Who’s top of the North East’s screen ‘tecs?

Tommy Lee Jones and Sting in Stormy Monday.
Tommy Lee Jones and Sting in Stormy Monday.

Brenda Blethyn has been back in the region, filming a new series of detective drama ‘Vera.’

But Detective Chief Inspector Stanhope is far from the first fictional flatfoot to pound the North East beat.

Jimmy Nail in Spender

Jimmy Nail in Spender

Kevin Clark looks back at some of the more (or less) memorable crooks and coppers to have brought the region to our screens.

Stormy Monday (1988).

Hollywood comes to Tyneside as Tommy Lee Jones’ gangster Cosmo manipulates Melanie Griffith’s waitress Kate into pressuring nightclub owner Finney (Sting) into selling up.

The stylish feature debut of later Sopranos director Mike Figgis – who grew up on Tyneside – the movie was originally a low budget collaboration between Channel 4 and British Screen.

Don Gilet and Dervla Kirwin in 55 Degrees North.

Don Gilet and Dervla Kirwin in 55 Degrees North.

With both Griffith and Jones yet to enjoy the career boost of Working Girl and The Fugitive respectively, an injection of American cash put the pair within the production team’s reach.

ITV revisited the character of Finney in a spectacularly pointless prequel series six years later, with David Morrisey stepping into Sting’s shoes.

Verdict: Every bit as surreal as it sounds.

Spender (1991-93).

Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby in Insp George Gently

Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby in Insp George Gently

Viewers hoping to see sexually-ambivalent poet Stephen drifting languidly through the North East underworld will have been brought rudely down to Earth by the sight of Jimmy Nail legging it through Jesmond Dene on the trail of a fleeing miscreant, clad only in a vest and a pair of day-glo green jogging shorts.

Spender was ‘what-Jimmy-did-next’ after ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’ had transformed the Geordie into an unlikely sex symbol.

Finding himself typecast, Nail created the series with Ian La Frenais, and it ran for three series.

Co-stars included North East panto mainstay Berwick Kaler (oh yes, it did), the late Sammy Johnson and Denise Welch – then married to Nail’s ‘Pet’ co-star Tim Healy – as Spender’s ex-wife Frances.

Michael Caine in Get Carter.

Michael Caine in Get Carter.

Most memorable for the lead’s hugely desirable black Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth.

Verdict: Darker than you may remember (the series, not the car).

55 Degrees North (2004-5).

Nobly attempting to subvert one stereotype (Don Gilet’s DS Nicky Cole is a policeman - but he’s black!), production company Zenith North perpetuates one just as egregious.

Kicked off the Met as punishment for exposing corruption, Cole arrives in Newcastle to find the officers of the fictional Tyneside Police are a mouth-breathing bunch of numbskulls, crying out for Cole and his big city savvy to not only show them how police work is done git proper like, but cure them of their casual racism into the bargain.

Gilet is never less than watchable and a strong supporting cast includes Dervla Kirwin as love interest/CPS prosecutor Claire Maxwell and Dinnerladies’ Andrew Dunn as Cole’s sidekick Sgt Rick Astel, but anyone who grew up north of Scotch Corner will want to smash the screen within the first ten minutes.

Verdict: a grossly wasted opportunity.

Insp George Gently (2007-present).

One of those series that runs forever, despite the fact no-one you know watches it.

Essentially Heartbeat with a 15 certificate, the series sees Martin Shaw’s Gently and sidekick John Baccus touring the more scenic bits of the 1960s North East, having inexplicably relocated from the original Norfolk setting of Alan Hunter’s books.

To be fair, the involvement of Our Friends in the North writer Peter Flannery gives the series a more keen social conscience than might otherwise have been expected and the show is not afraid to reflect controversial issues.

Verdict: Gently by name, not so much by nature.

Get Carter (1971).

Sylvester Stallone stars as...just kidding.

The definitive North East crime movie sees Michael Caine’s Newcastle-born gangster Jack Carter return home to avenge the death of his brother Frank.

A million miles from the picture postcard settings of Gently, this is resolutely the Tyneside of Poulson and Smith, all slum-clearance and brutalist concrete (not least Gateshead’s Trinity Square car park) and Caine is mesmeric as Carter, carving his way through the North East underworld like a whisky-sodden Cockney avenging angel.

Mike Hodges succeeds in making the landscape at once familiar and yet utterly strange – even Alien 3 couldn’t make Seaham’s Blast Beach as otherworldy as it appears in the magnificently bleak closing sequence.

Altogether now: “You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape...”

Verdict: Guilty - of being an absolute classic.