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TV Private Detectives

When asking the question – Who was the best TV private detective of all time? – we first need to understand why the world of private detectives has always been an area of fascination for many.

Private detective shows shouldn’t be confused with police dramas – in fact the role of the private detective in both fictional TV shows and the real world is very different to the role of the police force.

Often portrayed in TV shows as working unharmoniously together for the greater good, private detectives are privately hired professionals who, just the same as the real world, have more freedom to investigate certain cases.

Where police detectives are bound by red tape as to what they can and can’t investigate, private investigators can delve deep into a case, within the confines of the law, often to then hand over information to the police force in order for a criminal investigation to proceed.

The secret missions, clandestine behaviour and achingly cool leading men and women is what makes this genre of television so encapsulating and enthralling to the viewer.

However, the way private investigators are portrayed and the actions they take when investigating a case are often highly dramatised and unrealistic, giving the industry a halo of suspicion when it comes to appointing a private detective in the real world. It can also be difficult for those hiring a private investigator to know what is and isn’t allowed.

Here at Insight Investigations we’re big fans of a good private investigator show and so we asked our operations team who their favourite TV private detectives have been over the years.

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple

Although not technically a private investigator, Agatha Christie’s fictional character Miss Marple had to kick start our list given the longevity of her character and dozens of remakes using the consulting detective as the central character. Miss Marple always seemed to be at the right place when a crime had occurred and would assist the police with their investigations, often having more astute observations than the detectives themselves.

Murder She Wrote

Another female private detective with real staying power on UK and American television screens is the much-loved Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote. Although not based on Miss Marple the show has startling similarities, with a tenacious, dogged female ‘consulting detective’, and also bestselling crime novelist, who was always on hand to help police detectives crack the case.

Remington Steele

An 80s classic again with another female private investigator at the heart of the narrative. Laura Holt, a highly qualified private investigator opens up her agency only to find that prospective clients simply won’t hire a woman despite how experienced and trained she is (how times have changed). Laura solves her ‘optics’ issue by creating a pseudonym Remington Steele, only for the identify to be assumed by former conman and thief played by Pierce Brosnan. The series follows the power struggle between the two protagonists as they also embark on a casual romantic relationship.

Magnum PI

Tom Selleck played Thomas Magnum, a former United Sates Navy Seal who swapped his uniform for a red Ferrari working as a private investigator for the elusive Robin Masters in Hawaii. A firm favourite the world over, Magnum PI graced TV screens on its first run from 1980 to 1988 and regularly ranked in the top 20 US television programmes in its first five years. Perhaps the show’s success was down to being set on a luscious 200-acre beachfront estate called Robin’s Nest combined with the camaraderie seen between Magnum and his trusty sidekicks Higgins, T.C and Rick.

The show has recently returned to screens with Jay Hernandez, of Friday Night Lights fame, playing the iconic Thomas Magnum. Well worth a watch whether you’ve never seen Magnum PI before or you’re a die-hard Magnum fan. The question is who’s the better Magnum – Selleck or Hernandez?

Agatha Raisin

A newer addition to the top TV detective shows of all time is Agatha Raisin. Hitting screens in 2014, the show centres around a former PR consultant from London who moves to a sleepy village where she quickly becomes the resident sleuth helping solve the rather imaginative murders. Agatha often finds herself at loggerheads with the local police force who don’t always appreciate her assistance, yet always manages to crack the case. Despite the often unbelievable storylines, Agatha Raisin is a light hearted, incredibly entertaining show with another female detective taking centre stage. Although be warned, in the real world professional private investigators are the polar opposite to ‘Aggy’.


Sherlock is one of the most iconic private detectives of all time, most famously played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC TV series which was met with critical acclaim. Based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, the TV series is set in modern day London but has a feeling of Victorian fantasy as the stories unfold. Martin Freeman plays Sherlock’s trusty sidekick John Watson and the crime fighting duo take on only the most fascinating of cases which pique Sherlock’s sharp and intense thinking. Throughout the series you see the lead character employ a memory technique invited by the ancient Greeks which enables him to unpick the person stood opposite him with intimate detail and ultimately find a way through the most complex of cases.


Strike, created by the author of Harry Potter, JK Rowling, is of all the private detective shows the most believable……but even then there’s some boundaries that Strike and his partner Robin cross which simply wouldn’t happen in the real world. The series follows Cormoran Strike, a private investigator who previously worked in the Special Investigations Branch as an investigator. The war veteran uses his unique training within the British military and government agencies to assist individuals in complex cases where the police are unable to assist or have been unable to progress.

Although this show bears some similarities to the real world, the truth is that no TV series really shows the truth of what the professional investigation industry in the UK is like.

Our Head of Operations Tony Smith, was a consultant writer on the TV detective series “Nice Guy Eddie” which was loosely based on his work as a private investigator in Liverpool in the 80s.

In reality, UK Private Investigators are highly trained professionals who have spent many years perfecting their trade and who operate strictly within a code of ethics and also within the UK data protection law.

The ‘caricature’ of a private detective, created by TV execs in the name of ratings isn’t a true representation of the hard working, dedicated individuals who make up the industry.

If you have a situation that you’d like to discuss with one of our investigators during a free consultation, you can contact the team on the number below or via our contact us form 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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