t.v spin-offs

authors index

books index



The Chinese Detective

click to enlarge

BBC, London, 1981
(price: ?; 192 pages)

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.
He is a man with an obsession. What had been his happy family in the post-war remains of Limehouse has itself been blitzed apart by another policeman's corruption.
John Ho's aim is to avenge his father's disgrace. It is largely in order to achieve it that he has joined the police, enabling him to set villain against villain and work his way towards the evidence that will bring the destroyer to justice.
But the flagrantly unorthodox methods this involves are playing him into the hands of his prejudiced chief, determined to prove this disobedient misfit mad or bad and get him off his patch.
The question is: will Detective Sergeant John Ho get his revenge before Detective Chief Inspector gets him?

opening lines:
In the deep quiet of the long, lofty room, its shadowed air smelling of departed malt and hops and present dust, the young man in black leather and shabby blue jeans picked his way carefully through rubble to where the demolition workers had piled their tools as their centre of operations.

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.

Cautiously commended.


from the creator of
click to enlarge
The Sweeney
and from the writer of...
click to enlarge
Prisoner of the Devil
t.v. spin-offs