Syco Paths

One of Simon Cowell’s most recent productions is a true-crime series hosted by the ex-police officer best known for taking down Jimmy Savile, Mark Williams-Thomas. They’re hardly the Watson and Holmes of our day, but their true-crime series The Investigator is interesting stuff. Not because of what it covers, necessarily – but because of how it came about…

Ever since the success of Serial, swiftly followed by the success of Making A Murderer, the media landscape has been drowning in true-crime series.

Podcasts like My Favorite Murder, Sword And Scale, Criminal, Last Podcast On The Left, Dirty John and dozens of others started crowding out the charts. HBO gave us The Jinx. Audible commissioned West Cork. Netflix tossed out The Keepers and Evil Genius. FX started the American Crime Story franchise – getting big Hollywood actors in to reenact the stories of OJ and Gianni Versace.

The craze has become so big that there are now multiple true-crime parodies doing the rounds (The Onion’s A Very Fatal Murder and Netflix’s American Vandal).

So it makes sense that someone as fundamentally unimaginative as Simon Cowell would take this as his cue to have his TV company – Syco TV – look into producing a true-crime series of his own: The Investigator.

Almost all of Simon Cowell’s career has been based on doing this. Taking something that is already a proven success, chucking a ton of money at it, and making a version of it with his name on it.

People liked those guys singing on Solider Soldier? Here’s two full albums of Robson and Jerome!
Pop Idol was a ratings success? Let’s remake it and call it The X Factor!
True crime is the hot new trend? Time to solve some cases!

Cowell’s not so tone-deaf as to don his own deerstalker and start chasing leads himself though. He knew that he needed to get an expert in to front this new true-crime vehicle. And who better to host the British version of Serial or Making A Murderer than the guy who did that documentary that nailed Jimmy Savile? Former police officer turned TV presenter, Mark Williams-Thomas.

Imagine! The two of them together! The guy who unmasked the UK’s most garish paedophile, and the guy who gave us Eoghan Quigg. Exactly the crimebusting dream team that the British justice system has been crying out for!

Perhaps because the true-crime market was already so saturated, The Investigator hasn’t really set the world alight in the way that Cowell and Williams-Thomas might have hoped. It’s an interesting show though. Not because of the subjects it deals with, necessarily – but because of how it came about.

History is currently being very kind to Simon Cowell and Mark Williams-Thomas. Both are held up as being the pinnacle of success in their fields – whether that field is chasing down high-profile offenders who have evaded justice against the odds, or whether it’s finding fuzzy puppets to record novelty number ones.

However, the two of them have shown some absolutely catastrophic judgment throughout their careers that is being somewhat swept under the carpet. Judgment that really calls into question their suitability to be producing a show of this nature.

You see, the story of The Investigator didn’t begin when Serial hit the top of the iTunes charts and Adnan Syed was all anyone could talk about back in 2014. The seeds of Simon Cowell’s true-crime series were first sown way back at the turn of the century.

It all concerns the strangely interwoven tales of four infamous men: Simon Cowell, Mark Williams-Thomas, Max Clifford and Jonathan King. It was sparked when Jonathan King recommended Simon Cowell for a job in late 2000, shortly before he found himself arrested for historic sex crimes.

From there, these four men have had a weirdly interdependent relationship that has, at times, been a little cozier than they would perhaps like it known.

There’s a lot to cover, and the stories overlap in such a peculiar fashion that the clearest way to approach is to pull it into three separate strands and take them one by one. Week by week then, we’ll take a look at a different side of the story.

I/ Arrest And Repertoire

It’s a riddle that will baffle future historians. How on earth did Simon Cowell – the A&R who was responsible for such monumental clangers as Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh! and Hillbilly Rock Hillbilly Roll ever become recognised as an international tastemaker and multimedia impresario? Could it have anything to do with a debt of gratitude he owes to a rather contentious guardian angel…?

II/ Defective Inspector

He’s best known for being the man to take down Jimmy Savile, but where did Mark Williams-Thomas come from? He likes to paint himself as a maverick ex-cop who had to leave the force in order to help the force – but the truth that has been dripping out over the last year or so is starting to change the picture quite radically…

III / Max Factor

There’s not really been a great re-evaluation of Max Clifford’s legacy since his death last December. In fact, his reputation suffered such a hit when he was arrested and convicted on a series of sex crimes as part of Operation Yewtree that his death in prison was met with a bit of a shrug. It’s worth a little look back over the part he played in all of this though…