The Underrated R.D Wingfield

When David Jason made R.D Wingfield’s DI Jack Frost famous with his television adaptation of Wingfield’s novels few had read the books.

Few had heard of R.D Wingfield and fewer had thought that R.D Wingfield was one of the very best detective writers of his generation to be considered in the same category as the recently passed Morse creator Colin Dexter.

R.D Wingfield’s great contribution to detective fiction was in how he developed a different type of detective novel. Compared to Dexter’s Morse Wingfield’s DI Jack Frost resembled more closely the reality of police work. Frost would investigate numerous cases at once, from murder to prostitution, DI Frost was investigating.

The difference between the television adaptation of DI Frost and Wingfield’s literary character is in how the television character is made more empathetic and less judgemental in the way that the character is portrayed compared to the novel’s. In the first Frost novel Frost is shown to be unempathetic to the hooker mother of a young girl, Tracey Uphill, who has gone missing and is feared dead. Frost’s young DS Clive Barnard is the one who reigns in Frosts damming judgement and defends Tracey’s mother. In the television adaptation it is Barnard whose judging Tracey’s mother and Frost who is defending her.

This shows, more than anything, the difference between R.D Wingfield’s literary character and David Jason’s television adaptation. R.D Wingfield’s creation is more flawed, less likeable but it is these very flaws that make the literary incarnation of the character much more engaging. You root for Frost as he pursues with unflinching commitment serial killers, bank robbers and rapists but you can also dislike a deeply selfish and intolerant human being. This leads to a better and more interesting reading experience compared to the viewing experience on television.

David Jason’s adaptation of Frost sees a character recognisable from the novels but stripped of the more unlikeable, perhaps controversial, aspects of his personality. This leads to a diluted version of Frost and a character that I don’t feel is a true adaptation of R.D Wingfield’s creation. Whilst the television adaptation is very enjoyable it doesn’t quite have the tenseness of Wingfield’s novels.

R.D Wingfield is not a household name in the way that Morse creator Colin Dexter became. He disliked attention which I think is one of the reasons why he hasn’t been as celebrated as he deserves to be. A writer who re-invented the detective novel deserves more credit and more recognition from his peers and the literary community for this contribution.

Having created a character that has been made so famous by the television series Wingfield’s books have deserved more analysis, for good or bad. This oversight needs to be rectified as one of the most talented and unique detective writers in British history is currently being overlooked in favour of, perhaps less talented writers.