A fit of nostalgia following the recent death of the actor Lewis Collins has seen me revisiting old episodes of The Professionals, which was probably the first grown-up TV series I watched as a kid. It’s very entertaining, not least in the way it confounds expectations. The default position may be causal sexism, for instance (and much of it is appalling), but then suddenly there’s a surprisingly sensitive discussion about the challenges of being a lesbian in the police force. Equally unexpected are the high-brow cultural references. I was taken aback when Waiting for Godot was mentioned in an early episode, but nothing prepared me for Doyle’s bedtime reading in episode 9 of the first series, When the Heat Cools Off.
Yes folks, that is a copy of Zhores Medvedev’s Ten Years After Ivan Denisovich. The episode, which reveals something of Doyle’s backstory in the police, revolves around the reinvestigation of a case in which a man may (or may not) have been wrongly imprisoned, so this may explain the choice of reading matter. It’s a reminder, as well, of what a high profile Solzhenitsyn had in the seventies – even my parents had a copy of the Gulag Archipelago on their shelves, despite having no noticeable interest in Russian literature or Soviet politics. But while one might perhaps have expected to see a copy of Ivan Denisovich itself, the Medvedev book seems to me to be on a different level altogether. Is this the most obscure cultural reference ever to appear in a popular TV programme? Answers on a postcard please.