Jacks and Knaves

1961 | United Kingdom

A bit of an oddity - this short series (only four episodes), billed by the Radio Times in November 1961 as a "comedy documentary," was apparently based around the exploits of retired Liverpool CID Detective Sergeant William Prendergast. 

TV writer Colin Morris had previously met the DS when he went to Liverpool in search of material for Tearaway, a dramatised documentary about the intimidation of witnesses. Morris described Prendergast as a big beefy, granite-faced man with a formidable air of authority, and as tough as they come. In twenty-eight years with the Liverpool CID Prendergast became a specialist in interrogation - so successfully that two years after his retirement, the files on his cases were still being used to train young detectives. "I never took a note when I was interrogating." said Prendergast when interviewed for the Radio Times. "I have a photographic memory, so I just used to sit and let them go on talking - till three, five, six o'clock in the morning. I've sat with them through the small hours and watched the moon go down and the sun come up, and suddenly they've made the one slip. And I've said: "D'you remember what you told me at eleven o'clock? And now you say this? All right. Let's start all over again ..."" 

The dialogue Colin Morris wrote for John Barrie who played Detective Sergeant Tom Hitchin in the TV series attempted to catch the authentic flavour of Prendergast in action: "a tough character," as Calder described him, "with a great sense of humour and much humanity". The title; Jacks and Knaves was inspired by the fact that, in the early 1960s, Liverpudlians branded police officers as "Jacks", whilst officers referred to criminals as "Knaves." The programme is notable for being the forerunner to the highly successful Z-Cars (and is sometimes cited as the inspiration for it), but the branding of the genre as "comedy documentary" is an unusual one. The series was created and written by Colin Morris and produced and directed by Gilchrist Calder.

Published on December 24th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.