TV Heaven: Captain Dobey


The Choob notes with sadness (and slight tardiness, the likes of which would have had him bellowing his wrath at his hapless detectives) the death of Captain Harold Dobey, aka actor Bernie Hamilton, at the age of 80 as a result of heart failure.

As a child of the 70s and 80s, growing up in the Scottish countryside, ethnic diversity meant meeting someone from the Isle of Lewis. So it was left to TV, and for the most part imported American shows, to broaden our horizons and increase our racial awareness.

And, for my generation at least, the hugely popular Starsky And Hutch was probably the first TV show to portray African-American characters in such prominent and relatively positive roles. I say relatively because, in hindsight, there were significant elements of racial stereotyping in the portrayals of both Captain Dobey and, in particular, Huggy Bear. But in the context of the disposable, shallow superficiality of mid-70s TV, the characters were blazing a trail a decade before it started to become more commonplace in grittier dramas such as the groundbreaking Hill Street Blues.

To a 7-year-old, Hamilton’s Captain Dobey was a fearsome prospect. He fostered in me an unshakable perception (which remains to this day, even though I now know it can’t be true) that all American police squads are led by stocky, grumpy, shouty black men who don’t take no crap from their maverick detectives but who all have hearts of gold and would back their men to the bitter end, no matter what.

Without Captain Dobey, there would have been no Lt. Arthur Fancy in NYPD Blue and no Lt. Cedric Daniels in The Wire.

RIP Captain Dobey. Enjoy your coffee and doughnuts in TV heaven.

EDIT: Here’s a nice video tribute:

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Filed under Classic TV, Obituary

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