Softly, Softly (TV series)

Softly, Softly
Created by Troy Kennedy Martin
Starring Stratford Johns
Frank Windsor
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 5
No. of episodes 120
Running time 50 minutes
Original network BBC1
Original release 5 January 1966 – 13 November 1969

Softly, Softly is a British television drama series, produced by the BBC and screened on BBC 1 from January 1966. It was created as a spin-off from the hugely successful series Z-Cars which ended its fifth series run in December 1965. The series took its name from the proverb "Softly, softly, catchee monkey", the motto of Lancashire Constabulary Training School.[1] It was filmed in the Medway Towns in Kent, and the opening titles showed the bridge over the River Medway at Rochester.

Series Outline

Softly, Softly centred on the work of regional police crime squads, plain-clothes CID officers based in the fictional region of Wyvern, supposedly in the Bristol area of England. It was designed as a vehicle for Detective Chief Inspector Charles Barlow and Detective Inspector John Watt (played by Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor respectively) from the police series Z-Cars, which had just finished its original run in December 1965 (no new episodes were produced in 1966 but it was revived in a different format the following year). Joining them in the early series was Robert Keegan as Blackitt, the police station sergeant from Z-Cars, now retired and acting as a freelance helper. The series introduced characters like Sgt Harry Hawkins (Norman Bowler) who would become very popular and well known. Promoted to Detective Chief Inspector, Hawkins stayed with the show for its entire run.

Shorter-lived regular characters in the series early years included Alexis Kanner as DC Matt Stone. Although popular with audiences, Kanner appears to have alienated cast and crew with erratic behaviour during live recordings, and the character was dropped after only nine episodes. He later played the recalcitrant Number 48 in the final episode of The Prisoner.

The first two series continued the trend set by producer David Rose with Z-Cars, and transmitted the majority of episodes live. This was one of the last long-running British TV series to do this. From series three onwards all episodes were pre-recorded.

Theme Music

The original theme music was, like Z-Cars, a folk-song arrangement by Fritz Spiegl. It was released as a single (credited to the London Waits) on Andrew Loog Oldham's "Immediate" record label in 1966.

Archive status

Much of the original Softly, Softly is lost, especially from the first two seasons, many of which were transmitted live.

Series rundown

Series Date From Date To Episode Count Duration
1 5 January 1966 29 June 1966 26 50 minutes
2 2 November 1966 31 May 1967 31 50 minutes
3 4 October 1967 4 April 1968 26 50 minutes
4 12 September 1968 13 March 1969 27 50 minutes
5 11 September 1969 13 November 1969 10 50 minutes


Actor Character Years Active Series Active Episode Count
Stratford Johns DCS Charlie Barlow 1966-1969 1-5 91
Frank Windsor DI/DCI John Watt 1966-1969 1-5 84
Robert Keegan Mr Bob Blackitt 1966-1967 1-2 42
John Welsh ACC Bill Calderwood 1966-1967 1-2 24
Garfield Morgan DCI Gwyn Lewis 1966 1 19
Norman Bowler DS Harry Hawkins 1966-1969 1-5 75
Gilbert Wynne DC Reg Dwyer 1966-1967 1-3 43
Cavan Kendall PC Greenly 1966 1 14
Dan Meaden DC Ben Box 1966-1968 1-4 49
Eric McCaine Insp./CI Andy Laird 1966-1969 1-4 18
John Barron ACC Austin Gilbert 1966-1969 2-5 52
David Quilter PC Tanner 1966-1967 2-3 29
Chrys Salt Gwenda Lloyd 1967-1968 3 15
Peggy Sinclair P/W DS Barbara Allin 1967-1969 3-5 38
Philip Brack DI Jim Cook 1968-1969 3-5 29
Gavin Campbell PC/DC William Digby 1968-1969 3-5 25
Howell Evans DC Davie Morgan 1968-1969 4-5 15


Actor Character Years Active Series Active Episode Count
Alexis Kanner DC Matt Stone 1966 1 9
Colin Douglas DCI Rawlings 1966 1 3
Barry Letts DS Reed 1966 1 4
Glyn Houston D Supt Arthur Jones 1966-1969 2, 4 7
Gay Hamilton Dr Jean Morrow 1969 4-5 5
Walter Gotell Chief Con. Arthur Cullen 1969 5 1

Archive Status

The survival rate for episodes is variable, especially from the first and second series. Many were transmitted live and are believed lost. (In comparison, all episodes of the follow-up Taskforce survive.)

Series and character development

In 1969, to coincide with the BBC's move to colour broadcasting on BBC 1, Softly Softly series ended. The characters of Barlow, Watt and Hawkins were promoted and moved to the South East of England in a new series set in the fictitious Thamesford. Here, as a result in changes in criminal activities, the police force itself needed to develop a new approach to tackle it. Taskforces were set up: these were groupings of police expertise and manpower drawn together for special operations in the region. This was a new series in its own right and it was simply going to be called Taskforce. However, starring three strong characters from a popular brand the BBC were reluctant to drop, this new series was renamed to Softly, Softly: Taskforce.

Stratford Johns left the Taskforce series in 1972 (Barlow had his own spin-off series Barlow at Large) and it continued until 1976 with Watt in command.

During the 70s Windsor also appeared as Watt in Jack the Ripper, in which he and Barlow reopened the Jack the Ripper murder casebook, and a similar series Second Verdict, in which they looked into unsolved mysteries and miscarriages of justice.


  1. World Wide Words, Newsletter 853, Saturday 12 October 2013
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