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It’s often described as a “gentle” comedy but there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Some of the funniest come during the pair’s run-ins with a rival metal detecting duo who have a very cavalier attitude to the detectorists’ code, and who are always changing their name. They’ve been the Antiquisearchers, the Dirt Sharks and Terra Firma. Lance and Andy have dubbed them Simon and Garfunkel, although they’re actually called Phil Peters (Simon Farnaby) and Paul Lee (Paul Casar) – Peters and Lee, get it? There’s a running gag in which they are introduced with the opening bars of Sound of Silence, and Andy smuggles a Simon and Garfunkel lyric into the conversation, which usually ends in infantile insults being exchanged.
Set in Essex but filmed in Suffolk, Detectorists feels quintessentially British, and is packed with British cultural references. How many non-UK viewers understand, say, the conversation about the accepted protocol when correctly answering a starter for 10 on University Challenge? (“What you want,” says Lance, “is a humble smile and a nod to your teammates as if to say ‘I know you guys knew that one too’.” “That’s it. Spot on,” agrees Andy). Yet the show has a dedicated and growing following outside Britain.
Do they know what a “chinny reckon” is in Tel Aviv? Seems unlikely, but an Israeli newspaper called Detectorists “buried treasure”. Are they familiar with Fiona Bruce in Bordeaux? Possibly not, but a French paper described Detectorists as “délicieuse” and “un baume apaisant“ – a soothing balm. In an online discussion, a fan from India wrote “this is not a TV show, it’s soul food”. A viewer in North Carolina poetically described it as “a deep, grassy field in an asphalt world”. In appreciation of the show’s pastoral elements, the LA Times said it was “almost Shakespearean” and compared it to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Toby Jones, after the Baftas ceremony where the series won an award, told the story of cycling through New Orleans when two guys rushed out of a bar to tell him “Man, we love the Detectorists!”
‘About hobbyists, for hobbyists’
Crook appears genuinely embarrassed when this global adulation is mentioned, and says he can’t explain it. “Toby is able to wax lyrical more than me about those sorts of things,” he tells BBC Culture. “It was always my idea to write an uncynical comedy about hobbyists for hobbyists – people with obsessions – and I guess those sorts of people are all over the world, and they’re not often championed so perhaps they can relate to it.” Jones, incidentally, is quite clear on why it is so universally loved. “It’s a brilliant, brilliant piece of writing,” he says.
Ben Lindbergh is a senior editor at The Ringer, a Los-Angeles-based pop culture and sport website and podcast network, and has written about the show.