Stratford Johns

Stratford Johns, born Alan Edgar Stratford-Johns, (22 September 1925 - 29 January, 2002 ) was a popular British stage, film and television actor who is best remembered for his starring role as Detective Inspector Charlie Barlow in the innovative and long-running BBC police series Z-Cars, created by Troy Kennedy-Martin. He was not the younger brother of the actor Mervyn Johns nor uncle to actress Glynis Johns as verified by his daughter.

Stratford-Johns was not related to Mervyn or Glynis Johns. I know, I am his daughter!

Johns was born in Pietermaritzburg and grew up in South Africa, where his parents had emigrated. After serving in the South African navy during World War II, Johns worked for a time in accountancy, but soon became involved in amateur theatre.

In 1948, he bought a one-way ticket to Britain and learned his craft working in repertory theatre at Southend-on-Sea for almost five years. He began to appear in British films from the mid-1950s, including a role in the classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers (1955). He ran a small hotel in London during the 1950s, and was a member of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre during the Angry Young Men period when new playwrights, including John Osborne, introduced new themes to British theatre. His most famous character, Barlow, was noted for his hard edges, owing much to the changes in characterisation pioneered at the Royal Court.

In 1962 he won the part of Barlow in Z-Cars and soon became one of the most familiar and popular faces on British television. During the long run (1962-1978) of Z-Cars, he transferred his character to the spin-off series, Softly, Softly (1966-1972), and later Softly, Softly: Taskforce.

In the 1970s he starred in a third spin-off series, Barlow at Large, which saw the character transferred to British Intelligence: it was later retitled simply Barlow. Although the Barlow character remained popular (and appeared in another spin-off, in which he investigated the Jack The Ripper murders), ratings for these solo spin-offs declined, and the final series ended in 1975. Barlow was seen once more in 1976, in the series Second Verdict.

In 1973 Johns was named BBC TV Personality of the Year by the Variety Club of Great Britain. He also landed a cameo role as the racist chief-miner Zimmerman in the short series Master of the Game.

Johns later appeared in the much-maligned Ken Russell films Salome's Last Dance and The Lair of the White Worm (both 1988), followed by the lead role in the Channel 4 thriller Brond.

His many stage credits include Daddy Warbucks in the original West End run of Annie - he can be heard on the original London cast album - and the Ghost of Christmas Present in the original Birmingham cast of the stage adaptation of Scrooge (1970 film), on the recording of which he can also be heard. His guest appearances on TV include The Avengers, Department S, Neverwhere, the Doctor Who serial Four to Doomsday (1982) and the Blake's 7 episode Games. He had a prominent role as Calpurnius Piso in the BBC's acclaimed adaptation of Robert Graves' I, Claudius (1976); he played Magwich in the BBC's 1980s adaptation of Dickens' Great Expectations, the jailer in The Secret Life of Albie Sachs and the enigmatic title-character in the mid-1980s Channel 4 series Brond.

He was also the author of the children's book Gumphlumph; in the mid-1960s, at the height of his fame as Barlow, he read it on the children's television series Jackanory.

He ran the small hotel in St Martins Lane called the St Martins Hotel; it was managed by Elizabeth Kissick-Jones, formerly Hartnell, who was the aunt of his wife Nannette. The hotel was very popular with actors and he ran it until 1976.

After several years of poor health, Johns died from heart disease, aged 76.


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