Wheelchair detective reaches 50-year milestone

July 28, 2017

The plots are simple and straightforward, and at times it takes more demanding detective work to investigate how the star of the show does his job in Ironside.

The series was without doubt pioneering. It would stand out even in this day and age with its stories of a police chief in a wheelchair leading the fight against crime, and now it’s reached the 50-year milestone.

Robert T Ironside, played by Raymond Burr, was forced to retire from the San Francisco Police Department when a sniper’s bullet left him paralysed from the waist down. But a lack of mobility didn’t hinder his powers of detection and he was hired as a consultant, catching criminals across 199 episodes in eight seasons broadcast from 1967 until 1975. Keep an eye on ITV 4 for repeats.

Ironside aficionados will be able to tell you how his impairment sometimes became a key part of the story, attracting comments from his colleagues and also placing him in grave danger because of his inability to run away and hide.

Our interest in watching Puzzlelock, an episode from March 1969, was purely in looking for clues as to what sort of mobility aids and other facilities were available to help the Chief.

You never see him move between one floor of a building and another, and you never see him nip out to the loo.

We have to assume that the police headquarters, where Ironside occupies an office on the fourth floor, has a lift. We doubt it would meet today’s standards, but that’s the nature of progress. We have no idea how Ironside would have made his way to the murder scene in this episode – a first floor bedroom in a mansion so old the only lift was probably for the food.

But some features became apparent as the show progressed. There’s a ramp in the Chief’s office, and he has a specially-modified police van, enabling him to get in and out. Perhaps the most striking factor of the whole Ironside concept though is the portrayal of a disabled person as the good guy. Throughout film and TV history, anyone with any impairment is usually the baddie!