Follow TV Tropes


Series / Lovejoy

Go To
[aside to camera] If home is where the heart is, then this is home to me: an auction room, an auction day when the old ticker beats faster with the slender possibility that somewhere, just somewhere among the birdcages, silver spoons, commemorative medals, roll-top desks and castoffs from Granny's attic, somewhere amongst that lot, a genuine authentic antique will appear shining with all the love that made it.

Lovejoy is a BBC TV comedy-drama series (1986, 1991-94), based loosely on the books by Jonathan Gash, about an antiques dealer in East Anglia in the UK. The titular protagonist Lovejoy (played by Ian McShane) is what's known in his trade as a "divvie" — someone with almost a sixth sense which enables him to divine real antiques from fakes and accurately determine their worth. He's also simply very knowledgeable about antiques in the mundane sense, yet despite his obvious talent for the business he's quite routinely broke and generally found staying barely a step ahead of the law.

Lovejoy is assisted in his work and schemes by Tinker Dill, a gregarious drunkard whose knowledge of antiques rivals Lovejoy's; Eric Catchpole, a young man whose father pays Lovejoy to teach Eric the trade; and Lady Jane Felsham, a married aristocrat whose dabbling at interior design brings her into regular contact with Lovejoy... though perhaps not quite as much 'contact' as he'd like. Charlie Gimbert, a much more successful but less popular antiques dealer in town, provides Lovejoy with a foil, though as the series goes on they find themselves cooperating against their will more often.

Hugely popular in its early-'90s heyday, attracting circa 15 million viewers on BBC 1, Lovejoy was helped by its scenic locations in the rural east of England, leisurely and immersive pacing (a runtime of 50 minutes per episode, plus a couple of feature-length Christmas specials), footage shot fully on film (avoiding the 'cheapness' lent by a Video Inside, Film Outside look), and significantly the charismatic presence of McShane as the eponymous amiable rogue — who would not infrequently break the fourth wall to reveal his thoughts and motives in asides directly to camera. It was filmed for six seasons comprising 73 episodes, all of which have been released on DVD, and remains a common sight on repeats channels on UK television into the 2020s.

No relation to Reverend Lovejoy, or the indie rock band Lovejoy.

This show provides examples of:

  • Accidental Bid: Eric accidentally buys a small statue of a naked man for 50 pounds and is embarrassed to collect it.
  • The Alleged Car: Lovejoy's, er, 'vintage' black Morris Minor convertible, Miriam. She has several mismatched parts, rust holes, leaves billowing clouds of exhaust smoke, the front windows are missing, and the engine conks out semi-regularly.
  • Antiques Roadshow: Lovejoy does a local, one-man version of this a few times, hoping that a particular antique or dealer will show up.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In one episode a Scottish forger living in Italy (in the 1980s) gives his reasons for not wanting to return to the UK as "Strikes, recession, and Partick Thistle never making the grade".
  • Auction: Lovejoy and crew attend many of these in the search for antiques.
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: "The Judas Pair" features a pair of duelling pistols which are rigged to fire backwards.
  • Batman Gambit: Many of these, since the plots often revolve around Lovejoy out-gambitting a crook of some sort.
    • In one two-parter, a dealer (played by BRIAN BLESSED) scams two acquaintances of Lovejoy's, so he helps them get revenge. His Batman Gambit requires the mark to take the bait in a very short timeframe, and for Lovejoy to have the right evidence prepared in advance for the tests the mark will think of to prove authenticity.
    • Lovejoy was also the target of someone else's Batman Gambit when he was framed for an antiques theft, the whole thing turning on Lovejoy not inspecting a cheque as it was written because he'd been persuaded to trust the Damsel in Distress. It actually worked and Lovejoy was sent to gaol over it.
  • Bowdlerise: The books were much, much darker, involving more serious crimes including murders, and a Lovejoy who is not terribly likable and almost completely amoral about anything but antiques.
    • Lovejoy's modus operandi in the books is to visit someone's wife, sleep with her, borrow her car and whatever cash she has on hand, and then forget about her as he goes off to pursue his antiques schemes. Only the money-borrowing part remains in the TV show, and Lovejoy is much more of a conventional hero who always tries to do the right thing.
    • Tinker still drinks constantly, but never seems all that drunk, and is a much happier, more pleasant character than in the books.
    • In the books, the villains often would suffer potentially gruesome deaths, some of which were implied to be inflicted by Lovejoy, which as a somewhat unreliable narrator he would deny any involvement in.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Most episodes open with Lovejoy doing this to set up the plot and sometimes do some Foreshadowing. Occasionally he will do this later in the episode as well, but none of the other characters ever notice.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: See Perpetual Poverty below. Lovejoy's talents could make him millions, but he'd rather dabble at whatever interests him than treat it as a job and focus on what's profitable.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Season 4's closing episode "Lovejoy Loses It" has his "divvie" talent desert him.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Usually Eric. Lovejoy sticks him with the unpleasant jobs and grunt work, especially at the beginning. He gets better as he learns the trade, but he continues to be clumsy and clueless enough to bring this trope on himself regularly.
    • Lovejoy himself is this sometimes, when his schemes fall apart and leave him with nothing, even when they often help out everyone around him.
  • Christmas Episode: Two 90-minute specials, one between the third and fourth series and one between the fifth and sixth.
  • Composite Character:
    • In the books Lovejoy cadges rides, money and other favours (including sex) from various women in town, many of them married. These were all combined into the character of Lady Jane, and cleaned up considerably for TV.
    • Eric, and later Beth, are composites of a large number of varying apprentices Lovejoy takes on throughout the books.
  • Culture of Italy: The two-parter "Death and Venice" that ends Series 1 had Lovejoy decamp to Venice to deal with an art-forging ring. As expected there was much comment passed on various aspects of Italian culture and art history.
  • Cutting the Electronic Leash: In one episode an elderly naval veteran (Russell Hunter) deals with an annoying antiques dealer who has been pursuing him and his friends trying to buy his medals by asking to speak to her buyer, borrowing her mobile phone, shouting "Goodbye!" and throwing it into the sea.
  • Duel to the Death: A collector who murdered a man over a priceless set of duelling pistols challenges Lovejoy to one of these. Averted because Lovejoy discovers that the pistols were designed to shoot backwards at the person holding them.
  • Early-Instalment Weirdness: The first series' theme music has a voice-over of an auctioneer accompanying the music. The music is redone for subsequent series, and the voice-over was removed.
    • Series 1 was at least broadly based on the plots of the Jonathan Gash novels, lending it a somewhat grittier quality derived from the Darker and Edgier source material. From the second series onwards, original material took over and the show took on a rather gentler overall tone.
    • Ian McShane's luxuriant mullet — see the page image — that Lovejoy sported for the show's prime years came to memetically define the character. Thus it may be a bit of a shock to some viewers to go back to the first series (which preceded the rest of the run by five years) and see him with a short-back-and-sides, a look he indeed eventually returned to for the final series.
  • Frame-Up: Lovejoy himself in "Just Desserts": he's framed and convicted for a crime as part of an antiques scam by another dealer. Lampshaded by Lovejoy in one of his asides that even though he was innocent of this one, he had done a lot of shady things that he'd skated on and many would say it was just karma catching up to him.
  • George Washington Slept Here: A chair bearing a special mark that (allegedly) meant Napoléon Bonaparte had sat on it was a plot point in an episode; Lovejoy was quick to point out that half the antique furniture in France had said mark on it somewhere, including a few items made after the man was dead.
  • Grail in the Garbage: Several. In one example, a church was facing serious financial difficulties until the vicar interrupted Lovejoy's advice by feeding his dogs. The dog bowl was the most valuable thing in the building.
  • Heroic BSoD: During the episode "Lovejoy Loses It", having (temporarily) lost his mystical "divvie" ability, the eponymous antiques dealer has a minor breakdown which gives him a 10-Minute Retirement.
  • ISO-Standard Urban Groceries: Turns up in the early episode "The Axeman Cometh"; possibly the french loaf sticking out of the bag was to hammer home to the audience that the character holding it was meant to be French.
  • Master Forger: As the series is based on wacky schemes involving antiques, it has featured several master forgers, both good and villainous, including Lovejoy himself. One particularly ingenious forger had to be tracked down in Italy where he was turning out brand new genuine old Italian paintings.
  • No Full Name Given: Not only does Lovejoy never reveal a first name, but he insists on no honorific either:
    Anyone: Mr. Lovejoy?
    Lovejoy: 'Lovejoy'. Just 'Lovejoy'.
  • "No Peeking!" Request: Lovejoy leaves Eric to keep an eye on the Spicy Latina Femme Fatale Rosita who's after the same MacGuffin they are. When they're alone she flirts with him, and asks him to turn around while she "does something". He unwisely does and is promptly hit on the head and falls unconscious.
  • Planet of Hats: East Anglia might be called a Planet of Antiques. Every home seems to have an umbrella stand or dish or piece of furniture that turns out to be worth thousands of pounds. There appear to be antique stores on every corner, and the residents are very Genre Savvy about antiques and fakes.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Lovejoy's "divvie" (diviner) talent should make him rich, but he's constantly broke, running from the tax collectors and other officials, and borrowing cash from his friends.
    • Lampshaded in one episode when he makes several thousand pounds in an afternoon to help out a friend, just by criss-crossing town from one antiques shop to another, buying and reselling items, increasing his profit quickly at every stop.
    • It makes it clear that he could make good money if he focused on it, but he's too busy foiling criminals or avoiding work.
    • In the episode "Lovejoy Loses It", it is indicated that his "divvie" talent would fail him if he were to abuse it — which, after he shows it off on a TV show, it seemingly does.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Two episodes into Series 5, Lady Jane leaves the country, and the very next episode — when her house hasn't even been sold yet — a new woman walks into Lovejoy's life: Charlotte Cavendish, an auctioneer who has just moved back to town to take over her elderly father's business and give Lovejoy a new challenge.
  • Scenery Porn: Not the most dramatic of landscapes, the relatively understated charms of the authentic East Anglian backdrop nonetheless made it just as much of a vital character in the series as any of the human participants. This is very apparent in the second series, which was filmed in Oxfordshire as a cost-saving measure; it immediately returned to Suffolk for series three and stayed until the end.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Dr Legrange in "The Judas Pair".
  • Strictly Professional Relationship: Lovejoy and Lady Jane, business partners brought together by a love of antiques, teetered on the brink for a long, long, time but never really got there - they just about kept it platonic. Her successor in the role, Charlotte, did succumb, though.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: In the finale, Lovejoy is finally going to marry Charlotte and settle down. Lady Jane and Eric come back for the happy occasion, making it look like a reunion is in the works as well. Then Lovejoy is kidnapped by one of his enemies, so Charlotte assumes the worst and abandons their wedding plans without waiting for an explanation, and the show ends with everyone in limbo.
  • This Is Reality: Having established that there is a secret exit from a room whose only remarkable feature is a bookcase, Lovejoy starts looking for a switch disguised as a book, until Eric chides him and pushes the bookcase aside.
  • Uptown Girl: Both of Lovejoy's major love interests, Lady Jane and Charlotte.
  • Violin Scam: Many of these, but one subversion involves an actual violin — the owner of a genuine Stradivarius wants it "nobbled" to look like a less valuable fake.
  • Will They or Won't They?: There is Unresolved Sexual Tension between Lovejoy and Lady Jane from the start, but it doesn't escalate until her husband leaves the picture.
  • Zany Scheme: In "Death and Venice" a collector who believes that Venice will someday sink underwater has a plan to steal all of the city's treasures and replace them with fakes.