HENRIETTA "HETTY" WAINTHROPP, a sixty-ish housewife in Lancashire, England, originally appeared in David Cook's 1986 novel Missing Persons as a one-shot amateur sleuth. However, when it came time to make Hetty into a regular television character ten years later, the producers at the BBC decided that she couldn't just stumble into a different crime every week on her own. Therefore, in the first episode of the series "Hetty Wainthropp Investigates", Hetty took out a P.I. license, so that crime could find *her*. (A pilot TV-movie made in 1990 was based on the original book, so Hetty was still an amateur at that point.)
Hetty is played by Patricia Routledge, probably best known as the dotty, social-climbing Hyacinth Bucket from the popular britcom Keeping Up Appearances (you know, the show with twittery English woman who insists her last name is pronounced "Bouquet".) Here, however, Routledge plays a character who is almost Hyacinth's total opposite, one with a great deal of common sense and very few pretensions... although she's still occasionally allowed to be a *little* dotty from time to time.
While the series is definitely aimed at fans of 'cozies' rather than hard-boiled fiction -- it's highly unlikely, for instance, that the non-violent, bus-pass-owning Hetty will ever get mixed up in a car chase, a shootout, or a wild fistfight -- Hetty has at least a few 'tough guy' qualities that make her more than just a eccentric P.I wannabe.
First and foremost, she's quite strong willed and plain-spoken, and her cases occasionally take her into some (relatively) rough locales that would make Miss Marple faint dead away.
Second, she's no armchair investigator; she's willing to do whatever legwork is required to break a case. (It should be mentioned here that Hetty is sometimes assisted in these endeavours by her husband Robert, along with a teenage sidekick named Geoffrey.)
Finally, Hetty has always been quite clear about why she works as a detective -- it's for the money, honey. Hetty and Robert live fairly precariously in a realistically bleak suburban English environment, so Hetty's no dilettante playing at detection merely for amusement. P.I. work is what pays the bills.
Overall, though Hetty Wainthropp is certainly not the toughest gumshoe going, she seems to suit the semi-mean streets of Lancashire quite nicely. And while fans of strictly hard-boiled fiction won't find much to hold their interest in "Hetty Wainthropp Investigates", it's still gratifying to see the writers of this show playing with some P.I. conventions to add a little bit of grit to the usual 'cozy' formula.
Respectfully submitted by Rudyard Kennedy.
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