18 December 2004 | juho69
Z-Cars in perspective.
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.