I don’t know about you, but I like watching a good crime drama on television (or reading one for that matter). There is nothing like trying to figure out who committed the crime before the reveal at the end of the episode. There have been some great British crime dramas over the years and many of them have also been popular in the US and Canada; often shown on public television.

So this is a roundup of a few of the best British crime dramas in recent years with a mention of some of the locations used in filming if you are interested in visiting.

Sherlock Holmes

I have to start with the most famous British detective of them all, Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr Watson. The short stories and novels were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle between 1887 and 1927 and there have been many on-screen adaptations of these characters since the early days of cinema and television.

Holmes was first portrayed on screen in 1916 by William Gillette in the silent movie Sherlock Holmes, an adaptation of a play that Gillette had been performing since 1899. I recently enjoyed seeing this movie for the first time on TCM. If you are a Holmes fan and you’ve never seen it, I recommend watching it if you can. This movie is available on DVD:

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Probably the most popular Sherlock Holmes in the movies was Basil Rathbone’s portrayal. He, along with Nigel Bruce’s bumbling Watson appeared in 14 Hollywood movies between 1939 and 1946.

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In my view the best period adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes adventures was the Granada TV series made between 1984 and 1994 with Jeremy Brett as Holmes. The series was beautifully shot on film, much of it on location, and perfectly recreated Victorian England. The casting of Brett and (for most of the episodes) Edward Hardwicke as Watson was perfect. All episodes are available on DVD:

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The latest British series, Sherlock has Holmes and Watson, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, living in modern day London. The acting and production values of these shows are superb and the adaptations of the stories work very well, showing that Doyle’s characters and stories are timeless. These episodes are also available on DVD:

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For Sherlock Holmes locations to visit, check out my earlier post; Visit Sherlock Holmes London.

Inspectors Morse and Lewis

The original Inspector Morse series ran from 1987 to 2000 and was based on the Colin Dexter novels. The grumpy Morse was excellently played by John Thaw assisted by his trusty Geordie sidekick Sgt. Lewis played by Kevin Whately. The two hour episodes were shot on location, mostly in Oxford, using the ancient colleges as a brilliant backdrop.

Whately reprised his role as Lewis, now promoted, in Inspector Lewis which ran from 2006-2015. His sergeant was James Hathaway played by Laurence Fox. Like Morse, this series was also beautifully filmed in Oxford.

The complete set of Inspector Lewis episodes is available on DVD:

Click here to see it on Amazon

A complete set of the Morse episodes is not currently available in North America on DVD, but individual episodes are. You can find them on Amazon.

If you are visiting the UK, Oxford can easily be reached from London by train or coach. Journey times are just over an hour so it makes a great day trip from the Capital. More information about Oxford can be found here.

The Sweeney

If you only know John Thaw as Inspector Morse, you may be surprised to know that he previously played another police inspector in the popular British series The Sweeney. This character (Inspector Regan) was very different to Morse; he was tough, working class, worked hard and played hard. And he had a sense of humour! Sweeney was short for Sweeney Todd, cockney rhyming slang for Flying Squad which is a branch of Scotland Yard’s Serious Crime division, tasked with investigating crimes involving firearms.

The Sweeney ran from 1975 to 1978 (53 episodes) and was one of the first British drama series shot entirely on film, much of it on location in and around London, often in the more run down, seedy areas.

If you’ve never seen The Sweeney, I definitely recommend it, especially if you like gritty, realistic British dramas.  The complete series is available on DVD:

Click here to see it on Amazon


Another crime drama featuring a gritty police inspector, this time set in Edinburgh, Scotland. Rebus was based on the novels by Ian Rankin and ran from 2000 to 2007 (14 episodes). The first 4 episodes starred John Hannah as John Rebus, with Ken Stott taking over for the rest of the run. In my view, Ken Stott makes the best Rebus and I would recommend these episodes.

The series was expertly filmed with the incredible city of Edinburgh as the backdrop.

The Ken Stott episodes are available on DVD:

Click here to see it on Amazon

Edinburgh as a tourist destination is well worth visiting with its ancient castle and buildings. Check out the This is Edinburgh website for details of other things to do.

Father Brown

Father Brown was created by GK Chesterton and appeared in his short stories written between 1910 and 1936. He was a Roman Catholic parish priest who did a bit of sleuthing on the side. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, he used reasoning rather than scientific methods to solve crimes.

Father Brown has appeared several times in film and television adaptations over the years. He was played by Alec Guinness in a 1954 film and by Kenneth More in a 1974 TV series. But it is the current TV series, starring Mark Williams as the priest, which I think is the best.

This current BBC series started in 2013 as has so far run to 6 seasons and 70 episodes. It is set in the 1950s in a fictional Cotswold village of Kembleford. The Cotswolds is a very attractive part of England with lovely sandstone villages and the series makes best use of these locations with production values being very high.

The first four seasons of Father Brown are available as a DVD bundle:

Click here to see it on Amazon

The fictional village of Kembleford is really Blockley, a village about an hour’s drive from Oxford. Its well worth a visit as it looks as good as it does on television. More information about the Cotswolds area can be found here.

Enjoy your sleuthing!