Home Television Drama Z Cars

Z Cars

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 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 It was then he realised that Dixon of Dock Green was out of date.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.

zcars14The location was the tough dockland area of Liverpool in the north of England. He renamed Kirkby to Newtown and Seaforth to Seaport. Newtown was an overspill estate without amenities or any sense of community.

The series opened with the burial of PC Farrow who had been shot on duty.

The answer was to introduce 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.

The four young recruits driving around in Ford Zephyr patrol cars Z Victor One and Z Victor Two (Call sign “Zulu”), encountered harsh urban realities very different from those on Dixon’s patch.

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 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).

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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.

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It ran for 16 years until 1978 when it, in turn, became dated along 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 
Stratford Johns
DS John Watt 

Frank Windsor
PC ‘Fancy’ Smith 

Brian Blessed
PC Jock Weir 

Joseph Brady
PC/Sgt Bert Lynch 

James Ellis
DI Dunn 

Dudley Foster
PC Bob Steele 

Jeremy Kemp
PC Ian Sweet 

Terence Edmond
Sgt Twentyman 

Leonard Wiliams
Mary Watt 

Gwen Cherrell
Sgt Blackitt 

Robert Keegan
PC David Graham 

Colin Welland
Detective Supt. Miller 

Leslie Sands
DI Sam Hudson 

John Barrie
PC Ken Baker 

Geoffrey Whitehead
PC Raymond Walker 

Donald Gee
DS Tom Stone 

John Slater
PC Owen Culshaw 

David Daker
PC Alec May 

Stephen Yardley
WPC Jane Shepherd 

Luanshya Greer
PC Steve Tate 

Sebastian Breaks
PC Finch 

Christopher Denham
DI Goss 

Derek Waring
DC Scatliff 

Geoffrey Hayes
PC Quilley 

Douglas Fielding
WPC Parkin 

Pauline Taylor
WPC Jane Beck 

Victoria Plucknett
WPC Jill Howarth 

Stephanie Turner
WPC Bayliss 

Alison Steadman
DI Witty 

John Woodvine
DI Bamber 

Leonard Rossiter
PC Newcombe 

Bernard Holley
PC Roger Stevens 

Ralph Watson
DC Skinner 

Ian Cullen
DI Todd 

Joss Ackland