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File:Z cars title.jpg
Created byTroy Kennedy Martin
Allan Prior
StarringJames Ellis
Brian Blessed
Stratford Johns
Frank Windsor
Jeremy Kemp
Joseph Brady
Colin Welland
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of series12
No. of episodes801
Running time25 minutes & 45 minutes
Original networkBBC1
Original release2 January 1962 –
20 September 1978
Softly, Softly
Softly, Softly: Taskforce
Barlow at Large/Barlow
Jack the Ripper
Second Verdict

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Z-Cars or Z Cars English pronunciation: was a British television drama series centred on the work of mobile uniformed police in the fictional town of Newtown, based on Kirkby, Lancashire (now Merseyside). Produced by the BBC, it debuted in January 1962 and ran until September 1978.

The series differed sharply from earlier police procedurals. With its less-usual Northern setting, it injected a new element of harsh realism into the image of the police, which some found unwelcome.

Z-Cars ran for a total of 801 episodes, of which fewer than half have survived. Regular stars included: Stratford Johns (Detective Inspector Barlow), Frank Windsor (Det. Sgt Watt), James Ellis (Bert Lynch) and Brian Blessed ("Fancy" Smith). Barlow and Watt were later spun into a separate series Softly, Softly.

The name Z-Cars relates to an imaginary "Z" Division of the local constabulary. The theme tune was based on a traditional Liverpool folk song, and was adopted by Everton Football Club as it's official anthem.

Origin of the title[]

The title comes from the radio call signs allocated by Lancashire Constabulary: Lancashire police divisions were lettered from north to the south, "A" Division (based in Ulverston) was the detached part of Lancashire at the time around Barrow-in-Furness, "B" Division was Lancaster, and so on. Letters further into the alphabet were in the south around the Manchester and Liverpool areas.[1] The TV series took the non-existent signs Z-Victor 1 and Z-Victor 2. The title does not come from the cars used, as in Ford Zephyr and Ford Zodiac. The Zodiac was never used by British police as a standard patrol car, but was used in the form of "Motorway Patrol Vehicles", because of its larger, more powerful engine. These vehicles could be seen in a white livery with "POLICE" in large blue letters on the sides of the vehicle, along with broad red-orange stripes. Such vehicles were later used as "crime cars", used to respond to major crimes. Some of them also carried a "lock-box" that contained firearms to be used by "Armed Response Teams", especially in response to armed robberies and terrorist incidents of the seventies. The Zephyr was the standard patrol traffic car (not the same as "crime car") used by Lancashire and other police forces.

Concept and principal characters[]

Z Cars as an idea came to creator Troy Kennedy Martin as he listened to police messages on his radio whilst trying to relieve the boredom of being ill in bed with mumps.[2] After the Second World War ended, the creation of rapidly expanding, bureaucratically created communities brought with them many problems. Liverpool suffered much damage during the war and the Liverpool Corporation, having many slums to contend with, bought land in the surrounding areas into which they moved industry. Along with these factories, many people were relocated en masse into newly developed "overspill" estates. One area became the new town of Kirkby. Kennedy Martin set his programme in the fictional Newtown, loosely based on the modern suburb of Kirkby, one of many housing estates that had sprung up across Britain in the post-war years, and its ageing neighbour "Seaport".[3]

The stories revolve around pairs of officers patrolling that week. Riding on changing social attitudes and television, the social realism, with interesting stories, garnered popularity for Z Cars. It was initially somewhat unpopular with real-life police, who disliked the sometimes unsympathetic characterisation of officers. Being set in the North of England helped give Z Cars a regional flavour when most BBC dramas were set in the south. It directly challenged the BBC's popular police drama Dixon of Dock Green, which at that point had been running for seven years but which some considered 'cosy'.[4]

The one character present throughout the entire run (though not in every episode) was Bert Lynch, played by James Ellis (though John Phillips as Det. Chief Supt. Robins would reappear sporadically during the show's run – by the end of the series he had become Chief Constable). Other characters in the early days were Stratford Johns (Inspector Barlow), Frank Windsor (Det. Sgt Watt), Robert Keegan (Sgt Blackitt), Joseph Brady (PC "Jock" Weir) and Brian Blessed ("Fancy" Smith). Also in 1960s episodes as David Graham was Colin Welland later a screenwriter. Other British actors who played regular roles in the early years included Joss Ackland. Although he played no regular role in the series, future Monkee Davy Jones appeared in three episodes.[vague]


Z-Cars ran for 801 episodes.

The original run ended in 1965; Barlow, Watt and Blackitt were spun off into a new series Softly, Softly. When the BBC was looking for a twice-weekly show to replace a series of failed 'soaps' (one example being United!), Z Cars was revived. The revival was produced by the BBC's serials department in a twice-weekly soap opera format of 25-minute episodes and only James Ellis and Joseph Brady remained from the original show's run. It was shown from March 1967, both 25-minute segments each week comprising one story.

It ran like this until the episode "Kid's Stuff" (broadcast on 30 March 1971), shown as a single 50-minute episode for the week, proved the longer format would still work. Thereafter, Z Cars was shown in alternating spells of either 2 x 25 minutes episodes or the single 50-minute episode each week over the next sixteen months. This arrangement ended with the showing of the final 2-parter, "Breakage" (Series 6, Parts 74 & 75, 21 & 22 August 1972 respectively), after which the series returned permanently to a regular pattern of 1 x 50-minute episodes per week.[5]

Theme music[]

The Z-Cars theme tune was arranged by Fritz Spiegl[6] and his then-wife, composer Bridget Fry from the traditional Liverpool folk song "Johnny Todd".[6]

It was released on record in several versions in 1962. Johnny Keating's version (Piccadilly Records, 7N.35032) sold the best, reaching #8 on the Record Retailer chart and as high as #5 on some UK charts, whilst the Norrie Paramor Orchestra's version, on Columbia DB 4789, peaked at #33. A vocal version of the theme, using the original ballad's words, was released by cast member James Ellis on Philips Records; this missed the charts.[7]

The song in Spiegl and Fry's arrangement is also used as the anthem for English football club Everton and is played at every home match as they walk onto the pitch at Goodison Park.[8] The tune is also used as the march-on anthem at Watford F.C. home games.[9]

After Z-Cars[]

Softly, Softly, a spin-off, focused on the regional crime squad, and ran until 1969, when it was again revised and became Softly, Softly: Taskforce, running until 1976. The character of Barlow (Stratford Johns) was one of the best-known figures in British television in the 1960s and 1970s. He was given several seasons of his own solo series, Barlow at Large (later Barlow) which ran from 1971 to 1975. Barlow joined Watt (Frank Windsor) for the 1973 serial Jack the Ripper. The serial's success led to a further spin-off entitled Second Verdict in which Barlow and Watt looked into unsolved cases and unsafe convictions.

Frank Windsor made a final appearance as Watt in the last episode of Z-Cars, "Pressure", in September 1978, with Robins (John Phillips), the Detective Chief Superintendent from the original series who had risen to chief constable. Jeremy Kemp, Brian Blessed, Joseph Brady and Colin Welland also appeared, though not as their original characters.

Lost episodes[]

Z-Cars is incomplete in the archives. The period 1962–65 is reasonably well represented; though with big gaps. With the 1967–71 sixth series, when the programme was shown almost every week, material becomes more patchy. Of the 416 episodes made for this series, only 108 survive: a few episodes each from 1967, 1969, and 1970, but there are no surviving episodes at all from either 1968 or 1971. About 40% of the approximately eight hundred total episodes are preserved.[10]

The original series was one of the last British television dramas to be screened as a live production. With videotaping becoming the norm and telerecording a mature method of preserving broadcasts the practice of live broadcasting drama productions was rare by the time the programme began in 1962. Going out "live" was a preference of the series' producer David Rose, who felt it helped immediacy and pace and gave it an "edge". As a result, episodes were still not being pre-recorded as late as 1965. Most were videotaped for a repeat, although the tapes – often a large part of a programme's budget – were normally wiped for re-use, once the episodes were telerecorded. Existing on film greatly enhanced the chances of the episodes surviving, especially when monochrome programmes (whether on expensive videotape or cheaper film) were relegated in importance by the advent of colour broadcasting in the UK.[11][better source needed]

The telerecording of the pilot episode was returned to writer Allan Prior in the 1980s by an engineer who had taken it home to preserve it because his children had enjoyed the programme and he could not bring himself to destroy it. This with two other early editions were released on BBC Video in 1993.[12]

Two episodes were returned in 2004 after turning up in a private collection. Colour episodes from the early-1970s are less likely to be recovered, as they were never telerecorded for export.[11][better source needed]

BBC Archive Treasure Hunt is currently seeking missing episodes. All episodes from the 1975–1978 period are preserved in the archives.


In a 2000 poll to find the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century conducted by the British Film Institute, Z-Cars was voted 63rd.[13] It was also included in television critic Alison Graham's alphabetical list of 40 "all-time great" TV shows published in Radio Times in August 2003.[14]


Main cast[]

(1962–1965 & 1967–1978 / 12 Series / 801 episodes)

Character Portrayed By Years Active Series Active Episode Count
DCI Charlie Barlow Stratford Johns 1962–1965 1-6 126
DS John Watt Frank Windsor 1962–1965, 1978 1–5, 12 130
PC "Jock" Weir Joseph Brady 1962–1965, 1967-1968 1–6 165
PC/DC/Sgt./Insp. Bert Lynch James Ellis 1962–1965, 1967–1978 1–12 565
PC "Fancy" Smith Brian Blessed 1962–1965 1-5 113
PC Bob Steele Jeremy Kemp 1962-1963 1-2 34
Sgt. Percy Twentyman Leonard Williams 1962 1-2 30
PC Ian Sweet Terence Edmond 1962–1964 1–3 78
DC Glyn Hicks Michael Forrest 1962–1964 2-3 36
PC David Graham Colin Welland 1962–1965 2-5 85
Sgt. Bob Blackitt Robert Keegan 1962–1965 2–5 108
PC Ken Baker Geoffrey Whitehead 1964–1965 4 29
PC Taylor Marcus Hammond 1964-1965 4 20
Paula Poulton (BD Girl) Sara Aimson 1965 4-5 23
PC Ray Walker Donald Gee 1965 4-5 18
DI/DCI Sam Hudson John Barrie 1967, 1968 6 32
DS Tom Stone John Slater 1967-1974 6-9 431
PC Owen Culshaw David Daker 1967–1968 6 82
PC Steve Tate Sebastian Breaks 1967 6 34
PC Alec May Stephen Yardley 1967–1968 6 68
WPC Parkin Pauline Taylor 1967–1969 6 58
PC Bill Newcombe Bernard Holley 1967–1971 6 292
BD Girl (name N/A) Jennie Goossens 1967–1971 6–7 146
DI Todd Joss Ackland 1967–1968 6 40
PC Jackson John Wreford 1967–1968 6 32
DI Alan Witty John Woodvine 1968–1969 6 62
PC Doug Roach Ron Davies 1968–1969 6 60
PC Bruce Bannerman Paul Angelis 1968–1969 6 128
PC/Sgt. Alec Quilley Douglas Fielding 1969–1978 6-12 345
DI/Mr. Neil Goss Derek Waring 1969–1973 6-8 226
PC/DC Joe Skinner Ian Cullen 1969–1975 6-9 226
PC Reg Horrocks Barry Lowe 1970–1975, 1977 Series 6–9, 11 29
PC/Sgt. Bowman John Swindells 1970–1973 6–7 40
DS Cecil Haggar John Collin 1971–1976, 1978 6–7, 9–10,12 51
DC Dave Scatliff Geoffrey Hayes 1971–1974 6–8 27
PC Shaun Covill Jack Carr 1971–1972 6–7 39
PC Fred Render Allan O'Keefe 1971–1978 6–12 65
DS/DI Terry Moffat Ray Lonnen 1972–1977 7-11 25
DS Wilf Miller Geoffrey Whitehead 1972–1975 6–9 22
DC Jim Braithwaite David Jackson 1972–1978 7–12 22
Sgt. Gilbert Chubb Paul Stewart 1974–1978 9–12 25
DC/DS Bernard Bowker Brian Grellis 1974–1978 9–12 19

Recurring cast[]

Character Portrayed By Years Active Series Active Episode Count
Janey Steele Dorothy White 1962–1963 1–2 14
Sgt/Insp Barnes Frank Hawkins 1962–63 N/A 20
DCS/ACC/Chief Con. Robins John Phillips 1962–1965, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1978 Series 1–4, 6–7, 12 14
Katy Hoskins (BD Girl) Virginia Stride 1962–1964 1–3 18
WPC Jenny Stacey Lynn Furlong 1962–1965 1-4 24
DC Bob "Lofty" Smithers – Police Photographer Ken Jones 1962–64 1-3 8
DI/Supt. Dunn Dudley Foster 1962, 1964 1, 3 13
DCS Miller Leslie Sands 1962–63, 1965, 1967, 1969 Series 1–4, 6 12
Sally Clarkson (BD Girl) Diane Aubrey 1962 1-2 24
Sgt. Michaelson James Cossins 1962–1963 2 11
Joan Longton (BD Girl) Hilary Martyn 1962–1963 2 13
DI Bamber Leonard Rossiter 1963 2 8
Betty Clayton (BD Girl) Sidonie Bond 1963 2 16
DC Elliot John Thaw 1963 3 4
Shirley Burscough (BD Girl) Kate Brown 1963 3 16
Pamela Earnshaw (BD Girl) Kate Allitt 1964 3 12
Ann Fazakerley (BD Girl) Lynn Farleigh 1964 3-4 17
WPC Nelson Susan Jameson 1965, 1975 Series 4,9 6
PC Foster Donald Webster 1965 4 8
WPC Jane Shepherd Luanshya Greer 1967 6 6
BD Girl (name N/A) Anjula Harman 1967, 1969 6 15
DC Kane Christopher Coll 1967–1968 6 20
Betty Culshaw Doreen Aris 1967–1968 6 8
DI Brogan George Sewell 1967 6 6
Sally Stone Thelma Whiteley 1967, 1969–1970 6 8
Sgt. Potter Victor Brooks 1968–1969 6 10
D Supt. Oakley William Dexter 1968–1971 6 6
PC Stack John Livesey 1969 6 13
WPC/WP Sgt. Lorna Cameron June Watson 1970, 1973–1975 6, 8–9 8
Supt./D Supt. Roy Richards Jerome Willis 1971–1973 6–7 4
WPC Anne Howarth Stephanie Turner 1971–1975 7-9 15
PC Lindsay James Walsh 1971–1974 7–9 10
Sgt. Frank Culshaw John Challis 1972–1975 7–9 13
DI Fred Connor Gary Watson 1972–1974 7–8 11
PC Jeff Yates Nicholas Smith 1972–1975 7–9 9
Insp./CI Logie Kenton Moore 1972–1974 7–8 4
DI Gerry Madden Tommy Boyle 1978 12 8
WPC Jane Beck Victoria Plucknett 1978 12 3

See also[]

  • Z-car (disambiguation)


  1. "UK Police Force callsigns". The Alliance of British Drivers. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  2. "Troy Kennedy Martin: Innovative writer who created 'Z Cars' and wrote 'Edge of Darkness' and 'The Italian Job'". The Independent. London. 17 September 2009.
  3. Leishman, Frank; Mason, Paul (2003). Policing and the Media: Facts, Fictions and Factions (Policing & Society). p. 56. ISBN 1903240298.
  4. Rolinson, David. "Dixon of Dock Green in the 1970s". British Television Drama. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  5. "Z Cars". Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Barker, Dennis (25 March 2003). "Fritz Spiegl: Witty musical polymath and broadcaster". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  7. "James Ellis (6) – Johnny Todd". Discogs. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  8. "Everton's Origins: Z-Cars Theme". ToffeeWeb. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  9. "Chairman on Z-Cars return". Watford Football Club. 23 April 2005. Retrieved 22 April 2012.[dead link]
  10. Richard Down and Christopher Perry, The British Television Drama Research Guide, 1950–1997, with Full Archive Holdings, second revised edition (Bristol: Kaleidoscope Publishing, 1997): DZ1–DZ5. ISBN: 1-900203-04-9.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Wiping
  12. "Z Cars" – via Amazon.
  13. "The BFI TV 100: 1-100". BFI. Archived from the original on 11 September 2011. See also: 100 Greatest British Television Programmes
  14. Alison Graham, "Take the Big TV Challenge!" Radio Times (30 August–5 September 2003), 16–21. Citation on p. 21.

External links[]