The 10 Best UK Detective Series EVER

David

David

David has been watching TV outside of his home country for over 12 years. In addition to his streaming expertise, he has a wealth of experience in watching sports and documentaries, having spent many years following these genres. He is an avid fan of The Detectorists and Blue Planet, and also has a keen interest in English football.

Let’s face it. When it comes to detective shows, the UK does it better than any other country in the world.

You can keep your Scandi dramas and your CSI: wherever. British detective shows have always set a benchmark that TV shows around the world are striving to match.

Whether like gritty realism, dysfunctional partnerships, or an anti-hero who refuses to play by the rules, UK detective shows can offer the lot.

And if there is a boundary to be pushed in the genre, you can be pretty sure it will be pushed in the UK first.

So, when it comes to picking the 10 best UK detective series ever, there is a huge pool to choose from. But, for our money, these ten shows always have been, and always will be, a cut above the rest.

Inspector Morse

Let’s kick off with a cast-iron classic. Inspector Morse ran for 8 series between 1987 and 2000.

It was based on the popular novels written by Colin Dexter, but it was on TV that these stories really came to life.

That success was largely down to John Thaw, who starred as Morse and was the epitome of the gruff, opera-loving, real-ale supping old-man detective. The character captured the hearts of the nation as did his young and loyal sidekick Sergeant Lewis, played superbly by Kevin Whately.

Lewis was the perfect foil to Morse, likeable and tolerant while well aware of his boss’s capabilities despite his eccentricities.

The Morse series didn’t do cliff-hanger endings. Each episode followed a single case from start to finish which meant it was the characters and the beautiful Oxford locations that bought viewers back.

The array of guest stars was a big draw too, while the series also had some incredible directors, including Anthony Minghella and Danny Boyle.

It has spawned two spin-off series, Lewis and Endeavor, but neither has come close to matching the brilliance of the original.

Broadchurch

A modern classic which ran over three series and was in many ways the antithesis of Morse.

The first two series were tied together and began with the body of a small boy being found on a beach in Dorset. Stunning scenery is the backdrop for a grim series as two detectives attempt to unravel a web of secrets and identify his killer.

Everyone is a suspect, and as the show progresses, it becomes clear that this crime is going to rip the small community of Broadchurch apart.

The third and final series focuses on the rape of a local woman at a birthday party and the old wounds that are opened up as a result of this new investigation.

The series starred David Tenant and Olivia Coleman, two superb actors and both British institutions these days. There was also a stellar support cast including, Jodie Whittaker, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Andrew Buchan, and Vicky McClure.

It picked up a range of awards, including no fewer than seven BAFTA’s, establishing it as a sure-fire modern classic of the genre.

Lucy Mangan of The Guardian called Broadchurch a “quiet, understated and wholly compelling murder mystery.”

Poirot

Poirot is based on the books of perhaps the greatest crime writer of all time, Agatha Christie.

Most of her tales have been bought to screens small and large at one time or another, but Poirot has been by some distance the biggest success.

That is largely down to the incredible performance of its star, David Suchet, who breathes life into the uptight yet gifted Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in a way that no other actor could.

The series, which was based on a series of novels and short stories by Christie, ran from 1989 – 2013, across 13 series and 70 episodes. Like Morse, each episode follows an individual case from the beginning until the conclusion.

We follow Poirot as he uses his exceptional powers of observation and deduction to solve a variety of crimes. Inevitable, each episode ends with Poirot bringing the suspects together in the same room to reveal the culprit.

For most, but not all of its run, Poirot is ably assisted by Captain Arthur Hastings, played by Hugh Fraser, and Chief Inspector James Japp (Phillip Jackson), while other regulars include Zoë Wannamaker and David Yelland.

There was also a phalanx of superb guest stars, including Joely Richardson, Christopher Eccleston, Damian Lewis, Emily Blunt, Michael Fassbender, Elliot Gould, and Toby Jones.

Sherlock

The Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle arguably created the genre of crime fiction as we know it today.

They have been faithfully adapted for TV and movies many times over the years, but no series has quite hit the public consciousness as much as Sherlock, the modern adaptation created by the League of Gentleman star Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffatt.

Running for 13 feature-length episodes across four series, Sherlock bought the famous detective into the modern age, adapting his deductions for the digital era with text messages scrolling on-screen and scientific research replacing the more antiquated methods of the novels.

It starred Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role with Martin Freeman as his sidekick Watson. Both are superb and have amazing chemistry (despite apparently not getting on off-screen).

The two stars are ably supported by an amazing ensemble including Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson, Rupert Graves as Lestrade, Gatiss himself as Mycroft Holmes, Louise Brealey as Molly Hooper, and Amanda Abbington as Mary Watson.

Superb adaptations, phenomenal acting, and a concept that clicked with its audience made this one of the most-watched and successful TV detective shows of all time and established the Sherlock Holmes as must-reads for a whole new generation of people.

Midsomer Murders

How many murders can take place in a small English village? According to Midsomer Murders, the answer is 132 and counting.

That’s how many episodes of this classic detective drama have been made so far across 22 series and 25 years. Each is a feature-length story set in the modern-day rural English county of Midsomer.

For the first 13 series, it starred John Nettles, already a household name from his stint in Bergerac, as DCI Tom Barnaby, who attempts to solve an ongoing series of unrelated murders that take place across the fictional county.

He is ably assisted by three different sergeants and his long-suffering wife Joyce (played beautifully by Jane Wymark) before being replaced for series 14 by his cousin DCI John Barnaby.

Neil Dudgeon is the actor charged with carrying on the Midsomer Murders flame, and he has done so admirably with the series celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

The guest list reads like a who’s who of British acting greats and while there has been some controversy over the whiteness of the cast, the show has been and remains a firm favourite with viewers up and down the country.

Gerard Gilbert of iNews said, “If you want your police officers to be neither bent nor talk in endless acronyms, this detective drama is for you.”

Death in Paradise

When Christmas is done, and we are all hunkering down to get through the misery of January and February, we need something warm and comforting to see us through.

Death in Paradise, which is set on the stunning tropical French island of Guadeloupe, has become a popular antidote to the winter blues in both the UK and France.

The premise of the show is that a British detective has been seconded to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie and plays the role of the stereotypical fish out of water as he struggles to cope with the climate, the local police officers, and the huge number of grisly murders that seem to take place.

The show has switched stars regularly, with Ben Miller, Kris Marshall, and Ardal O’Hanlon taking on the role before the current incumbent Ralf Little.

Regular cast members have included Don Warrington, Danny John-Jules, Élizabeth Bourgine, and Tobi Bakare, among many others. Guest stars, attracted by two weeks of filming in the Caribbean, have included Sean Maguire, Hugo Speer, Ade Edmondson, Peter Davison, Jason Manford, and many, many more.

Stunning scenery, amazing casts, implausible plotlines, and cultural conflicts. Death in Paradise offers it all. No wonder it is a smash hit on both sides of the channel.

Vera

TV detectives have a habit of being male, so Vera is a classic series that has very much broken the mould.

It stars national treasure Brenda Blethyn as Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope and is based on the Vera novels written by Ann Cleeves.

The main character is approaching the end of her career, obsessed with her job, and also dealing with her own personal demons. She appears dishevelled but has a razor-sharp mind and a knack of picking up on her colleague’s mistakes.

She is ably supported by an array of other detectives, including DC Kenny Lockheart (Jon Morrison), DS Aiden Healy (Kenny Doughty) and Dr. Malcolm Donahue (Paul Kaye).

The show has run for eleven series so far and has just been renewed for a twelfth with no end in sight for Vera yet.

Blethyn is the star of the show without a doubt, but the beautiful Northumbrian scenery is also a big draw, as are the gritty and realistic plots that keep Vera head and shoulders above some of the more fanciful detective dramas that can be seen on the box.

Line of Duty

The series which remade the detective genre and opened it up for a whole new generation.

Line of Duty follows the detectives of AC-12, the police anti-corruption unit that is loathed by fellow officers and crooks alike.

It stars Martin Compston as DC Steve Arnett and Vicky McClure as DS Kate Fleming, who work under the supervision of Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), uncovering corruption and the links between police and organised crime.

Each series looks at a different case involving various police officers suspected of corruption. But there is an overarching storyline that has a habit of tying these cases together.

The ultimate target is ‘H’, a corrupt senior police officer who the unit know exists but cannot identify. There have been multiple suspects, some now killed off and others still very much alive.

Guest stars have included Stephen Graham, Keeley Hawes, Lennie James, Daniel Mays, Thandie Newton, Craig Parkinson, Anna Maxwell Martin, and Kelly MacDonald.

Line of Duty has had the country on the edge of its seats with amazing cliff-hanger endings written remarkably by creator Jed Mercurio for six series so far. Will there be more? It’s not been confirmed yet, but there are still loose ends to be tied up.

A Touch of Frost

David Jason will always be Del Boy in the minds of many people, but he also inhabited the role of DI Jack Frost for a total of eighteen years and in doing so established himself in the pantheon of detective drama greats as well as a sitcom legend.

A Touch of Frost is based on the novels of R.D. Wingfield and is set in the fictional town of Denton, somewhere in southern England.

The star is Frost, a cynical Detective Inspector whose policing talents are sometimes overlooked by his scruffy appearance, questionable personality, and habit of drinking other people’s drinks.

He avoids using a notebook, leaves paperwork to the subordinates, and frequently gets suspended for breaking the rules. But he has a George Cross for gallantry and is an expert detective.

Frost goes through a huge range of junior detectives and uniformed officers, and at least three girlfriends following the death of his wife in the opening episode.

But across 15 series and 42 episodes, he solves numerous crimes and raises more than a few smiles along the way. The archetypical gruff detective brought to life with the sort of comic genius that only David Jason could muster.

The Sweeney

Back in the 1970s, it was the Sweeney that made detective shows cool for the first time.

It followed two members of the Flying Squad, DI Jack Regan (John Thaw) and DS George Carter (Dennis Waterman), and they tackled armed robbery and violent crime across London.

The series was the first to show police officers as being fallible and normal human beings. It also portrayed them as ready to use violence and bend the rules in order to get a result, which was controversial at the time.

The show captured the grim mood of the 1970s perfectly, and in Thaw and Waterman found two perfect stars for the genre.

There were a wide array of guest stars and supporting roles, but this show was all about the leads. And the cars, of course.

Viewers got to see British cops in a range of high-performance, and sometimes not so high-performance, cars for the first time, including a number of Jaguars and even more Fords, which led to the show becoming known to some as ‘The Ford Squad’.

The Sweeney ran for four series and a total of 53 episodes and was one of the defining TV shows of the 1970s. Fifty years on, it still stands up as a cultural insight into the era, but also as one of the great UK TV detective series.

Gave Toro of IndieWire said “The Sweeney is cliché after cliché to the point of parody.”

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