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Softly, Softly (BBC-1 1966-1969, Stratford Johns, Frank Windsor)

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In 1966 the BBC gave us a spin off from Z Cars. Softly Softly turned out to be just as popular as it’s parent show and would eventually evolve into a different series called Softly, Softly: Task Force.

At the time Z Cars was taking a break and series creator Troy Kennedy Martin took two of it’s popular characters Detective Chief Inspector Charles Barlow and Detective Inspector John Watt and sent them to the town of Wyvern in Bristol heading up their own regional crime squad.

Key characters besides Barlow and Watt included Detective Sergeant Harry Hawkins (later promoted to Inspector for Task Force), ex Z-Cars member Bob Blackitt, Detective Constable Ben Box and Assistant Chief Constable Austin Gilbert.

After five series the BBC planned to bring the series to an end and give Barlow and Watt a new series called Task Force as part of BBC One’s move to all colour production. However the corporation were also keen not to lose the successful Softly, Softly brand and compromised with calling the new series Softly Softly: Task Force. The premise saw Barlow being given promotion to Detective Chief Superintendent and charged with setting up his own task-force. He took Watt and Hawkins with him. There was no break in the scheduling between the two shows. The final episode of Softly Softly aired 13 November 1969 and the first episode of Task Force aired the following week on the 20 November.

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Sadly very few episodes of Softly, Softly remain in existence but every episode of Task Force is luckily in the BBC archive. The title is actually part of the proverb Softly, softly catchee monkey which at the time was the motto of the Lancashire Constabulary Training School.

Alf McCreary, Belfast Telegraph 3 Feb 1973: Detective Chief Superintendent Barlow is back next week with a new series – Barlow at Large. One of the reasons for his success over the years is that Elwyn Jones and the other writers have kept slightly ahead of the game. Barlow is never boring. Remarkably his absence from Softly Softly: Task Force, which ended its run this week was hardly noticeable. The formula is so sophisticated that each episode generates a life of its own and absentees are simply forgotten. Softly Softly remains the best long running series on television. This again is partly because Watt, like Barlow, lives with it and is never caught out of step in characterisation. As Watt grows older he goes up, unlike the endearing but comparatively unsuccessful Stone of Z Cars.

Peter Knight, Daily Telegraph (1966): The BBC’s new television crime series, ‘Softly, Softly’, which opened on BBC1 last night, is a legitimate, well-bred offspring of its predecessor ‘Z Cars’. It has the same rough, abrasive realism, the same sharp, prickly dialogue, the same terse economy of style. But it is also a development of the original taking some of the better qualities and moulding them to a new format. It will not have the same impact that ‘Z Cars’ made when it first appeared for the new ground has already been broken. All the new series can now do is explore the tracks.

From the original show ‘bible’: Deneford Countymedium-size force not overly efficient. It is, for example, a County which just hasn’t caught up with its recent, and rather savage, overspill towns; which has had rather a gentlemanly approach to crime; which almost automatically calls in the Yard when anything big happens. Barlow wants to change all that, making his Force so efficient he need hardly ever call upon outside help. Watt arrives in Deneford County with the rank of Detective Superintendent and the job of heading one of the County’s two Task Forces. Just as it was assumed in Z Cars that there was an industrial state, a port, a wealthy suburb and real rural communities within reach – these were also assumed to exist within the Kingley district over which Watt has overall control. (From ‘Softly, Softly’ Story Developments file at BBC Written Archives)

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Sgt Robert Evans from the show bible: he was just that much too small for Glamorgan County. He’s a bright and thrusting Sergeant, a former detective constable who thought his only chance of promotion lay in the uniform branch: he may change his mind about this now that Barlow is around. He is one of those natural thief catchers; one of those whose every step seems to take him into places where crime is being committed. (From ‘Softly, Softly’ Story Developments file at BBC Written Archives)

See also Barlow At Large.

production details
UK / BBC One / 120×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 5 January 1966 – 13 November 1969 Task force aired w0 November 1969 – 15 December 1976

Creator: Troy Kennedy Martin / Producers: David E. Rose (Series 1-2, ), Leonard Lewis (Series 3-5)

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cast
Stratford Johns as DCS Charlie Barlow
Frank Windsor as DI and then DCI John Watt
Robert Keegan as Bob Blackitt
Norman Bowler as DS/DI/DCI Harry Hawkins
Terence Rigby as PC Snow
David Lloyd Meredith as Det-Sgt Evans
John Welsh as ACC Bill Calderwood
John Barron as ACC Austin Gilbert
Gilbert Wynne as DC Reg Dwyer
Garfield Morgan as DCI Gwyn Lewis
Cavan Kendall as PC Greenly
Dan Meaden as DC Ben Box
Eric McCaine as Insp and then Chief Insp Andy Laird
David Quilter as PC Tanner
Philip Brack as DI Jim Cook
Peggy Sinclair as DS Barbara Allin
Gavin Campbell as PC and then DC William Digby
Howell Evans as DC Davie Morgan

THE EPISODES
SEASON NINE 12 September 1973 – 16 January 1974
1. ERRORS
2. SIGNED OFF
3. A QUIET MAN
4. NO WAY
5. NO LIFE FOR A WOMAN
6. TWENTY-SEVEN PIECES OF PORCELAIN
7. NIGHT-WATCH
8. CATCH AS CATCH CAN
9. THE LOUDMOUTH
10. INTERROGATION
11. SLIP OF THE TONGUE
12. TRIAL
13. SKIPPER’S WALK
14. COVER
15. OBSERVATION
16. TROUBLE-MAKER
17. THE RAIDER
18. VICTIM

SEASON TEN 4 September – 27 November 1974
1. ALERT
2. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SHOUT, I’M LISTENING
3. WORTH A MILLION
4. DOMESTIC INCIDENT
5. POP GOES THE WEASEL
6. CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS
7. PARDON
8. LITTLE BOY BLUE
9. A DAY’S WORK
10. PAPERWORK
11. SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE
12. WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER
13. TEMPTATION

SEASON 11 25 August – 3 December 1975
1. FEEDBACK
2. HIGH LIFE
3. PROTECTION
4. GRASS
5. BARGAINS
6. THE TALKING DOLL
7. AND WITH WHAT MEASURE?
8. FEMALE OF THE SPECIES
9. A PERSON UNKNOWN
10. HOMICIDE
11. DOROTHY’S BIRTHDAY
12. WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?
13. CHOIRBOY
14. ON CALL
15. BLIND ALLEY

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SEASON TWELVE 8 SEPTEMBER – 15 DECEMBER 1976
1. NOT WITH A BANG…
2. THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW
3. SAY IT WITH FLOWERS
4. THE TROJAN HORSE
5. NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T
6. AS GOOD COOKS GO…
7. THE VISITOR
8. BAKED BEANS
9. THE CLIMBER
10. AT RISK
11. GOT HIM!
12. JUST A WHISPER?
13. A SHOT IN THE DARK
14. COMMUNICATIONS
15. ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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