In 1992 David Jason was known as a comic actor, revered in the UK for first his role as Granville in the Ronnie Barker sitcom Open All Hours and then Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses. The latter won numerous awards and is considered by many to be the greatest British sitcom of all time although I would lean more to Yes Minister, Porridge and the venerable Dad’s Army. Nonetheless, Jason was a comic actor of some note in the public eye.
So it was a little surprising when the actor debuted as Detective Inspector William “Jack” Frost in the aforementioned ITV police procedural, A Touch of Frost, based on the novels of R.D. Wingfield. The series is set in the fictitious town on Denton, which is situated to the west of London allowing for both rural and suburban storylines. Slang is kept to a minimum, although Frost likes to use the cockney rhyming slang of porkies for lies.
Jason’s portrayal was tremendous from the opening episode as the world-weary detective dealing with a missing young girl, the discovery of a skeleton in the woods, internal politics within the police station and the serious illness of his wife. Tough, sarcastic, forgetful, yet very sharp and with the classic Columbo habit of asking one more question, Jason had the character down pat from the opening scenes which is very rare.
The holder of the George Medal, the highest civilian honor for bravery in the UK, Frost is essentially untouchable when it comes to the machinations of his boss Superintendent Norman Mullett nicely played by Bruce Alexander. Mullett is a social climber with desires on promotion and looks to keep disruption to a minimum, while Frost has little time for the paperwork and other niceties that are required.
John Lyons is Detective Sergeant George Toolan a long time friend and colleague of Frost who is around for the entire series while a succession of others come and go. Here in fact is my one very small complaint about the show. While Frost, Toolan and Mullett continue throughout the show and Jason’s brother, the actor Arthur White has a recurring part as police archivist Ernie Trigg, I would have preferred a little more continuity in the detectives that worked within the station.
Of note are Matt Bardock as Clive Barnard, the Chief Constable’s nephew, Robert Glenister as Terry Reid an alcoholic London detective and Caroline Harker as Hazel Wallace who are all quite excellent and the Barnard story arc is a good one. I must admit to having a soft spot for Harker and her sister Susannah, the latter of whom played Mattie Storin in the UK version of a House of Cards, so I am completely biased when saying it would have been nice for her character to have been expanded upon.
There are 42 episodes spread over the 18 years of the series and all available via the streaming option on Netflix. This is one of those long winter weekend shows where you curl up with a cat, or four, and a steaming mug of hot chocolate, or five, and enjoy great mysteries and wonderful acting.
– Wallace Poulter