Z CARS

British Police Series

Z Cars was the innovative, long-running BBC police series of the 1960s, which has programmed more episodes (667) than any other weekly crime programme on British television. Created by Troy Kennedy-Martin and Elwyn Jones, and produced by David Rose, the series brought a new realism to the genre as it featured day to day policing in Newtown, a fictitious town to the north of Liverpool. At the spearhead of operations were the four police constables: "Jock" Weir, "Fancy" Smith, Bob Steele and Bert Lynch. They occupied the two radio crime cars Z-Victor 1 and Z-Victor 2, from which the series gained its title. Supervising operations via a VHF radio operator in the station, and securing prosecutions in the interrogation room, were Detective Sergeant Watt and the formidable Detective Inspector Barlow. Watched by nearly 14 million viewers in its first season, Z Cars rapidly captured the public imagination, and the leading characters became household names. Though in later seasons new characters might be brought in as replacements and the crime cars up-dated, the same basic formula applied. Bert Lynch, played by James Ellis, remained throughout the programme's run. Promoted to station sergeant in 1966 he was still in place at the desk when the doors were finally closed down on the cars in 1978.

In terms of programme aesthetics, Z Cars attempted to counter the filmic appeal of early North American cop programmes, such as Highway Patrol, with "gritty" realism. This was achieved by close attention to authentic police procedure, observation of working-class behaviour and, most especially, the adoption of regional speech. "Northern" working class subject matter was prominent in 1960s culture, exemplified in feature films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and A Taste of Honey. However, Z Cars had more in common with the dialogue-led drama and actor-centred performances of ATV's Armchair Theatre and the early years of Granada's Coronation Street. Though later series were able to make more use of film and locations, the look of Z Cars was constructed almost entirely in the television studio. The 50 minutes of continuous recorded performance provided the space for displays of male comradeship and teamwork, sharp verbal exchanges with members of the community and, most characteristic of all, intense drama in the interrogation room as Barlow bullied and coaxed confessions from his suspects.

Overall, Z Cars succeeded in presenting a more human and "down to earth" image of the police than had been previously created on British television. Major crime remained at the periphery of the series and the emphasis was placed instead on domestic and juvenile crime. The programme adopted the social-democratic view of society so prevalent in 1960s Britain, and at times the PCs behaved more like social workers than policemen, as criminal behaviour was explained in terms of social deprivation. The liberal approach, however, was showing signs of exhaustion. Barlow upheld the law with a fierce authoritarianism in the station, and the PCs needed all their ingenuity and skill to enforce it effectively in the community. An on-going theme is the personal cost of securing law and order, and most of the police characters have unsatisfactory family relationships. In one episode, for instance, Watts was shown agreeing to a divorce and in another Steele beats up his wife. The image of policemen as fallible human beings created some controversy and for a time the Chief Inspector of Lancashire withdrew his support from the programme apprehensive that it might undermine public confidence in the police.

In the course of its long run the programme established the reputations of many production participants, including actors such as Stratford Johns, Frank Windsor, Colin Welland, Brian Blessed and James Ellis, producers/directors such as Shaun Sutton, David Rose and John McGrath, and writers such as Troy Kennedy-Martin, John Hopkins, Alan Plater and Allan Prior. Z Cars has been a major influence on the course of TV police fiction in Britain. The long-running C.I.D. series Softly-Softly (1966-75) was a direct spin-off from it, achieved by promoting Barlow to the rank of chief inspector, transferring him to a regional crime squad and replacing the squad car with a dog-handling unit. Recent British programmes about community policing as different as The Bill and Heartbeat continue to draw from the Z Cars idea. One of the most interesting reworkings of the programme's basic format was BBC's Juliet Bravo (1980-88) which, in keeping with 1980s gender politics, transferred the power from male C.I.D. officers to a uniformed female inspector.

-Bob Millington

 


Z Cars
Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute

CAST

Charlie Barlow ........................................Stratford Johns
John Watt..............................................
Frank Windsor
Bert Lynch
..................................................James Ellis
Fancy Smith
............................................ Brian Blessed
Jack Weir
................................................ Joseph Brady
Bob Steele
..............................................Jeremy Kemp
Sgt. Twentyman..................................
Leonard Williams
Ian Sweet............................................
Terence Edmond
Insp. Dunn..............................................
Dudley Foster
David Graham............................................
Colin Wellan
Sgt. Blackitt
........................................... Robert Keegan
Sally Clarkson
..........................................Diane Aubrey
Insp. Bamber
......................................Leonard Rossiter
PC Robbins
............................................... John Philips
Insp. Millar................................................
Leslie Sands
Ken Baker
...................................... Geoffrey Whitehead
Arthur Boyle
...........................................Edward Kelsey
PC Foster
............................................ Donald Webster
PC Boland.............................................
Michael Grover
Ray Walker
................................................Donald Gee
Sam Hudson
...............................................John Barrie
Tom Stone
..................................................John Slater
Steve Tate
.........................................Sebastian Breaks
Alec May
............................................. Stephen Yardley
Owen Calshaw
............................................David Daker
Jane Shepherd......................................
Luanshya Greer
Insp. Brogan
........................................... George Sewell
PC Newcombe
........................................Bernard Holley
Insp. Todd
...............................................Joss Ackland
PC Jackson
............................................. John Wreford
Insp. Witty
..............................................John Woodvine
PC Roac
h ...................................................Ron Davies
PC Bannerman
.......................................... Paul Angelis
Insp. Goss
...............................................Derek Waring
Joe Skinner
................................................... Ian Cullen
Mick Quilley
......................................... Douglas Fielding
PC Culshaw
...............................................John Challis
Sgt. Moffat
.................................................Ray Lonnen
Jill Howarth.........................................
Stephanie Turner
PC Covill
.......................................................Jack Carr
PC Lindsay..............................................
James Walsh
PC Scatliff
............................................Geoffrey Hayes
PC Render................................................
Alan O'Keefe
PC Hicks...............................................
Godfrey James
PC Logie
.................................................Kenton Moore
PC Birch
................................................John Woodnutt
Sgt. Hagger
................................................. John Collin
WPC Cameron
..........................................Sharon Duce
Insp. Connor.............................................
Gary Watson
PC Yates
..............................................Nicholas Smith
WPC Bayliss......................................
Alison Steadman
DC Braithwaite
........................................ David Jackson
Sgt. Knell
...............................................John Dunn-Hill
PC Preston............................................
Michael Stirrup
Sgt. Chubb
...............................................Paul Stewart
DC Bowker
................................................Brian Grellis
Insp. Maddan
...........................................Tommy Boyle
WPC Beck
........................................Victoria Plucknett

PRODUCERS David Rose, Colin Morris, Ronald Travers, Richard Benyon, Ron Craddock, Roderick Graham

PROGRAMMING HISTORY   50-minute Episodes 376 25-minute Episodes

BBC
January 1962-July 1962                               31 Episodes September 1962-July 1963                           42 Episodes September 1963-June 1964                          42 Episodes September 1964-June 1965                          43 Episodes October 1965-December 1965                      12 Episodes March 1967-April 1971                               334 Episodes
August 1971-March 1972        28 Episodes @ 25 Minutes                                                 1 Episode @ 50 Minutes
April 1972-August 1972          14 Episodes @ 25 Minutes                                             11 Episodes @ 50 Minutes
September 1972-July 1973                           40 Episodes October 1973-June 1974                              28 Episodes September 1974-May 1975                          31 Episodes January 1976-March 1976                            12 Episodes
April 1977-July 1977                                    13 Episodes June 1978-September 1978                          13 Episodes

FURTHER READING

"Allen Prior and John Hopkins Talking About the Z Cars Series." Screen Education (London), September-October 1963.

Casey, A. "Blood Without Thunder." Screen Education (London), September-October 1962.

Hurd, Geoffrey. "The Television Presentation of the Police." In, Bennet, Tony, with others, editors. Popular Television and Film. London: British Film Insitute, 1981.

Kennedy-Martin, T. Z Cars. London: May Fair Books, 1962; Severn House, 1975.

Laing, Stuart. "Banging in Some Reality: The Original Z Cars." In, Corner, John, editor. Popular Television in Britain, Studies in Cultural History. London: British Film Institute, 1991.

Vahimagi, Tise, editor. British Television: An Illustrated Guide, London: Oxford, 1994.

"Z Cars and their Impact: A Conference Report." Screen Education (London), September-October 1963.

 

See also British Programming; Police Programs; Welland, Colin; Windsor, Frank