The top 50 TV detectives of all time

Sussing out the very best TV detectives

50. Magnum, PI (Magnum, PI)

Tom Selleck narrowly missed out on playing archaeologist Indiana Jones, instead channelling his beefcake bravado into Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV - aka Magnum PI. A former military man he spends his off-hours relaxing in a former friend's swanky Hawaiian homestead, the grounds of which he shares with his verbal sparring partner, the quick-witted British veteran Higgins (John Hillerman).

His trademark 'tache and gleaming red Ferrari are the more memorable associations of this sun-kissed snoop, and often take precedence over his dedication to sniffing out creeps. Never without a Hawaiian shirt on his back, he might be rockin' the casual flip-flop stylings of a beach bum, but that's perhaps his greatest asset: Magnum's targets never see him coming (unless he's on a jetski.)

49. Inspector Lynley (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries)

On the surface Detective Thomas Lynley (Nathaniel Parker) shares more than a passing similarity to 007; each drive prestigious cars and carry out their business in an air of elitism. And that's where it ends. Lynley's heritage - he's an Earl, don't you know - imbues him with a moral fortitude that often counters the thinking of his straight-shooting scrappy partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers (Sharon Small).

Part of the show's strength hails from their differences, and in particular Lynley's own personal affairs that regularly interfere and become entangled with his current cases. Over the six seasons, during which the pair traversed the lengths of the UK investigating a whole host of incidents, it's his own dalliances with the law that tested his mettle.

48. Inspector George Gently (Inspector George Gently)

All Inspector Gently (Martin Shaw) wants is for things to be done right. His tenure as a Northumberland copper in the late '60s is defined by his old-school techniques and strong moral guidelines. Faced with the changing culture of crime, in which police procedures deal with offenders in ways he strongly admonishes, Gently seeks to stamp out the rotten element of his beat. Even if that does involve busting down doors and interrogating witnesses without the proper authorisation, he's a man determined to always do the right thing. Wiping out corruption in the department ranks high on his list of priorities.

47. Humphrey Goodman (Death In Paradise)

The beautiful environments and light-hearted, slightly old-fashioned tone of Death In Paradise have been key to its success. A formulaic whodunit illuminated by glorious sunshine, Death In Paradise is also popular because of its loveable cast of characters, a mix of French, British and Caribbean coppers who oversee the fictional island resort of Saint Marie.

So when Ben Miller's Detective Inspector Richard Poole was killed at the start of series three, who knew that the public would take his replacement to their hearts so quickly? Detective Inspector Humphrey Goodman, portrayed by Kris Marshall, is flown over from London to lead the small police team and almost immediately falls in love with his detective sergeant Camille Bordey. His bumbling and affable demeanour hides a sharp, deductive mind in the classic Sherlock/Poirot vein; based on the smallest of observations he can unpick dastardly murder plots - and then he usually gathers the suspects together for a drawing room (or more frequently poolside).

46. Hank Schrader (Breaking Bad)

Poor Hank. Poor, poor Hank. While many believe Walter White's brother-in-law really should have joined the dots before his eventual epiphany late in the final season of Breaking Bad, there's little debate that Hank constantly gets the shitty end of the stick, until his eventual end. At the start he's more of a nifty piece of irony, a stereotypical brute-force cop rolled out for some light-hearted or tense moments designed to underpin the fumbling, amateurish efforts of Walt and Jesse's integration into the savage world of drug dealing. By the end, he's a character many have grown fond of despite his bullishness, and one of fiction's least lucky detectives, destined to be blindsided and crushed as the story dictates. Poor Hank.

45. Frank Burnside (The Bill)

The grizzled mainstay of The Bill's formative - and arguably best - years, Detective Inspector Burnside (Christopher Ellison) was a real rogue, parading the streets of East London with his trademark snarl and wiseguy demeanour. From the first episode his role in the show's copper ensemble is in direct opposition to the straight efforts of Sun Hill station's newbie Jim Carver, with Burnside's preference for shoving suspects' heads down toilets giving his superiors the run-around. Those no-nonsense tactics twinned with his mouthy disposition made one of the UK's first police procedurals worth tuning in to every week.

44. Dr Mark Sloan (Diagnosis: Murder)

More a Van Dyke family reunion than a TV show, some episodes of Diagnosis Murder feature multiple members of the showbiz clan with the main emphasis landing squarely on Dick Van Dyke's busybody Dr. Mark Sloan. A medical doctor first and foremost that never stops him from lending his son, Lt. Steve Sloan (played by Van Dyke's real-life offspring Barry Van Dyke) a helping hand with active investigations - when they're not running their co-op BBQ business on the side.

That frivolity presents itself at every opportunity, as Sloan is somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, able to put his hand to any activity in order to get his man. This includes skateboarding and tap-dancing, two skills no other entrant on this list boasts.

43. Crockett and Tubbs (Miami Vice)

Camp doesn't cut it when it comes to Miami Vice's flamboyant double act. Spawned from the creative headspace of executive producer Michael Mann, Crockett (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) are the epitome of eighties excess. Traditional police attire is traded for blinding neon t-shirts and rolled-up cuffs, an attempt to capture the youth market.

Whether they were on the hunt for a drug trafficker or securing informants their antics were always accompanied by the smooth pangs of easy-listening crooners like Phil Collins, adding an aura of added cool to these Floridian undercover cops.

42. Albert Campion (Campion)

A Margery Allingham creation only intended to appear as a supporting character in her novel The Crime at Black Dudley, Albert Campion soon took root in the author's imagination and went on to feature in a series of novels as well as a dedicated TV adaptation. It's in the BBC show that Peter Davison transformed the sophisticated aristocrat from the "silly ass" Allingham intended, modelling him into a much more rounded creation. And like all good detectives - even those who are lofty gentlemen with ideas above their station - Campion has a mismatched partner to aid in his shenanigans: Cockney sidekick Luggs (Brian Glover). It's their banter that brings out the quirkier side of Campion hinted at in the novels.

Gem Seddon

Gem Seddon is GamesRadar+'s west coast Entertainment News Reporter, working to keep all of you updated on all of the latest and greatest movies and shows on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Outside of entertainment journalism, Gem can frequently be found writing about the alternative health and wellness industry, and obsessing over all things Aliens and Terminator on Twitter.