Tuesday 21 July 2015

The Ruth Rendell Mysteries

I promised to review the Ruth Rendell mysteries for Past Offences' 1987 challenge, but second time round couldn't get through Ep 1 of Series 1. An eccentric young woman has gone missing, and her hopeless myopic artist brother looms large - literally. His bottle-bottom glasses fill the screen.

Rendell's series characters are established. Gruff, older Reg Wexford (George Baker) is the liberal one, and skinny, younger Mike Burden (Christopher Ravenscroft) is the uptight conservative. He complains of the missing woman "She's 28! Why isn't she married?" He is also repelled by her lack of housekeeping skills (her cottage is a filthy tip, and this is too much dwelt on by the director).

In the 80s, we were going to remake everything - gender roles, housework and all. (Just like we tried to in the 70s and 60s.) I feel Rendell is struggling to be relevant. I wish the series had started with From Doon with Death, her first book. (Her early books are wonderfully snobbish – perhaps her editors asked her to tone it down, and keep up with the times.)

What else do I remember from the series (which I enjoyed when it was first screened)? It captures the atmosphere of ordinary English people leading ordinary lives in ordinary flats, houses, pubs, offices – thanks to real locations. The top-rank actors like Imelda Staunton, Sylvia Sims and Lesley Joseph.
I was annoyed as usual by soapy details about the series characters. In A Sleeping Life (great plot), we get way way too much of Wexford's daughter, who's quit her husband thanks to some ill-digested feminism. Why must fictional feminists be stroppy all the time? Couldn't they be coldly rational? In this episode Wexford quite unnecessarily visits France (as do the film crew, lucky them). There's a lot of faff about oysters and chablis. What's that all about? Eighties middle-class aspirational lifestyle?

More mystery here.


  1. I'm routinely underwhelmed by 80s TV drama when I see it again - I always find it incredibly slow-moving and poorly produced. I suppose we're spoilt these days.

  2. I had a lot of problems with the book I read, too. But I struggled to the end. The writer wanted to make the lead female character transform from drudge to fiery independent spirit but in order to do that she had to become a murderous vigilante. Yeech! Also the book I read was filled with brand name dropping that dates the book terribly. Loads of references to TV pop culture, too. It was more than distracting. I "came of age" in the 80s, went to college, had all my first meaningful relationships then and I look back on most of the decade with fondness. Most of the music from that decade is still my preferred soundtrack for life. But so much of the entertainment of that era is embarrassing in the half-hearted efforts to "remake everything."

  3. I can still watch Minder and Bergerac. ;-)

  4. I very much enjoyed these at the time (though there was a lot less choice then...), but, like you, find them almost unwatchable now. They were filmed not that far from where I live, so there was added fun in spotting locations.