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Johns, Stratford (1925-2002)


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Stratford Johns' ruthless, blunt and aggressive detective, Charlie Barlow, first seen in Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78), was so convincing that members of the public frequently mistook Johns for the real thing and asked him for help, while West Yorkshire Police asked him to appear in their television recruitment advertisements.

Alan Edgar Stratford Johns was born in South Africa, he arrived in Britain in 1948 after leaving his country's navy and acted in repertory theatre. He made his film debut in Burnt Evidence (d. David Birt, 1954), followed by bit parts in Ealing films, including The Ladykillers (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1955). He had regular but modest work, mostly in television, during the late 1950s and early 60s, but was about to head to Rome to audition for Cleopatra (US, 1962), when he was offered the role which changed his career.

A deliberately tougher portrait of the modern police than the contemporary Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-78), Z Cars became a sensation, with Johns' iconic presence a key factor. Tired of seeing television detectives portrayed as bumbling and ineffective, Johns played Detective Inspector Barlow as an abrasive bully who used verbal and physical intimidation to get results; this was an entirely new television policeman, who became a template for many 'maverick' detectives to follow.

Such was his popularity that Barlow, with his gentler partner Det. Sgt John Watt (Frank Windsor), was given a spin-off series, Softly Softly (BBC, 1966-69, subsequently Softly Softly - Task Force, 1969-76). He returned, without Watt, in Barlow at Large (BBC, 1971-73) and Barlow (BBC, 1974-75), before rejoining Watt for two factual series, Jack the Ripper (BBC, 1973) and Second Verdict (BBC, 1976), in which they reinvestigated historical crimes.

Johns recorded an LP and wrote a children's book, Gumphlumph, which in 1966 he narrated on Jackanory (BBC, 1965-96). His voice shone as the unseen gang leader in The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (d. Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, 1966) and as the polar bear for Fox's Glacier Mints.

Finding challenging and suitable roles after Barlow proved difficult, but he was an effective Magwitch in Great Expectations (BBC, 1981), a mysterious killer in the political thriller Brond (Channel 4, 1987) and a heavily-latexed alien in the Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89) story 'Four to Doomsday' (1982). His final television role was in 1998, as brother to Bill Maynard's roguish Greengrass in Heartbeat (ITV 1992-2010).

Graham Rinaldi

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Thumbnail image of Z Cars (1962-78)Z Cars (1962-78)

Groundbreaking cop drama introducing new grit and realism

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