Crown Court (TV series)

Crown Court
Starring John Barron
William Mervyn
John Alkin
Bernard Gallagher
Dorothy Vernon
Peter Wheeler
T. P. McKenna
Opening theme Sinfonietta by Janáček, 4th movement
Ending theme Distant Hills by the Simon Park Orchestra, composed by Peter Reno
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 11
No. of episodes 879
Running time 23 minutes
Production company(s) Granada TV
Original network ITV
Picture format PAL (576i)
Audio format Mono
Original release 18 October 1972 (1972-10-18) – 29 March 1984 (1984-03-29)

Crown Court is a television courtroom drama produced by Granada Television for the ITV network which ran from 1972, when the Crown Court system replaced Assize courts and Quarter sessions in the legal system of England and Wales, to 1984.[1] It was transmitted in the early afternoon.


A court case in the crown court of the fictional town of Fulchester would typically be played out over three afternoons in 25-minute episodes. The most frequent format was for the prosecution case to be presented in the first two episodes and the defence in the third, although there were some later, brief variations.

Unlike some other legal dramas the cases in Crown Court were presented from a relatively neutral point of view and the action was confined to the courtroom itself, with occasional brief glimpses of waiting areas outside the courtroom. Although those involved in the case were actors, the jury was made up of members of the general public from the immediate Granada Television franchise area taken from the electoral register and eligible for real jury service: it was this jury alone which decided the verdict. Indeed, contemporary production publicity stated that, for many of the scripts, two endings were written and rehearsed to cope with the jury's independent decision which was delivered for the first time, as in a real court case, while the programme's recording progressed. However, the course of some cases would lead to the jury being directed to return 'not guilty' verdicts.

After an unscreened pilot (see 'Untransmitted stories' below), the first story to be shown was Lieberman v Savage (18 to 20 October 1972). Unusually this was a civil case, whereas the vast majority of subsequent instalments featured criminal trials, with only occasional civil cases such as libel, insurance or copyright claims.


There were some subtle changes in presentation in the early years. In the first year or so stories often opened with photographs of key figures or incidents around the alleged offence over which the court reporter would narrate the background to the case. In other instances there were filmed sequences but these were without dialogue and rarely showed the alleged offence. They were phased out a little earlier than the photos. Thereafter the action would immediately start in the courtroom.

Although the standard format was stories of three 25-minute episodes there were occasional variations. In 1973 there was one story of just one episode and another comprising two. In July and August 1975 a number of stories were presented in single extended episodes at 8.15pm on Saturdays - a prime time scheduling. They occupied a slot of 75 minutes (just over one hour for the story on-screen after adverts are taken into account). This was a brief interlude and the programme reverted to its standard format and daytime location thereafter.

The series was occasionally humorous and was even capable of self-parody. On 27 December 1973 a 52-minute self-contained episode Murder Most Foul had a distinctly light-hearted theme and even featured special Christmas-style titles and music. The 1977 story An Upward Fall, written by absurdist playwright N. F. Simpson, was played for laughs. This bizarre case featured an old people's home built atop a 3000-foot cliff; its only lavatories were located at the foot of the cliff. Other episodes were deadly serious, such as the story Treason in which a White Congolese man is found guilty by the jury and sentenced to death for treason by the court (a crime still punishable by execution under British law at that time).

Untransmitted stories

An untransmitted pilot called Doctor's Neglect? was eventually broadcast as part of a repeat run on satellite channel Legal TV over 30 years later. Like the first transmitted episode, this was a civil case - in this instance relating to negligence. The pilot story differs in style in some important respects. Most notably it features informal conversations between the barristers in their quarters as well as them giving advice to clients. Neither aspect figured in episodes from the broadcast run itself, which strictly confined legal discussions to the courtroom. David Ashford, a regular in the programme's early stages as barrister Charles Lotterby, plays a different barrister called Derek Jones. Actors Ernest Hare and David Neal make their only appearances, as a judge and barrister respectively.

This was not the only example of untransmitted stories. In February 1974 the scheduled Traffic Warden's Daughter was replaced by The Getaway. In 1979 Heart To Heart, intended for transmission from 15 to 17 April, was replaced by a repeat of A Ladies' Man (originally broadcast 15–17 February 1977). Although neither story was ever broadcast on terrestrial TV they both received airings on Legal TV and have since been released on DVD.


Regular actors included William Mervyn, John Barron, John Horsley, Edward Jewesbury, Richard Warner, Basil Dignam, Laurence Hardy, Frank Middlemass, and Basil Henson as judges, John Alkin, David Ashford, Keith Barron, Jonathan Elsom, Bernard Gallagher, Peter Jeffrey, Charles Keating, Maureen Lipman, T. P. McKenna, Dorothy Vernon, Richard Wilson and William Simons were among the most common faces as barristers.

Other (currently or subsequently) famous names to appear on the show included Eleanor Bron, Warren Clarke, Tom Conti, Brian Cox, Honey Bane, Philip Bond, Michael Elphick, Sheila Fearn, Colin Firth, Brenda Fricker, Derek Griffiths, Nigel Havers, Ian Hendry, Gregor Fisher, Ben Kingsley, Ian Marter, Mark McManus, Vivien Merchant, Mary Miller, Geraldine Newman, Judy Parfitt, Robert Powell, Peter Sallis, Anthony Sharp, Michael Sheard, Barbara Shelley, Juliet Stevenson, Patrick Troughton, Mary Wimbush, Peter Capaldi and Mark Wing-Davey. Bernard Hill made one of his first television appearances in 1976, when he played the foreman of the jury in the story Scard. Elizabeth Dawn appeared as an uncredited extra for a non speaking part as a prison officer in Evil Liver.

Writers included Ian Curteis, David Fisher, Peter Wildeblood, John Godber, Ngaio Marsh and Jeremy Sandford.

Production and archive details

Repeats and commercial availability

References and footnotes

  1. 1 2 Down, R., Perry, C. (1995). The British Television Drama Research Guide, 1950-1995. Dudley: Kaleidoscope. ISBN 1-900203-00-6
  2. Legal TV 2007 documentary Crown Court Revisited
  4. on Crown Court

External links

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