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Jonathan Creek (1997-2004)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Jonathan Creek (1997-2004)
BBC, 10/5/1997-28/2/2004
1x90 mins, 22x50/60 mins in four series, plus 3 specials
DirectorsSandy Johnson
 Keith Washington
 Marcus Mortimer
WriterDavid Renwick
ProducersSusan Belbin
 Verity Lambert
Executive ProducerDavid Renwick

Cast: Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek); Caroline Quentin (Maddy Magellan); Julia Sawalha (Carla Borrego); Anthony Stewart Head (Adam Klaus); Stuart Milligan (Adam Klaus)

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The adventures of Jonathan Creek, a designer of stage illusions who is called in to help solve seemingly 'impossible' crimes.

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In an episode of David Renwick's sitcom One Foot in the Grave (BBC, 1990-2000), Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) infuriates his wife by revealing the solution to the detective novel she is reading. The book in question is The Judas Window, a classic 'locked room' mystery, a subsection of the impossible crime genre and the speciality of its author John Dickson Carr (here using his 'Carter Dickson' pseudonym). In Jonathan Creek, Renwick celebrates this genre, combining it with the complex comic plotting and split-second timing that give his comedies their recognisable stamp.

In the pilot episode, 'The Wrestler's Tomb' (tx. 10/5/1997), the pugnacious investigative journalist Maddy Magellen (Caroline Quentin) tries to break a seemingly unbreakable alibi. She turns to Jonathan Creek, a designer of illusions for stage magician Adam Klaus (played by Anthony Head in the pilot, Stuart Milligan thereafter). Although a number of established actors, including Nicholas Lyndhurst, were considered, the part eventually went to stand-up comedian Alan Davies, making his acting debut.

Most episodes split the focus between the mystery, Klaus' comic mishaps and the will-they-won't-they romance between the hard-boiled, strictly urban Maddy and the cerebral Creek, whose country residence is in a windmill (actually in Shipley, West Sussex). The two eventually end up in bed together in 'Miracle in Crooked Lane' (tx. 28/12/1999), but the romance is soon off again.

In 'Jack in the Box' (tx. 17/5/1997), Creek admonishes that "we mustn't confuse what's impossible with what's implausible", before explaining how an apparent suicide in a sealed underground bunker is in fact murder. In other stories the pair investigate how a man could be in London and New York at the same time, how someone could walk on snow without leaving any footprints, and other intriguing riddles.

Renwick's dense and complicated plots often work best in feature length editions like 'Black Canary' (tx. 24/12/1998) and 'The Problem at Gallows Gate' (tx. 14-21/2/1998), emphasising spooky and grotesque situations. The balance of drama and comedy, however, usually tips in favour of the latter, evidenced by guest appearances by such comedy stalwarts as Brian Murphy and Bob Monkhouse, as well as The Young Ones (BBC, 1982-84) stars Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Adrian Edmondson.

When Quentin became unavailable for the 2001 Christmas special 'Satan's Chimney' (tx. 26/12/2001), Renwick introduced the neurotic Carla Borrego (Julie Sawalha), who replaced Maddy in the subsequent series.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Scene of the crime (3:44)
2. Chaos theory (4:11)
3. Secret of the inn (3:46)
4. Salad ending (1:51)
Complete episode: 'Mother Redcap' (49:58)
One Foot In The Grave (1990-2000)
Davies, Alan (1966-)
Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)
Monkhouse, Bob (1928-2003)
Renwick, David (1951-)
TV Drama in the 2000s
TV Sleuths