Simon Hoggart

Senior moments

New Tricks (BBC1); Mutual Friends (BBC1); Masterchef: the Professionals (BBC1)

Time to pay tribute to New Tricks, which ended its most recent run on BBC1 this Monday. The penultimate episode had 8.9 million viewers, which meant that more people watched it that night than Coronation Street. It has a good claim to be the most popular programme on television.

All of this brings much satisfaction. For one thing, New Tricks is everything a TV marketing man hates. It is about older people. It probably appeals to older people. Marketing men have a set of beliefs which are quite as irrational as any cult religion. One is that only young people are worth advertising to, since they are crazed neo-philiacs and can be persuaded to switch brands, whether of cars, cook-in sauce or toilet cleansers. By contrast, old people are set in their ways and no amount of advertising will shift their buying habits. This is piffle — the over-40s are every bit as likely to experiment as anyone else, and generally have more money too. But that is contrary to professional dogma and so is ignored.

You might wonder why BBC executives should worry so much about these matters when they carry no advertising. But the BBC is itself a brand, and we viewers are presumed to be too stupid to change channels once we have found the button marked ‘1’. The consultants’ mantras insist that the only worthwhile audience is a young audience, which can be tied to the Beeb by hoops of steel.

Then along comes New Tricks and proves them totally, joyfully wrong. It is not a great series, just a very good one. The plots are ludicrously complicated, so that by the end you are likely to be totally lost. Five minutes after it’s finished, you’ve forgotten whodunit.

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