Cast your mind back to the 80s if you will. In the realm of crime fiction, ITV had largely been known for its police series: The Gentle Touch, The Professionals, The Sweeney et al. You know, great big action-packed, gritty affairs. Over on the Beeb, crime fiction had largely been confined to more sedate detective shows, such as Shoestring, The Chinese Detective, Bergerac and the like.
Now over on ITV on Saturdays, between 1984 and 1986, is ratings juggernaut Dempsey & Makepeace, in which upper class, blonde English police detective Harriet Makepeace is assigned a new partner, the streetwise New York police lieutenant James Dempsey and together they fight all manner of criminals in an implausible, slightly silly series of adventures, while flirting a lot in way that veers dangerously close to sexual harassment in Dempsey’s case.
Now for some reason, the BBC thought it would be a cracking idea to take the piss out of ITV, while simultaneously launching a new private detective show. And to do this, they decided to hire Roy Clarke, best known as the writer of Last of the Summer Wine but also of the comedy police show Rosie. His cracking wheeze – and it was cracking – was “let’s go meta”.
So he dreamed up the idea of Pulaski (which in the US was known as Pulaski: The TV Detective). This saw the eponymous hero, ‘Pulaski’, an upright, brave former New York Catholic priest turned private detecitve, fighting crime in a series of ridiculous adventures with the help of his beautiful blonde, upper class English wife, ‘Briggsy’. And their adventures were ridiculous… because they were just a TV show inside this particular TV show. Once the director shouted cut, they were just actors again – a married couple now no longer really on speaking terms. And Larry Summers (David Andrews), the actor who plays Pulaski? A pampered, selfish movie star, forced to slum it in the UK – a complete dick and a drunk.
But this complete dick of a guy lets the role mess with his head. While he’s filming this show, he decides that he’s also going to help solve real crimes, just like the Pulaski he plays – his motto at all times effectively being ‘What Would Pulaski Do?’. And he’s going to drag his wife, Kate Smith (Caroline Langrishe), along for the ride.
Here’s the first few minutes of the first episode to give you an idea of what the show was like. There’ll be more later:
The first episode sees Larry being recruited in real-life by a priest to help a woman find her missing son. Imagining himself as Pulaski, he starts to become heroic, which in time-honoured fashion, makes his wife start to like him again. And for the remaining seven episodes, Summers would find himself coming across crimes and trying to solve them. Interspersed without warning would be clips from the TV show ‘Pulaski’, so viewer would never know exactly when they were watching ‘Pulaski’ or watching Larry Summers pretending to be Pulaski in real life.
As a portrait of Americans, it’s not a flattering one, something common to much of British TV in the 80s (cf Saracen), with Summers unreliable, drunk all day and infantile. And the crimes themselves that Summers had to investigate never lent themselves to too much excitement, part of the show’s argument being that real-life crime is never as exciting as the fictitious crimes depicted in ‘Pulaski’. But the show was funny, it was absolutely impossible to watch Dempsey & Makepeace afterwards since ‘Pulaski’ was an excellent spoof of that show, and there were a fair few guest stars of note (or even future note). Here, for an example, is an entire episode for the benefit of Anthony Head fans:
The show wasn’t popular enough to warrant a second series and there was no real closure by the end: the two stars hadn’t really reconciled and Summers didn’t become an all-round good egg. Nevertheless, Clarke thought there was still life in the central idea. So a couple of years later, he took it to ITV. Naturally, he couldn’t take the whole show with him and ITV wouldn’t have been impressed with a show that mocked one of their own shows, particularly one that hadn’t been on air for a few years. But they did think it warranted a punt.
And thus The World of Eddie Weary was born, in which actor Alex Conway (Ray Brooks of Big Deal) plays the part of ‘Eddie Weary’, a sympathetic, down-at-heel, shabby, Northern, working-class private detective, in an ITV TV show. Except Conway is actually a complete dick in real-life: like Larry Summers, Conway is stuck up, pretentious and selfish, the constant focus of tabloid interest for his bad, usually drunken behaviour. But then he discovers he gets truckloads of mail from fans who think he really is Eddie Weary, asking for his help, so he decides to help them – with the aid of his assistant, Birdie (Celia Imrie).
That pilot movie wasn’t popular enough to warrant a series, so The World of Eddie Weary got no further. There’s also very little video of it still available. But here’s a trailer for it that starts at 4:11 or so.