George Baker as Wexford and Sasha Mitchell as DS Malahyde..

The People's Detective

Twelve celebrated fictional television detectives profiled in a six-part ITV3 series.


Facts

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It was back in 1987 that Ruth Rendell’s books about Inspector Reginald Wexford were turned into a television series. The well-known film actor George Baker took on the role of Inspector Wexford, who went about solving crime in the fictional town of Kingsmarkham, along with his sidekick, Inspector Mike Burden. The show was hugely popular, with 10 million viewers tuning in every week, and it ran for 13 years. It was sold around the world with fans as far afield as New Zealand, South Africa and Japan.

Caroline Quentin

Well, what I had done was write a detective story for fun, to see if I could, featuring chief Inspector Wexford, and it was called From Doon with Death. And Wexford was in it, simply there to investigate the crime. I didn’t know that he would become a series character and in fact, become a popular detective.

Ruth Rendell

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Anouk Khoori:
And finally, may I introduce to you Chief Inspector Wexford from Kingmarkham CID. [Clapping]
Wexford:
Thank you, good evening ladies and gentlemen.

I had to give him a name. I’d just been on holiday in Ireland and it was a choice between whether he was called Waterford or Wexford, and Wexford won, I don’t know why. The same thing applied to the name of the town, which is based on Midhurst in Sussex, where I lived for a while as a child. And I chose Kingsmarkham because my son, who was a little boy at the time, had a friend who was called Markham. And the Kings, it was either kings or bishops. Again. I chose kings.

Ruth Rendell

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Wexford:
We’re ready for you now.

My own view has always been that the reason Wexford works so well with an audience is he’s secure and he’s safe. Despite that Kingmarkham had—I don’t know—six murders a week for God knows how many years. The audience felt very comfortable and very safe with him. And that’s why I think the character works so well. And that’s why I think George works so well.

Neil Zeiger

Character Profile

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So what do we know of Wexford’s background? Wexford was a local village boy who went to grammar school and then joined the police force. He is married to a faithful wife, Dora, who George Baker is married to in real life, and together they have two daughters, Sheila and Sylvia. But despite the goings on in his home life, it’s his police work with sidekick Burden in Kingmarkham that keeps the moral Wexford busy.

Caroline Quentin
Diane Keen:
Dogged.
Val McDermid:
Dependable.
Christopher Ravenscroft:
Intelligent.
Sasha Mitchell:
Open-minded.
Simon Brett:
Old fashioned.
Ian Hyland:
Brash.
Christopher Ravenscroft:
Perceptive.
Val McDermid:
And honest.
George Baker:
Wexford? stubborn old man.

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Wexford:
Detective Chief Inspector Wexford. Kingsmarkham, CID.

When I think of Wexford, I think of someone who’s very stolid and very English, and very measured and very reasonable. Not somebody that you would say was an exciting man in any respect.

Val McDermid

He began to become popular. I decided that he should be less tough and become more sensitive, more liberal, more literate … a reader. And I also decided that he should be married and remain married. That was not to say that he might not be attracted by other women. After all, he’s a man.

Ruth Rendell

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Susan Riding:
This is Chief Inspector Wexford. Mrs Anouk Khoori.
Anouk Khoori:
Chief Inspector I’m honoured.
Wexford:
Good evening Mrs Khoori.

I believe that he didn’t go to university. He went straight from school to police college and then went straight into the police force after that. Though his education was not particularly extensive, he has taught himself about art and about the theatre and is a huge, huge reader. So it’s a very broad knowledge of the arts and of the world.

Christopher Ravenscroft

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Burden:
… that we can’t go on calling her this girl. We ought to give her a name.
Wexford:
Well, for God’s sake, don’t borrow anything from Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Burden:
I’ve never read it.

I think Wexford’s a bit like your favourite uncle, you know, you could go down the pub with him and have a pint, have a chat with him and maybe go and have a fight with him afterwards.

Ian Hyland

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Christopher Riding:
It’s time to get home little sister!

Sidekicks

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[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Wexford:
Chief Inspector Wexford.
Gary:
Who’s he, Dr Watson?

Wexford had two sidekicks. There was Inspector Burden, who was, I suppose, a polar opposite to the character of Wexford. He was very buttoned up, he was very tight, but very kind of very right wing.

Neil Zeiger

Burden was rather prudish and prim. And then people began to tell me that he was too prudish and prim for a detective inspector.

Ruth Rendell

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Swithun Riding:
You get out of the way. [Punches Burden]

So I killed his wife and let him have an affair with an actress. But strangely enough, it didn’t make him less prim and prudish.

Ruth Rendell

[Scene from Harm Done 2000]

Jenny:
I realize it’s been a tough day, Mike, but sitting there in silence isn’t going to get it out of your system.
Burden:
Sorry.

Burden is the sort of the straight man of the two … really. By no means a fool, but probably not as intelligent as Wexford. Not as imaginative as Wexford.

Christopher Ravenscroft

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Burden:
Why did she approach you rather than somebody else?
Melanie Akande:
If you have to ask that, with respect, you’re not much of a detective, are you?

Burden? very precise, very well dressed, very clean cut, and did everything by the book.

George Baker

[Scene from Harm Done 2000]

Jenny:
You wouldn’t do anything hurtful, would you Mike?
Burden:
Like what?
Jenny:
Like going over his head.
Burden:
Good God, of course not.
Jenny:
Just you’ve always been a team. You compliment one another.
Burden:
I know.
Jenny:
I mean, you need each other. And if he needs you more at the moment, then…
Burden:
Don’t worry, I won’t be disloyal.

It’s good cop, bad cop. And they had a great rapport together. They butted heads from time to time, but they did have a good rapport together and they always solved the case.

Diane Keen

[Scene from Harm Done 2000]

Wexford:
We’re stretched in all directions, in case you hadn’t noticed.
DS Malahyde:
I wouldn’t need backup, sir. I’d abort it if it got dodgy. Well, I’ve done a lot more dangerous stuff in the past. And you’ve been happy enough to send me.
Wexford:
Well, I’m not happy now Sergeant Malahyde so just drop it.

With regard to myself as a sidekick, I was the one who was sort of always rushing at things like a bull at a gate. She just thought Wexford was wonderful. She liked his methods, but she wanted to impress him all the time. That was the core of her being—really—was to be approved of by him and to move up in his team.

Sasha Mitchell

[Scene from Harm Done]

Wexford:
This is a very serious disciplinary offence, Sergeant Malahyde. It’ll be recorded And if it blights your promotion, so be it.

Temperament

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[Scene from Road Rage 1998]

Wexford:
Nothing will appear until we give the go-ahead. Do I make myself clear?
Newspaper Editor:
It is your Wife.
Wexford:
Do I make myself clear?

Wexford’s temperament, to a certain extent, became George Baker’s temperament, which I guess is inevitable because George became the character.

Neil Zeiger

[Scene from Harm Done]

Wexford:
Don’t teach me how to suck eggs Mike!

Very stubborn. Very stubborn, but I used stubborn nicely, but stubborn in the sense that if he got his teeth into something a bit like a terrier, you couldn’t get it out of his mouth.

George Baker

[Scene from Harm Done 2000]

Burden:
Jane Andrews is right. By leaving Fay there to face the music alone, we’re taking a huge risk with her safety. That’s all I’m saying. No, it’s not all I’m saying. You know this and yet you seem to prefer…
Wexford:
I do not prefer! She has to make a complaint. She has to make the first move. That is the law.

Anybody who comes up against Wexford when he is in a temper is in for a bad time. He’s pretty terrifying. And George Baker is able to convey that extremely well. And the actor has a certain weight, and I don’t just mean physical weight, he has a weight which makes him quite frightening. So anyone who goes up against him, someone who is a lawbreaker, is in for a tough time.

Barry Forshaw

[Scene from Harm Done 2000]

Wexford:
Suddenly everybody in this place knows better than I do!

He could get very caught up emotionally in the story of the case that he was following and the individual lives who were involved in that story.

Christopher Ravenscroft

I think Wexford tried not to get emotionally involved in cases, but any policeman will tell you that at some point they are … they find a connection with a case and it never leaves them. So I think for Wexford, being a caring man, his compassion was quite big.

Sasha Mitchell

Because he works off instinct, therefore he works off emotion, therefore he does get emotionally involved.

Neil Zeiger

[Scene from Harm Done 2000]

Wexford:
Would you say I was a compassionate man?
Dora:
Yes, of course. What a silly question.
Wexford:
I very often feel sorry for murderers. When they show remorse I can imagine being one.

Family

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Wexford is a family man, which is actually quite unusual. Many of us crime writers do away with the family life because it’s a bit tedious sometimes and it gets in the way of the plot. But Ruth Rendell is interested in him as a fully rounded human being and so to Wexford, the family is very important.

Ian Rankin

But Wexford’s family, it’s a bit of a strange one really, because he goes home and tells his wife everything—Dora—and just kind of involves her in all the cases and to a certain extent his kids as well, which you can’t really imagine a copper doing these days. I think Dora secretly wants to be the detective herself because she’s really supportive of his work and really gets involved in the cases. And at one point she even got kidnapped herself. That’s how desperate she was to get involved in the case.

Ian Hyland

[Scene from Road Rage 1998]

Wexford:
How are you? How’s the baby?
Sheila Wexford:
I’m fantastic and the baby is perfectly fine. But where’s mother?
Wexford:
What?
Sheila Wexford:
Mother, where is she? We expected her about one at the latest.
Wexford:
Well, there must have been a change of plan.
Sheila Wexford:
What’s happened to her? Where is she? You must know.

In one of the stories, Dora, his wife, is kidnapped, and along with various other people and ransoms are demanded and he heads the investigation. So both his daughters kind of come home.

Neil Zeiger

[Scene from Road Rage 1998]

Sheila Wexford:
Are you alright?
Wexford:
Very all right. Your mother’s alive. I can’t tell you where she is or how I know. She’s alive. She’s alive.

And that always creates a kind of domestic tension. And what I think Ruth particularly does well is take big issues, put them into a very personable way that they relate to the public or they relate to the viewer.

Neil Zeiger

[Dora returns home. Road Rage 1998]

Wexford:
Dora!

He has two daughters whom he loves dearly, one to whom he is absolutely devoted and dotes on and is his favourite, which he knows and is ashamed of, I think, and the other daughter who he loves, but I think can be a bit of a trial sometimes.

Christopher Ravenscroft

[Scene from Harm Done 2000]

Sylvia Wexford:
All you’ve ever done is ram your opinion and the police force down our throats. Well, my throat.
Wexford:
It might make a difference if you weren’t always so damn self-righteous!

Wexford was not really very supportive of Sylvia at all. The personality clashed. It didn’t matter that she was daughter number one or anything else. Their personalities just went Brrr…

George Baker

They clash, I think because they’re very like each other. She’s like her dad. So inevitably in those kinds of situations, there are times when they just kind of like two poles kind of coming together.

Neil Zeiger

[Scene from Road Rage 1998]

Wexford:
I just like to have my usual breakfast.
Sylvia:
My men would be very put out if I sent them out in the morning on a bowl of cereal.
Wexford:
Well, thank you, Sylvia, it’s very thoughtful of you, but I…
Sylvia:
Well really!

Style

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[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Wexford:
Look at them! Did she never get dressed up … go out to a party?

Well I wouldn’t say that he was well dressed.

George Baker

No He’s not a stylish man at all. Intellectually and emotionally, he’s immensely stylish but in terms of the clothes that he wears and the way that he presents himself, stylish is the last thing that he is.

Christopher Ravenscroft

Wexford’s style is somebodies granddad, really. Comfy. Always immaculately smart and immaculately dressed but kind of cosy.

Diane Keen

Wexford is not glamorous but then that was my idea. I didn’t want him to be. I wanted him to be the kind of man that men identified with and women would fall in love with. And that has happened. In fact one woman wrote to me—this was quite a long time ago—and asked me if I would kill Wexford’s wife so that she could marry him.

Ruth Rendell

Yes, I think women did fancy him. They fancied that tall handsome man in whose arms they would be utterly safe.

Sasha Mitchell

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Mrs Riding:
Chief Inspector Wexford.
Wexford:
Mrs Riding. This is my wife Dora.
Mrs Riding:
Your husband was brilliant at our meeting at the school.
Dora:
Oh I know he’s brilliant. He’s constantly reminding me.

I do think he was a ladies’ man. He was a ladies’ man because I think George is very fanciable, We used to get a phenomenal number of letters from women who found him really attractive.

Neil Zeiger

I think his wife cared carried about his appearance. Which it’s why he was always well-turned out. In the last story we did, his wife persuaded him to get rid of his old macintosh.

Sasha Mitchell

[Scene from Harm Done 2000] {.u-align-ce:

Dora:
It’s a very good fit.
Wexford:
A bit new.
Dora:
You’ll soon see to that. Thank you, Mike.
Wexford:
What?
Mike:
Nothing.
Wexford:
Still beats me how you mislaid my old coat.
Dora:
Reg do stop harping on about it.

And so he ends up giving it away and sees a homeless person in the street wearing his old macintosh.

Sasha Mitchell
Wexford:
Put to some good use that.

Devotion

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I think Wexford was very passionate about his job. He really believed in policing and he really believed in catching the criminal. That was him, really. Yes, a very passionate man, really. Yes.

George Baker

As the Wexford series went on I think Ruth Rendell, the author, got much more interested in social issues. And I think that came across in the books. Whether it was things like the rerouting of a road through an area of countryside that was the habitat that was in danger of being destroyed, whether it’s to do with immigration policy, I mean, whatever it is, she’s got a social conscience. I mean, she sits in the House of Lords and she has a lot to say in the House of Lords, Ruth Rendell. And so, why not give those concerns to your characters? And as an author, we are channelling your questions and frustrations about the world and making sense of the world through your fiction.

Ian Rankin

The character of Wexford certainly has a huge sense of being aware of society. What’s happening, and a lot of it was not sexy in the sense that we were dealing with people in bad situations. He couldn’t but be unaffected by what he was seeing.

Sasha Mitchell

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Wexford:
The council’s saving it up to blow this lot up.
Burden:
Mrs Khoori gets elected they can have an explosion sponsored by the Crescent supermarket.
Wexford:
The BNP get in, they’re going to leave the people in and then blow it up.

With Road Rage as an example, which is about a road being cut through the edge of a of market town, which happens to be close to Kingsmarkham. Wexford has to run that fine line between the fact he doesn’t want the road to be built. He thinks what they’re doing is wrong to build the road, but it is destroying the environment, it is destroying the countryside. You don’t need the road.

Neil Zeiger

[Scene from Road Rage 1998]

Wexford:
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.
[Philip larkin, Going, Going]

Nevertheless, it’s his job to police the area so when protesters move in to prevent the road being built, on the one hand, it plays to his sympathy, but on the other, he doesn’t agree with the way that they’re doing it.

Neil Zeiger

Wexford prided himself, of course, on not being the least racist. But Dr Akande came in and said that his daughter was missing and he was a new doctor in the town and they found a black girl dead. And Wexford jumps to a conclusion.

George Baker

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Dr Akande:
That’s not my daughter. That’s not Melanie.
Wexford:
Are you sure, Doctor Akande? Please look again.
Dr Akande:
Of course, I’m sure. Do you think a man doesn’t know his own child?

Mrs Akande comes running down to the police station and says, how dare you, and you’re a racist.

George Baker

[Scene from Simisola 1996]

Mrs Akande:
This dead girl, she’s black?
Wexford:
Yes.
Mrs Akande:
Is she like Melanie?
Dr Akande:
No.
Mrs Akande:
How dare you do that to us.
Burden:
Mrs Akande, it’s a mistake that’s happened many times before.
Mrs Akande:
Coming to our house. The great white liberal detective, so gentle, so magnanimous.
Dr Akande:
Letty please don’t.
Wexford:
I deeply regret that this has happened.
Mrs Akande:
You deeply regret it? You deeply regret being caught out because you find a dead black girl. It’s got to be our girl, because we’re black and we all look alike, don’t we?

And he, as somebody who would never have called himself a racist, finds that sort of in a subterranean way in some of his attitudes there is an inbuilt racism. He sees black people as different and he’s brought sort of face-to-face with that in the course of the story and is very shocked by himself and what he sees in himself.

Christopher Ravenscroft

I think if I had suffered from the activities of a criminal, I would prefer to have Foyle investigating my case than Wexford. Wexford will get there, but I think his might be a rather long drawn-out investigation, whereas I think Foyle would be more instinctive.
Simon Brett

I think you'd have to vote for Wexford because he's absolutely reliable. He's honest, he's dependable, and he cares.
Val McDermid

Very much a kind of everyman, astonished by the changes in society, trying to move with the times, trying to juggle family life, and he appeals to people on that level. You can identify with something in Wexford, whoever you are.
Sasha Mitchell