Z-Cars or Z Cars (pronounced "zed cars") is a British television police procedural series centred on the work of mobile uniformed police in the fictional town of Newtown, based on Kirkby, near Liverpool. Produced by the BBC, it debuted in January 1962 and ran until September 1978.

Created byTroy Kennedy Martin
Allan Prior
StarringJames Ellis
Brian Blessed
Stratford Johns
Frank Windsor
Jeremy Kemp
Joseph Brady
Colin Welland
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series12
No. of episodes801 (462 missing) (list of episodes)
Running time25 minutes & 45 minutes
Original networkBBC1
Original release2 January 1962 (1962-01-02) 
20 September 1978 (1978-09-20)
RelatedSoftly, Softly
Softly, Softly: Taskforce
Barlow at Large/Barlow
Jack the Ripper
Second Verdict

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

Z-Cars ran for 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.

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 (see Home Office radio). The TV series took the non-existent signs Z-Victor 1 and Z-Victor 2. The title does not, as sometimes suggested, come from the cars used, Ford Zephyr and Ford Zodiac. The Zephyr was the standard traffic patrol car used by Lancashire and other police forces, while the Zodiac was only used for specialist tasks such as traffic duty. Also, the term "Z-car" was used by British newspaper publishing companies to refer to any type of police vehicle.

Concept and principal characters

Z Cars as an idea came to creator Troy Kennedy Martin as he listened to police messages on his radio while trying to relieve the boredom of being ill in bed with mumps.[1] It was set in the fictional Newtown, loosely based on the real-life 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.[2]

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 Northern England helped give Z Cars a regional flavour when most BBC dramas were set in Southern England. It directly challenged the BBC's established police drama Dixon of Dock Green, which at that point had been running for seven years but which some considered 'cosy'.[3]

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 reappeared 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), Brian Blessed ("Fancy" Smith) and Jeremy Kemp (Bob Steele). 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, and 1963 saw two well known faces join the regulars - Leonard Rossiter played DI Bamber in eight episodes and John Thaw, later known for his roles in The Sweeney and Inspector Morse, appeared in four as a detective constable who had to leave the force because he had a "glass head" – he couldn't drink alcohol when socialising and mixing with the criminal fraternity, very much part of a detective's job.


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 two × 25 minute episodes or the single 50-minute episode each week over the next 16 months. This arrangement ended with the showing of the final two-parter, "Breakage" (Series 6, parts 74 and 75, on 21 and 22 August 1972 respectively), after which the series returned permanently to a regular pattern of one 50-minute episode per week.[4]

Lost episodes

Like many series of its era, 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 still. 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 from 1968 or 1971. About 40% of the total 801 episodes are preserved.[5]

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 potential repeat, although the tapes – costed as part of a programme's budget – were normally wiped for re-use. The transfer of a live or videotaped programme to film greatly enhanced its chances of surviving.

In the 1980s, the telerecording of the pilot episode "Four of a Kind" was returned to its writer Allan Prior by an engineer. He had taken it home to preserve it because his children had enjoyed the programme and as a result he could not bring himself to destroy it. This and two other early editions were released on a BBC Video in 1993.[6]

Two episodes were returned in 2004 after turning up in a private collection; there have been other occasional returns of individual early episodes in more recent years. When Z-Cars returned in 1967 in its 30-minute, twice-weekly format, it was on nearly every week of the year, which may account for its poor survival rate over this period. The 2 × 30-minute format gradually interchanged with the returning 50-minute format, and when the 50-minute format fell into regular use by the series, this coincided with an increase in its survival rate.

All episodes from the 1975–1978 period are preserved in the archives. BBC Archive Treasure Hunt was a drive to seek out missing episodes and is still open to information regarding missing editions of lost BBC television programmes. British vintage television enthusiast organisation Kaleidoscope is also interested in the recovery of lost television shows, regardless of their original maker or broadcaster.

Theme music

The Z-Cars theme tune was arranged by Fritz Spiegl[7] and his then wife, composer Bridget Fry, from the traditional Liverpool folk song "Johnny Todd".[7] It was released on record in several versions in 1962. Johnny Keating's version (Piccadilly Records, 7N.35032) sold the best, reaching No. 8 on the Record Retailer chart and as high as No. 5 on some UK charts, whilst the Norrie Paramor Orchestra's version, on Columbia DB 4789, peaked at No. 33. A vocal version of the theme, using the original ballad's words, was released by cast member James Ellis on Philips Records PB 1230; this missed the charts.[8]

The song in Spiegl and Fry's arrangement is used as an anthem by English football clubs Everton and Watford, playing as the teams enter the pitch for their home games, at Goodison Park and Vicarage Road respectively.[9][10]

The tune has also been used as music for the hymn "Father, Hear the Prayer We Offer".[11]

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.

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.


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.[12] 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.[13]


Main cast

(1962–1965 and 1967–1978: 12 series, 801 episodes)

CharacterPortrayed ByYears ActiveSeries ActiveEpisode Count
DCI Charlie BarlowStratford Johns1962–19651–5126
DS John WattFrank Windsor1962–1965, 19781–5, 12130
PC John "Jock" WeirJoseph Brady1962–1965, 1967–19681–6165
PC / DC / Sgt. / Insp. Bert LynchJames Ellis1962–1965, 1967–19781–12565
PC William "Fancy" SmithBrian Blessed1962–19651–5113
PC Bob SteeleJeremy Kemp1962–19631–234
Sgt. Percy TwentymanLeonard Williams19621–230
PC Ian SweetTerence Edmond1962–19641–378
DC Glyn HicksMichael Forrest1962–19642–336
PC David GrahamColin Welland1962–19652–585
Sgt. Bob BlackittRobert Keegan1962–19652–5108
PC Ken BakerGeoffrey Whitehead1964–1965429
PC TaylorMarcus Hammond1964–1965420
Paula Poulton (BD Girl)Sara Aimson19654–523
PC Ray WalkerDonald Gee19654–518
DI / DCI Sam HudsonJohn Barrie1967, 1968632
DS Tom StoneJohn Slater1967–19746–9431
PC Owen CulshawDavid Daker1967–1968682
PC Steve TateSebastian Breaks1967634
PC Alec MayStephen Yardley1967–1968668
WPC Susan ParkinPauline Taylor1967–1969658
PC Bill NewcombeBernard Holley1967–19716292
BD Girl (name N/A)Jennie Goossens1967–19716–7146
DI ToddJoss Ackland1967–1968640
PC JacksonJohn Wreford1967–1968632
DI Alan WittyJohn Woodvine1968–1969662
PC Doug RoachRon Davies1968–1969660
PC Bruce BannermanPaul Angelis1968–19696128
PC / Sgt. Alec QuilleyDouglas Fielding1969–19786–12345
DI / Mr. Neil GossDerek Waring1969–19736–8226
PC / DC Joe SkinnerIan Cullen1969–19756–9226
PC Reg HorrocksBarry Lowe1970–1975, 19776–9, 1129
PC / Sgt. Ted BowmanJohn Swindells1970–19736–740
DS Cecil HaggarJohn Collin1971–1976, 19786–7, 9–10,1251
DC Dave ScatliffGeoffrey Hayes1971–19746–827
PC Shaun CovillJack Carr1971–19726–739
PC Fred RenderAllan O'Keefe1971–19786–1265
DS / DI Terry MoffatRay Lonnen1972–19777–1125
DS Wilf MillerGeoffrey Whitehead1972–19756–922
DC Jim BraithwaiteDavid Jackson1972–19787–1222
Sgt. Gilbert ChubbPaul Stewart1974–19789–1225
DC / DS Bernard BowkerBrian Grellis1974–19789–1219

Recurring cast

CharacterPortrayed ByYears ActiveSeries ActiveEpisode Count
Janey SteeleDorothy White1962–19631–214
Sgt./ Insp. BarnesFrank Hawkins1962–1963N/A20
DCS / ACC / Chief Con. RobinsJohn Phillips1962–1965, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1978Series 1–4, 6–7, 1214
Katy Hoskins (BD Girl)Virginia Stride1962–19641–318
WPC Jenny StaceyLynn Furlong1962–19651–424
DC Bob "Lofty" Smithers – Police PhotographerKen Jones1962–641–38
DI / Supt. Jim DunnDudley Foster1962, 19641, 313
DCS MillerLeslie Sands1962–63, 1965, 1967, 1969Series 1–4, 612
Sally Clarkson (BD Girl)Diane Aubrey19621–224
Sgt. MichaelsonJames Cossins1962–1963211
Joan Longton (BD Girl)Hilary Martyn1962–1963213
DI BamberLeonard Rossiter196328
Betty Clayton (BD Girl)Sidonie Bond1963216
DC Terry ElliotJohn Thaw196334
Shirley Burscough (BD Girl)Kate Brown1963316
Pamela Earnshaw (BD Girl)Kate Allitt1964312
Ann Fazakerley (BD Girl)Lynn Farleigh19643–417
WPC NelsonSusan Jameson1965, 1975Series 4,96
PC Bob FosterDonald Webster196548
WPC Jane ShepherdLuanshya Greer196766
BD Girl (name N/A)Anjula Harman1967, 1969615
DC KaneChristopher Coll1967–1968620
Betty CulshawDoreen Aris1967–196868
DI BroganGeorge Sewell196766
Sally StoneThelma Whiteley1967, 1969–197068
Sgt. PotterVictor Brooks1968–1969610
D Supt. OakleyWilliam Dexter1968–197166
PC StackJohn Livesey1969613
WPC/WP Sgt. Lorna CameronJune Watson1970, 1973–19756, 8–98
Supt./D Supt. Roy RichardsJerome Willis1971–19736–74
WPC Anne HowarthStephanie Turner1971–19757–915
PC LindsayJames Walsh1971–19747–910
Sgt. Frank CulshawJohn Challis1972–19757–913
DI Fred ConnorGary Watson1972–19747–811
PC Jeff YatesNicholas Smith1972–19757–99
Insp./ CI LogieKenton Moore1972–19747–84
DI Gerry MaddenTommy Boyle1978128
WPC Jane BeckVictoria Plucknett1978123

See also

  • Z-car (disambiguation)


  1. "Troy Kennedy Martin: Innovative writer who created 'Z Cars' and wrote 'Edge of Darkness' and 'The Italian Job'". The Independent. London. 17 September 2009. Archived from the original on 7 May 2022.
  2. Leishman, Frank; Mason, Paul (2003). Policing and the Media: Facts, Fictions and Factions (Policing & Society). p. 56. ISBN 1903240298.
  3. Rolinson, David. "Dixon of Dock Green in the 1970s". British Television Drama. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  4. "Z Cars". TV.com. Archived from the original on 15 June 2020. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  5. Down, Richard; Perry, Christopher (1997), The British Television Drama Research Guide, 1950–1997, with Full Archive Holdings (second revised ed.), Bristol, UK: Kaleidoscope Publishing, pp. DZ1–DZ5, ISBN 1-900203-04-9
  6. "Z Cars" via Amazon.
  7. Barker, Dennis (25 March 2003). "Fritz Spiegl: Witty musical polymath and broadcaster". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  8. "James Ellis (6) – Johnny Todd". Discogs. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  9. "Everton's Origins: Z-Cars Theme". ToffeeWeb. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  10. "Chairman on Z-Cars return". Watford Football Club. 23 April 2005. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  11. , page 12
  12. "The BFI TV 100: 1–100". BFI. Archived from the original on 11 September 2011. See also: 100 Greatest British Television Programmes
  13. Alison Graham, "Take the Big TV Challenge!" Radio Times (30 August–5 September 2003), 16–21. Citation on p. 21.
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