Z Cars (TV Series 1962–1978) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
8 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Good or Not?
AlnGil15 January 2004
I have read Ian's critique with interest. As I worked on the technical side of the programme, perhaps I might be allowed to comment?

First, the 3 year rule didn't apply in the first instance. Until 1968 the series was transmitted "Live" (i.e. not telerecorded). Each 50 minute episode was transmitted on Wednesday evenings 2000-2050. All we had were a couple of filmed OB inserts, partly to establish outside locations and partly to enable costume changes/scenery changes.In fact the very first scene of the first episode was filmed in a graveyard, where a police officer killed in the execution of his duty prompted the idea of two men teams working in cars (there were only two cars, Ford Zephyr 6s) The first episode was telerecorded off the studio monitor so that executives could gauge the quality of the script (and the show had writers of the calibre of Alan Plater and Elwyn Jones).

There were no car chases because there were not the facilities to record them in those days for TV drama. The programme certainly showed a more realistic side to police officers lives, because, unlike Dixon of Dock Green it showed policemen as ordinary men, not as some sort of patient saint. There was a hue and cry very early on when PC Steele (Jeremy Kemp) threw his dinner at the wall and struck his wife. Dixon would NEVER had done that - but real coppers did - as did, sadly, far too many men in those far off days.

The show was set in "Newtown" (not a very good name I admit), which was on Merseyside, but in reality the show was performed in London.

If you watch any TV from the 50s or 60s, the viewer in 2004 WILL be struck by the fact that it was all very studio-bound, very few exterior shots, except for establishing scenes on short filmed inserts as we did. Cameras were large and bulky so scenes tended to be more static and of longer duration. Funily enough, the budget for the BBCs sole soap opera at that time ("Compact" Tuesdays and Thursdays 1930-2000)was the same as ours, but whereas we tended to have larger casts and more sets, some of Compacts budget DID go on telerecording - the Tuesday episode was "live" and the Thursday episode recorded immediately after the live Tuesday performance). It was a case of either/or. Obviously we had to work within budgets and by todays standards they were miniscule but they were NOT cheap. As in any live work there were occassional fluffed lines, whcih you don't get today because you can reshoot a sequence time and again till it's perfect. By the way, with 'telerecording' you couldn't edit tape, so you were still performing 'as live', so only if there were to be a major catastrophy would you repeat because you had to record the whole show all over again (this is why the ATV/Central serial "Crossroads" got such unfair reviews - though a lot of the complaints such as wobbly scenery were untrue - it might happen once, and then, because the 'mistake' is repeated by viewers and critics people believe it always happened).

With respect, Ian makes the common mistake of comparing live or telerecorded TV from the 60s with todays sometimes overproduced TV. the comparison is neither fair nor like for like.

From 1969 onwards the programme was recorded on videotape/telerecording (VTR took over about 1971/2 but i had left by then). Later in it's life the show was turned into a twice weekly 'soap opera' style series (Mondays and Thursdays 1905-1930) and I believe it did then suffer a drop in artistic quality, though, of course with VTR retakes were possible so the technical quality was better: It really ended up as "The Bill" (ITV1) has now done.

One final point: our original Sgt (Twentyman) played by Leonard Williams only appeared in the first half dozen episodes. Len collapsed and died a few hours before transmission one Wednesday, so some hasty rewriting had to be carried out. He wasn't a famous actor, but did a lot of radio work including the long running comedy series "The Clitheroe Kid"
58 out of 58 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Huh? the most successful crime series on British TV and no-one's noticed?
uds35 April 2002
Now I realise (finally) how old I am. Here we have the greatest crime serial/series ever screened in the UK, which ran for 667 episodes yet not ONE in 20 million visitors to IMDb has sought to comment on it? If ever the expression "F--- me" had relevance, this is it! (and I apologise for the profanity!)

"Z cars" was simply essential viewing. An innovative crime show like nothing had ever been seen on TV. Hard, raw, how it really WAS for Z-Victor One and two. Why "Z" cars? simple! because the cops drove Ford Zephyrs...at the time probably the quickest of the English sedans. For years, my own father lusted after a Zephyr but died long before he could ever own one. A quarter of a century later, I bought one in Australia for $295 and that car kept us mobile for three years. I called it Z-Victor 3!

"Z Cars" was a demographic of underworld life in the Midlands and the hands-on Police methods used to combat what was seen then as a spiralling crime-wave! Frank Windsor as Detective John Watt, James Ellis as PC Lynch, Brian Blessed as "Fancy" Smith, Jeremy Kemp as PC Bob Steele and Joseph Brady as "Jock" Weir became household names. So too was Stratford Johns as Detective Inspector Charlie Barlow who was so popular, he ended up with his own spin-off series BARLOW AT LARGE.

This was the 60's and I tell you, I wouldn't have missed it for the world!
53 out of 55 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Z-Cars in perspective.
juho6918 December 2004
Jeremy Kemp has to be one of the most striking actors there has ever been. In looks and voice!

It was because of him that I ever came to watch an episode of 'Z-Cars'. Completely by chance, I saw the episode of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' in which he played alongside Patrick Stewart. I was so struck by Jeremy Kemp that I tried to find out more about him and read in a book that he had been in 'Z-Cars'. And so began my interest in the series...

I was not born when it began in 1962 and my only memories of it before it ended in 1978 were as listings in the 'Radio Times'. The only episodes I have watched are the three on the video from the first series. Nevertheless, I should still like to comment on what I have seen of it.

From what I have read, the programme was made with the aid of the police force in Lancashire and was realistic in its portrayal of the police, their lives and work. This being the case, I should have been quite happy to be taken care of by the likes of Barlow, Steele and co. and would have felt reassured by their presence. They seemed to see their responsibilities simply as keeping law and order, protecting the innocent and bringing criminals to justice. No political correctness or community policing nonsense for them!

I can see why it probably raised a few eyebrows when it was first broadcast. The four young Police Constables, Steele, Lynch, Smith and Weir, were very different from George Dixon of Dock Green. However, no human is perfect and, I daresay, there were/are policemen who gambled on horse races, smoked like chimneys and chatted up young girls. It is more interesting to have rounded characters than stereotypes. Also, it showed that many people in the early 1960s still lived in poverty and tremendous hardship, which might not have been comfortable viewing for certain watchers.

The male-orientation of the early series (only one policewoman appears) would also have been typical of the period. This does not bother me in the slightest; writing as a young lady forty years later, I find it protective and reassuring. Also, complaints about the quality of the production seem unjustified when made by someone today; with the advances in technology, how can one possibly compare?

A word about P.C. Steele hitting his wife. Watching and reading about the occurrence several times, I would support his comment that it was an accident. It is never actually shown on screen; we see his wife, Janey, with a black eye and she openly explains to P.C. Lynch how it happened. Steele came in late for his dinner after promising he would be early. In her anger, his wife threw a hotpot of stew at him which missed narrowly and he, presumably fuelled by drink, struck out at her. To be classed as a wife-beater, in my opinion, Bob Steele would have to be physically assaulting his wife on a regular basis. It is clear that this does not happen so the label is unjustified. Indeed, Steele displays much tenderness and understanding towards Janey, particularly in a later episode when she starts receiving hate mail, as well as to members of the public, including a widowed mother whose children have been killed in a motorcycle accident.

I do wish that I had seen more of 'Z-Cars'. From watching the early episodes, I can say that I think I would have been attracted by its characters and stories, and would probably have become a regular viewer. I have managed to purchase some books of the series and have enjoyed reading those.

Incidentally, Jeremy Kemp left after the first series, which was a pity. It would have done the series much good to continue have such a striking actor in the programme - and such a striking policeman in the Lancashire force! He is now a character actor, mainly in films.
22 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
TV Police and regular Police separated by a razor blade
keith-hewle18 September 2002
Unlike other contributors I do not know the technical details of the series production. However at the time this series was transmitted I remember the characters manifesting as strong, tough, reliable types. Chaps you would have liked to have with you in a tight spot. Awkward social issues were tackled in a no nonsense manner. Unlike their TV counterparts of today they seemed to have their minds, for the most part, on the job. Sympathy was extended to victims, and others caught up in crimes. Villains were regarded and dealt with as a sub-species. No quarter was expected or given.

Nice touches as well. At the end of one episode, the optimistic search for a child ended with it being found dead from natural causes. The end titles were played in silence. Today you would have some cretinus announcer talking over the same titles, giving us a blow by blow account of the next programme.

Sadly the series did become a victim of its own success. It ran for far to long. The final series(1977-8) was a shadow of its former self. Reduced from 50 to 30 minutes and containing to many new characters it lacked history and credibility.
22 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Essential viewing; a treasure of the era.
MarkA-214 January 2008
In many respects, a landmark TV series - changing the image of police as seen on TV, changes in real policing (from bobby-on-the-beat to patrol cars), bringing serious social problems to the screen for the first time - this series captured a time and place with clarity, making these episodes a very valuable treasure - I hope they haven't been dumped or let rot somewhere! The series was also valuable in the opportunities it gave many brilliant writers to develop their skills.

The show succeeded in its two goals, exciting police action drama, and gritty social drama (with just a drop of humour when needed); the best of the police action thread followed Barlow (played by Stratford Johns) into the spin-off series Softly, Softly - Task Force, and later: Barlow at Large. Unforgettable music. The forgettable bit was why the car numbers all started Z - V; I think Zed (not Zee; this was British) was for (Ford) Zephyr.

(With apologies to Toody and Muldoon) I wonder: Zed Victor One, where are you, now? I suspect few episodes survive.
11 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Loved this show.
laceup19671 July 2006
This was ground-breaking TV. I only realized this later living in North America and seeing a "new wave" of crime shows post Starsky & Hutch and Miami Vice. Shows like Law and Order, CSI and The Wire are great programs but Z Cars was created thirty years before them and got people wanting a more gritty cop show. Growing up outside of Belfast, I was also drawn to it as it had an Ulster actor in the cast. At a time when Irish actors were only allowed to play drunken thugs and terrorists, it was great to see one play a good guy. Sadly it was unique in that respect and Irish characters/actors were still largely banned to those roles for the next twenty years.
16 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Funny how relatively little you remember after 30-40 years!
arwel17 February 2006
When I was a lad in the far-off days of 405-line black-and-white TV, Z-Cars was required viewing, the more so as most of the characters spoke with the same accent as my mothers' cousins whom we regularly visited on Sundays in Birkenhead every few months (though our accent was /very/ Welsh!).

I remember that a boy who travelled on my school bus got cast as a 15-year-old tearaway in one episode in around 1973. I don't think he had much of an acting career afterwards (he's not on the IMDb, anyway!), but I did see a photo of him in Sgt Lynch's clutches in the local paper afterwards.
5 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
ZZZZZzzzzzzzz cars
ericjg6232 February 2003
As an American who spent part of his childhood in England in the early 70's, I distinctly remember this show being a real snoozer, especially when compared to the much better American cop shows of the time (Hawaii Five O, Ironsides, etc.) For whatever reason, Brits just have never been much good at making crime and crime fighting interesting, whether on TV or the big screen, after all, I recently rented the DVD "Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels" and it sucked, mostly a lame rip-off of the far superior "Pulp Fiction". Maybe the problem is that we Americans just have much better criminals, more ruthless, greedy, and inventive and, as a result, American cops have to be much better as well to catch them, it sounds goofy but it's about the only theory I can think of that makes sense .......
5 out of 88 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed