Softly, Softly (TV series)

Softly, Softly was a British television drama series, produced by the BBC and screened on BBC 1 from January 1966. It centred around the work of regional crime squads, plain-clothes CID officers based in the fictional region of Wyvern - supposedly in the Bristol and Chepstow area of the UK. The series (which took its name from the proverb 'softly, softly, catchee monkey') was designed as a vehicle for Detective Chief Inspector Charles Barlow and Detective Inspector John Watt (played by Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor respectively) from the popular police series Z Cars, which had just finished its original run. Also joining them in the early series was Robert Keegan as Blackitt, the police station sergeant from Z Cars, now retired and acting as a freelance helper. The series introduced characters like Sgt. Harry Hawkins (Norman Bowler) who would become very popular and well known. Promoted over the years to Detective Chief Inspector, Hawkins stayed with the show for its entire run.

Other shorter-lived regular characters in the series early years included Alexis Kanner as DC Matt Stone. Although popular with audiences, Kanner appears to have alienated cast and crew with erratic behaviour during live recordings, and the character was dropped suddenly after only 9 episodes. He later played the recalcitrant Number 48 in The Prisoner.

Although not transmitted live, the producers of the early series were eager to keep the atmosphere of its Z Cars precursor, so recorded the shows in (where possible) one take, as if they were being broadcast live. This way of recording the shows had ceased by the end of its run in 1969.

The original theme music was, like Z Cars, a folk-song arrangement by Fritz Spiegl. It was released as a single (credited to the London Waits) on Andrew Loog Oldham's "Immediate" record label in 1966.

In 1969, to co-incide with the BBC's move to colour broadcasting on BBC 1, the series changed again. Barlow, Watt and Hawkins were promoted and moved to the South East of England, to the (again) fictitious Thamesford, where they were in charge of Taskforces, groupings of police expertise and manpower drawn together for special operations. The series was to have changed its name to Taskforce, but the BBC were reluctant to drop a popular brand, and so it became Softly, Softly: Taskforce.

Johns left the 'Taskforce' series in 1972 (Barlow had his own spin-off series Barlow at Large) but it continued until 1976 with Watt in command. During the 70s Windsor also appeared as Watt in Jack the Ripper, in which he and Barlow reopened the Jack the Ripper murder casebook, and a similar series Second Verdict in which they looked into unsolved mysteries and miscarriages of justice from history.

All episodes of Taskforce survive, but much of the original Softly, Softly is lost, especially the first 2 seasons.


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