The waiting room at the clinic was filled with people. A nurse appeared from a doorway and called, “Barry Foster.” Lines from the song were immediately remembered,
And you smiled, and you smiled, with laughter in your eyes
and the world seemed to fade away.
The tune was called Eye Level, and was played by the Simon Park Orchestra; it was a record that sold over a million copies and topped the British charts for four weeks, but I was not interested in its place in the charts. For me, the tune could only mean one thing, the television detective series Van der Valk.
Television police series were a passion in days of childhood and youth, the opening bars of the theme music of Z Cars still recall the devoted attention paid to each episode, to Inspector Barlow, Sergeant Lynch, Police Constable Quilley. Van der Valk, though, was different, altogether different from the dull Z Car settings of Newtown and Seaport, Van der Valk was set in Amsterdam. Van der Valk had characters whose names were exotic; it had scenes from a city that made 1970s England look drab; it had criminals altogether more sophisticated than those who might have appeared in Z Cars, Softly, Softly or Dixon of Dock Green, English villains were a pale imitation of those in Amsterdam.
Van der Valk was really just another British detective series, but it was set in Holland. Its Amsterdam location created the possibility of story lines that would have been less credible in an English city. Commisaris Piet van der Valk might have had a Dutch rank and name, but he was played by an English actor. Whatever the realities of the programme, it was one to discuss with school friends the following day.
Almost twenty years after its first appearances, in 1972-73, Van der Valk enjoyed a revival in 1991-92, during which time Piet van der Valk had been joined in the Amsterdam police force by his son Wim. The viewing seemed as compelling as it had been two decades previously, though perhaps there was more than a tinge of sentimentality in watching a programme that had been so well known in more youthful days.
Van der Valk was played by the actor Barry Foster, a distinctive figure with tight blond curls who played many parts other than that of the Dutch police officer, who died in 2002 . The man who rose from the chair in response to the nurse’s call was of an age where he probably remembered Van der Valk and may have endured many occasions when people hummed Eye Level at the announcement of his name. If one’s name has to be associated with anything, a memorable Dutch policeman would not be a bad possibility.