A long time ago in a parallel universe, robotic private detective Dick Spanner (voiced by Shane Rimmer) worked in the city known across the world as The Big Pear, a place rife with the criminal cases that were his bread and butter. Tonight he returned to his office in this high rise to find someone waiting for him, a client who wished to hire him to find her missing boyfriend, and he thought that was something he could very easily do so took what would be known for ever after as the case of the human cannonball. First he needed to secure a lead, but it would seem there were forces at work who did not want him to progress very far, and soon Spanner was up to his metal nuts in trouble...
The best-known creation Gerry Anderson produced in the nineteen-eighties was Terrahawks, a highly enjoyable variation on his science fiction, puppet-based Thunderbirds shows using sophisticated hand puppets as his cast. You may be forgiven for thinking he and his new company partner Christopher Burr did not make anything else, that was unless you happened to tune in to the groundbreaking Sunday morning magazine programme Network 7 on Channel 4, which counted among its sections an inclusion of animation. The other examples that filled the slot are largely forgotten, but Dick Spanner, the other major Anderson/Burr effort of this decade, contrived to be rather easier to recall.
Assuming you had a memory for the quirkier material of the past, and aptly this series, which was broadcast in five-minute chunks although there was a later compilation version of four half hour slot episodes, traded in a form of nostalgia. Obviously, as a private eye spoof in the Raymond Chandler style it was going to appeal to those who recalled watching old Humphrey Bogart movies on late night television, or more likely Tex Avery cartoons used as filler on those same TV channels (there was one blatant reference to that legendary director used as an in-joke here). But there were plenty of spoofs and call backs to classic Hollywood movies, some obscure (there's a Sonny Tufts joke!) and some easier to twig.
The series was effectively split into two cases, the human cannonball mystery and The Case of the Maltese Parrot, which ran into each other and shared some of the same characters, including actress Mae East and criminal kingpin Sydney Sidestreet, along with a rogue's gallery who would crop up a few times, presumably to save a little on the budget. The animation was stop motion and though it was extensively detailed, did not look as if a lavish amount of money had been splashed out on it, but its handmade appearance was a large part of the charm, indeed simply spotting the plethora of visual gags dotted around the sets was as enjoyable as listening to Rimmer's narration, drawling away in his best Bogart manner. That it took the clichés and made an absolute mockery of them was why it raised so many laughs.
There was supposed to be a follow-up series in 1988, but as it transpired there was only one six-minute instalment created before production was cancelled, though that was restored in 2014, with a Rimmer soundalike narrating. It was to have been a spoof of Agatha Christie rather than Chandler, with ten famed detectives assembled in Paris and bumped off one by one, reminiscent of the Neil Simon parody Murder by Death it would seem, and it would have been nice to see it return because the inspiration had not run out. Spanner fell quiet until 2017 when a couple of short hand drawn animatics were released, and Rimmer returned to voice those, sounding older but still unmistakably himself: these demonstrated Dick could still make you chuckle. For a character who was essentially ephemera in a form that had been done by every sketch show in the business, Spanner certainly stuck in the memory, probably because it was very well accomplished and had tons of personality. Music by Burr.
[All this is included on Network's DVD which gives you the option to watch the series in five minute or twenty-five minute episodes. There are three galleries as well.]