Siegfried Farnon or Lieutenant Columbo?

Siegfried Farnon (Robert Hardy)

Even at my age, it isn’t a bad idea to have a role model; perhaps especially at my age.  It is always good to step back and take a look at things, assess your weaknesses and opportunities.  All things considered, in my case  a role model seems like an especially good idea.

I have two candidates, both very suitable for the task.

On the one hand I present the urbane country gentleman Siegfried Farnon from the BBC television series All Creatures Great and Small.  On the other is the scruffy and self-effacing Lieutenant Columbo, iconic NBC Sunday Mystery Movie mainstay from the 1970s.  I challenge you to find two better choices.   (Mother Theresa and Ghandi don’t count, unless you’re a beauty pageant queen.)

Interestingly, for all their differences, Columbo and Siegfried are remarkably similar.  Even apparent differences are little more than differences in style, rather than substance.  It makes me wonder if the difference isn’t entirely cultural.  Farnon English, Columbo American.  A comparison between the two reveals a lot. They  are like opposite sides of the same coin.

  • Siegfried acts as if he knows more than he knows.  Columbo acts as if he knows less than he knows.
  • Columbo has one dog.  Siegfried has several.
  • Both men wear a suit to work, but Siegfried has a tailor.
  • Columbo has one suit.  Siegfried has several.
  • Siegfried has bad memory.  Columbo remembers everything.
  • Both men drive old beat up cars, although Farnon upgrades as times get better.
  • Siegfried is a better talker than listener.  Columbo listens better than he talks.
  • Siegfried drinks frequently.  Columbo doesn’t drink…much.
  • Columbo smokes cheap cigars.  Siegfried smokes a nice pipe.

The list can go on and on and on.  Both characters possess charm and panache.  Both are very adept at life and would make a wonderful role model.  So which should I choose?

Lt. Frank Columbo (Peter Falk)

I’m tempted to make a choice based on lifestyle and wardrobe, but I don’t want to brag about my tastes.  Besides I think there is a better way to compare and evaluate these two potential role models.  The comparison should be made on the very subtle way each relates to other people.  I will argue that Siegfried pushes and Columbo pulls.

Siegfried Farnon, the middle aged country veterinarian possesses wisdom beyond his years and has charisma to match.  And yet he remains very much like a child.  Forgetful, mischievous, and somewhat irresponsible.  Thus he must be the leader, pushing and dominating.  He’s everyone’s older brother and has that sort of paternal, clubby respect that we think of when we think of gentlemen.  Farnon is a sophisticated wit, a full voice, and a charming eccentric.

Not to be outdone, Columbo also is a charming eccentric.  Columbo, however, backs into his relationships with people.  He minimizes himself, retreats, and is careful to stay a rung or two below his subject.  He’s a master of deception, obviously, and in this way he pulls people to him.  He is disarming as much as he is charming, but he doesn’t necessarily put people at ease.  He is more nuisance than comfort.  But by appearing unkempt and inept, he invites people to make mistakes and he draws out the truth behind their personality.

And Columbo is super man.  Let’s face it, Columbo solves the crime as soon as he arrives on the scene.  Every time!  It is a standard that can only happen in 68 episodes of network television and make any sense.  And that’s key.  Columbo is full on entertainment.  It doesn’t try to be anything else.

Even a passive Columbo viewer knows what every fan knows.  Columbo has figured out the crime before the first commercial break.  So where’s the suspense?  There really isn’t any in Columbo.  You don’t worry that a criminal might get away.  That won’t happen.  There is very little danger or mystery in the Columbo series.  What there is instead is the interesting interpersonal dynamic of Columbo picking apart and reassembling the clues he needs to prove his suspicion.  It is brilliant!

So who do I pick as role model?  Siegfried Farnon, of course.  He’s more real world.  He dresses better, too.  But let’s face it, Columbo simply is a little too slick in a crime-solving sort of way.  Even though he pretends to know nothing, he knows everything.  He doesn’t mess up, he only looks messy.

Columbo is not the kind of role model a guy like me needs.  No sir.  A more flawed character is a more appropriate match.  Siegfried Farnon, for all of his refinement, is a very human character.  He is successful despite himself.  He drinks, smokes, has a temper.  In episode one it is suggested that he has a girlfriend, whom he left waiting due to his poor memory.  (This seems to be a well-established Siegfried characteristic.)  His book keeping is a mess and he stores his cash in a silver cup on the fireplace mantel.

Siegfried is perpetually happy and optimistic, however; for Siegfried Farnon, attitude drives everything.  An exuberant, forward thinking approach to life simply rolls over any troubles an inconvenient habit might cause.  He’s Siegfried Farnon and he isn’t going to wait for you to figure that out.  I kind of like that.

Best of all, Siegfried style isn’t easy.  One is born with characteristics and opportunities with which one must make the most of.  So it is good — it is imperative — that you aspire to someone who makes the very most of a lot.  No taking good fortune or bad for granted, and no ditching responsibility.  Siegfried sticks his chin out, shrugs off mistakes, and marches forward.  That is your role model.

Now I do indeed like Columbo.  Don’t get me wrong.  He’s just a little too good at what he does.  I have no choice but to look forward to a failure or two.  Columbo record is too solid for me.  He’s entertainment.

Farnon’s a way of life.



2 thoughts on “Siegfried Farnon or Lieutenant Columbo?

  1. Pingback: Blood on the Trail « A Little Tour in Yellow

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