Police and detective dramas on UK TV in the 1960s

Rupert Davies as Maigret
Rupert Davies as Maigret Image by Allan Warren licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0).

What police and detective dramas were shown on UK television in the 1960s?

At the start of the 1960s there were just two channels, BBC and ITV (commercial). ITV was split into regions with different companies covering different parts of the country. They did, however, show similar programmes with some variations.

In 1964 BBC2 was broadcast for the first time.

Both BBC and ITV channels showed detective and police dramas. The BBC screened two well-known and long-running series, 'Dixon of Dock Green' which started in 1955 and 'Z-Cars' which started in 1962. Both continued until the second half of the 1970s. They were both based on a realistic portrayal of policing, but were different. Dixon was about a typical London bobby. In the early series it was homely and a little idealistic. Later the series became more realistic.

Z-Cars was set in the North of England. It reflected a harsher reality and was more violent.

Another successful BBC series was 'Maigret'. It was based on the novels of Georges Simenon about a French detective, Jules Maigret. In the TV series Rupert Davies played Maigret. The show ran for four years in the early 1960s.

One of the most successful series on the other side was 'Public Eye' starring Alfred Burke as Frank Marker. It was a realistic portrayal of a down-at-heel private detective, or enquiry agent as he preferred. The struggling private detective became a recurring theme in UK and US programmes. Marker dealt with missing persons, divorce and hire purchase enquiries. It sounds humdrum, but the stories were interesting and an insight into life in the 1960s and 1970s.

Both BBC and ITV imported detective shows from the USA. They brought us some glamorous locations such as Hollywood ('77 Sunset Strip') and Hawaii ('Hawaiian Eye' and 'Hawaii Five-O').

The long-running Dragnet series had its final airing in the 1960s. Some long-running US series also started in the 1960s, including Hawaii Five-O and A Man called Ironside. The golden era of the US cop show was probably the 1970s.

Programmes made in Britain

Call the Gun Expert (1964)

'Call the Gun Expert' was on Thursday evenings in July to August 1964 on BBC 1 at 9.25pm. There were just six episodes.

The show was based on a book by Macdonald Hastings, 'The Other Mr. Churchill'. It concerned a ballistics expert, Robert Churchill, a real person.

The stories were cases Churchill investigated from 1918 to 1934. Wensley Pithey played Robert Churchill.

Detective (1964-1969)

This series featured different actors investigating different cases each week. It was shown on BBC1 from 1964 to 1969.

Dixon of Dock Green (1955-1976)

'Dixon of Dock Green' was based on the character of PC George Dixon who first appeared in the 1950 film 'The Blue Lamp'. In that film he was murdered.

He was resurrected in 1955. Twenty-four series ran from 1955 to 1976. Jack Warner played Dixon in the film and in every episode.

The style of the series evolved from gentle and idealistic policing to more realism in the later series.

Ghost Squad (a.k.a. G.S.5) (1961-1964)

'Ghost Squad' was about an elite Scotland Yard unit. It was based on the book 'Ghost Squad' by John Gosling, a former Deputy Superintendent of Scotland Yard.

There were three series between 1961 and 1964.

'Ghost Squad' was renamed 'G.S.5.' for its third series.

The show must have had reasonable success as some episodes were repeated.

Gideon's Way (1964-1968)

'Gideon's Way' was based on a series of novels by John Creasey who wrote under the name J J Merric.

'Gideon's Way' starred John Gregson as Commander George Gideon. Alexander Davion played Chief Inspector David Keen and Daphne Anderson was Gideon's wife, Kate.

The series was shown on ATV London in 1964 and 1965. It was repeated between 1966 and 1968.

Interpol Calling (1960-1965)

'Interpol Calling' was originally on ATV London between 1959 and 1960. It was repeated between 1961 and 1966.

The series was first aired at the prime-time 7.30pm slot on Saturday evenings. The repeats moved to late Sunday nights and late Saturday nights.

The show starred Charles Korvin as Inspector Duval and Edwin Richfield as Inspector Mornay.

Maigret (1959, 1960-1963)

'Maigret' was about the French police force working in France, but was made in English for UK viewers.

Rupert Davies starred as Maigret, a French detective. The series was based on novels by Georges Simenon.

It was shown on BBC1 between 1960 and 1965, including repeats. The original slot was on Monday evenings after the News.

Man from Interpol (1960-9)

'The Man from Interpol' was first shown in 1960. It was a late-night weekday programme. There was only one series which ran for forty episodes and finished in 1961. There were a few repeats on Granada in 1968 and 1969.

The series starred Richard Stapley as Interpol Agent Anthony Smith.

No Hiding Place (1959-1967)

'No Hiding Place' was a British detective drama. It starred as Raymond Francis as Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Lockhart.

There were 236 episodes shown between 1959 and 1967 on Rediffusion. They ran for just under an hour and were usually broadcast on weekday evenings around 8.30pm.

The Odd Man (1960-1964)

'The Odd Man' was broadcast on weekday evenings between 1960 and 1963 on Rediffusion. The final series was repeated in 1964.

Geoffrey Toone in series 1 played the main character, Steve Gardiner. In the other series the role was taken by Edwin Richfield.

Parkin's Patch (1969-1970)

'Parkin's Patch' was a Yorkshire Television series broadcast in 1969 and 1970. It starred John Flanagan as PC Moss Parkin.

There was just one series with twenty-six episodes. They were shown on ITV London Weekend on Friday evenings. The original slot was 7.00pm, but it was moved to 10.30pm in 1970. Wheel of Fortune took its place.

Paul Temple (1969-1971)

'Paul Temple' was written by Francis Durbridge who was well-known for his complicated plots.

Francis Matthews starred in the title role. The show was broadcast for two series on BBC One on weekday evenings.

Police Surgeon (1960)

The series starred Ian Hendry as Dr Geoffrey Brent. Hendry later played Dr David H Keel in the first series of 'The Avengers' as well as Eric Paice in the film 'Get Carter' (1970).

'Police Surgeon' was aired on Saturday evenings on ATV.

Public Eye (1965-1975)

'Public Eye' starred Alfred Burke as Frank Marker. He was a private detective who preferred the title 'Enquiry Agent'. The original series was set in Birmingham. Marker moved to Brighton in 1969 after doing time at Ford Open Prison after a misadventure.

The series was broadcast on ATV and Rediffusion at around 9.00pm on weekday and Saturday evenings.

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969-1975)

This was a fantasy programme about a detective agency in which one of the partners, Hopkirk, had died. He appeared as a ghost.

Mike Pratt starred as Jeff Randall and Kenneth Cope as Marty Hopkirk.

'Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)' was shown on London Weekend on Sunday evenings, later moving to Friday evenings in 1969 and 1970. It was repeated in 1971 and again in 1975.

The series was shown again between 1994 and 1996 on BBC 2.

Redcap (1964-1966)

As the name suggests 'Redcap' was about the Military Police. It starred John Thaw as Sergeant John Mann.

The show was broadcast between 1964 and 1966 on Rediffusion. It was originally shown on Thursday evenings at 8.00pm

The Revenue Men (1967-8)

'The Revenue Men' was a short series about Revenue and Customs investigators. It was shown on BBC2 in 1967 and 1968. A few episodes were also broadcast on BBC1.

The series starred Ewen Solon.

Sergeant Cork (1963-1968)

'Sergeant Cork' was a period crime drama set in Victorian London. It starred John Barrie as Sergeant Cork. It was shown between 1963 and 1966 on ATV London.

Sexton Blake (1967-1971)

Laurence Payne starred as Sexton Blake. The show was broadcast on Rediffusion, ATV and Thames between 1968 and 1971.

Sherlock Holmes

There were several programmes featuring Sherlock Holmes in the 1960s.

Associated-Rediffusion showed a few episodes of the series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce originally made in the 1940s in 1960.

In 1965 the BBC started a new series starring Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Stock as Dr Watson. It was broadcast between 1965 and 1966.

In 1968 Peter Cushing replaced Douglas Wilmer and the series became 'Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes'. It ran until 1970.

Softly, Softly (1966-1969)

Stratford Johns starred as Detective Chief Superintendent Barlow

'Softly, Softly' was broadcast on BBC 1 on a regular Wednesday evening slot in 1966 and 1967 at 8.00pm. It moved to Thursdays in 1968.

In November 1969 the show became 'Softly, Softly Task Force'. It continued until 1976.

Special Branch (1969-1974)

'Special Branch' starred Derren Nesbitt as Detective Chief Inspector Jordan. It was about Special Branch, a real division of the Metropolitan Police set up for counter espionage.

Jordan was known as snappy dresser and wore Carnaby Street style fashion.

The series was made by Thames Television for ITV. In 1969 it was shown on Wednesday evenings at around 9.00pm.

Z-Cars (1962-1978)

The BBC first broadcast 'Z-Cars' in 1962. It ran until 1978; not quite as long as 'Dixon of Dock Green'.

The series was praised for its realism. It was a different view of the police than what was presented by 'Dixon of Dock Green'.

USA imports

 Edd Byrnes as Kookie and Sue Randall in 77 Sunset Strip
Edd Byrnes as Kookie and Sue Randall as Alice Smith Gallante in '77 Sunset Strip' ABC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain image: published before 1977 without a copyright notice)

Several programmes were imported from the USA. This is a list of US crime and detective shows broadcast in the UK in the 1960s:

A guide to ITV regions in the 1960s

Separate franchises were awarded for Independent Television in the 1960s. You could typically only receive one channel and they did not cover the whole country.

These are the companies mentioned in this article.

See ITV regions in the 1960s for information about all regions.

Read more:

Television in the 60s - UK

Detective shows in the 1970s - UK

By Steven Braggs, September 2022

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