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Martin, Ian Kennedy (1936- )


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In a career spanning four decades, Ian Kennedy Martin charted the seismic changes in post war British society through the prism of popular drama. One of the busiest and most successful writers then working in television, he was also crucial in redefining the cop show genre for the 1970s and 80s.

Born on 23 March 1936 in London, Ian followed his brother Troy Kennedy Martin (1934-2009) to Dublin to study at Trinity College but was, as he later put it, "in and out of that institution very quickly". He returned home in 1961 to join the writer's pool at the BBC, where Troy was already developing the groundbreaking Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78). Ian worked, often uncredited, on a variety of live television dramas before the pool was disbanded. His first major credit came as script editor on the military thriller Redcap (ITV, 1964-66), featuring John Thaw as the first of Ian's trademark flinty, no-nonsense protagonists. He got Troy to pen several episodes and they subsequently collaborated on the country vet soap Weavers Green (ITV, 1966), which Ian also script edited, and the police drama Parkin's Patch (ITV, 1969-70), with Troy using his 'Tony Marsh' pseudonym on both.

Ian and John Thaw's long and fruitful collaboration would later include an episode of The Onedin Line (BBC, 1970-80) and a silly-but-fun Francis Durbridge-style serial The Capone Investment (ITV, 1973), culminating in The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-78), which brought a new realism to police drama and forever changed the genre. Ian created this zesty warts-and-all cop show with Thaw in mind, but after his introductory story 'Regan' (Armchair Cinema, ITV, tx 4/6/1974) he departed, following disagreements with producer Ted Childs, although Troy remained on staff.

Ian's only produced movie screenplay, Mitchell (US, dir. Andrew V. McLaglen, 1975), proved to be a disappointing Hollywood potboiler, but featured a variation on the most recurring situation in his work: that of an opinionated and strong-minded individual pitted against the system, seen most clearly not just in The Sweeney but also in his later creations Juliet Bravo (BBC, 1980-85) and The Chinese Detective (BBC, 1981-82), which respectively looked at entrenched sexism and racism in the police force. Ian's best work has fashioned several imaginative permutations of the crime story, from the heightened rough and tumble of The Sweeney, the slow-burn psychological pressure of his Armchair Theatre (ITV, 1956-74) play 'Detective Waiting' (tx. 14/9/1971), to the more everyday problems encountered in Juliet Bravo. He displayed a lighter side in King and Castle (ITV, 1986-88), his odd couple show about debt collectors.

Always highly prolific, Ian was a writer-for-hire on such popular series as the boardroom soap The Troubleshooters (BBC, 1966-72), the wartime drama Colditz (BBC, 1972-74), to which Troy also contributed, Hadleigh (ITV, 1969-76), about the Yorkshire gentry, and the long-running Bergerac (BBC, 1981-91).

Ian's last produced script, for the Customs and Excise drama The Knock (ITV, 1994-2000), was screened in 1997. Also the author of several novels, his first stage play, 'The Berlin Hanover Express', premiered in London in 2009.

Sergio Angelini


Sean Day-Lewis, Talk of Drama (University of Luton Press, 1998)

Robert Fairclough and Mike Kenwood, The Sweeney! The Official Companion (Reynolds & Hearn, 2002)

Lez Cooke, Troy Kennedy Martin (Manchester University Press, 2007)

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Bergerac (1981-91)Bergerac (1981-91)

Long-running detective series set on the island tax haven of Jersey

Thumbnail image of Chinese Detective, The (1981-82)Chinese Detective, The (1981-82)

Police drama series starring David Yip

Thumbnail image of Colditz (1972-74)Colditz (1972-74)

Tense drama about Allied captives in a WWII German prison camp

Thumbnail image of Detective Waiting (1971)Detective Waiting (1971)

Modest but inventive police drama from the creator of The Sweeney

Thumbnail image of Juliet Bravo (1980-85)Juliet Bravo (1980-85)

Drama featuring a female police inspector in an all-male police station

Thumbnail image of Mogul/Troubleshooters, The (1965-72)Mogul/Troubleshooters, The (1965-72)

Gripping drama about an international oil empire

Thumbnail image of Sweeney, The (1975-78)Sweeney, The (1975-78)

Tough 1970s police drama with John Thaw and Dennis Waterman

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Thumbnail image of Martin, Troy Kennedy (1932-2009)Martin, Troy Kennedy (1932-2009)