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Our Crack Tongue & Groove

columbo.jpg 50 shades of yellow

Imagine a world where every other man wears a shirt that is canary yellow or lemon yellow or burnt orange or amber. I’ve seen that world and, frankly, I want to live in it…

Last Christmas I received one of my favourite ever presents: a DVD box-set featuring every episode of the greatest detective series ever made: Columbo. It ran for 69 episodes and managed to pull off the rare trick of having every single show follow exactly the same template without ever getting boring. And what a template! The first 20 minutes or so sees the murderer take centre stage. He or she is usually a high-flying executive type (often played by a Hollywood great such as Ray Milland or Anne Baxter), who kills their business partner, or spouse, sometimes with meticulous planning, sometimes in a fit of pique. We then get to see the murder’s ingenious attempts to cover up his or her tracks. No whodunit this. Then, LA’s finest homicide detective, Columbo, shambles up to the crime scene – breakfast in one hand, cup of coffee in the other, a cigar jammed between his lips. The cops already there are convinced it’s an intruder, or suicide, or an accident, but Columbo notices something amiss and starts nosing around. The murderer never flees, that would imply guilt, and strikes up something of a relationship with the great detective - and so the sparring begins.

What strikes me about the programme (apart from the fact that it doesn’t matter whether the murderer is an author, musician or celebrity TV chef, Mrs Columbo is invariably a “a big fan”) are the fashions. Its glory days were in the 1970s and, yes, people often declare that as being the decade that fashion forgot. But when you re-watch a long-running programme from that period, you notice just how different people looked back then, and not necessarily for the worst. Of course, the women are usually resplendent in big floaty maxi-dresses, but it’s the way that the men are dressed that fascinates me. Put Columbo himself to one side (his wardrobe, whatever the weather, always ran to a rain mac and some crumpled brown trousers) and check out scenes at airports, in crowded offices or coffee shops. You can guarantee that a lot of the men will be wearing shirts of a decidedly sunny hue. And that includes everyone from cops to businessmen to murderers. Gold, saffron, mustard, straw, apricot, coral, tangerine, salmon – these were men going about their everyday business and not frightened to embrace a bit of heat. And do you know what - they looked great! When do you ever see any blokes wearing yellow today? The Marks & Spencer website currently lists 232 different shirts and they’re all white or blue or every other shade in between.

It seems like the 1970s really were a once-in-a-lifetime explosion of colour. (Mind you, I never expected to see blokes strutting round today with the kinds of beards that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a pre-World War One arctic expedition, and just look what’s happened.) But I’m definitely willing to try and get the yellow shirt revival rolling. I just need to find a shop selling them first. RM