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James Dempsey was a tough New York cop who got himself into a lot of trouble by killing his partner during a corruption investigation. With things too hot for him in New York, Dempsey was seconded to London's elite SI10, where he was assigned to work with Detective Sergeant Harriet Makepeace, under the supervision of Chief Superintendent Spikings. Dempsey found British police methods slow and infuriating, and his new colleagues considered him a violent maverick, entirely too attached to his .357 Magnum. The immediate antagonism between Dempsey and Makepeace was countered by a strong physical attraction, and while they fought continuously, they made a good, effective team. Written by
Marg Baskin <email@example.com>
A sad indictment of what television executives think of their viewers!
Although the "buddy/buddy" cop show genre of the 1970s (in which "Starsky and Hutch", "The Sweeney" and "The Professionals" were prime exponents) had been hugely successful, most such shows utilised a male/male pairing. In 1983 Britain's southern ITV member company London Weekend Television sought to redress the balance. Additionally, despite sales to almost sixty other countries, no major US broadcaster had ever bought their previous series "The Professionals" (which had ended its six-year run earlier that year), so LWT took the view that they needed an American actor for one of the lead roles. (Despite the fact that the idea had never done Lew Grade's ITC organisation much good!)...
The result was "Dempsey and Makepeace". The pilot episode laid down the show's raison d'etre: a New York cop, Lieutenant ("Lootenant!") James Dempsey has to take flight when forced to kill his partner after discovering he and one of the city's most senior police officers are embroiled with the Mob. Arriving in England, ostensibly as part of an exchange deal between the two countries, Dempsey is assigned to a police unit named SI10 (the acronym is never explained), set up to tackle major organised crime. The squad is headed by gruff boss Gordon Spikings and Dempsey is partnered with Lady Harriet Makepeace, an aristocrat who oddly chose a career in the force, Mutual antagonism ensued and the series proceeded to show the difficulties of how such different people could work together.
After an interesting start, the series immediately ran into difficulties. It wasn't clear why SI10 actually existed, when its brief seemed so similar to that of the (real-life) Flying Squad. The plots themselves were usually paper-thin. Undoubtedly inspired by the 1975 film "Brannigan", Michael Brandon's Dempsey was a poor man's John Wayne and simply unlikeable, while Glynis Barber's character hardly developed at all throughout the show's three seasons. The friction between the two characters became predictable and boring, not helped by the inane dialogue. Dempsey's frustration at British Police's procedural approach to villain-taking would have been an interesting angle to explore but the character's response was consistently unrealistically macho and knuckle-headed. Ray Smith's Spikings was a poorly-observed, over-the-top and one-dimensional interpretation of Gordon Jackson's Cowley role in "The Professionals". Tony Osoba played the support role of Sergeant Chas Jarvis but was woefully underused. Other "buddy" series had relied on the two leads sharing and haranguing each other with pithy, witty dialogue - in this show, however, the humour fell flat.
Overall the series was frustratingly shallow and mindless.
In the second season Dempsey and Makepeace's relationship started to gel but it led to many episodes culminating in them looking dewy-eyed at each other while exchanging toe-curlingly saccharine dialogue. The plots were little better, even when "highbrow" writers such as Murray Smith were drafted in. Perhaps the "hightlight" of the season was its final episode in which Dempsey embarked on a personal crusade to catch a psychotic villain, with Chas warning Spikings about the American's obsessive behaviour and Makepeace noting that he and the villain are remarkably alike in some ways. That's how deep the "pathos" ever got in this show! At least Ray Smith was allowed to tone down Spikings: he became the most likable character in the show! The third season was an improvement overall. The opener saw the New York mob finally catch up with Dempsey. (Oddly it had taken them three years yet one of Dempsey's ex-girlfriends had tracked him down easily enough in a previous season: "I just called your mom!"). Another story dealt, albeit with little depth, with a mentally-subnormal man being dragged into the world of armed crime and weapons dealing.
But there were still problems with plotting. One episode relied on endless injections of footage of the villains driving in to London to fulfill the 50-minute timeslot.
In fairness to the series, it was reasonably popular in its day but seasons comprising of just ten episodes each - the minimum other ITV regions would accept - seemed to demonstrate LWT's unwillingness to commit to the show. Indeed they elected to drop it at this point and, tellingly, a repeat run on the ITV network just two years later was pulled after just three episodes with low ratings. (Contrast that with reruns of "The Professionals" which, five years after original transmission, were still achieving a position in the weekly top twenty.) Since then the series has made occasional appearances on minor UK satellite stations.
Given many of its antecedents, "Dempsey and Makepeace" should have been better. Considering the sexual chemistry, wit and sophistication of "The Avengers"/"The New Avengers", the grit and depth of characterisation of "The Sweeney" and the humorously acidic banter, clipped dialogue, complex plotting and stylised action of "The Professionals", it's a mystery why "Dempsey and Makepeace" was so deficient in these attributes. Almost certainly had it been produced by the likes of Euston Films ("The Sweeney") or Mark 1 Productions ("The New Avengers" and "The Professionals"), the results would have been far superior.
To its credit the show mostly avoided the inclusion of shots of London tourist traps - a sure sign that producers are desperate to sell a series overseas! - and Brandon performed much of his own stuntwork. On the other hand his presence did nothing to attract a major American broadcaster.
Britain had a reputation for producing the best television in the world. If this show's shortcomings came about due to a misguided desire to appeal to American audiences, it's a terrible indictment of television executives' opinions of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic, As it is "Dempsey and Makepeace" remains an aberration that not only failed to live up to its own potential but also gave the genre a bad name. But perhaps the biggest tragedy is that it is the only show for which the late Ray Smith will be remembered.
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