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Saturday, October 09, 2010

TV Tie-ins: Z Cars

Z Cars was one of the longest running police dramas of British television history, running (with breaks) from January 1962 until September 1978. Its northern setting, a fictional town in the Merseyside area, allowed for some gritty, kitchen-sink drama to be played out over the show's 799 episodes.

The show was created by Troy Kennedy Martin and early writers included Martin, Allan Prior, John Hopkins and Alan Plater. A full list of episodes can be found at the BBC's Missing Episodes website. Even with so many episodes still in existence, the show hasn't been seen for many years and no episodes are currently available, although three were released on a video many years ago (including the very first episode).

Z Cars by Troy Kennedy Martin
Trust Books T6, 1962, 160pp, 2/6. [FC: Joseph Brady, Jeremy Kemp, James Ellis, Brian Blessed]
It is crime as the police know it—rarely murder, more often petty larceny, lead stealing by wide boys, and car thieving by young toughies.
__Such are the themes of the absorbing Z Cars series: because they are so recognisably true to life, they probably account for the enormous popularity of this show.
__Within months the stars of Z Cars became national celebrities—Stratford Johns (Chief Insp. Barlow), Frank Windsor (Det. Sgt. Watt), the late Leonard Williams (Sgt. Twentyman), Virginia Stride (Katey) and Dorothy White (Janey Steel). The original four—Joseph Brady (P.C. Jock Weir), Jeremy Kemp (P.C. Bob Steele), James Ellis (P.C. Bert Lynch) and Brian Blessed (P.C. Fancy Smith).
Z Cars Again by Allan Prior
Trust Books T7, 1963, 126pp, 2/6. [FC: Joseph Brady, Brian Blessed]
Z Cars continued as one of the most popular TV programmed transmitted by the B.B.C. Its earthiness, its feeling of authenticity, captivates audiences.
__Undoubtedly it has established new standards in TV drama, far removed from the cliche-ridden, formula-type of crime shows. Allan Prior, responsible for many of the excellent Z Cars scripts has written a successor to the Z Cars book also published in the Trust series.
Z Cars: Barlow on Trial by Ian Kennedy Martin
Consul Books 801, 1965, 176pp, 2/6.
Barlow is on the carpet--the Home Office discover that Newtown has the worst crime record of all the newly built towns in England. The Inspector and the Z-car crews have never been in a tighter spot as they, and their town, go on trial.
__Here is a story with all the excitement of the TV series on which it is based.
William Prendergast, a long-time Detective Sergeant with the Liverpool City Police, was one of the police officers who supplied stories to the writers of the Z Cars series. Bill Prendergast joined the police force in 1928 and during his 31 years' service was commended on 22 occasions. he served in some of the toughest downtown divisions and his work in the special branch brought him into close contact with the Chinese community. On his retirement he entered the world of entertainment and his first television play, Who Me?, was based on one of his own cases. From then on he was one of the technical advisers to the Z Cars series, providing many of the plots from his first-hand experiences and remaining on the set and on location to ensure authenticity.

Prendergast wrote three books of his experiences, capitalizing on his Z Cars connection. He died on 9 October 1969, aged 65.

Z-Car Detective by William Prendergast (London, John Long, 1964)
Arrow 856, 1966, 192pp, 3/6.
William Prendergast is the police officer on whose vivid experiences in one of Britain's toughest cities are based many of the episodes of the highly successful BBC TV series Z Cars (which is estimated o have nearly eighteen million viewers each week in the United Kingdom alone). Here Bill Prendergast, retired after thirty-two years in the Liverpool C.I.D., tells the true stories which lie behind the televised fiction. From murder to small-time 'knock-offs', he writes with authority, realism and humanity.
Calling All Z-Cars by William Prendergast (London, John Long, 1966)
Arrow 010, 1968, 190pp.

Crime Scene by William Prendergast (as Z-Car Squad, London, John Long, 1968)
Arrow 0090-02450-8, (Oct) 1969, 192pp.

Z Cars Four Television Scripts, edited by Michael Marland, B.A., with an introduction by Ronald Eyre
Longmans, Green & Co., 1967, 220pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1969.
Educational volume intended for reading in Secondary Schools, containing four scripts—"A Quiet Night" by Alan (sic) Plater, "Window Dressing" by Ronald Eyre, "Running Milligan" by Keith Dewhurst, "A Place of Safety" by John Hopkins—and various supplemental features including "Questions for Discussion".


  1. Brian Blessed and Frank Windsor are still going strong - both vintage members of Z Cars (and Softly Softly in the latter's case).

  2. Any idea who the cover artists were?

  3. Any idea who the cover artists were?