Archive Post: Z-Cars – How It All Began

This post was originally an article for my 60s fanzine that existed in the mid-nineties. There has been some mild editing for corrections and to remove outdated information. 

Credits –
Written by Troy Kennedy Martin
Directed by John McGrath
Produced by David E Rose

Cast –
PC Steele – Jeremy Kemp
PC Lynch – James Ellis
PC Smith – Brian Blessed
PC Weir – Joseph Brady
Det. Chief Insp. Barlow – Stratford Johns
Det. Chief Superintendent Robins – John Phillips
Det. Sgt. Watt – Frank Windsor

Also appearing in this episode are Anna Wing who went on to star in Eastenders, and David Jones who went on to become a Monkee.

Running from 1962 through to the seventies and even to a couple of spin-off series, Z-Cars was the sixties equivalent of The Bill. At the time it was the grittiest thing on TV.

The first episode opens with a scene by a graveside. A police officer has been killed in the line of duty. A death that may have been prevented if the area had a crime patrol with radio cars. Police cars may be extremely common nowadays, however, at the time you were more likely to see a policeman pounding the beat on foot or perhaps riding a bicycle rather than behind the wheel of a car. The cars used in the series were Ford Zephyrs, hence the name Z-Cars.

The episode revolves around the formation of the patrol and the recruiting of the key members of the team – all hard-bitten policemen who know their stuff. By today’s standards, it may seem a little plodding but the quality of writing is high and the characteristics and background to the characters are revealed through events and conversations rather than reported in a convoluted fashion.

There are one or two things that may raise an eyebrow when viewed today, such as PC Steele’s wife sporting a black eye gained during an argument with her husband. She laughs the bruise off as she says it has earned her a bit of respect in the area where the residents aren’t keen on policemen or their wives. Also, just about every character smokes heavily, something very rarely seen on screen today.

Another thing that may surprise people today is that Z-Cars, like many other dramas at the time, was broadcast live from the studio like a stage play with outdoor segments filmed in advance and slotted into the appropriate place.

Back in 1962, this was groundbreaking drama, born from the gritty, Northern kitchen sink dramas that were popular at the time. Watching it now it does appear dated because the world has moved on so much and attitudes have changed. Back then PCs commanded respect and never thought twice about packing kids back off to their parents with a flea in their ear but we live in a very different world today.

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Author: anne-marie

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