“Spender” – 20th Anniversary Tribute

On January 8th, 2011 it will be twenty years since Jimmy Nail’s “Spender” was first aired on BBC Television.  To celebrate this milestone, this is a little tribute to what became my favourite television programme and the reason I became a fan of Jimmy Nail.

Concerned about being typecast after becoming famous for his character Oz in “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”, Jimmy wanted a change of direction and also more control over the types of roles he played.  Encouraged by his friend and fellow Geordie Ian La Frenais, (who along with Dick Clement wrote” Auf Wiedersehen, Pet” and other classics such as “Porridge” and “The Likely Lads”), Jimmy came up with the idea of a maverick detective series set in his native Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Coincidently, Ian had also been keen to write a cop-show for years and so the two men created a series together with Jimmy spending time at Ian’s home in Los Angeles during 1989.  The series would simply be called “Spender”.

Jimmy would play the lead role of Detective Sergeant Freddie Spender and the show would make a star of Sammy Johnson who played Spender’s criminal buddy Stick with great comedic aplomb and also Denise Welch of “Loose Women” fame who played Frances, Spender’s ex-wife.  The theme tune and incidental music had been written by long-time friend Tony McAnaney who was also given the role of Spender’s musician friend Keith Moreland.  The series combined a great deal of background for the main characters and the episodes dealt with Spender’s home life and circumstances as well as his professional life which made for good continuity throughout.  It also helped Ford promote the Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth as a flint grey example was used as Spender’s car, with a new one being featured each season.

The series was the first to be filmed entirely on location in the North East and Jimmy himself had also changed his appearance greatly since his Oz days.  Having lost a quarter of his body weight and now with long hair, Jimmy wondered if the public would accept the new character as readily.  He needn’t have worried as the show became an instant hit and ran for three seasons during 1991 to 1993 with consistently high ratings.  The first season featured eight episodes, the second and third ran for six episodes with Jimmy having penned nine episodes out of the twenty and there was also a spin-off “Spender” novel in 1992. 

Sadly for the fans, the series came to an end on December 29th 1993 in an excellent 90-minute feature-length episode, “The French Collection”, which was filmed on location in Marseille and Newcastle and also penned by Jimmy.  By the end of the series, Jimmy was not only a successful television actor, but also a writer, creator and producer and would pave the way for future successes such as “Crocodile Shoes” and the return of” Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”.  For an in-depth description of each “Spender” episode, it is worth checking out Neil Potter and Eamon Rooney’s episode guide at www. epguides.com


It’s hard to believe that this great series has not been repeated in full since the early 1990s or officially released as either VHS or DVD.  However, ITV3 showed a “Top of the Cops” rundown in April 2009 where the public voted for their fifty favourite cop shows and “Spender” came in at a respectable number 25.  Episode 1 from Season 2, “Here We Go Again” was shown on ITV3 in tribute.  Wouldn’t it be great if “Spender” could be repeated on one of the dedicated satellite channels?  Perhaps after 20 years, “Spender” can once again be enjoyed by a new generation as well as the original fans.

Clare Blacklock.