1 9 6 2 – 1 9 7 8 (UK)
667 x 25/50 minute episodes
Writer Troy Kennedy Martin was confined to bed with a bout of mumps and passed his time listening to a police radio. It was then he realised that Dixon of Dock Green was out of date. He set out to create a realistic, new police series for the sixties, and thus was born Z Cars.
The location was the tough dockland area of Liverpool in the north of England. He renamed Kirkby to Newtown and Seaforth to Seaport.
The fictional Lancashire town of Newtown was an overspill estate without amenities or any sense of community.
The series opened on 2 January 1962 with the burial of PC Farrow who had been shot on duty.
The answer was to introduce “modern” Ford Zephyr patrol cars and Z Victor One was soon cruising around with Northerner PC William “Fancy” Smith and Scotsman PC Jock Weir onboard.
Z Victor Two contained Irishman PC Herbert Lynch and redhead PC Bob Steele.
And in Z Cars, Liverpool had the type of policemen it deserved. These bobbies were no angels . . .
PC Lynch liked a flutter on the horses while Constable Steele was not above a spot of wife-beating. Violence on the beat was rewarded with violence from the coppers on the beat as they encountered harsh urban realities very different from those on Dixon’s patch.
Stories were confined to small social or criminal happenings and the series maintained an air of reality.
Episode titles emphasised the documentary flavour: ‘Affray’, ‘Policework’, ‘A Place of Safety’, ‘Friday Night’.
The series was transmitted live, with some pre-filmed inserts, from studio six at the BBC Television Centre. The live transmission gave an edge to performances and technique, and productions enjoyed the verve of an adrenaline rush.
The series switched to colour in January 1970, with the 300th episode airing a week later at which point the series was pulling in an audience of between eight and ten million viewers each week.
The two characters who created the most impact were Detective Inspector Charlie Barlow and Detective John Watt. Barlow was a huge man, prone to the occasional spot of verbal or physical violence, while the gentler Watt was his ideal foil.
The pair were so successful that they departed for the Regional Crime Squad and their own spin-off show, Softly Softly (1966 -1970).
Barlow eventually gained two more series’ of his own: Barlow at Large (1971 – 1973) and Barlow (1974 – 1976) in which he was promoted eventually to Detective Chief Superintendent.
The Police Association, the viewers (and even Jack Warner, old Dixon himself) all complained, but within two months the show was attracting an audience of 14 million. It ran for 16 years until 1978 when it, in turn, seemed dated when compared with shows like The Sweeney.
This series moved British Television police drama into a new era of realism. Superb casting and scripts were coupled with the BBC’s drama-documentary experience
The late Elwyn Jones, then BBC TV Head of Series and Executive Producer of Z Cars, turned down The Beatles, before they became famous, for a background band appearance in an episode.
The series’ memorable theme tune was adapted from a folk song called Johnny Cobb.
DI Charlie Barlow
DS John Watt
PC ‘Fancy’ Smith
PC Jock Weir
PC/Sgt Bert Lynch
PC Bob Steele
PC Ian Sweet
PC David Graham
Detective Supt. Miller
DI Sam Hudson
PC Ken Baker
PC Raymond Walker
DS Tom Stone
PC Owen Culshaw
PC Alec May
WPC Jane Shepherd
PC Steve Tate
WPC Jane Beck
WPC Jill Howarth
PC Roger Stevens