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Intriguing British TV Detectives to Investigate Tonight

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I admit to watching a good deal of television. Mysteries are one of my favorite genres followed by sweeping epic and historical melodramas.

Watch a British Mystery Series

Watch a British Mystery Series

Good Plots, Great Dialog, Well Done

I'm an aficionado of British detective shows. I started watching them on PBS on Masterpiece Theater, but I soon devoured as many as possible on my Netflix and Amazon accounts.

If, like me, you are looking for good quality TV for entertainment and have a predilection for British shows, here is a list of those series I've completed (some I gladly re-watch from time to time).

What Makes British Crime TV So Great?

  • For me, it is a little like a Dickens novel: the character development and the involved plots.
  • Many of these shows have the added local flavor and terrific landscapes. But mostly its the story.
  • Lacking the slickness of American crime TV, the gritty feel of the filming, and the truly interesting personalities... along with the sheer imagination of their crimes and crime solvers makes for great television entertainment.

Interrelated 3: The Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavour Series

Interrelated 3: The Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavour Series

I have to start with these beloved shows because I think this is where I was first hooked. Top notch acting, the feat of holding our credulity while basing so many murders within the venue of Oxford, the ins and outs of class society, all makes for a great set of shows.

And due to the inter-related stories, we don't ever have to truly say goodbye to characters. I think you will become quite attached to them, as they evolve and, then ultimately, loop back.

Inspector Morse

Stars: John Thaw, Kevin Whately, Colin Dexter, James Grout

A truly grouchy lead, offset by his affable partner, digs into the crimes which are full of twists. Each episode holds us in tension and further develops the picture of the main characters and their backdrop.

Morse is a snob, but not without self-awareness. He is something of an underachiever in life, but one that knows his brilliance in his work is going to get the job done, better than his "betters". Cutting corners, but suffering the consequences for it, he works right up to the bitter end of his life.

You sometimes wish for life to have treated him a little kinder. He worries the situation until flashes of revelation come forward with just the piece that solves the puzzle.

Lewis is his partner who grows into the fine detective we see in the next generation of the stories.

Liberally interlaced with great classical music.

He transforms from an amiable bumbler to an astute and experienced  detective who  has worked hard for and deserves respect.

He transforms from an amiable bumbler to an astute and experienced detective who has worked hard for and deserves respect.

Inspector Lewis

Stars: Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox, Clare Holman, Rebecca Front

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Keven Whately is now mature in his life and career. His partner is a man who might have been how we might have imagined Morse in his youth. Pairing Lewis with Sergeant James Hathaway continues the contrast of everyday man with ivory tower intellect.

They use their strengths to solve the crimes and buoy each other through their weaker times. It is very much a story of friendship as well as work bringing evildoers to justice.

Endeavour and Thursday

Endeavour and Thursday

The Prequel Turned Sequel

The complicated persona of Inspector Morse inspires this look into his beginning. The mature man who shrouded his first name is portrayed in this foundation story to the earlier long running series. A show that stands on its own, you don't have to have seen the original "Morse", but it creates a link that molds a more genial and intellectual look into the heart of an iconoclastic Inspector.

Endeavour Morse

Stars: Shaun Evans, Roger Allam, James Bradshaw, Anton Lesser

This is my favorite of the three, so far. It is newer, so one can't binge watch, but I like the portrayal of Morse. He is kinder and gentler and the angst is believable. Has less of the smugness evident in the original.

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries

Stars: Nathaniel Parker, Sharon Small, Lesley Vickerage, Catherine Russell, Paul Hickey, Shaun Parkes

Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley gets a bit of needling for his upper crust origins and manner, but this is a nice change for a "copper" show.

If there is any criticism of the series, it is that there are not enough episodes. The mix of actors and the filming and plots are all excellent.

All the components that make British TV enjoyable:

  • Interesting and engaging characters
  • Intriguing plots
  • Moody, romantic venue

Now coming to a close, this has been a great series, not in the least due to the match of Lynley with his complementary partner, Barbara Havers who adds her salty, down to earth personality to his aristocratic one.

7 seasons to enjoy.

The Modern Sherlock

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves

The fresh take makes this a "must watch". It has class, action, and wit going for it. You might think you know Sherlock and Watson, but I assure you you do not know them like this!

Who wouldn't love a Sherlock who has lines like,

"I'm a high-functioning sociopath!"

A fairly new series, I am always looking forward to the shows on PBS. You might be able to catch a full episode from the recent past on their website.

Sample what makes Luther an Exceptional Series


Stars: Idris Elba, Warren Brown, Dermot Crowley, Michael Smiley

This was a dark horse (forgive me, I couldn't resist this racially, in bad taste, play on words). but really, I didn't expect this show to have the weirdness, and tension, along with great detective story plotting and grit that it did.

I loved it, and wish I had access to more episodes. I would have liked to see it go into long running, but the talk is of a movie to further carry out one of the really great detective stories, and characters.

This has great writing and story behind it, but wouldn't be the brilliant show it is without the central actor Idris Elba.

I watched it on Netflix.

BBC Wallander Trailer


Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Richard McCabe, Jeany Spark, Sarah Smart

Watch both this British version and the subtitled original Swedish one starring Krister Henriksson, Fredrik Gunnarsson, Mats Bergman, and Douglas Johansson. They are both the same stories and character, but with such a different perspective. I liked comparing the two for feeling, but didn't feel they were redundant in any way.

Wallander is dark and brooding in temperament, but with a fascinating driven determination to ferret out his quarry. Disheveled, with the complicated personal life that cops always seem to have, both shows have an edited color palette that conveys mood and the beauty of the Scandinavian countryside setting.

Small bits of levity may be sprinkled in, but this is a serious detective show with plenty of building tension as the plot is unraveled.

This is another series with an edge, although a quiet one.

Tip For American Viewers

At times I am unfamiliar with the accent and found that using captions helps me follow fast action and dialog better.

Little Village with lots of Murders

TV series Midsomer Murders uses many locations in the south Chilterns for scenes in the fictional Midsomer County.  licensed for reuse under  Creative Commons Licence.

TV series Midsomer Murders uses many locations in the south Chilterns for scenes in the fictional Midsomer County. licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Midsomer Murders

Stars: John Nettles, Jane Wymark, Barry Jackson, Jason Hughes

There are an awful lot of murders in this seemingly bucolic English village area. But the unflappable DCI Barnaby manages to bring all to conclusion.

Flanked by his Sergeant (Ben Jones is a favorite) and complemented by his wife, who seems fairly clueless and then quite astute in turns, this is a somewhat homely drama/comedy that definitely grows on you.

When watching the first incarnation of the show it leaves the viewer feeling that despite evildoers, all ends up quite right in the world.

The New Midsomer Murders

Later, a switch of characters (Barnaby's cousin, also a DCI) takes up the gauntlet of crimesolving. His wife has a career and they have a furbaby instead of a daughter. The plots take on an edgier and more modern take, as well.

Good acting, dialog, and new twists and turns in each episode.

Fun Fact

The theme song is played by a weird little instrument called a theremin.

George Gently

Martin Shaw  as Inspector George Gently

Martin Shaw as Inspector George Gently

Inspector George Gently

Stars: Martin Shaw, Lee Ingleby, Simon Hubbard, Michael Wilson-Dukes

Yes, you might find the wardrobe a bit more retro than usual and the main character a little too sanctimonious, but this is an entertaining series that wends its way through the North Country while old fashioned Gently methodically fights crime.

He and his fashion conscious partner Bacchus address social issues along with their sleuthing.

A bit dated, but a good watch, anyhow.

Based on G. K. Chesterton Stories

Father Brown (2013 TV series)

Father Brown (2013 TV series)

Father Brown

Stars: Mark Williams, Sorcha Cusack, Nancy Carroll

This is the series that began in 2013, with stories based on the writing of G.K. Chesterton. Comedic Priest with heartwarming humane compassion for people's foibles and downfalls is driven by insatiable curiosity to help solve all the local murders.

Supported by his band of locals, he only occasionally moralizes while bringing the Inspector up to speed with his unfailing nose for facts.

This is one of those shows that likes to have a bit of fun, and there is a certain lightheartedness about it. But it does have its more somber moments, and the tight knit comradeship between the main characters is apart of the charm.

Likable characters, interesting plot turns, and the beautiful English countryside and village life are all draws for this series.

Fun Fact:

There is also another series by this name that aired in 1974.

Have You Seen Them?

Introducing DCI Banks

DCI Banks, The Man

Stephen Tompkinson in DCI Banks (2010)

Stephen Tompkinson in DCI Banks (2010)

DCI Banks

Stars: Stephen Tompkinson, Jack Deam, Andrea Lowe

One of the more macho of the very masculine set of players that people many detective shows. His spare manner and square jaw hold the show and contrast with his partners, one of which is an uptight and somewhat OCD Caroline Catz.

Like many of these shows there is some social commentary addressing issues of today. A modern detective story well grounded in contemporary times.

It is still in production, going into its 5th Season series during 2016.

Cracker's Psychology Lesson


Stars: Robbie Coltrane, Geraldine Somerville, Kieran O'Brien, Barbara Flynn

Here is another one I almost missed because I wasn't drawn by the name or descriptions. Don't you make that mistake.

A combo of unique and stereotype character flaws and brilliance make up the character of this profiler. He "cracks" cases.

One of the disheveled types, the show and its main characters quickly become favorites. Robbie Coltrane was an unusual choice for this drama because his work was mainly in comedy, but that just sharpens how surprisingly good he is in this role.

Besides looking into the heads of criminals, there is a good deal of relationship inspection, as Fitz (Robbie Coltrane) and his partner develop into more than friends and co-workers.

Don't let this one pass you by.... the series is not as well-known as some others, but it is highly entertaining. Coltrane proves to be superb in the role.


Stars: James Norton, Robson Green, Morven Christie, Tessa Peake-Jones

This sleuthing priest could not be more unlike "Father Brown" than if a list made of antonyms of characteristics were drawn up for their outlines.

Clergyman Sidney Chambers is a priest who works in tandem with a policeman, not antagonistically.

What the two clergymen do have in common is a soft spot for the frailty of man. Chambers tends to personally indulge in those frailties, himself, however. He drinks, smokes, and has some sexual adventures, mostly without apology or repentance.

Sidney is eminently likable, if not particularly priestlike.

What Makes It All Tick

The Grantchester production is more polished than the Father Brown series. With less of a "fast plot" formula than a long slow look at what makes people tick.

The episodes each address a crime to solve against the larger backdrop of the almost soap opera storyline of Reverend Sidney Chambers and his lost love.

It manages to stay free from sappiness and explores the growing friendship of the male protagonists as well as romantic and married love.

Historically set within the post World War 2 era of the fifties.

Sidney and Geordie Build a Complex Friendship

Working cases together, this unlikely pair become friends and accept each others strengths and weakness. With the attention to relationship that British story thrive upon, this plot holds more than just solving crimes.

Working cases together, this unlikely pair become friends and accept each others strengths and weakness. With the attention to relationship that British story thrive upon, this plot holds more than just solving crimes.

Find New Favorites?

Did you find some interesting shows to watch? Or were you reminded of some old favorites that bear watching again? Check your local PBS or subscription service for a chance to see the fine acting and well crafted plots of the favorites listed here.

Many of the best TV in this genre is headed up by female leads. Discover some of the strong, independent British female crime busters.

Stay tuned, as they say.

Questions & Answers

Question: Are there more Granchester seasons?

Answer: Yes! Masterpiece officially announced that Grantchester will return to PBS for Season 4. However, watch for James Norton’s character Sidney Chambers to be played by a new replacement ( not yet announced).

Question: How many Granchester seasons are there?

Answer: Season 4 is coming in 2019, and so far there are 3 seasons available to watch.


Isabeau on December 06, 2018:

What a great list! I didn't know of Cracker, so I'm thrilled to fall upon a suggestion placed with these other shows that I have loved-loved-loved. If you haven't seen it already, something tells me you would like Foyle's War, which is perhaps my favourite of them all. Set in WWII but from the point of view of those back home, it is incredibly smart, immensely touching and I love how the characters have a very strong moral compass and try to do good in bad times. Judging by your list, I would think that you might fall in love with this show as much as I have :)


K. Capsolas on July 29, 2018:

What about Dr.Blake Mysteries or Prime Suspect or Scott and Bailey?

Sandra Gale on June 20, 2018:

Please help I’mtrying to find the 1980’s crime series titled mother love.I was wondering if it was still available for viewing?

ND on March 28, 2018:

Broadchurch, Shetland and Hinterland - same genre, all fabulous.

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on February 11, 2018:

You're right- I' watching the entire series again now that it has become available on my networks. I'll either add that one in here, or begin another set of suggested shows.

Angela on February 10, 2018:

You don’t mention Frost.......this was a terrific series.

David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 03, 2016:

I've seen most of the series you mentioned and enjoy them all. But, having seen the original Swedish Wallander series, I was surprised that the BBC series was just as good in a different way. Very nice hub.

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