Who is the Most Famous Private Detective in the World?

Most Famous Private Detective

As private investigators in Birmingham, we often get asked who we think is the most famous detective in history. So much so, in fact, that we thought it was about time we made a list of some of our favourites!

The Most Famous Private Detectives in the World

Let’s start with the most famous detective characters who have entertained audiences on stage, on screen, in radio shows and in good old written format. (The one that most likely springs to mind isn’t listed here, which may seem strange but you’ll find out why later in this article.)

Famous Fictional Detectives

Hercule Poirot:

A wonderful creation by Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot is everyone’s favourite Belgian detective. He is an elegant man whose incredible mind is matched only by his magnificent moustache and passion for good food.


Cigar in hand and with an impressive mop of hair on his head, Columbo is a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He’s best known for his dishevelled appearance, unconventional methods, and trademark phrase of “Just one more thing…”


Even the tropical paradise that is Hawaii has plenty of cases for Magnum P.I. to crack, many of which involve exciting elements such as millionaire estates, gunmen in helicopters, and, in one particular instance, a villain on a ladder dressed as a nun.

Famous Real-Life Private Detectives

Now let’s take a look at the most famous private detectives in real life. They may not have their own TV shows, but the work they delivered over the course of history is enough to grab anyone’s attention.

Allan Pinkerton:

A Scottish-American detective and spy, Allan Pinkerton founded the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in the United States in 1850. He played a crucial role in solving crimes, protecting businesses, and providing security services during the 19th century.

Kate Warne:

Perhaps the most famous female detective (and certainly the first female detective in the United States), Kate Warne was hired by Allan Pinkerton in 1856. She played a key role in various high-profile cases and undercover operations, earning the respect of her colleagues and clients.

Eugène François Vidocq:

A French criminal turned detective, Vidocq is considered one of the pioneers of modern criminal investigation. He founded the Sureté Nationale, one of the earliest modern detective agencies, and his innovative investigative techniques laid the foundation for modern forensic science.

The most famous British Detective 

Good old Blighty has its fair share of famous detectives too. To round off our list, we’ve picked one from the world of fiction and one from the real world.

The Most Famous Fictional British Detective

That’s right, you guessed it: the most famous British detective must surely be Sherlock Holmes. The deerstalker-wearing, pipe-smoking, violin-playing private detective was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, featuring in four of the author’s novels and a whopping 56 short stories. 

Sherlock Holmes is renowned for his brilliant deductive reasoning, astute observation skills, remarkable attention to detail, and enormous ego. In recent years, he has been portrayed in movies and TV shows by Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Lee Miller, Sir Ian McKellen, and Henry Cavill.

The Most Famous Real-Life British Private Detective

Back here in reality, we think it’s only right to say that Sir Robert Peel deserves this spot. Peel was Prime Minister twice and also the father of modern British policing, as he established the Metropolitan Police Service in London in 1829. This historic move revolutionised law enforcement across the UK by creating a professional and centralised police force. He’s also the reason why police officers are often referred to as “Bobbies” and “Peelers”.

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