Thursday, 15 January 2009

Dempsey & Makepeace!

In the annals of action cinema, 1985 must surely mark something of a high point. It wasn't just the movies that were top-notch that year however. Television had earned its own bragging rights - and surely one of the best TV action series of all time was British police drama Dempsey & Makepeace.

This cop show detailed the unlikely pairing of tough Brooklyn cop lieutenant James Dempsey (played by Michael Braydon) with upper-crust noble Sergeant Harriet Makepeace (played by Glynis Barber); as with all such team-ups, the two are initially distrusting of each other, only to become close partners as their adventures ensue. It's worth noting incidentally that Braydon and Barber not only married after they met working on the show, but are still married some twenty years later.

There are a few websites out there that cover all this information about the TV show itself very nicely. I am more interested here in the paperback adaptations of episodes that Futura released in conjunction with the show; by contrast, there is precious little available on these books. Of the six released, I still have the first two, and it is these I feature today in this post, Make Peace, Not War by Jesse Carr-Martindale (who wrote several episodes for the first season of the programme) and Blind Eye by John Raymond.

These paperback tie-ins have always fascinated me; why would anyone be interested in reading an adaptation of a TV show they enjoyed? The reason, it seems to me, is that the medium affords greater opportunity for salacious detail, for sex, for sleaze - something denied the producers of the show, which after all had to air on evening television. It may be difficult to imagine in this age of internet, cable and HBO, but back in the mid-80s, TV was still relatively clean, even in the case of a police drama.

By contrast, I picked up the first book in the series, opened it at random and read a sequence in which our lady detective approaches a "big black" at the Pink Pussycat Peep Show :

Makepeace gave the man a crisp pound note and he fished into a filthy cloth pocket that hung around his belly, like a kangaroo's pouch that had seen better days. Makepeace took the two fifty-pence pieces as though they were carriers of yellow fever and paused, half expecting a swarm of blow-flies to escape from the sagging sack of change that the man constantly ran his stubby fingers through, in absent-minded pleasure.

The two coins felt warm in her hand, and she shuddered slightly as she went into a cubible on the left side of two rows of similar cubicles, that faced each other like a badly lit ladies' lavatory. She locked the door behind her and put a coin into the slot in the facing wall. Behind the wall, which seemed to be made of hardboard painted with dark brown emulsion paint and stained a lot at waist level, she heard the familiar crutch-grinding music of the strippers' world, and as the coin dropped in the box a flap lifted on the letter-box-sized slit and she looked in.

There was maybe eight or nine cubicles on three sides of a square, and Makepeace could see men's unblinking eyes on either side staring through their own little rectangles of fantasy at the girl in front of them. There was a chipped, bent-wood chair in the middle of the floor and behind the girl a large, cracked mirror. The girl was bending over the chair, cupping a pair of extremely tired tits in nicotine-stained hands and swaying in time with the scratching music. She had her back to the mirror and as she slowly opened her legs to straddle the chair, Makepeace wondered if the eyes behind the slits were on the mirror or the girl. She looked at the girl's face and saw the hopeless, unseeing gaze on her eyes as she stared up at the black ceiling and performed her excruciatingly ugly ritual. Her hair had once been blonde, but now little was left and the mousy roots were surfacing from her lousy scalp like lug worms on a doll's head. Her body looked grey and unwashed and there was an old purple scar on her belly in memory of her Ceasarean still-born; even her pubic hair looked in need of a comb. Makepeace closed her eyes and leant on the wall. She felt sick.

Should it seem as though I just 'got lucky' with my random selection, I'll note that the following page finds Makepeace, now in the Taboo Club, removing her stained top to reveal "the fullness and firmness of (her) breasts" in a room where people watch "out-of-focus hard porn German" bestiality movies.

So yeah, these books were pretty hard stuff.

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