Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Stratford Johns as Charlie Barlow

It's not just being an old fogey that makes me enjoy watching vintage drama: I enjoy it because of the time writers used to be given to tell the story. No doubt money is tight and the audience only a click away from departing, but where producers still have the courage to give that time the results can still be enthralling - as Broadchurch has shown.

BBC4 is currently showing I, Claudius, one of the greatest of all vintage television dramas. And last night's episode gave a welcome central role of one of the forgotten giants of 1960s' television: Stratford Johns.

His BFI Screenonline profile will tell you all about him:
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 ... 
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.
The early Z cars episodes are before my time, but I do remember Softly, Softly (the series which featured Johns as Barlow in the late sixties). If you watching Endeavour then you will have seen an echo of the more palatable parts of Barlow's character in Roger Allam's Chief Inspector Fred Thursday.

Click here to see Johns as Barlow. Explore the video a little further and you will find the young Brian Blessed as a constable.

So famous was Stratford Johns' portrayal of Barlow that he sometimes found it hard to get other roles. Good as he was in I, Claudius, what I would really like to see is a repeat of his portrayal of the eponymous Brond from the 1987 Channel 4 drama.

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