minorities are not properly represented in British TV drama, and the excluded groups that are normally cited tend to be Caribbean and African people and those from the Indian sub-continent. Which is true, but the list could also be extended to include Slavs and other Eastern Europeans, Turks, Arabs, Persians and Chinese.
The latter is a particularly odd omission. Chinese people have been part of British society for many generations - witness the 'yellow peril' potboilers of the 1920s - but have seldom been represented in the broadcast media. The chief exceptions are the chef Ken Hom and David Yip, the actor who portrayed The Chinese Detective.
This latter show wasn't a particularly durable vehicle - it ran for just two series with a total of fourteen episodes - but it made an impact, and is still well remembered. Partly this is because John Ho was the first solo detective on British TV from an ethnic minority (to be followed by ... er, hang on a sec, I'll think of someone...) and partly because it was actually very good. Yip turned out to be an excellent, understated actor, ably supported by - amongst others - Derek Martin, and the scripts were pretty sound, as you'd expect from Ian Kennedy Martin, the man who gave us The Sweeney, Juliet Bravo and King and Castle.
The best thing was that the standard theme of the loner policeman who doesn't play by the rules was, for once, an entirely straightforward extrapolation from the situation. It's all very well to have the unorthodox cop with a dodgy eye and a dirty mac, say, or the one who likes Mozart and real ale, but Ho wasn't a poseur: he was a loner by necessity - none of his colleagues wanted anything to do with him. By portraying the racism endemic in the police force, the programme upset some senior officers, but doesn't seem - from the outside - to have taken particularly extreme liberties with the truth.
And so to the book, the novelization by the highly experienced Michael Hardwick. And it's okay, you know. I don't want to sound too negative, because it's perfectly competent, and a mainstream novel from the early-1980s that has racism as its theme but isn't embarrassing is worthy of note. But Hardwick was never the most inspired of writers, and the words don't exactly leap off the page.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 2/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 2/5
from the creator of
and from the writer of...
Prisoner of the Devil