Crafting an exciting and intriguing entry into a genre that has been done to death (sorry) is no mean feat, but Jonathan Creek pulled it off by realising the potential for audience head-slapping that came with the idea of a 'howdunit'.
Jonathan Creek: Originally broadcast on BBC One from May 10, 1997 - April 4, 2010
The BBC series was created by David Renwick after he spotted a gap in the market for a detective show that featured some actual detecting. Jonathan Creek is not really a programme about action. I mean, yes, there's the occasional sprint to safety or standoff with a gun, but the tension comes from watching the titular character painstakingly put together the puzzle, not from an alleyway chase to a dramatic soundtrack.
Part of Creek's charm is that he was often a reluctant hero who would rather use his brilliant mind to work out the technicalities of new magic illusions. Alan Davies, with his straggly curls and very real penchant for duffle coats, was a great fit for the reclusive and antisocial character. He expertly conveyed Jonathan's weariness at constantly being dragged into drama without making the character come across as petulant or unlikeable.
Teaming this awkward, unenthusiastic protagonist with a extroverted and motivated female sidekick was something of a masterstroke. For the first three series, this role was filled by Maddie (Caroline Quentin), an investigate journalist with a deceptive streak and a dry wit. Julia Sawalha's wide-eyed television presenter Carla took over between 2001 and 2004 and Sheridan Smith came on board for the 2009 and 2010 specials as Joey, a young paranormal investigator.
The joy is that the companions are often the ones pushing Creek into solving the cases and yet, like the audience, are completely in the dark about how the crime was committed. Naturally, this often makes their relationship a strained one, with Creek taking out on them his resentment at having to solve everyone's problems again while the women grow frustrated at being stumped by things that he is not.
Despite this, all three of the companions do have respect and admiration for Creek and a genuine friendship with him. It's all light-hearted taunts and tutting at their vast differences in profession, character and outlook. Whoever he's working with, Jonathan's connection with his assistant is the heart of the show.
But the main meat is of course the mysteries... and boy are they head scratchers. Every episode of Jonathan Creek centres around a seemingly impossible crime or occurrence, often rooted in something supernatural.
We're talking murders in locked rooms, people caught in explosions being seen perfectly healthy hours later, priceless artefacts disappearing in front of numerous witnesses - genius set-ups which genuinely do seem unsolvable.
This writer doesn't mind admitting that I have never been able to just work out a Jonathan Creek mystery off the bat - and I know I'm not alone. But that's the fun of the show, because there is a solution and it will be outlined in full by Jonathan at the end of the episode, guaranteed. And it won't be a phoned-in answer either. The clues were always presented to us, fair and square, it's just they were so insignificant and banal that only Jonathan, through sheer rationality and a knowledge of how to make the ordinary extraordinary, was able to see it.
Because of this, the reveals in Jonathan Creek are so much more satisfying than in most of your other detective series. When watching some fictional character fish out a murderer, there can be a sense of "so what?". You can close your eyes, point at the screen and end up picking the culprit from its finite list of suspects. With Jonathan Creek, there are no boundaries to the mystery. They're deliberately intimidating, so when the answer is revealed, you feel truly enlightened.
Also unique to the show is a sort of curious injection of fun. There's a significant comedy presence here - David Renwick created One Foot In The Grave before Jonathan Creek, Alan Davies is a comedian and Quentin, Sawalha and Smith were all alums of popular sitcoms (Men Behaving Badly, Absolutely Fabulous and Two Pints).
Aside from the mysteries, that were really more whimsical than gritty, there were lighthearted B-stories about Jonathan's romantic encounter with a bald female tax inspector, his run in with his fan club and the recurring misadventures of shoddy magician Adam Klaus (Stuart Milligan).
The mix of murder and mirth was very much deliberate. The show was produced by the BBC's entertainment department, not its drama department, and guest stars again came from the comedy world - Bob Monkhouse, Griff Rhys Jones, Rik Mayall, Jack Dee and Bill Bailey are among those who appeared. The big names and the surprisingly big laughs in Jonathan Creek opened up the show, and the genre, to a wider audience than ever before.
Oh, and how I could forget the theme tune? That incredible theme tune? That alone is worthy of an entry in Tube Talk Gold.
Did you watch Jonathan Creek? Would you like to see it back? Leave your comments below!