Dated or Delightful? ‘A Touch of Frost’

David Jason as DI Jack Frost (Photo: ITV Productions and Yorkshire Television) 

It’s time to examine another British series from the past – this one being a long running detective program that debuted almost a quarter of a century ago.  ITV launched A Touch of Frost in the UK in 1992 and later the A&E channel broadcast it in the US. Based, at least in the beginning, on the Frost novels of R.D Wingfield, the show ran fifteen seasons and ended in 2010 when Jason David decided to quit the lead role due to the fact that real detectives have to retire at 60 and he was approaching 70 years of age.

Up to this point, Jason was renowned for his work in classic sitcoms such as Only Fools and Horses and Open All Hours and for cartoon voice-overs, notably Danger Mouse. Taking on the role of the empathetic yet flawed DI William “Jack” Frost changed the public’s notion of David as solely a comedic actor. 

DI Frost investigates murders, abductions, and other wrong doings perpetrated in Denton, a gritty fictional South Midlands town. Though employed in a job that requires concentration and nerve, Jack unleashes his inner child by giving his guv Superintendent Mullet (Bruce Alexander) as much aggravation as he can get away with.

As in most episodic detective dramas, we follow the police officer through multiple criminal inquiries. He will inevitably take a few wrong turns before finally solving the cases in a tidy and satisfying manner. Along the way, there are a few personal issues to be dealt with. For example in the very first episode, Frost loses his wife to cancer and the remainder of the series shows him dealing with the fallout of a troubled marriage.

After watching five hour and forty-five minute episodes, I have to declare A Touch of Frost…delightful.

Here’s why:

The horrible sax music heard intermittently in the background aside; there aren’t that many distracting 90’s elements. Sure, I spied a Thriller-era poster of Michael Jackson on a child’s bedroom wall. The cars are of a certain period I suppose as are the hairstyles and the cut of the detectives’ suits. Some of the officers do have computers at the station where Frost works, but give it eight or nine series and I’m sure mobile phones will be common on-screen as well.

Of more consequence and a sign of the times was a storyline with a single mother whose daughter had gone missing.  Frost figured out that she wore a wedding ring and called herself Mrs. Uphill so her neighbors wouldn’t think her a loose woman (which she was, to earn money to supplement her part-time job.) 

However, what makes A Touch of Frost still feel compelling is three-fold.

1. The issues Frost and his colleagues deal with are still relevant to society twenty-five years hence. In the episodes I watched there were concerns about race relations, drugs, elder abuse and the way the upper echelons of the police play the politics game sometimes with extreme prejudice. Unfortunately, despite all our efforts, these very human problems remain something to which we can relate.

2. My feeling about telly detectives is that if he/she isn’t distinctive, a series won’t hold my attention. DI Frost is nothing if not a unique individual.  He’s not a by-the-book copper, exactly. He fabricates lies (or “porkies as he likes to call them) to draw out the truth from suspects. Frost has also been known to plant evidence at least once when his developed sense of intuition needed to be put to the test. He shuns paperwork and assigns it to whoever his underling of the week may be. In five episodes, our challenging DI has been assigned five different constables or sergeants.

On the other hand, Jack is more often than not empathetic to the plight of the common man or woman of Denton. He’s dedicated to the job, but doesn’t care about promotions and being in his superiors’ good graces. He’s about solving the case and getting justice for the victims. Jason’s Frost is an engaging character to watch and you want to root for him despite his flaws.

3. Finally, detective shows are fertile ground for get-noticed roles if you’re talented enough to make the most of it. The aforementioned parade of assistants and assorted other co-stars and guest stars can make for a fun game of British actor sighting. So far I have spotted a young Ben Daniels (Law & Order: UK and The Paradise), Vincent Regan (Scott & Bailey and The Royals), Lennie James (Line of Duty and The Walking Dead) and Steven Mackintosh (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Luther).  Whether suspect or police officer, it’s fun to see where established performers paid their dues. In fact, here's a clip from 2004 featuring Noel Clarke as a shoe salesman a year before he appeared as Mickey in Doctor Who.

 

If you’d like to check out A Touch of Frost for yourself, all fifteen series are available to stream on Hulu. The complete series is also probably available through your library on DVD. If you’re already aware of the world of DI Frost, please chime in on why you find it dated or delightful.