But that was before the arrival to these shores of Montalbano. If you haven't seen this deliciously tongue-in-cheek detective serial set in the splendours of Sicily, then I tell ya - you have been seriously missing out. While our own Inspector Morse was sombre, serious and even at times a little bit stuffy, its Italian counterpart is as juicy n' as fruity as a slice of panetonne.
Montalbano - played with superb comic understatement by Luca Zingaretti - is the sun around which the series gravitates. Irresistible to women with his hard-bolied egg of a head, cooler than cool shades and sharp Armani suits, our Monty struts his stuff through the streets of Vigata, breaking not only the hearts of damsels in distress (or should that be damsels undressed?) but also breaking the hearts of the island's criminal fraternity. As Italian stallions go, they don't get anymore genuine than Salvo Montalbano.
And if it's rustic Italian you want, then look no further. For every episode never fails to take in the breathtaking Sicilian countryside together with its stunnnig architecture. Monty himself has a rather swanky pied-a-terre right on the doorstep of a beach from heaven. From here, our amorous hero wines and dines a series of stunners, before rising early to dip his withered wick in the bracing sea water. This guy swims like a fish, eats like a horse and goes like a train. Mamma Mia!
Inevitably there will follow a telephone call - always garbled - from Caterella at HQ, preceded by the immortal words: "Commisario! Commisario!" Constable Catarella (Angelo Russo) is the Italian answer to Mrs Malaprop, a man constantly holding the wrong end of the stick, whose sole purpose in life it appears is to bring his superior to the point of heart attack. In a series full of mysteries, the most enduring one must surely be the mystery as to why Catarella hasn't been given the boot long since!
In this week's episode the hysterical constable excelled himself, informing his superior that a Signore Scoreggia was seeking the Inspector. Pause. A quizzical frown from Salvo: "Who? Mr Big Fart? Are you sure Catarella?" asked the long suffering Monty, long since resigned to the rambliings of his dyslexic underling. Cue paroxysms of anxiety from Catarella. Cue gesticualtions from Monty, hysterics from Catarella and so on and so forth. Good job old Catarella isn't an electrician - not with the amount of times his wires get crossed. Comedy gold.
Actually, it's a wonder any crimes ever get solved in Sicily with this bunch. Salvo (Monty's christian name) spends most of his time eating sumptuous seafood banquets at his favourite restaurant while fending off the advances of yet another ridiculously young widow. That's the rule on Montalbano: The women are young, sexy and available and a great proportion of them are also widows - libidinous widows at that. But the bow-legged one is not a man of easy virtue. 'Complicated' would be the best way to describe his love life.
Sometimes, when a grieving widow displays her charms - literally - Monty turns the lady down, flat, scurrying off in his little Fiat for some well earned chillax time on his nifty balcony.
Ocassionally, the more determined ladies track him down to this batchelor lair, intent of having their wicked way with our hero. It's all moonlight, crashing waves and satin sheets. Montalbano might be a sexy beast, but part of the charm lies in the fact that he seems blissfully oblivious to the fact. Face it Monty: You're a babe magnet, my son.
In Inspector Montalbano, BBC4 have unearthed a real gem. It's a curious mix: part comedy, part gritty crime drama, unlike anything one sees on British television. I mean where else could you find severed heads, calamitous constables, merry widows and Italian stallions?