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Z-Cars (BBC-1 1962-1978, Stratford Johns, Frank Windsor)

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Crime drama series Z Cars was a long running and very popular police procedure series following a group of PC’s and Detectives in a fictional Liverpool suburb.

The theme tune Johnny Keating reached Number 8 in the UK charts in 1962 and the inspiration for the series actually lay in a book by Detective Sergeant Bill Prendergast of Liverpool Police although the action was transferred to the fictional Newtown.

Early episodes were filmed live and the series attracted many of the top writers of the era including the likes of Alan Plater, James Mitchell and PJ Hammond.

The series was actually cancelled in 1965 but returned with a mostly new cast some 15 months later. Bert Lynch and Jock Weir were the two survivors and the series gained more of a soapy element being shown twice a week. Having moved back to hour long episodes with a switch to colour the series hung on until 1978 by which time it had notched up 800 episodes.

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Major spin off with Softly Softly. The cops squad cars were Ford Zephyrs.

John McGrath, Daily Sketch, 1 May 1962: Before Z Cars there were three types of phoney policemen – either comic YOKELS on bikes, touching their forelocks and calling everyone sir; Scotland Yard GLAMOUR BOYS, or kindly old father figures like DIXON OF DOCK GREEN. Z Cars does not claim to be documentary. We don’t pretend it is the truth. What we do say is: IT IS A SIGHT MORE TRUE TO LIFE THAN ANYTHING ELSE SO FAR.

Stratford Johns: I was annoyed that the police had always been portrayed as pipe-smoking bunglers who occasionally stumbled over a corpse … I was bored with it. I had two lines as a detective in a film, Across the Bridge, in which I was supposed to indicate that I wasn’t overpowered by Steiger. I brought a little reality into it, did a rather bad-tempered act. It got a good reaction. So I tried it on Z Cars.

production details
UK | BBC One | 800 episodes x25/50 minutes | 1962-78

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Creator: Troy Kennedy Martin / Music arranged by Bridget Fry and Fritz Spiegl (Steeleye Span performed an electric folk version of the theme tune for season 11)

Important cast members included:-
STRATFORD JOHNS as DCI Charlie Barlow
FRANK WINDSOR as DS John Watt
BRIAN BLESSED as PC William ‘Fancy’ Smith
JEREMY KEMP as PC Bob Steele
JACK ELLIS as PC Bert Lynch
JOSEPH BRADY as PC Jock Weir
COLIN WELLAND as PC David Graham
LEONARD ROSSITER as DI Bamber
JOSS ACKLAND as DI Todd
DAVID DAKER as PC Owen Culshaw
STEPHEN YARDLEY as PC Alec May
STEPHANIE TURNER as WPC Jill Howarth
ALISON STEADMAN as WPC Bayliss


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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