Tintin’s cast of characters includes a couple of buffoons in the tradition of Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau of Pink Panther fame (although Thomson & Thompson came well before). Thomson & Thompson are two Scotland Yard detectives whose presence in stories adds wonderful comic relief. They are both a bit dim, very clumsy, and generally clueless. While they look very similar and they dress the same, they are actually not related. Since they look almost identical and interchangeably play the role of straight man and cut-up, it’s difficult to tell which is which, but the mustaches give them away. Thomson has a bit of a flare while Thompson is more or less straight. See here.
Incidentally, although their names are spelled differently, collectively they are referred to as the Thompsons. We shall forthwith do the same.
The first appearance of Thomson & Thompson was in Cigars of the Pharoah where they are under orders to arrest Tintin. This won’t be the last time. Although they later become fast friends, in the early albums, the Thompsons are a suspicious duo and with just the slightest questionable piece of evidence, they are ready to prematurely solve the case and if necessary take Tintin into custody. This sort of poor policemanship drives frustrates everyone, particularly Captain Haddock, and several times throughout the series the Captain, as he wont to do with anyone he considers a “nitwit,” hurls volcanic verbal abuse at the Yard’s “Siamese Twins.”
The Thompsons figure in at least minor roles throughout the series and appear in every book after Cigars except Tintin in Tibet and Flight 714. Some of their appearances are quite brief, the shortest of which is a cameo in The Shooting Star where they appear briefly in a crowd seeing Tintin and Captain Haddock off as they prepare to investigate a mysterious meteorite. In some stories like the two-part moon exploration stories (Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon), they play heavily integral roles.
Hergé chose to redraw his early black and white adventures including Cigars. By then, the Thompsons were well known so it was a bit confusing to figure out when they were actually familiar and when they were just suspicious detectives who knew Tintin only by name and reputation. Since we read the adventures in English (which were published out of order), it was frustrating because without knowing that the stories had been redrawn we couldn’t figure out why the apparently newer stories (meaning the ones with the cleaner line style Hergé used as his artistry developed) showed this lack of familiarity after they had shared many adventures together. While we are grateful for the improved drawings, we would appreciated it if Mr. Hergé and the English publishers would have informed us of the actual chronology of the stories.
Just to add to the confusion, Hergé also presented the boys on the first page of Tintin in the Congo (which is chronologically older than Cigars) during his ill-conceived re-draw of that abomination. Poor Thompsons. You too are now part of the tragedy.
Besides being bumbling and inept, their speech mannerisms (called spoonerisms) are often just as funny as Captain Haddock’s profanity-laced biological and archaeological insults. When one of the detectives utters a statement, the other rejoins with the intent of validating the statement but ends up muddling the intended point. These chime-ins often expresses exactly what others most likely think of them but demonstrate their obliviousness to the mistake. Some examples:
Thomson: Good morning… Er… Here we are at last…
Thompson: To be precise: good morning. Here we are, last as usual..
Thomson: “We’ve searched South America from top to bottom, sir, without result. We lost all trace of Tintin, the Captain, and the Professor.” Thompson: “To be precise: we got lost.”
Thomson: “What news! Plenty! Something very odd has just happened!”
Thompson: “To be precise…we just happen to be very odd!”
Sometimes both get muddled. For example, when meeting King Muskar XII:
Thompson: “Majesty, you sire is very good…Good Majesty…no, I mean…”
Thomson: “To be precise…it’s a majesty, Your Pleasure…”
When Tintin asks them how they are, they reply:
Thomson: “Hmm… All right… We can’t deny that we’re right as ever.”
Thompson: “Quite right… quite right… To be precise: we can deny that we’re ever right.”