12 Jim Bergerac (John Nettles), Bergerac. The island of Jersey is only about 198 square kilometres and yet, from 1981 to 1991, it was home to an astounding crimewave of burglaries, frauds, murders and kidnappings across stables, yachts and golf courses.
All of which were resolved by Jim Bergerac, racing round the island in his Triumph Roadster as the lead (perhaps only) member of the ‘Bureau des Étrangers’. The sun might have been shining but Bergerac always had a face like thunder. Such was Nettles’ skill at sleuthing in a small area, he went on to do 14 years of detective work in the crime-ridden rural village of Midsomer as Detective Tom Barnaby.
11 Robert T. Ironside (Raymond Burr), Ironside
Paralysed by a sniper’s bullet, Ironside proved that classic police drama is more brains than brawn. Burr earned six Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations for his representation of the wheelchair-using San Francisco police consultant in the series, which first broadcast in 1967. He reprised the role in 1993, filming TV movie The Return of Ironside, sadly actually needing the chair this time, as he was suffering from kidney cancer.
10 Sergeant Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz), NYPD Blue
Sweary, gritty, and depicting the business end of police work in a way that had never been done before, NYPD Blue was a totally new genre of cop show when it aired in 1993. And Sipowicz was a new kind of antihero. Troubled, drunken and with often uncomfortable views, Sipowicz had his faults, but he was more good cop than bad and (perhaps more impressively in crime-ridden NYC) he managed to outlive pretty much everyone as the only regular cast member to appear in every episode for 12 years.
9 Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), Line of Duty
If there’s one thing Ted Hastings (“as in the Battle”) really loves, it’s nicking bent coppers. We know he didn’t float down the Lagan in a bubble, but Adrian Dunbar is certainly sailing high in the ratings, with a record 9.6 million viewers tuning into the BBC for the return of AC-12 last month. However, the question remains: could the gaffer be bent himself? Mother of god, surely not…
8 Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison (Dame Helen Mirren), Prime Suspect
The award-winning series, created by Lynda La Plante, was ground-breaking in making a female cop the protagonist. Not only did Tennison solve complex and gruesome crimes, but she did it while battling sexist co-workers and the demands of an unsupportive boyfriend, with Mirren bringing incredible nuance to the often prickly and cold character.
7 DCI John Luther (Idris Elba), Luther
The gruesome crimes that end up on DCI Luther’s desk are a far cry from the murders of Midsomer, but with his unorthodox methods and street smarts, John Luther is certainly a man more at home in a high-rise flat than at a village fête. Even when the plot lines got increasingly convoluted, Elba, with his complex character and tweed coat, kept us coming back for more.
6 Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse (John Thaw), Inspector Morse
With a penchant for real ale and crosswords, Morse taps into many familiar telly-detective traits: drink-loving, grumpy, highly intelligent, troubled. But what makes the Oxford detective more interesting is that he doesn’t always get his man. Mistakes get made, evidence is handled, suspects wooed… Played with warmth by John Thaw from 1987 to 2000, the character’s foibles made Morse all the more intriguing and relatable.
5 Miss Jane Marple (Joan Hickson), Miss Marple
OK, so she doesn’t have a badge, but Miss Marple could have a case solved while half the accredited detectives on this list were still taping photos to their evidence boards. Agatha Christie’s octogenarian sleuth has been played by a host of different actresses over the years (including a pre-Jessica Fletcher Angela Lansbury), but the best remains the award-winning Joan Hickson, who was earmarked for the role by Christie herself.
4 Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), Sherlock
Cumberbatch was chosen for the BBC role after wowing the production team with his performance as villain Paul Marshall in the 2007 film Atonement. Sherlock was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, and Cumberbatch brought the detective into the 21st century with pacy filming that kept the eccentricity — and the iconic deerstalker — of the original detail-obsessed sleuth.
3 Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl), The Killing/Forbrydelsen
Over half the population of Denmark tuned in to watch The Killing, which went on to beat Mad Men in the ratings when screened on BBC4, heralding the advent of Nordic Noir. At the forefront of the Scandi-drama trend was Sarah Lund, who proved you didn’t need to be a man in a suit to solve crime — an iconic chunky knit would suffice.
2 Hercule Poirot (David Suchet), Poirot
After reading about a fellow thespian putting a penny in the crease of his bottom, Suchet appropriated the ‘bottom-squeezing’ technique to (ahem) crack Poirot’s idiosyncratic gait. His newsreader brother, John, told him he “wouldn’t touch the role with a barge pole” but Suchet went on to successfully play the moustache-twirling Belgian detective for 25 years, keeping audiences rapt as he unravelled mysteries from England to Egypt, using his ‘little grey cells’.
1 Lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk), Columbo
Well, y’see sir, the way I see it, there could only be one top TV detective: Columbo. A stalwart of daytime TV, Peter Falk’s cigar-chomping, tattered-raincoat-wearing sleuth managed to outsmart every criminal mastermind and wealthy widow who dared to underestimate him. Famed for his references to the unseen Mrs Columbo and “just one more thing” (words sure to spell a stretch inside for whoever heard them) only die-hard super-sleuths will have spotted his first name — when a brief flash of the badge in an episode broadcast in 1971 revealed him as ‘Frank’.