Thursday, 29 August 2013

Theme Time : John Keating - Z Cars

Starting in 1962 and ending sixteen years later in 1978, Z Cars remains one of the most popular, successful and well loved of all British television crime series. Created by Troy Kennedy Martin (who would go on to write The Italian Job, Kelly's Heroes and Edge Of Darkness, whilst his brother Ian would create the famous policiers The Sweeney and Juliet Bravo - quite the family eh?) after a spell laid up in bed with mumps listening to the police radio, the show was set in the fictional North West town of Newtown, in fact a thinly disguised Kirkby, just outside of Liverpool. 

The show was intended as a grittier more realistic depiction of the nation's police force, a contrast to the cosy grandfatherly Dixon Of Dock Green - then its main competitor and stablemate on BBC1, and focused squarely on crime cars used by the Lancashire force at the time. These cars, Ford Zephyrs and Zodiacs patrolled the North using a series of call signs appropriate to the town/division; for example in reality A Division was Ulverston with patrol cars responding thus, B was Lancaster and further down the alphabet were Manchester and Liverpool, hence Z Cars distinctive call sign Z-Victor 1 and Z-Victor 2

The show made stars of its cast including Stratford Johns as Inspector Barlow, Frank Windsor as Detective Sgt Watt, James Ellis (the only cast member to remain in the show's entire 16 year run) as PC Bert Lynch, Jeremy Kemp as PC Bob Steele and a young Brian Blessed as PC 'Fancy' Smith, the squad's hard case, known as 'a teddy boy in a uniform' albeit a firm and fair one.

Also in the cast through the years were Colin Welland, Joseph Brady, Geoffrey Whitehead, Joss Ackland, John Woodvine, Stephen Yardley and Ray Lonnen with breakthrough roles for many a now famous household name. A firm Saturday night favourite in its initial format/schedule the show helped create the template for future shows in that slot such as Juliet Bravo and of course Casualty

The show's theme tune is instantly recognisable. An arrangement by Fritz Spiegl of the traditional folk song Johnny Todd which has roots in Liverpool, Ireland and Scotland. It was provided for the show by John Keating and his orchestra and instantly went down in history. Nowadays it is familiar to football fans as the anthem for the Liverpudlian club Everton, as well as being heard across the Mersey at Tranmere Rovers and down south at Watford home games ever since the 1960s when it was then manager Bill McGarry's favourite TV show.

And here's Bob Dylan singing the trad arrangement, Johnny Todd

A DVD of Z Cars 1972 season will be released next week. The first release of its kind.

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