Private eyes no longer dominate the TV schedules as they once did - it has been decades since Magnum PI graced our screens, and longer still since the genre's heyday in the 1970s.

But back in March 1979 the thrilling underworld of the private detective was prime time viewing and interesting enough to prompt a feature investigation in the Ealing Gazette.

Keen to find out if real life was anything like that depicted in the TV shows Cannon and Public Eye, our reporter Ian Malin went undercover with Gerald Kemp, the borough's own answer to Philip Marlowe.

Shattering the glamorous image of the PI, Ian described how he was greeted by a polite Telegraph-reading gentleman who lived in a neat semi-detached house in the corner of the borough.

He wrote: "There is no dirty raincoat flung over his chair, no jar of instant coffee at the top of the filing cabinet. And looking round at the expensive furnishings in his living room you get the distinct impression

that he charges more than TV's Marker - 'six pounds a day plus expenses'."

Absolutely anyone could set themselves up as a private detective, and as president of the Association of British Investigators, Mr Kemp was pushing for some form of licensing system to be introduced by the Home Office.

Quizzed about the depiction of his trade on the television, he said: "There is a problem with the media. They imagine we are involved in car chases every day or spy on divorcees from beneath lampposts.

"The TV programmes are entertaining. If they were concerned only with the dayto-day facts of the job they would be boring."

Frank Marker, the down-at-heel hero played by Alfred Burke in Public Eye, lived a gritty existence on the margins of society. Although the show is now largely forgotten, it ran for a decade between 1965 and 1975, moving location from London to Brighton and then Birmingham during the course of its five series.

Cannon was a more glamorous American equivalent which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1976 and starred William Conrad as the overweight detective Frank Cannon, who was working independenty after resigning from the LAPD.

"All Cannon seems to do is smash up cars and Marker's methods are rather fanciful to say the least," said Mr Kemp. "Some of the members of our association get very upset about the Marker image."

After a lengthy spell in the army, Mr Kemp worked as a security advisor before

setting up an investigative agency in the heart of Ealing, where he worked with a partner. After 14 years in the trade, by 1979 the 57-year-old was operating by himself with a busy workload of up to 100 cases at any one time.

Much of his work was referred through the legal profession and involved poring over documents, often to try to find missing people such as adopted children or long-lost siblings, but Mr Kemp did have the occasional case which matched the drama of the TV fantasy.

He cited the case of a man who was accused of murder and could not remember where he was at the time of the killing, leaving him with no alibi. The victim had been tied up with a similar tape to that found in the home of the accused.

Mr Kemp took dozens of statements, proved his client used the tape for respraying jobs, and produced paperwork which showed he was working on a car when the real murderer struck.

The prosecution accepted his work, his client was acquitted, and the case was an example of why Mr Kemp felt private detectives are a vital part of the legal system.

He said: "In serious cases I think we should have the same facilities as the police to investigate the case for the defence - the same access to computer information for example.

"There is usually something in the evidence of law firms that they have missed and it is my job to present them with all the facts."