TV Review: The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
By Jeremy Clay
Pour yourself a cocoa. Add a dash of whisky. Sink back in a bubble bath. Make
a real fire and gaze into the leaping flames while cocooned in a 12 tog duvet,
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slurping occasionally from a big bowl of piping-hot broth.
Imagine how warm and fuzzy inside you’d be then. Roughly half as warm and
fuzzy as The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (9pm, BBC1) wants to make you feel.
This sugary adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s sunny-side-up novels is
gentle, undemanding, feelgood TV: a happy-go-lucky show for crappy-go-sucky
A cynic might say it’s little more than a hot Heartbeat, and that you’d find
more depth in a kerbside puddle than in these cutesy adventures of an African
But it would be churlish to pick fault with it. It has a simple ambition to
please; to get you to 10pm without once furrowing your brow and to leave you
with the sensation that at some point in the previous 60 minutes, you managed to
ingest a freshly-filled hot water bottle.
How does it do that? With a happy ending. And a happy beginning. Oh, and a
happy middle too.
Soulstress Jill Scott plays the show’s moral compass, the “traditionally
built” Precious Ramotswe, who’s kindly, determined and self-possessed. A bit like a younger, Botswanan Betty Turpin.
She doesn’t investigate anything nasty. A missing dog. A missing man. A chap
behaving a little oddly. That’s her sort of thing. Even when the missing man
turns out to have been scoffed by a crocodile, the whimsical tone isn’t broken.
She’s aided in her endeavours by a highly-strung secretary, a straight-laced
mechanic who would have seemed almost impossibly punctilious in 1920s Surrey and
a cheeky young scamp who seems to be drawing his acting inspiration from the
It’s all so twee you’d be forgiven for feeling a little queasy.
Transpose the whole thing to Dorset, for instance, and it would be a
But the setting is everything. Botswana’s the real star of the show. The sun
shines. Everyone’s scrupulously polite. Even the baddies seem like goodies. The
Botswanan Tourist Board must be cock-a-hoop.
And in a weekend punctuated by grindingly grim images of poverty and disease,
it was a genuine comic relief to see Africa shown in such a cheery light.