Ever since TV viewing became a popular family activity at home, some of the programmes most eagerly anticipated have included stories about the police force, both here and over the pond in America. These days such programmes have become as prolific as soap operas and enjoy a higher profile than ever before, for eg. "The Bill."
But what about some of those cops and robbers series of yesteryear that were beamed across the Black Country and viewed in black and white on the little box in the corner. Once again we call upon the expertise of Alan Keeling to guide us down a very nostalgic TV memory lane.
"A familiar opening to a programme that had ABC viewers glued to the telly on a Saturday night in the late fifties, early sixties, went as follows :-
"Dial 999 when in London, that's what you do to call the police. I know, I'm a policeman from Canada attached to Scotland Yard. My name's Mike McGuire." And so another episode of the series "Dial 999" had begun. It starred Robert Beatty as McGuire, ably assisted by Duncan Lamont as Inspector Winter and John Witty as D. S. West, and was full of criminals (one of which was played by Robert Shaw) getting their comeuppance from the reliable coppers at Scotland Yard. In my opinion the series had more zip to it than a series made two years earlier called "Fabian of the Yard."
Dial 999 had a short run of 39 half-hour episodes and was a joint Anglo - American venture produced by Towers of London for ZIV Television and made in 1956 at both the Elstree studios, and on location around the streets of London. Wearing his hat at all times, Robert Beatty resembled the comic book cop Dick Tracy and was invariably accompanied by some interesting incidental music played on the harmonica by Tommy Reilly. The show's crime consultant was Duncan Webb.
From the other side of the pond came "Highway Patrol." The opening commentary announced one of I.T.V's. most popular American cop shows ever.
"Whenever the laws of any state are broken, a duly authorised organisation swings into action. It may be called the state police, state troopers, militia, the rangers or the highway patrol. These are the stories of the men whose training, skill and courage have enforced and preserved our state laws."
The show starred Broderick Crawford as patrol chief Dan Matthews with his famous "ten-four" catch-phrase. So popular was the series in the Midlands in the late fifties that A.B.C. would screen new episodes on a Saturday evening, whilst A.T.V. showed repeats during the week. The 156 monochrome half-hour episodes were made by ZIV Productions and ran from 1955 until 1959. Twenty-five years later London Weekend Television repeated 13 episodes late on a Friday night.
Can anyone remember "Sergeant Cork" which premiered on A.T.V. on Saturday 9 June 1963. The opening sequence showed Cork, played by John Barrie, shuffling up a flight of stairs to his office high up in the attic of a Whitehall building. Set in Victorian England when the C.I.D. was in its infancy, Cork was a new breed of policeman and a great believer in the new scientific methods in solving crime. But Cork's superior, Detective Bird played by Arnold Diamond, was strictly old-fashioned and the pair were often found to be at loggerheads with one another. But half way through the series Bird was replaced by Superintendent Rodway, played by Charles Morgan, who was far more agreeable with Sergeant Cork's methods and ideas, giving the series a new lease of life. Cork's young assistant, Bob Marriot, was played by William Gaunt who later starred in "The Champions." In the end 65 black and white 50 minute episodes were video-taped at A.T.V's. London studios from 1963 until 1968.
"The Saint" was one of the most popular early TV series and starred Roger Moore as the famous Simon Templar. Created by Leslie Charteris the show was first screened in 1962 and remained a firm favourite until 1969 and who can forget the match-stick man with a halo above his head. The Saint was a former criminal who had mended his ways; a handsome, daring, dashing suave, wealthy and humerous individual who was always a hit with the ladies. His adventures sometimes came under the scrutiny of Inspector Claude Teal (played in the main by Ivor Dean), who Templar sarcastically referred to in one episode as "Scotland Yard's finest."
In its long run of 114 episodes many famous British actors cut their acting teeth, and they include Ronnie Barker, Barry Morse, Oliver Reed, Ronnie Corbett, Shirley Eaton, Johnny Briggs, Julie Christie, David Hedison, Sylvia Syms, and Edward Woodward to name but a few. It's not surprising that a mention of The Saint will immediately spring to mind the catchy theme tune that grabbed the attention of so many families at home in the evenings during the 1960's.