Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Pie in the Sky

Correspondents have occasionally wondered why I spend so much time plugging enthusing about programmes on BBC4. Well, I am an unabashed BBC fan, though while the show I make a point of recommending every week that I get round to it – The Avengers, on Thursday and Friday evenings – is now a BBC4 fixture, it’s actually the finest show ever produced by ITV. This afternoon, I can return the favour; if you tune to ITV3 at 3pm, you’ll see Richard Griffiths starring in the opening episode of one of the BBC’s most entertaining ’90s series, Pie in the Sky. Though they’ll be showing the series on most afternoons, if five episodes a week is too much for you, they appear to be repeating them at the more sedate pace of one per week, with the first story on again this Friday at 8 in the evening, and Saturday at 4.25 in the afternoon (something to watch while hoping the football finishes in time for Doctor Who).

In case you missed Richard Griffiths’ big starring role – in between Bird of Prey and Withnail and I and Harry Potter and big stage parts – Richard and I took to it because, I suspect, Richard likes detective dramas, but we both like food and gentle comedy. Mr Griffiths stars as Henry Crabbe, a Detective Inspector who longs to retire and open his own restaurant. With him being the unwilling brains to his slimy, grasping Assistant Chief Constable, naturally any dreams of leaving his police job for good are pie in the sky, and so that, inevitably, is the name of his restaurant. I’m particularly fond of pies, so my mouth always waters when I see Henry’s famous creations appear on screen; assistant chef Joe Duttine is mouth-watering in a different way, though I’m also very attached to Henry’s wife Margaret, beautifully played by Maggie Steed. There’s a lovely relationship between these two splendid characters, and they always made Richard and I go ‘Awwwhhh’. In a completely unrelated fact, she’s also the only accountant I can remember a leading man being in love with – obviously something we should see on TV much more often ;-)

This afternoon’s opening episode, The Best of Both Worlds, sets up the premise of the series but is rather darker than most of the subsequent stories, concerning police corruption and machiavellian plots wrapping round good-hearted Henry both from Michael Kitchen’s ruthless crime boss – he steals the show in foodie confrontation with Crabbe – and from the odious Assistant Chief Constable Fisher, who sees an opportunity to keep Henry under his thumb and solving his cases. Still, Henry and Margaret are wonderful together from the off, Constable Cambridge has instant star quality, and watch out for the fabulous scene where Henry interviews prospective assistant chefs for his kitchen.

Watch out, too, for the second episode, with its hideous hotel and a waiter who’s plainly too good for it (Crabbe turns down a pre-cooked, boil-in-the-bag dinner: “Excellent choice, sir”). That’s on – variously – tomorrow afternoon and the weekend after next. It sets up the pattern of the series, with glorious foodie detail, Henry doing the right thing, and a small victory over Freddy Fisher with several fine comic moments along the way. It would be easy for a series with such a gentle and old-fashioned view of life out in a country town to be rather conservative, but instead it takes a thoughtful and, indeed, liberal approach to policing and rehabilitation. While it’s Henry and Margaret that may make Richard and I so very fond of the series (they were probably the first TV couple we empathised with, and that was even watching the series together when we weren’t yet middle-aged), there are many memorable later episodes to come. Richard particularly remembers Devils on Horseback, because he likes cooking them; I was watching a bit of The Mystery of Pikey the other day, looking out for guest star Ian McNeice, who signed our copy of the DVD at Tenth Planet on Saturday. As well as being quite charming in person, incidentally, he talked about how lovely Richard Griffiths was to work with, and recommended Equus in the West End. Other Pie in the Sky stories to look out for off the top of my head include Lemon Twist’s sending up of management consultants (hard to do, I know), the wine-fancying and fantastic guest stars of Doggett’s Coat and Badge, Coddled Eggs, with an interfering food inspector, and the terrible things done with sausages in Pork Pies. And, if you remember the rather bittersweet final end of the series, a late piece of wish-fulfilment has now made it to the big screen; Freddy Fisher ends up shot by James Bond, so he comes to a suitably bad end.

Oh, and of course it’s the finale of Life On Mars tonight. Richard and I are both very excited, and – with eight hours to go – have so far managed to avoid spoilers…

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I luuurve Pie in the Sky, even if the concept is completely improbable :)
Awwhh, thank you! So do we. We’ve just watched a couple on DVD – An Innocent Man, from the innocent days where membership of the Labour Party implied business ethics and bribery was something shocking (the first in which Henry is compelled to do some dirty work for the police but manages to turn it on its head), and the rather sad Once a Copper (which does, however, show why Henry and Margaret are so good together. Awwhhh!).

I know the set-up of ‘He’s a portly police officer who’s a spectacular chef; she’s an elegant accountant; together – they fight crime!’ sounds like it should be a disaster, but it comes off perfectly.
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