German TV star Horst Tappert dies

Played Munich detective in hit series 'Derrick'

BERLIN -- Horst Tappert was one of the biggest stars in show business, and no one in Hollywood ever knew his name.

But the rest of the world knew Tappert, a German TV actor who died Saturday at 85. They knew him as the gray, serious Munich police detective "Derrick" in the hit German series that ran almost 300 episodes from 1983-98. "Derrick" sold to 104 countries, still a record for a German show.

Its success seemed to defy explanation. "Derrick" was a cop show without violence, without sex and without much action. Tappert never drew his gun. He rarely raised his voice. The show's tagline was his prosaic order to his junior partner: "Fetch the car, Harry."

Cynics said "Derrick" sold so well, especially to conservative countries, because it was so bland. Even the strictest censor couldn't be offended by the show's tame approach and Tappert's stern morality.

But Tappert's fans -- and they included Pope John Paul II and writer Umberto Eco -- saw something more. In an essay on "Derrick" and its phenomenal success in Italy, Eco called it "electrifying mediocrity." Derrick was more ordinary than even the most ordinary viewer, and the audience loved it.

There was nothing mediocre about Tappert's career. He won every major German television prize and was even awarded the Federal Cross of Merit, the country's highest civilian honor.