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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 18:47 GMT
Johns' arresting career
Moira Armstrong (left), Robert Keegan, Stratford Johns, Frank Windsor (second right) and Brian Blessed (right)
Stratford Johns (centre) in Z Cars
BBC News Online looks back at the career of actor Stratford Johns, who has died aged 77.

Stratford Johns helped transform television police dramas in 1962, when he made his debut in the BBC's Z Cars series as police chief Charlie Barlow.

The programme's hard-hitting style shattered the cosy image of the police created by its predecessor Dixon of Dock Green.

Born in 1925 in Pietermarizburg, South Africa, to English parents, Alan Stratford Johns studied music and elocution at school at his mother's insistence. His father died when he was two years old.

Stratford Johns
Barlow was originally meant to be a docile officer
He served in the South African navy during World War II, returning to Natal to became an accountant.

Southend spell

But in 1948 he decided to emigrate and try his luck as an actor after a successful run in an amateur production of Hay Fever.

He spent four-and-a-half years in rep at Southend-on-Sea, Essex, but his career took off during the 1950s, and he played minor roles in 200 TV plays and 30 films.

Johns was 37 when he landed his breakthrough role as Barlow in Z Cars, a drama about policing in fictitious Newtown, just north of Liverpool.

Stratford Johns
The character mellowed for Softly, Softly
Originally, the character was to be a plodding police chief, but Johns persuaded the producers to give him a more realistic, cantankerous personality.

Bullying

Johns' own troubled private life added to the character's sarcasm and bullying.

He is said to have explained to a producer that Barlow rowed with his wife the previous night and drank half a bottle of Scotch afterwards - and so had he.

Z Cars ran for 667 episodes, running until 1978, and Charlie Barlow's character inspired a series of spin-offs - Softly, Softly saw Barlow promoted to a new patch, and become more mellow with it.

The Variety Club awarded Johns its BBC TV personality of the year prize in 1973, as Barlow moved on to another new patch in Barlow At Large.

Stratford Johns
A 1981 role for the BBC in Great Expectations
When Barlow At Large ended in 1975, Johns was reluctant to consider any new parts which would undermine his creation.

But although typecasting worked against him, later roles included the part of Harry Pinto in ITV sitcom George and Mildred, Mustalpha El Ali in the 1985 film Wild Geese II, and West End shows such as Annie, where he played Daddy Warbucks.

Troubled marriage

In 1993 he starred alongside Ewan McGregor and Rachel Weisz in Scarlet and Black, and his last appearance was in the long-running ITV series Heartbeat in 1998.

Stratford Johns
Appearing in 1996 with Noel Edmonds
Stratford Johns was married to Nanette Ryder for three decades, but he was reported to have had frequent and occasionally violent rows with her, and the couple split up for a time, reuniting in 1984 after their son Alan was jailed for drug smuggling.

Two of his children also sold tales of domestic violence to a tabloid in the late 1980s.

He had suffered from heart problems late in life, and spent time in a nursing home before returning to his home at Heveningham near Halesworth, Suffolk.

See also:

30 Jan 02 | TV and Radio
TV star Stratford Johns dies
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