When it comes to mystery and solving crimes there is hardly anything better than British detective series. Dark and gloomy, with an atmosphere that immediately grasps the audience and doesn’t let go, with brilliant casting, excellent directing and intriguing plot, British detective series are always a good idea when you want to see something intelligent and interesting.
There could be a lot of talk and writing about these series, but we have managed to put the 15 best of them on this list, in no particular order and without specific criteria. They are simply that good that everyone should see at least one of them. These are the 15 best British detective series of all time.
When someone asks you who is one of the most charismatic and memorable detectives you have had the chance to see on television, John Luther is probably one of the most frequent answers. Handsome and attractive, but also problematic and rude, Luther is the detective everyone and no one would like to have by their side. He is extremely intelligent and always one step ahead, but at the same time very difficult to work with.
Fighting his own demons, he often doesn’t think clearly before getting himself in the centre of the situation and risking his own life. He keeps the streets of London a little bit safer, trying to catch all the bad guys he gets information about. Parallel with all these crimes, we follow Luther’s personal life and problems with his ex-wife, colleagues and few friends he is left with.
One of the most famous, if not the most famous detectives of all time is Sherlock Holmes, an unusual, arrogant and self-absorbed genius who solves crimes from his room at 221B Baker Street. He doesn’t get out a lot and rarely socialises with other people, besides his friend and colleague Doctor Watson, a sane and down to earth part of their duo.
This tv series is based on the famous Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels where Sherlock and Watson have to solve numerous interesting crimes that often go much further than normal ones. They are often connected to the Crown and in touch with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft who sometimes asks Sherlock for help, which often results in their never-ending verbal fights.
We encounter one of the most remarkable, sick and devious masterminds ever in a crime series, the one and only bad guy Moriarty who is making Sherlock’s life miserable with his countless conundrums and puzzles that often end with the most gruesome consequences. What makes all these unforgettable characters even more remarkable is the cast which is one of the best ever in a series of its kind. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson and all other supporting roles are simply faultless, forming an ensemble that will be difficult to beat in the future.
A female detective that is often mentioned as one of the best detectives ever must be a good reason to start watching this tv series. Vera Stanhope is Detective Chief Inspector who is devoted to her job and often too obsessive about it. Like most detectives, she also has her own demons to fight which can sometimes be an obstacle in solving crimes.
But as lonely or worried she might be, she never shows it and is always trying to go through life tough and brave. She has a devoted and trusted companion, Sergeant Joe Ashworth who helps her approach every new task with professionalism and focus.
Midsomer Murders (1997-)
One of the most long-lasting British detective series, going on for 15 years now, is Midsomer Murders, a crime mystery drama about two detectives, current lead detective John Barnaby who is a younger cousin of the former lead detective Tom Barnaby. We follow them and their Sergeants in their attempts to solve crimes in the idyllic community of Midsomer County.
This tv series is a mix of modern with the conservative and romantic and it shows us that many things are completely different from what we maybe imagine. This community is full of eccentric characters with a great sense of humour, making this series stand out from other typical detective shows. It is witty and intriguing, always giving us enough interesting details, but it doesn’t expect us to think too hard.
One of the best British detective series ever, this shocking tale won’t let you leave your seat until you finish watching it. Divided into three seasons, with the first two connected, it brings us the story of a horrible crime committed in a seemingly charming community of a small coastal town of Broadchurch. When the body of a little boy is found on the beach, a series of unbelievable secrets come to light.
Everyone is a suspect and two detectives are going to have a hard time trying to catch the killer. Olivia Coleman is the Detective Sergeant and David Tennant the Detective Inspector will have to go through numerous interviews where the town’s inhabitants are going to share a lot, but not enough at the very beginning. Soon it will become obvious that the town’s secrets might tear this community apart.
The Fall (2013-2016)
This psychological thriller focuses on an intelligent and very skilful policewoman Stella Gibson, brilliantly played by Gillian Anderson and her attempts to catch the serial killer who hides behind the calm and professional father and husband Paul Spector. He is a cold-blooded killer, a completely disturbed individual who enjoys tormenting his victims.
This tv series shows us the dark side of Belfast, with its rainy weather and grey facades and it perfectly fits with its depressing tone. It is not only a crime story, but also a psychological study of two individuals who at the same time can’t stand each other, but are also very similar and share the same complexity that needs to be looked into.
Happy Valley (2014-2022)
This brilliant crime drama is about a police sergeant who leads a team of officers somewhere in a rural Yorkshire valley. Catherine is a strict, but fair policewoman who gets involved in something so much more than she expected.
When a staged kidnapping gets out of control and turns into a series of brutal crimes, Catherine will become part of something much bigger and more complicated than a usual crime. She will have to deal with her own demons in order to be able to perform as she should and catch the man responsible for many destroyed lives, including the ones in her own family.
Based upon the series of successful crime novels by Ann Cleeves, Shetland is a detective story of DI Jimmy Perez and his team who have to investigate a crime inside a close-knit island community. As if not difficult enough for them to try to solve the case, they are also having a hard time with the residents of this closed and sometimes unfriendly community.
The team will have to abandon all of their previously used and learned policing techniques and start using new, unique ones in order to get closer to these reserved people who don’t want to share more than needed. Besides the great story and the remarkable atmosphere here, we are about to witness some of the most beautiful and breathtaking scenes of the Shetland islands, which are juxtaposed to the seriousness and gloominess of the story itself.
Foyle’s War (2002-2015)
This crime drama takes us back to 1940 London, during the raging of World War II and England’s uprising against Germany. As if it is not enough to live in these serious conditions, always thinking about possible attacks and tragedies, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle has to deal with even more mysteries.
He is doing what he does best, solving crimes in this enormous city with endless problems, issues and secrets. We follow Foyle as he deals with murders on the Southern coast of England and later on as he works for MI5 in the aftermath of the war.
Another one of the most famous detectives ever next to Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly Agatha Christie’s uptight and genius detective Hercule Poirot. This remarkable mind was introduced to us through her extremely popular novels where we could follow his adventures in solving different kinds of crimes. This is a full-blooded detective tv series based on Christie’s novels and short stories.
Poirot is a former Belgian detective who is now living in London and must solve all different kinds of cases, which he always manages with his impeccable sense of detail. Each episode consists of a certain crime he needs to deal with, mostly a murder and he is often accompanied by his loyal helping hand Captain Hastings and the Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Yapp.
Inspector Morse (1987-2002)
One of the first British detective series and definitely an influence on many to come is this crime drama about Chief Inspector Morse, a senior officer who works in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Oxford Police.
He is responsible for solving heavy crimes in and all around Oxford with the help of his sidekick Detective Sergeant Robert Lewis. Morse and Lewis are complete opposites, with the honest and good-hearted Lewis who often makes grumpy and strict Morse nervous with his sometimes too earnest comments.
This interesting detective series makes us question our closest ones. Do we know all of them so well that we would without blinking stand beside them and state they wouldn’t do what they might have been accused of? When a body of a young man is discovered in a building in London, Detective Chief Inspector Cassie Stuart and her partner Detective Sergeant Sunny Khan become involved in a series of connected events.
They learn that Jimmy Sullivan was murdered in 1976 when this building was a hostel and find his diary with the names of four possible suspects: a clergyman, an entrepreneur, a community worker and a disabled housebound husband. All of them are full of secrets and when they start to unravel, the ones they love most will start to ask themselves if they know them at all.
Line of Duty (2012-2021)
This series follows Detective Sergeant Steven Arnott who was in charge of an operation to track an Islamist terrorist which ended in disaster, leaving an innocent man killed. Arnott couldn’t deal with the pressure regarding this case so he got transferred to another unit, tasked with uncovering police corruption.
He is partnered with Detective Constable Katherine Fleming, a talented undercover officer. They investigate various cases involving corrupt police officers and step by step become linked to an organised crime group that has a lot to do with prostitution, child exploitation, drugs and people trafficking.
A Touch of Frost (1992-2010)
Another long running crime series, with one of the most beloved British comedians in the leading role, David Jason, this time in something completely different. He plays DI Frost, an old school policeman who believes in traditional methods. He knows what is going on in the streets and uses all his experience to solve crimes in his unit.
His personal life is pretty complicated, but he is also having a hard time with the station’s commander who is constantly questioning his methods. He thinks Frost is too strict and harsh and believes that it would be better for him to leave his ways of dealing with criminals aside and adapt to the more acceptable ones.
Set in one of the darkest parts of London, the atmospheric background of Whitechapel, this interesting series brings out an old, famous story when the police team realises that they might be having a Jack the Ripper copycat in the modern day London. There is a series of bloody and impossible crimes around Whitechapel disturbingly similar to the ones so many years ago.
Three completely different individuals are investigating the murders, Buchan, a brilliant Jack the Ripper tour guide, Chandler, a DI on his first murder case and Miles, a DS who is approaching his retirement. They will have to work together to solve this intriguing puzzle.