One of British TV's first crime-busting double acts starring Stratford Johns as the no-nonsense Charlie Barlow, a superior officer not adverse to pounding his suspects into submission, and Frank Windsor as his gentler sidekick John Watt, first became household names in Troy Kennedy Martin's Z-Cars.
So successful was the partnership that in 1966 they were seconded to the Regional Crime Squad by the BBC for Softly, Softly a series that ran for ten years and became one of the best-realised spin-off series the BBC has ever had. After leaving Newtown, Barlow and Watt headed south to the fictional region of Wyvern (supposedly near Bristol) where they took up their new posts of Detective Chief Superintendent and Detective Chief Inspector respectively. Promotion did little to temper Barlow and he remained the tough, relentless and sharp-tongued copper that had such an impact on Z Cars that he became the national idea of a police chief.
In 1970 the series title was changed to Softly, Softly: Task Force and Barlow was promoted once again, this time to Head of Thamesford Constabulary's CID Task Force. Watt accompanied him. But the following year Barlow went it alone when he was headhunted by the Home Office to take up a post in Whitehall with the Police Research Services Branch in the series Barlow at Large. Softly, Softly: Task Force plodded on without Barlow for another six years and although the scripts were of a superior quality there was always the feeling that 'that little extra something' was missing.
In 1973 Barlow and Watt were reunited briefly by the BBC in a real-life investigation of the famous east end Ripper murders of 1888. This proved successful enough for the BBC to reuse the format shortly after the Task Force disbanded in a series entitled Second Verdict, which looked at mysteries of a similar kind.
Published on January 31st, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (21 June 2003) for Television Heaven.