Follow TV Tropes


Smith of the Yard

Go To

"I'm Chief Superintendent Lookout...Lookout of the Yard."
"Why, what will we see?"
"I'm sorry?"
"Well, what will we see if we look out of the yard?"
"I'm afraid I don't follow that at all."

Most detectives in fiction barely get recognition. Gil Grissom, Jack Malone and Sam Spade could happily walk into a bookshop in their respective cities, seduce the owner and leave without being recognized.

Not so for Smiths of the Yard. They are very well-known. The newspapers follow their activities. When there is a major crime and they are involved, the papers will say, "Smith of the Yard is on the case". If they're not and the crimes are particularly diabolical, the papers will call for their involvement. And needless to say, he (Almost) Always Gets His Man.

In Real Life, the Yard is Scotland Yard, headquarters for the Metropolitan Police of Greater London. The Yard has become synonymous with police to the extent that any police version of the "Nations of the World" Montage will feature a shot of the New Scotland Yard sign.

Truth in Television in the United Kingdom in the 1920s and 1930s, but not today. The trope has largely died (outside period pieces) with it.

Subtrope of Famed in Story.


    open/close all folders 

  • Case Closed: Not only are celebrity detectives a thing, but many of them, including the protagonist, are teenagers. Indeed, the very first chapter of the manga begins with Shinichi making the papers and the TV news, the latter outright calling him the police department's savior.
    • Later on, Kogoro Mouri begins attaining the same reputation; everywhere he goes random civilians recognize himnote , and he's been impersonated at least twice.
    • Brutally Deconstructed in the Detective Koshien case, which assembles four teenage detectives from the four ends of Japan to compete. Turns out one of them wasn't as good as he claimed and pinned a murder on an innocent, who killed herself; not only did he not care, he actually went back and tampered with the crime-scene so it'd fit his theory better. Said innocent's friend arranged the whole tournament to smoke him out, and return the favor.
  • Although his real identity is unknown to the vast majority of people, L in Death Note is considered the world's best detective and his tackling of the Kira case is covered world-wide. In fact, L uses his status as a Smith of the Yard to narrow his search for Kira by broadcasting his news conference exclusively in Japan. Kira, expecting news about L to be world-wide, responds immediately and falls for the trap.

     Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd is the epitome of the Judge system (he is the law after all). His reputation precedes him around the world. He actually talked Sino city judges out of interfering in a regime change he was leading by telling them that they know him and his reputation. Then again, if you personally nuked the city that invaded yours, everybody would know you too.
  • Depending on the Writer, Batman may function as this (particularly in Lighter and Softer pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths stories, where he was a fully-deputized member of the Gotham police), with people within the DC Universe recognizing him as "the World's Greatest Detective" as much as real-world fans do.

  • Nick Carter from Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet has "America's Greatest Detective" written on his office door, the newspapers report about his cases and even his arrival in Prague makes the headlines.

  • Hercule Poirot has this reputation, and has earned a certain amount of international renown for his brilliant crime-solving. As he is incredibly vain, he sees this as entirely his due, and tends to get a bit irritable when someone doesn't recognise him.
  • Sherlock Holmes
    • Lampshaded in one story, as Holmes's need for disguises was explained to be a result of criminals recognizing him from all the coverage he was getting... including that from his good friend, Dr. Watson. It really doesn't help that Holmes has very striking features and is described as being very tall.
    • Also in the patische, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Holmes is in Germany for detoxification with Sigmund Freud, but finds a mystery to investigate to really get his spirits up. When the local police prefect learns that Holmes is on the case, he immediately sends a platoon of constables for the detective to use as he sees fit, apparently on the simple assumption that if Holmes is on the case, then it must be important.
    • A notable subversion in the film starring Robert Downey Jr. Holmes is universally known by many of the important people in the city, but is less known in the down low of things. While he is known for his eccentricities, he does not let his picture get taken and thus he is hard to describe in detail. This makes it easy for him to adopt a disguise whenever he needs one, and he is VERY good at it.
    • In the first two novellas, it's the bumbling police detectives who serve as Smith of the Yard, as far as the papers are concerned.
  • Detective Inspector (later Detective Chief Inspector, later still Chief Superintendent) Roderick Alleyn, actually a member of the CID and hero of Ngaio Marsh's novels. Early works have characters refer to him as "Handsome Alleyn" and comment on his fame, which he finds irritating. He will sometimes mention his frustration when talking to Nigel Bathgate, a journalist and occasional sidekick in the early books.
  • The alternate history novel SS-GB has Douglas Archer. And he hates it when the newspapers call him, "Archer of the Yard".
    • Not least because he lives in a history where the Nazis invaded Britain, and every mention of him in the newspapers further cements him in people's minds as a collaborator, meaning that there's many people who'd like to see him dead.
  • In the Discworld books, everyone in Ankh-Morpork knows Captain Carrot. If you ask Vimes about his second-in-command's acquaintances, you'll conclude that everyone in the world knows Carrot. Once Ankh-Morpork gets a newspaper, Vimes himself is a regular feature in it as well.
  • Robert Rankin has Inspectre Hovis of Scotland Yard - the man, the legend, and the detective. Although ''Raiders of the Lost Car Park'' admits:
    The great detective, whose greatness had yet to be proved to many minds..
  • Freeman Wills Crofts' main detective was Inspector French of Scotland Yard; several of the books mention the attention he gets from the locals when he's called upon to give evidence at inquests and the like.
  • It sometimes seems like everyone in New York City knows the name of Nero Wolfe, the eccentric obese detective who never leaves his house. To a lesser extent, this also applies to his assistant Archie Goodwin, though this mainly appears to be due to his connection with Wolfe rather than him being a name in his own right. It's heavily implied that this is entirely deliberate; in addition to Wolfe, like many a Great Detective, having an enormous ego, he only ever works high-profile cases for huge fees, and the easiest way of ensuring these kind of cases come along is for people to know your name.

    Live Action TV 
  • Adrian Monk zig-zags with the trope, as his name does appear in the papers, but there are points in episodes where it is clear people are unaware of who he is. For example, in "Mr. Monk and the Paperboy", Monk proves that a businessman who committed a hit-and-run is innocent of killing a paperboy because he didn't react to the mention of Monk's name despite Monk putting an emphasized "the" on before his first name.
    • Also, in "Mr. Monk Buys a House", when "Honest" Jake Phillips goes to kill his girlfriend Cassie Drake, this dialogue:
    "Honest" Jake Phillips: See buttercup, that's why I'm here. We—we ran into a "bump" in the road today. Guess who bought the house? [Cassie doesn't answer] Adrian Monk.
    Cassie Drake: I don't know him.
    "Honest" Jake Phillips: He's onto you, Cassie.
  • Hustle plays this one relatively straight in the 3rd season finale, with a detective famous for making big busts as the villain. He's not a nice man...
  • Spike Milligan wrote a serial for The Two Ronnies entitled the Phantom Raspberry-Blower of Old London Town. The investigating officer was Corner of the Yard, aka. Ronnie Corbett.
  • Becomes a major plot point in the "The Reichenbach Fall" episode of Sherlock. Sherlock had established a reputation prior to that, but found himself genuinely famous after solving several high profile cases. Moriarty ends up using it against him by manipulating public opinion and police suspicions against Sherlock in order to destroy him
  • Bones: Brennan is this for the Jeffersonian, in part because she's brilliant, but mostly because she's the author of an exceedingly successful series of books.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus made a Running Gag out of these characters, as can be seen in the page quote. This eventually led to the "Flying Fox of the Yard" sketch (which closed off the famous "Argument Clinic" sketch), where a policeman called Inspector Thompson's Gazelle of the Yard arrests the entire show on, amongst others, the charge of "always saying it's 'so-and-so of the yard' whenever the fuzz arrives".
  • Detective Kate Beckett receives a little bit of this in Castle after the eponymous mystery novelist begins basing his novels around a character based on her.
  • Pie in the Sky: The retired policeman Striker in "Doggett's Coat and Badge" was famous in the 1950s after catching a serial killer, and was known as Striker of the Yard.
  • Played with in The X-Files, where Special Agent Fox Mulder has developed a certain amount of fame and repute for his investigations, but it's primarily limited to underground Conspiracy Theorist circles populated largely by kooks, eccentrics and paranoiacs.
  • Colonel March of Scotland Yard even has it inherent in the title. When he is introduced, people often remark that they have read or heard of him.
  • Poirot gives this to Chief Inspector Japp when he talks in his sleep:
    Hastings: He talks in his sleep. "Now Ive got you, young fellow, me lad. Japp of the Yard strikes again!" I thought Id go mad. Every time I managed to drop off, hed start shouting. "Stand back, lads, hes got a blancmange!"
  • CSI: NY: Mac Taylor, decorated Marine turned NYPD Detective. Sometimes people seek him out personally because they've seen newspaper articles about him:
    • "Blacklist (featuring Grave Digger)." A perp calling himself Grave Digger contacts Mac after killing his first victim because he read a feature piece in which Mac mentioned that his father had died of cancer. The perp is dying from the disease and expects Mac to sympathize with him because of it. By-the-Book Cop Mac isn't having any of it.
    • "The Untouchable." A homeless schizophrenic young woman who witnessed the cover up of a murder seeks out Mac to tell her story to because she saw an article entitled "Hero Cop" from the time when an Irish gang stormed the Lab to reclaim their seized drug horde, and knew she could trust him to believe her and go after the bad guys.



    Video Games 
  • In an American example, Detective Cole Phelps of L.A. Noire begins to enjoy this as the game progresses, and it's particularly noticeable when people on the street recognize him as "that cop from the papers". It comes back to bite him when he's accused of adultery.

    Real Life 
  • The Trope Namer is Fabian Of The Yard, the real-life Inspector Robert Fabian, whose autobiography was called ''Fabian Of The Yard,'' and who appeared in a TV show based on his life work.
  • A post 1930s example: Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher of the Drug Squad, who gained a certain level of fame and notoriety in the 1960s by being the police officer at the centre of a number of high-profile celebrity drug busts, including Mick Jagger, Donovan, John Lennon and George Harrison. Given that it was nearly always the same man present, this led to accusations that he was either only going after them to increase his profile in the tabloids and / or actively planting drugs on them to secure a conviction (not that they weren't already actively using drugs for the most part, but still). The fact that he was later convicted of perjury and obstructing the course of justice didn't help his credibility when it came to these accusations.
  • Similarly, Detective Sergeant Jack Slipper became known as "Slipper of the Yard" for his role investigating the Great Train Robbery. The Other Wiki notes that the fickle press later nicknamed him "Slip-Up of the Yard" after his attempts to bring Ronnie Biggs to justice continued to fail. Nonetheless, he eventually retired as a Chief Superintendent, so it wasn't a massive hindrance to his career.
  • Eugène-François Vidocq was one of these in France for a while, before he was slandered and eventually fired for being a former convict and using informers effectively. However, he started the first private detective agency shortly after and was able to coast on his name-recognition until the police arrested him on trumped-up charges and took all his files.
  • Ernst Gennat (1880-1939), the head of Berlin's Mordinspektion, (set up in 1926, the world's first police Homicide division), wasn't just a well known pubic figure in Berlin and later all of Germany, but actually got world wide recognition for his involvement in the cases of serial killers (a term he coined) Fritz Haarmann and Peter Kürten. He was so well known that many immediately recognized that Kommissar Lohmann, the lead investigator in Fritz Lang's movies M and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was based on him.
  • As noted in the description, the "Of The Yard" part of the name means that this trope also applies to Scotland Yard itself, which is probably the most famous and well-known police headquarters on planet Earth. After all, how many people outside of, say, New York, Sydney, Johannesburg, Tokyo or Rio de Janeiro would be able to recognise where each city's police department's central headquarters was based out of?
  • DCI Colin Sutton gained a lot of fame - although mostly after his retirement - for his work in the Metropolitan Police and elsewhere leading thirty murder investigations (including into the murder of Amélie Delagrange) and also the investigation into the "Night Stalker" serial rapist. ITV made two TV mini-series on him, with Martin Clunes playing Sutton, while Sky did a documentary series looking at his various cases.

"Ha ha ha! 'Look out of the yard' - very good!"