Z Cars (1962–1978)
|Company||British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)|
Z-Cars or Z Cars (pronounced "zed cars") is a British television police procedural series centred on the work of mobile uniformed police in the fictional town of Newtown, based on Kirkby, near Liverpool. Produced by the BBC, it debuted in January 1962 and ran until September 1978.
The series differed sharply from earlier police procedurals. With its less-usual setting in Northern England setting, it injected a new element of harsh realism into the image of the police, which some found unwelcome.
Z-Cars ran for 801 episodes, of which fewer than half have survived. Regular stars included: Stratford Johns (Detective Inspector Barlow), Frank Windsor (Det. Sgt. Watt), James Ellis (Bert Lynch) and Brian Blessed ("Fancy" Smith). Barlow and Watt were later spun into a separate series Softly, Softly.
Origin of the title
The title comes from the radio call signs allocated by Lancashire Constabulary. Lancashire police divisions were lettered from north to the south: "A" Division (based in Ulverston) was the detached part of Lancashire at the time around Barrow-in-Furness, "B" Division was Lancaster, and so on (see Home Office radio). The TV series took the non-existent signs Z-Victor 1 and Z-Victor 2. The title does not, as sometimes suggested, come from the cars used, Ford Zephyr and Ford Zodiac. The Zephyr was the standard traffic patrol car used by Lancashire and other police forces, while the Zodiac was only used for specialist tasks such as traffic duty. Also, the term "Z-car" was used by British newspaper publishing companies to refer to any type of police vehicle.
Concept and principal characters
Z Cars as an idea came to creator Troy Kennedy Martin as he listened to police messages on his radio while trying to relieve the boredom of being ill in bed with mumps. It was set in the fictional Newtown, loosely based on the real-life modern suburb of Kirkby, one of many housing estates that had sprung up across Britain in the post-war years, and its ageing neighbour Seaport.
The stories revolve around pairs of officers patrolling that week. Riding on changing social attitudes and television, the social realism, with interesting stories, garnered popularity for Z Cars. It was initially somewhat unpopular with real-life police, who disliked the sometimes unsympathetic characterisation of officers. Being set in Northern England helped give Z Cars a regional flavour when most BBC dramas were set in Southern England. It directly challenged the BBC's established police drama Dixon of Dock Green, which at that point had been running for seven years but which some considered 'cosy'.
The one character present throughout the entire run (though not in every episode) was Bert Lynch, played by James Ellis (though John Phillips as Det. Chief Supt. Robins reappeared sporadically during the show's run – by the end of the series he had become Chief Constable). Other characters in the early days were Stratford Johns (Inspector Barlow), Frank Windsor (Det. Sgt. Watt), Robert Keegan (Sgt. Blackitt), Joseph Brady (PC "Jock" Weir) Brian Blessed ("Fancy" Smith) and Jeremy Kemp (Bob Steele). Also in 1960s episodes as David Graham was Colin Welland, later a screenwriter. Other British actors who played regular roles in the early years included Joss Ackland. Although he played no regular role in the series, future Monkee Davy Jones appeared in three episodes, and 1963 saw two well known faces join the regulars - Leonard Rossiter played DI Bamber in eight episodes and John Thaw, later known for his roles in The Sweeney and Inspector Morse, appeared in four as a detective constable who had to leave the force because he had a "glass head" – he couldn't drink alcohol when socialising and mixing with the criminal fraternity, very much part of a detective's job.
Z-Cars ran for 801 episodes.
The original run ended in 1965; Barlow, Watt and Blackitt were spun off into a new series Softly, Softly. When the BBC was looking for a twice-weekly show to replace a series of failed 'soaps' (one example being United!), Z Cars was revived. The revival was produced by the BBC's serials department in a twice-weekly soap opera format of 25-minute episodes, and only James Ellis and Joseph Brady remained from the original show's run. It was shown from March 1967, both 25-minute segments each week comprising one story.
It ran like this until the episode "Kid's Stuff" (broadcast on 30 March 1971), shown as a single 50-minute episode for the week, proved the longer format would still work. Thereafter, Z Cars was shown in alternating spells of either two × 25 minute episodes or the single 50-minute episode each week over the next 16 months. This arrangement ended with the showing of the final two-parter, "Breakage" (Series 6, parts 74 and 75, on 21 and 22 August 1972 respectively), after which the series returned permanently to a regular pattern of one 50-minute episode per week.
Like many series of its era, Z-Cars is incomplete in the archives. The period 1962–65 is reasonably well represented; though with big gaps. With the 1967–71 sixth series, when the programme was shown almost every week, material becomes more patchy still. Of the 416 episodes made for this series, only 108 survive: a few episodes each from 1967, 1969, and 1970, but there are no surviving episodes from 1968 or 1971. About 40% of the total 801 episodes are preserved.
The original series was one of the last British television dramas to be screened as a live production. With videotaping becoming the norm and telerecording a mature method of preserving broadcasts, the practice of live broadcasting drama productions was rare by the time the programme began in 1962. Going out "live" was a preference of the series' producer David Rose, who felt it helped immediacy and pace and gave it an edge. As a result, episodes were still not being pre-recorded as late as 1965. Most were videotaped for a potential repeat, although the tapes – costed as part of a programme's budget – were normally wiped for re-use. The transfer of a live or videotaped programme to film greatly enhanced its chances of surviving.
In the 1980s, the telerecording of the pilot episode "Four of a Kind" was returned to its writer Allan Prior by an engineer. He had taken it home to preserve it because his children had enjoyed the programme and as a result he could not bring himself to destroy it. This and two other early editions were released on a BBC Video in 1993.
Two episodes were returned in 2004 after turning up in a private collection; there have been other occasional returns of individual early episodes in more recent years. When Z-Cars returned in 1967 in its 30-minute, twice-weekly format, it was on nearly every week of the year, which may account for its poor survival rate over this period. The 2 × 30-minute format gradually interchanged with the returning 50-minute format, and when the 50-minute format fell into regular use by the series, this coincided with an increase in its survival rate.
All episodes from the 1975–1978 period are preserved in the archives. BBC Archive Treasure Hunt was a drive to seek out missing episodes and is still open to information regarding missing editions of lost BBC television programmes. British vintage television enthusiast organisation Kaleidoscope is also interested in the recovery of lost television shows, regardless of their original maker or broadcaster.
The Z-Cars theme tune was arranged by Fritz Spiegl and his then wife, composer Bridget Fry, from the traditional Liverpool folk song "Johnny Todd". It was released on record in several versions in 1962. Johnny Keating's version (Piccadilly Records, 7N.35032) sold the best, reaching No. 8 on the Record Retailer chart and as high as No. 5 on some UK charts, whilst the Norrie Paramor Orchestra's version, on Columbia DB 4789, peaked at No. 33. A vocal version of the theme, using the original ballad's words, was released by cast member James Ellis on Philips Records; this missed the charts.
The song in Spiegl and Fry's arrangement is used as an anthem by English football clubs Everton and Watford, playing as the teams enter the pitch for their home games, at Goodison Park and Vicarage Road respectively.
Softly, Softly, a spin-off, focused on the regional crime squad, and ran until 1969, when it was again revised and became Softly, Softly: Taskforce, running until 1976. The character of Barlow (Stratford Johns) was one of the best-known figures in British television in the 1960s and 1970s. He was given several seasons of his own solo series, Barlow at Large (later Barlow) which ran from 1971 to 1975. Barlow joined Watt (Frank Windsor) for the 1973 serial Jack the Ripper. The serial's success led to a further spin-off entitled Second Verdict in which Barlow and Watt looked into unsolved cases and unsafe convictions.
Windsor made a final appearance as Watt in the last episode of Z-Cars, "Pressure", in September 1978, with Robins (John Phillips), the detective chief superintendent from the original series who had risen to chief constable. Jeremy Kemp, Brian Blessed, Joseph Brady and Colin Welland also appeared, though not as their original characters.
In a 2000 poll to find the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century conducted by the British Film Institute, Z-Cars was voted 63rd. It was also included in television critic Alison Graham's alphabetical list of 40 "all-time great" TV shows published in Radio Times in August 2003.
(1962–1965 and 1967–1978: 12 series, 801 episodes)
|Character||Portrayed By||Years Active||Series Active||Episode Count|
|DCI Charlie Barlow||Stratford Johns||1962–1965||1–5||126|
|DS John Watt||Frank Windsor||1962–1965, 1978||1–5, 12||130|
|PC "Jock" Weir||Joseph Brady||1962–1965, 1967–1968||1–6||165|
|PC/DC/Sgt./Insp. Bert Lynch||James Ellis||1962–1965, 1967–1978||1–12||565|
|PC "Fancy" Smith||Brian Blessed||1962–1965||1–5||113|
|PC Bob Steele||Jeremy Kemp||1962–1963||1–2||34|
|Sgt. Percy Twentyman||Leonard Williams||1962||1–2||30|
|PC Ian Sweet||Terence Edmond||1962–1964||1–3||78|
|DC Glyn Hicks||Michael Forrest||1962–1964||2–3||36|
|PC David Graham||Colin Welland||1962–1965||2–5||85|
|Sgt. Bob Blackitt||Robert Keegan||1962–1965||2–5||108|
|PC Ken Baker||Geoffrey Whitehead||1964–1965||4||29|
|PC Taylor||Marcus Hammond||1964–1965||4||20|
|Paula Poulton (BD Girl)||Sara Aimson||1965||4–5||23|
|PC Ray Walker||Donald Gee||1965||4–5||18|
|DI/DCI Sam Hudson||John Barrie||1967, 1968||6||32|
|DS Tom Stone||John Slater||1967–1974||6–9||431|
|PC Owen Culshaw||David Daker||1967–1968||6||82|
|PC Steve Tate||Sebastian Breaks||1967||6||34|
|PC Alec May||Stephen Yardley||1967–1968||6||68|
|WPC Parkin||Pauline Taylor||1967–1969||6||58|
|PC Bill Newcombe||Bernard Holley||1967–1971||6||292|
|BD Girl (name N/A)||Jennie Goossens||1967–1971||6–7||146|
|DI Todd||Joss Ackland||1967–1968||6||40|
|PC Jackson||John Wreford||1967–1968||6||32|
|DI Alan Witty||John Woodvine||1968–1969||6||62|
|PC Doug Roach||Ron Davies||1968–1969||6||60|
|PC Bruce Bannerman||Paul Angelis||1968–1969||6||128|
|PC/Sgt. Alec Quilley||Douglas Fielding||1969–1978||6–12||345|
|DI/Mr. Neil Goss||Derek Waring||1969–1973||6–8||226|
|PC/DC Joe Skinner||Ian Cullen||1969–1975||6–9||226|
|PC Reg Horrocks||Barry Lowe||1970–1975, 1977||6–9, 11||29|
|PC/Sgt. Bowman||John Swindells||1970–1973||6–7||40|
|DS Cecil Haggar||John Collin||1971–1976, 1978||6–7, 9–10,12||51|
|DC Dave Scatliff||Geoffrey Hayes||1971–1974||6–8||27|
|PC Shaun Covill||Jack Carr||1971–1972||6–7||39|
|PC Fred Render||Allan O'Keefe||1971–1978||6–12||65|
|DS/DI Terry Moffat||Ray Lonnen||1972–1977||7–11||25|
|DS Wilf Miller||Geoffrey Whitehead||1972–1975||6–9||22|
|DC Jim Braithwaite||David Jackson||1972–1978||7–12||22|
|Sgt. Gilbert Chubb||Paul Stewart||1974–1978||9–12||25|
|DC/DS Bernard Bowker||Brian Grellis||1974–1978||9–12||19|
|Character||Portrayed By||Years Active||Series Active||Episode Count|
|Janey Steele||Dorothy White||1962–1963||1–2||14|
|Sgt./Insp. Barnes||Frank Hawkins||1962–63||N/A||20|
|DCS/ACC/Chief Con. Robins||John Phillips||1962–1965, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1978||Series 1–4, 6–7, 12||14|
|Katy Hoskins (BD Girl)||Virginia Stride||1962–1964||1–3||18|
|WPC Jenny Stacey||Lynn Furlong||1962–1965||1–4||24|
|DC Bob "Lofty" Smithers – Police Photographer||Ken Jones||1962–64||1–3||8|
|DI/Supt. Dunn||Dudley Foster||1962, 1964||1, 3||13|
|DCS Miller||Leslie Sands||1962–63, 1965, 1967, 1969||Series 1–4, 6||12|
|Sally Clarkson (BD Girl)||Diane Aubrey||1962||1–2||24|
|Sgt. Michaelson||James Cossins||1962–1963||2||11|
|Joan Longton (BD Girl)||Hilary Martyn||1962–1963||2||13|
|DI Bamber||Leonard Rossiter||1963||2||8|
|Betty Clayton (BD Girl)||Sidonie Bond||1963||2||16|
|DC Elliot||John Thaw||1963||3||4|
|Shirley Burscough (BD Girl)||Kate Brown||1963||3||16|
|Pamela Earnshaw (BD Girl)||Kate Allitt||1964||3||12|
|Ann Fazakerley (BD Girl)||Lynn Farleigh||1964||3–4||17|
|WPC Nelson||Susan Jameson||1965, 1975||Series 4,9||6|
|PC Foster||Donald Webster||1965||4||8|
|WPC Jane Shepherd||Luanshya Greer||1967||6||6|
|BD Girl (name N/A)||Anjula Harman||1967, 1969||6||15|
|DC Kane||Christopher Coll||1967–1968||6||20|
|Betty Culshaw||Doreen Aris||1967–1968||6||8|
|DI Brogan||George Sewell||1967||6||6|
|Sally Stone||Thelma Whiteley||1967, 1969–1970||6||8|
|Sgt. Potter||Victor Brooks||1968–1969||6||10|
|D Supt. Oakley||William Dexter||1968–1971||6||6|
|PC Stack||John Livesey||1969||6||13|
|WPC/WP Sgt. Lorna Cameron||June Watson||1970, 1973–1975||6, 8–9||8|
|Supt./D Supt. Roy Richards||Jerome Willis||1971–1973||6–7||4|
|WPC Anne Howarth||Stephanie Turner||1971–1975||7–9||15|
|PC Lindsay||James Walsh||1971–1974||7–9||10|
|Sgt. Frank Culshaw||John Challis||1972–1975||7–9||13|
|DI Fred Connor||Gary Watson||1972–1974||7–8||11|
|PC Jeff Yates||Nicholas Smith||1972–1975||7–9||9|
|Insp./CI Logie||Kenton Moore||1972–1974||7–8||4|
|DI Gerry Madden||Tommy Boyle||1978||12||8|
|WPC Jane Beck||Victoria Plucknett||1978||12||3|