The Chinese Detective
BBC 1981 - 1982
TX : 30th April 1981
Director : Ian Toynton
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : Alan Ford (Jack Arthur Bross), Roger Bizley (Jimmy Mellor), Dorothy White (Daria Lejeune), Peter Joyce (The Hospital Registrar), Mike Lewin (Sergeant Wicks), Shirley Stelfox (Arlene), Jack Le White (Old Harry Rose), Venecia Day (Rose's Secretary), P H Moriarty (Rose), John Bott (Detective Chief Superintendent Halsey), Robert Lee (Joe Ho), Ahmed Khalil (Jamshid Kamal), Allan Surtees (Ex-Detective Chief Inspector Marley Harris) and Sarah Lam (Mei).

Publicity : The Chinese Connection - John Ho is a Detective Sergeant in London's East End. He doesn't look like a cop: he's quiet, he's a longer, and his background is Chinese. But looks can deceive. He's tough and he's remorseless. And he's the hero of BBC-1's new thriller series. David Yip, who plays the character, talks to Lesley Thornton: Looking Chinese and being English, David Yip has had to face a problem that many Britons who are the children of immigrants have to face.

"Externally you are one thing. Inside you are a different thing," he says. David Yip's father is Chinese, his mother English. He was born and brought up in working-class Liverpool, and when he was a little boy he was never conscious of being different. "Liverpool is a melting-pot. I was a real Scouse - one of the lads. My schoolmates were all colours, all Scouse. Only in my teens I began to notice the odd remark and I realized that there were two me's. A lot of kids of my generation go through this". Now he is an actor, lives in London, in Shepherd's bush, and speaks English without an accent. He is slight, gently spoken, casually dressed in corduroy trousers and cable-stitch cardi. He sits at a round pine table in his cosy low-ceilinged flat, all beige and brown and olivey green and shelves full of books - Michael Foot on Bevan, The Palestinians, The Impressionists - and talks about John Ho, the Chinese detective he plays in BBC-1's new series. Like Yip, Ho is one of the second generation, but both his parents are Chinese and he was born and brought up in the Chinese community of the East End of London. He joins the police in an effort to break out, define his identity.

David Yip is very excited about the part: "I can understand his feelings". The Chinese community is a very tight one, says Yip. It is also, he thinks, complacent and placid. The people are self-disciplined and so, traditionally, is the community. It has kept its crime, as well as itself, to itself. "Chinese crime has always been internal. There is illegal gambling, opium-smoking and so on, but for the Chinese themselves. Historically the police have not had much to do with them". John Andrew Ho, the Chinese detective, is twenty-five, a Detective Sergeant in Limehouse, the fog-draped haunt of sinister Chinese villains in Victorian novels. Yip wandered about there before work began on the series. "The dock area reminded me of Liverpool. The people look stunned. It has a dying smell". In fact, despite talk of the need for minority representation, height restrictions tend to keep the Chinese out of the police. "But there must be at least one Chinese policeman in London," says David Yip. "I saw him on the news when they showed the Chinese New Year celebrations in Gerrard Street". John Ho is trying to find himself outside the strict rules of the Chinese community he was born to. "I think he suddenly said one day: `I'm a Londoner, too'". Ho has another reason for joining the police, a mission connected with his father's part which is revealed in the first episode of the series.

He is totally determined, but also quiet and gentle: far from the classic macho detective of television. His thoughts, background and reactions are quite different from those of his police colleagues - he is, inevitably, an outsider. The Chinese detective lives alone. So does David Yip, at the moment. One of a large family, it's a new and exhilarating experience for him. He is now separated from his wife, but remains friendly with her. Yip, who is twenty-nine, is in fact one of eight children. He became an actor by accident. He did nothing at school but play football, he says. But he did pass his eleven-plus, thrilling his father, a seaman, who wanted his children to do well. "The Chinese have this intense desire to make something of themselves, to succeed," says Yip, who doesn't feel her has inherited it. After he left school, at sixteen, he got a job as a shipping clerk on the railways. "The work was neither hard nor detestable," he comments. He spent his lunchtimes browsing in the big library in the centre of Liverpool. "One day I went to the drama section and started reading Waiting For Godot. It blew my mind".

Thereafter he read and read plays. Then Yip decided to see what a play was like on stage. His first was The Two Gentlemen Of Verona: "I didn't understand the story but it was amazing. They were doing their thing". So he decided he would like to work in the theatre; not act, that had not yet occurred to him. He got total support from his parents, although it meant the loss of a job and prospects and a fifty percent drop in salary - and he was contributing to the family finances. He started off as assistant stage manager at the Neptune Theatre in Liverpool. Later he went to the E15 acting school in Essex, attached to Joan Littlewood's theatre. For any actor getting work is hard. For one who isn't white, it is a lot harder. Yip has been acting for eight years. He resolved to fight for any and all parts; he has, he says, been lucky. He worked at the Young Vic for thirteen months, and well remembers playing Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet. "When I made my first entrance every night I'd hear a ripple run through the kids in the audience: "But he's Chinese!".

As the play went on, they grew to like me and I got a few laughs. David Yip feels very strongly about British casting traditions. He is on the Afro-Asian committee of the actor's union Equity, which has been fighting for integrated casting on merit for years. "People will say it's not realistic to have a black man playing a white. Then you get white actors blacking up - Othello, for example. In On The Buses the characters were all white - public transport would come to a halt without blacks. A point the committee has made about the subsidised theatres is that non-whites are paying their taxes, too, to support them: "What are they doing to reflect society?". Kids who are black or any other colour need fictional images to relate to. And actors, Yip feels, are themselves powerful images in our society. But progress has been made. This new series could not have been made, Yip says, even three years ago. He was thrilled when he read the pilot script.

"I've sat here thinking, `I'm not getting the parts, should I write something? What would I write?'. I just shook at the way Ian Kennedy Martin - a white guy - had caught everything I dreamed about". David Yip has thought a lot about what being Chinese means. "I have come to the conclusion - not an original one - that the Chinese are everyone's favourite foreigner. They are hardworking. No matter where they go, they become businessmen and lock in with the community". As an adult, he tried to learn Chinese - they always spoke English at home - but he is not very good at languages. He has been to the Far East; his first walk through Singapore was a revelation. "I was with four friends and people were looking at them as foreigners," he says. "I knew how you, for example, feel on the streets out there". Yip also went to China, to Canton where his father was born. "When the plane landed I was in tears. I felt I beloned, yet I didn't belong". Although most of his attitudes are Western, David Yip can see certain Chinese qualities in himself. "There is the passivity, the compliance which I, at least, see in Chinese people. I am very patient, like my father - when they get mad a lot of Chinese don't explode. There's a stillness. The Chinese detective in this series takes many blows - moral and emotional, not physical - if he was more demonstrative and let things out more, it would be better. He does have a wonderful sense of humour - humour is the Chinese outlet. But their humour is weird. I don't understand it". (Radio Times, April 25, 1981 - Article by Lesley Thornton).

Synopsis : A released prisoner, a smashed window and a terrified wife. Detective Sergeant John Ho discovers that past crimes breed present strife and future violent.

Notes :
Episodes were originally transmitted 9:30pm to 10:20pm on BBC 1 on Thursday evenings. Music for the series was provided by Harry South.

Hammer And Nails
TX : 7th May 1981
Director : Terry Green
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : Matthew Scurfield (Detective Inspector Gratton), Dickie Richards (The Drug Squad Inspector), Keith Hodiak (The West Indian Club Member), John Bott (Detective Chief Superintendent Halsey), Leslie Sarony (Mr Prince), David Sibley (Derek), Larrington Walker (Ezra), Paul Satvender (The Indian Chess Player), Vincent Wong (Mr Hong), Ray Mort (The Polish Caretaker), Johnny Shannon (The Butcher), Helen Keating (Sandra Beatty), Brian Croucher (Jack Managan), John Judd (Roy Kinnock), Tony Barton (The Club Compere), Brian Dee (The Club Organist), Peter Quince (The Motorcyclist), James Marcus (Charlie), Steve Gardner (Terry), Terry Downes (The Villain) and Donald MacIver (George Mallinson).

Synopsis : The murder of a Chinese club owner sets John Ho in the middle of a gangland struggle for power - and into the bad books of Chief Inspector Berwick.

The Four From Fulham
TX : 14th May 1981
Director : Terry Green
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Synopsis : Mr Hong holds the key to a big prize which the Fulham gang are desperate to win. John Ho observes them all - and witnesses the evil result of ambition and greed. With Vincent Wong (Mr Hong).

Income Tax
TX : 21st May 1981
Director : Ian Toynton
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast :
Lee Montague (Reg Purnell), Nicholas McArdle (David Melvyn), Yvonne Brewster (Patel's Secretary), Renu Setna (Mr Patel), Mark Buffrey (The Car Salesman), Ishia Bennison (The Consulate Receptionist), Jacob Witkin (Mr Shamal), Bill Treacher (The Bus Driver), Kenneth Gilbert (Sergeant Porritt), Dicken Ashworth (The Large Man), Jenny Cox (Natalie Karl) and Marc Zuber (Sheik Ahmed Mahmoud).

Synopsis : When a villain puts dishonesty behind him, he doesn't want to be reminded of his past by the tax man - or by the tenacious John Ho.

TX : 28th May 1981
Director : Tom Clegg
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : Fiesta Mei-Ling (Anna Wo), Fred Lee-Owen (Chung Ling), Frank Coda (Detective Sergeant Carrier), Hi Ching (The First Son), Frankie Au (The Second Son), Eric Kent (Sergeant Ellerton), Larrington Walker (Ezra), Joycea Gobern (The Girl In The Club), Robert Lee (Joe Ho), Kay Tong Lim (Scarface), Frank Lee (The Head Porter), Chua Kah Joo (Li Wo), Susan Twist (The Receptionist) and Philip Tan (The Chinese Villain).

Synopsis : John Ho becomes involved in a complex Chinese puzzle - and goes into hospital to take care of a patient.

Ice And Dust
TX : 4th June 1981
Director : Tom Clegg
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : Peter Schofield (Detective Chief Inspector Maunsell), Peter Dean (Greg), Michael Melia (Milner), Roger Sloman (Roger Horrabin), Allan Surtees (Ex-Detective Chief Inspector Marley-Harris), Ian Hendry (Eddie Dwyer), Larrington Walker (Ezra), Diana Malin (Ellen), Robert Lee (Joe Ho) and Paul Barber (Ned).

Synopsis : John Ho plays for high stakes when he gambles his own life to accomplish his personal mission.

TX : 10th September 1982
Director : Ian Toynton
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : Maurice Denham (Edward Ruthven), Harold Reese (The Court Usher), Robert Lee (Jo Ho), Stephen Whymet (The Police Constable), Richard Rees (Doctor David Li), Nat Jackley (Rex Madden), Allan Surtees (Ex-Detective Chief Inspector Marley-Harris), John Kidd (The Judge), John Rowe (The Prosecuting Counsel), Frank Gatliff (The Defence Counsel), Rosemary Smith (The Court Clerk), Pamela Manson (The Landlady), Tony Melody (Mr Morris), Jacqui Chain (Mei), Alexander John (The Desk Sergeant) and Neil Hallett (Mr Fisher).

Publicity : "You've Got To Think Villain" - John Ho, Dockland's unorthodox "Chinese Detective", returns to BBC-1 for a further series of confrontations with East End crime and with his boss, Chief Inspector Berwick. The two adversaries, in real life David Yip and Derek Martin, helped Richard Smith with his inquiries: "The non-violence of the character, not macho - he thinks a bit and doesn't always win: it strikes me as very real and very true," says David Yip of his role as Sergeant John Ho in the downbeat police series The Chinese Detective. In the first series, Ho nicked the retired bent copper who framed his father, a piece of policing which, combined with Ho's unorthodox approach, upset his superiors, particularly Detective Chief Inspector Berwick, played by Derek Martin.

"He's got a down on Ho anyway because of the ethnic thing," says Martin of his part. The Chinese Detective is based in Limehouse. The drama takes place in the urban decay of London's East End, Martin's own manor. He grew up in Mile End and Stepney. "In the war, we got bombed out twice," he says. "In Limehouse, in the shelters, I was brought up on Chinese: we'd get a bowl of chop suey". David Yip worked as a shipping clerk in Liverpool before attending drama school in East London. "I'm half-Chinese," he says, "and the trap I could fall into is being typecast as Chinese. So, for the first four years or so, I concentrated on theatre to learn my trade. I worked at the Old Vic, the RSC, and Chichester. The problem with reps is that, being an ethnic actor, you don't fit into all the parts". Yip moved into television with parts in Doctor Who and Quatermass. "When I read the script for The Chinese Detective," he says, "I knew that this was the part. As an actor, it has given me consistency of work and confidence". "I've done the rep of life," says Derek Martin, now celebrating twenty years as an actor. "Motor-racing, scrap-metal, villainy, Smithfield, gambling, and building sites. I did my National Service in the RAF Police - a `snowdrop'. In 1954, the day meat came off ration, I went to work in Smithfield. And I gambled for a living before I came into the business. In 1958, I was doing one bet a week, a `oner'. I was always in love with the business. When I was a kid, I used to nick lead, so I could go to the cinema. I was in love with films. Last year, I did Ragtime with James Cagney. It was marvellous to listen to him talk. Here was a bloke - I could so easily have become a villain through watching him at the cinema when I was kid".

Derek Martin is five feet ten, relaxed, and witty. Yet he can fill the screen with menace. Since his starring role in Law And Order, as the appalling Inspector Pyall, he tends to be typecast in the role of a heavy copper. "People say I look more like Old Bill than Old Bill," he says. "Coppers ask me if I'm in the job: I say I help 'em out if they're busy. After Law And Order, I went to a match at Chelsea: it was boos and hisses all round. At the races, the `faces' would come up and say, `Great, you got those no good bastards right'. I'd go into a boozer and someone would say, `What you doing talking to him?'". In The Chinese Detective Martin draws on his East End background: "You've got to think villain," he says. "Set a thief to catch a thief, to my way of thinkiung, else how do you suss a villain? I spent a fortnight in Limehouse researching the part," says David Yip, "and what struck me was the strong similarity with the area of Liverpool where I'd grown up". In this environment, crime thrives but the perpetrators are pursued by Sergeant Ho. "Ho is relentless," says Yip. "He works extra hours without needing to. He's stubborn. I felt a tremendous sympathy and understanding with the character. He feels that in the police force there should be someone who reflects his thinking. You see, Chinese of my generation are breaking away from working in restaurants and take-aways: they're becoming solicitors, accountants, and actors, even policemen". (Radio Times, September 4, 1982 - Article by Richard Smith).

Synopsis :
On the first day of the Old Bailey trial the last thing John Ho needs is a call from his boss, Berwick, let alone a couple of OAPs, a twelve-bore shotgun and a fleet of three-wheelers.

Notes :
Episodes were originally transmitted 9:30pm to 10:20pm on BBC 1 on Friday evenings.

TX : 17th September 1982
Director : Terence Williams
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : Alan Ford (Jack Bross), Eddie Tagoe (Prince Majesty), Troy Foster (Eli), Dana Michie (Hatman), Merdelle Jordine (Myra), Lucienne Camille (Alliss), Ray Marioni (The Italian), John Savident (Don Lidell), John Michael McCarthy (Roy), Robert Russell (Eric Leggatt), Paul Antrim (Chief Inspector Seddon), Richard Rees (Doctor David Li), Michael Barrington (Chief Superintendent Nuttall), Albert Moses (Mr Patel), Larrington Walker (Ezra), Robert Lee (Joe Ho), Stephen Lawrence (The Foreman), Barry Smith (The First Doctor), John Graham (The Hotel Manager), Eugene Geasley (Paddy Mack), Helen Gold (The Second Doctor) and Rom Emslie (Detective Sergeant George Whatley).

Synopsis : "Viral pneumonia! Ten days horizontal and no going out," said Doctor Li. But a visit from informer Jack Bross rouses John Ho from his sickbed.

Wheels Within Wheels
TX : 24th September 1982
Director : David Green
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : Rudolph Walker (Terence Villiers), George Sewell (Jack Longman), Rosemary Martin (Greta Longman), Brian Coburn (Smith), Philip Dunbar (Mr Elderton), Richard Rees (Doctor David Li), Carrie Jones (Dora), Kate West (Elizabeth), Keith James (Pete) and Larrington Walker (Ezra).

Synopsis : Jack Longman's good with figures. But a stolen Mercedes and one of his ledgers set John Ho on course for yet another result. Though not the one he had in mind.

TX : 1st October 1982
Director : Ian Toynton
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : Edward Hardwicke (Detective Chief Inspector Lowell), Bryan Marshall (George Bourne), Marc Gilbey (Tommy Mancey), Ben Howard (Dave Mancey), Charles Cork (Bernard Hailey), Terry Cowling (Higgins), Sam Cox (The Epping Detective), Joseph Iles (Ollie Covill), Leslie York (Elton Morley), John Bott (Detective Chief Superintendent Halsey), Ron Emslie (Detective Sergeant George Whatley), Linda Marlowe (Greta Mancey), Alexander John (The Desk Sergeant), Pam St Clement (Aunt Daisy), Larrington Walker (Ezra), Malcolm Fredericks (The Man In The Club) and David Auker (Sergeant Western).

Synopsis :
A mother's cry for help sends John Ho in search of a missing boy. With his tapshoes and cassette player Tommy Mancey's no ordinary kid. But then John Ho's no ordinary cop.

Bounty Hunter
TX : 15th October 1982
Director : Laurence Moody
Script : Eddie Boyd

Cast :
Maurice Roeves (Halliday), John Horsley, David Bannerman and Heather Page.

Synopsis : When a Glaswegian gunfighter rides into Limehouse there's blood on the streets. But Doc Halliday's fantasies have a way of exploding in other people's faces, as John Ho finds out...

TX : 22nd October 1982
Director : Jeremy Summers
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : George Baker, Derren Nesbitt, Roy Scammell and Valentine Palmer.

Synopsis :
Jack Balfe is a connoisseur. He is also a fence. When he wants distinguished tenor Robert Tear to sing at his daughter's 21st, no one, least of all John Ho, is going to prevent it...

TX : 29th October 1982
Director : Leonard Lewis
Script : Eddie Boyd

Cast : Kenneth Gardiner, John Collin, Peter Copley, Richard Rees (Doctor David Li), Troy Foster and Patsy Smart.

Synopsis :
Routine searches don't appeal to John Ho. Nor does an irritable Berwick. When a pile of bones is found in a derelict's house, Ho sees his chance to escape.

Secret State
TX : 5th November 1982
Director : Brian Lighthill
Script : Ian Kennedy Martin

Cast : Tony Caunter, Paul Antrim, Patrick Malahide, Maurice O'Connell, Anna Wing, Michael Robbins and Chris Webb.

Synopsis :
A fatal shooting with no corpse and the only witnesses an old lady and her budgies! A typical Ho case! That's until other parties begin to show an interest...

Portrayed By
Detective Sergeant John Ho
David Yip
Detective Sergeant Chegwyn
Arthur Kelly
Chief Inspector Berwick
Derek Martin

The series was devised and created by Ian Kennedy Martin. The series was produced by Terence Williams. Story Editors for the series were Joan Clark (Series 1) and Antony Root (Series 2)

Devised and created by prolific writer Ian Kennedy Martin, who was already responsible for the enormously popular ITV series The Sweeney, The Chinese Detective marked the first time a Chinese actor was cast in the leading role of a series on British Television.

David Yip was cast as Detective Sergeant John Ho, a role which was essentially modelled on the internationally successful Charlie Chan character from the popular films of the 1930s.

A maverick detective who doesn't play the rules and uses his connections within the Asian community to solve cases, Ho was hardly mould-breaking (Jack Regan was certainly a more successful and readily likeable character), yet the casting of Yip enabled greater accessibility to the character for audiences, as the actor bore a resonating Cockney accent and was understandable (as opposed to the concerns expressed by network chiefs that the programme would feature a character who could barely string two words together intelligibly).

Fortunately, Kennedy Martin saw no need to firmly ladle the programme's content with racial stereotypes and this enabled the entire racial "issue" to be circumvented in favour of strong, enthralling storylines which kept the audience returning week after week (albeit for two seasons, at any rate). Chinese tradition and culture featured in the series, but was never over-played much to the programme makers' credit.

The programme took as its starting-point Ho's pursuit of the party or parties responsible for the death of his father, and although the denouement of the first season would draw these threads together tidily to reveal the identity of the culprit, other cases took precedence so as to ensure a fresh case each week with this on-going investigation running in parallel.

Supporting cast consisted of a strong performance from Derek Martin as Chief Inspector Berwick, and Arthur Kelly as Detective Sergeant Chegwyn.

The series attracted criticism from the police force, who claimed that racism did not exist in the modern "Met" (a resounding cry the Metropolitan Police Force issues every decade - the same force that embraces the catchphrase "If you can't take a joke, you shouldn't have joined").

However, The Chinese Detective was not a programme to reflect a sanitised version of the police force, and never shied away from representing racism and other pressures faced by officers from an ethnic minority - another considerable strength of the series (and a point of high praise later afforded to Geoff McQueen's The Bill, albeit in its early seasons).

The programme enjoyed a television tie-in novelisation, but has never been commercially exploited. Exported worldwide, The Chinese Detective failed to pave the way for actors of ethnic minorities to secure leading roles in programmes (though the tide is slowly turning), but the impact the series made cannot failed to be acknowledged, and the programme is well-remembered by audiences.

The series was produced by Terence Williams, with writing contributions from Eddie Boyd (in conjunction with Kennedy Martin) and directorial responsibilities were handled by experienced hands Ian Tounton, Tom Clegg and Laurence Moody amongst others.

Text © Matthew Lee 2004.