Box clever: Sisters in law

Helen Baxendale's Cordelia Gray is the latest recruit to the growing number of feisty female television detectives

Detection on television has traditionally been a well-fortified male castle which lets its draw-bridge down to admit women only with the deepest reluctance. For every Jane Tennison, there have been myriad Morses, Taggarts, Dalgleishs and Frosts. But now a regiment of women - none of them monstrous - seems to be besieging the male stronghold.

Hetty Wainthrop Investigates (with Patricia Routledge), Beck (Amanda Redman), Silent Witness (Amanda Burton), and Anna Lee (Imogen Stubbs), all feature female, post-Prime Suspect detectives by any other name, who often outwit slower male colleagues in solving crimes. They are now going to be joined on this ever-expanding beat by Helen Baxendale, who plays private eye Cordelia Gray in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, ITV's new three-part adaptation of the PD James novel.

The very title of the piece suggests that the business of crime-busting is no place for the female of the species, but James disagrees. A fiercely intelligent interviewee, she concedes that "detection has always been a male preserve. Some women can feel ill-at-ease with what is, by tradition, a masculine world. But women make good detectives. They are conscientious about detail and far less gullible than men. They are quicker to tell if someone is lying. They are more likely to say about a suspect, `Oh yes? He would say that, wouldn't he?' It's harder to pull the wool over a woman's eyes.

"Very often women have an extra intuitive sense, and it's easier for them to get information out of people," James continues. "But I don't like dividing these things up, as though all the intuition is on one side and all your sex has got is brute force. I've known men who are very intuitive - though maybe not in the police force," she adds with a laugh.

Baxendale, a woman on the verge of stardom after her performances in Cardiac Arrest, Truth or Dare and Cold Feet, brings her independence of mind to the role of Cordelia. When the snooty PA of a potential client tells her: "You do understand that he's quite capable of not offering you the job," Cordelia snaps back without batting an eyelid: "I hope you understand that I'm quite capable of not accepting it."

Having been left the business by a boss who committed suicide, Cordelia is determined to follow his last words to her: "Always trust your instinct, always listen to your inner voice." She may be making her way in the world without the help of any men, but that doesn't make her a man-eater. "Cordelia isn't a ball-breaker," observes Colin Ludlow, the producer of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. "Helen has already played that par excellence in Cardiac Arrest. Jane Tennison is determined to outdo men at their own game, but that isn't Cordelia's game. She has Girl Power in terms of no longer having to define herself by male role-models."

As for Baxendale, she is just delighted that TV 'tecs have progressed from the not-too distant past when their sole role was to make tea and simper for their stressed-out male bosses. Dressed in a neat pinstripe jacket, Baxendale asserts that "there are still far more male detectives, but it has moved on. Women are getting a fantastic opportunity because they are half the population and people want to see them on television doing what they do in life. Lots of women have responsible, high-powered jobs, and television is mirroring that, thank God. I've been lucky to play women like that, and not just victims and easily-manipulated little things."

There seems little danger that our thirst for detective dramas will be slaked. James, habitually described as the "doyenne" of crime-writers, explains the appeal. "We like a story, and too often in highly-regarded novels, which we plod through and which win the Booker Prize, we don't get much plot. Detective stories bring order out of disorder. There is a logical solution to a problem - and that is comforting and satisfying. It also distances our fear of death and violence. Finally, it affirms our belief that we live in a moral and rational universe."

According to Baxendale, the explanation is much simpler. Telly 'tecs continue to be popular because "we get to see the sordid side of life, run around in a fast car, and have a big gun. That's what I like about them, anyway."

`An Unsuitable Job for a Woman' starts on ITV at 9pm on Friday

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: We are currently looking for a Geog...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

    Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

    Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee