Soul searching

Dodgy dress sense or decent human values? One half of the 1970s cult cop show ponders the secret of its success
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The Independent Culture
Starsky and Hutch has a lot to answer for. The archetypal 1970s cop series inflicted on us one of the worst fashion disasters the world has ever seen: the white, baggy, wrap-around cardigan. That is just one reason why the programme has been dubbed "the greatest piece of TV kitsch ever produced."

But for David Soul, who played Detective Kenneth "Hutch" Hutchinson (far right), the show gave us much more than an unfortunate wardrobe. "The series unabashedly represented relationships and that sense of `I'd lay my life down for this guy'," he says. "There were moments of tenderness and concern as much as there were frivolous moments and fights and misunderstandings. The show was about friendship.

"Those human values tend to get lost in the day- to-day grind. Starsky and Hutch is a safe place that we've lost on television. It's not just nostalgia, but a good example of what television should be about: relationships. Nowadays, it's about advertising."

To celebrate that feel-good factor (and also to have a good old wallow in nostalgia), Channel 4 are screening a "Starsky and Hutch Night" on Bank Holiday Monday. In the centrepiece documentary, The Word on the Street: Starsky and Hutch Stories, a fan echoes Soul's assessment of the series' popularity, and underlines why, in a recent poll, it was voted the most popular cop show of all time: "It's a love relationship. The two guys actually loved each other. I don't mean that in a sexual way - they're just really good friends. Everybody in their lives looks for a friend they can rely on, who would actually take a bullet for them."

The influence of the series is such that it has been widely credited with inventing the concept - now, sadly, done to death - of the buddy- buddy cop show. "It wasn't a cop show," Soul contends, "it was a show about two people who just happened to be cops. That made it different from other shows at the time, and accounts for its durability."

Soul reckons that a further reason for its continuing popularity - the show was sold to 67 countries, and a trendy nightclub in London is still named after it - is the touching naivety of the characters. Despite such regrettable habits as needlessly rolling over the bonnet of their bright red 1974 Ford Torino, speeding down narrow alleyways knocking over strategically- placed trash-cans and cardboard boxes, and falling for tarts with a heart, the pair always maintained an old-fashioned sense of honour.

According to Soul, that grew out of the actors themselves: "Starksy and Hutch had an innocence about them - principally because Paul [Michael Glaser] and I didn't know what we were doing. We were unaffected people. In the audition, the scene was secondary to what was happening between us. The producers said, `that's it, that's what we want'. Paul and I became the shapers of Starsky and Hutch." The actors remain close, appearing in an emotional reunion recently on stage at the Fridge in Brixton.

Since the halcyon days of Starsky and Hutch, Soul has had what you might call a "mixed" career. He has interspersed making an impassioned documentary about the closure of steel-mills in Pittsburgh with a run as The Narrator in Blood Brothers in New Zealand and canvassing for his old friend Martin Bell at the general election in Tatton. Most famously, he also had a string of hit singles (such as "Don't Give Up On Us Baby" and "Silver Lady") which he will be performing on a nationwide tour next month.

However big a success the tour is, it is unlikely to match the sheer scale of Starsky and Hutch. At the height of the show's popularity in the late 1970s, Soul and Glaser were greeted by 10,000 screaming teenage girls at Heathrow. And they were, no doubt, all wearing white, baggy, wrap-around cardigans.

`Starsky and Hutch Night' is on C4 on Monday. Info on `David Soul in Concert' on 09068 455488

James Rampton