I was sorry to read of the death of George Baker, at the age of 80, today. Many people assume he made his name playing Inspector Reg Wexford in the long-running adaptations for TV of those very enjoyable Ruth Rendell novels set in fictional Kingsmarkham, and I'm sure that's the role he will remain best known for. But there was much more to him than that.
Baker was a staple of film and TV during my youth. Apparently he was one of those considered for the role of James Bond, but he wasn't always a good guy. I remember him playing a criminal, Stanley Bowler, in The Fenn Street Gang, a sitcom spin-off from Please, Sir! And so good was he that a further spin-off series, Bowler, came into being, although it didn't last long. But Baker did the menacing yet pretentious villain (his door chime was Beethoven's Fifth) very well.
When I was a student, and visited the BBC, he was there in his toga, recording an episode of I, Claudius, in which he had a leading role. But the Ruth Rendell Mysteries enabled him to bring his greatest strength as an actor, his essential warm humanity to the part of a shrewd and likeable cop.
Ruth Rendell has already indicated she has no plans for any more Wexford novels, probably a good decision as the character has, I think, reached his sell-by date. But the series includes some great titles, and on television, Baker brought the stories, and the character, splendidly to life.