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  • Philip Bryer

The Top Ten Drunken Detectives

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

Morse and Lewis in a pub

10. Aurelio Zen

Mean and moody Italian cop who investigates all sorts of corrupt goings-on in Bella Italia, most of which turn out to “go right to the top”, usually of the Catholic Church, or the government, or Juventus, or invariably all three. So, as you can imagine, Italy having her own unique way of doing business, he’s an incredibly busy chap.

Mean, moody, and smouldering he may be on TV, but on the page he’s a tad more podgy, and given what he puts away it’s little wonder. Zen is forever popping into a handy café for an espresso and a grappa, particularly at breakfast time. Sometimes he mixes things up (literally) by having a caffè corretto, which is an espresso with a grappa in it, a recipe I wholeheartedly endorse but recommend that when trying for the first time you keep a firm grip of your hat. There’s also the little matter of getting three-parts pissed on wine over five-course lunches, and feeling the need to perk himself up with yet more grappa in the afternoon before tackling the difficult night’s work: a massive dinner and another six bottles of wine.

9. Philip Marlowe

Raymond Chandler’s laconic, tough as a Gregg’s steak-bake, private investigator. The original hard-boiled private dick from whom all others were born.

Smart, never short of a well-turned quip, or far away from a dame, or a quart of hard liquor. Liquor which might be found in a desk drawer, glovebox, footwell, raincoat pocket, frail’s handbag, down the back of the sofa, under his hat, beneath the pier head, 20,000 leagues under the sea…

8. Tom Barnaby

Midsomer’s amazing expanding detective, as was. By the way, whoever edited his latter day foot-chase sequences had their work cut out didn’t they? Surely worth the BAFTA for 'Best Go At The Old Silk Purse'.

Barnaby wasn’t DI Piss-Artist per se, but he’s here for good reasons.

While Inspector Morse went into picturesque country boozers because he wanted, needed, a bloody drink, the modus operandi of Midsomer Murders is to show us pretty countryside vistas – admittedly as a backdrop to some scenes of unpleasant slaughter – but it’s aspirational stuff, and what could be easier on the viewers' eye than a comely country pub? All open fires, horse brasses, beams to bang your head on, and club-footed locals with 6 fingers on each hand.

What does Inspector Tom do when he gets indoors, though? Heads straight for the Scotch bottle, pours himself a good four-finger measure and expresses surprise at daughter Cully's presence, prior to sitting down to a family dinner and tucking into a bottle of wine or so.

If he carries on in this fashion, I can see him sneaking downstairs in the darkest hours, taking nips straight from the bottle and contemplating his lot, while the recumbent Mrs Barnaby, in her toe-to-throat jim-jams and matching eyeshade, snores away upstairs.

7. Gene Hunt

He was the interesting character in TV’s hugely enjoyable Life on Mars and the less engaging follow-up show. A bigoted throwback to the good old beat-em-up and fit-em-up coppers so beloved in the 70s. And he liked a sherbert too, although the wine bar thing in TV’s follow-up never quite rang true.

6. Sam Spade

Basically interchangeable with Philip Marlowe.

NB and BTW, See my note about Marlowe being the original private dick. I think this is how things are proved nowadays.

5. Frank Furillo

As compensation for being a recovering alcoholic, Captain Frank Furillo got to roll around naked with hotter-than-July Counselor Joyce Davenport at the end of almost every episode of Hill St Blues.

If you have no idea what I’m on about, I urge you to do some research.

4. Dangerous Davies...

...The Last Detective, which was a rather slight Peter Davison vehicle. But Davies/Davison supped an impressive amount of ale, usually in the company of the engaging Sean Hughes – as the quirky Mod –and the running background visual jokes in their pub scenes were always worth a follow.

3. Regan and Carter

The gold standard, nay, the Courvoisier, the Talisker, the Rothmans King Size of 1970’s fuzz.

The cops from The Sweeney were even more terrifying than the bank-robbing slags they were after banging-up, so long as it didn’t detain them from the boozer for too long. Also, there was so much scotch available in every filing cabinet that was ever opened, God knows where they kept the actual files.

2. Morse

The Sweeney's John Thaw once more. Only in Inspector Morse he plays a rather more thoughtful drunk than the aggressive, borderline psychotic, yet lovable DI Jack Regan.

Mrs B and I used to play the Inspector Morse Drinking Game:

Player 1 chooses a time-slot, say the first 20 minutes of the episode, and scores points when Morse or his underling DS Lewis have a drink. Player 2 would then get the next 20 minutes, and so on, all the way to News at Ten.

There were, however, conditions, sub-rules, and clauses. Here are just a few:

  1. The drink wasn’t taken in a pub, therefore it doesn’t count.

  2. It wasn’t beer or whisky, so it doesn’t count.

  3. Lewis had a beer, instead of orange juice, so it counts double.

Sadly, as I made up all of the rules on the hoof - and all to my benefit - eventually Sandra refused to play anymore.

I find myself in the pub now and then, having a real ale and a think. I like to think of these as my Inspector Morse years, and for this reason, old Endeavour Morse doesn’t take the top spot in this precis of pissed-up plods.

1. Rebus

Rebus, he lines them up. Pints of heavy, whiskies, whatever you got, all sorts, meths probably (he is, after all, a Scottish gentleman) and puts the lot away without a thought for the morning. Which, speaking as someone of a similar age, is a move both brave and foolhardy.

He’s either looking forward to getting plastered, he’s in the act of it, he’s plastered, seriously plastered, going on to a club, or having a few at home before not going to bed. Trying to prove the efficacy of the theory that the way to fool the hangover into not making an appearance is not to go to bed at all*.

John Rebus - our clear winner, the Doyen of Drunken Detectives.

*For anyone who hasn’t tried it and thinks it’s worth a punt, the only difference this strategy achieves is to make you feel worse. Trust me.

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