Softly, Softly: Taskforce

Softly, Softly: Task Force is a police based drama series which ran on BBC 1 from 1969 to 1976. It was a revamp of Softly, Softly, itself a spin-off from Z-Cars. The change was made partly to coincide with the coming of colour broadcasting to the BBC's main channel BBC1. The programme was due to be called simply Task Force, but reluctant to sacrifice a much-loved brand the BBC compromised this so it became Softly, Softly: Task Force.

Softly, Softly: Task Force
Created byTroy Kennedy Martin
Elwyn Jones
StarringStratford Johns
Frank Windsor
Terence Rigby
Norman Bowler
Walter Gotell
David Lloyd Meredith
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of series8
No. of episodes149
Running time50 minutes
Original networkBBC1
Original release20 November 1969 (1969-11-20) 
15 December 1976 (1976-12-15)


At the end of Softly Softly, the main characters – Detective Chief Superintendent Barlow (Stratford Johns) and Detective Inspector Watt (Frank Windsor) – both applied for the role of Head of CID at newly formed Thamesford Constabulary. The fictional Thamesford Constabulary was a product of amalgamations carried out during recent reorganisation of Britains police forces and is referred to as the third largest force in Britain.

Barlow is appointed to the role which though more prestigious due to the size of Thamesford Constabulary carries the same rank (Chief Superintendent) as his current role as deputy co-ordinator of the Southwest Regional Crime Squad. There is also a vacancy for a deputy head of CID and Watt as runner up is appointed gaining the rank of Detective Superintendent. Upon arrival in Thamesford Barlow recommends the formation of two taskforces. These are set up and Watt is made Task Force Commander of Number One Task Force in addition to his duties as deputy head of CID. Harry Hawkins (Norman Bowler) seen a Detective Sergeant in the South West Regional Crime Squad in Softly Softly has become a uniform inspector at Thamesford and is quickly made a Detective Inspector in Number One Task Force.

Although there is said to be a Number Two Task Force the series Centres on the activities of Number One Task Force usually referred to as 'The Task Force.' In the series Barlow is said to have copied the Task Force concept from the real life Merseyside Police. The Taskforce contains a mixture of CID and uniform personnel and is meant to provide a resource for use in big operations. Though at times the task force is shown in roles including policing a football match, providing security for a visiting senator and responding to a terrorist incident at an airport there they are mostly shown assisting Barlow and Watt to solve murders and other crimes. This CID bias makes most episodes quite reminiscent of those in the previous series.

The stories were set in the fictional south-eastern English borough of Kingley (played by the City of Rochester and the Medway area), where the team were under the baleful eye of Chief Constable Cullen (Walter Gotell).

The continuing storyline of the series saw Barlow widowed in 1972, after which he was headhunted by the Home Office to work on special cases (this became the series Barlow at Large). This left the way clear for Watt to come out of Barlow's shadow and take command in his own right, with the reliable assistance of Hawkins. Regulars included Terence Rigby as PC Snow (the dog handler, with his dogs Inky and Radar), David Lloyd Meredith (Sgt Evans) and Walter Gotell (Chief Con. Cullen).

By the mid 1970s, the show was beginning to look rather dated and drab alongside the new dynamic series appearing on ITV (such as The Sweeney). With its increasing reliance on police procedural issues and squeaky-clean officers (with the odd 'rotten apple' for them to condemn), it began to look as stiff as Dixon of Dock Green had when its forerunner Z-Cars had appeared to blow away the cobwebs. The final series introduced a new theme tune and some new characters, but the series had had its day and was a far cry from the dynamic and edgy team of professionals introduced in the first Softly, Softly ten years earlier.

Series run down

120 Nov 196912 Mar 19701650 minutes
216 Sept 197010 Mar 19712650 minutes
36 Oct 197129 Mar 19722650 minutes
413 Sept 197231 Jan 19732050 minutes
512 Sept 197316 Jan 19741850 minutes
64 Sept 197427 Nov 19741350 minutes
727 Aug 19753 Dec 19751550 minutes
88 Sept 197615 Dec 19761550 minutes


ActorCharacterYears ActiveSeries ActiveEpisode Count
Stratford JohnsDCS Charlie Barlow1969–19721–456
Frank WindsorD Sup./DCS John Watt1969–19761–8123
Norman BowlerInsp./DI/CI/DCI Harry Hawkins1969–19761–8113
Walter GotellChief Con. Arthur Cullen1969–19751–755
David Lloyd MeredithSgt./DS/DI Bob Evans1969–19761–8106
David AllisterSgt./Insp Richard Jackson1969–19711–222
Susan TebbsP/W DC Betty Donald1969–19711–226
Terence RigbyPC Henry Snow1969–19761–883
Inky (police dog)Inky1969–701N/A
Gay HamiltonDr. Jean Morrow/Watt1970–19741–4, 612
Radar (police dog)Radar1970–722–3N/A
Brian HallPC Ted Drake1971–1972316
Martin C. ThurleyPC Knowles *1972–19744–523
Grahame MallardPC Terry Nesbitt1972–19744–629
Nigel HumphreysPC Pete Dodds1974–19756–720
Malcolm RenniePC Ted Perry1975712
Philippa HowellWPC Betty Arthur1975–19767–812
Peter CloughPC Joe Lincoln1975–19767–817
Peter ChildsDS Don Grant1976815
John FlanaganPC Will Pearson1976815


ActorCharacterYears ActiveSeries ActiveEpisode Count
Terrence HardimanInsp. Thomas Armstrong197127
Julie HallamP/W DC Maggie Forest1971–197227
Heather StoneyP/W DS Mary Green1971–197327
Jenny HanleySara Jameson/Hawkins1972–19754–78
John Franklyn-RobbinsCI/D Sup. Bill Adler1972–197349
Warren ClarkeDS Jack Stirling197354

* PC Knowles is never given a first name on-screen.

Archive status

All bar one episode of Task Force survive in the BBC archives in their original format (either 2" Quad VT or 16mm colour film, depending on the episode). The one exception is 1972's "Welcome to the Club" which only survives as a black and white copy of the originally colour episode. This one black and white episode survives on 16mm film.[1]

DVD release

Series 1 received a Region 2 DVD release from Simply Media. This was released on 18 November 2013.

Simply Media will be releasing Series 2 on Region 2 DVD in September 2016.

Series development

Barlow & Watt appeared again in a 6-part series in 1973, which saw Barlow & Watt re-appraising the Jack the Ripper murders. The pair would state all the known facts and with the aid of specially staged reconstructions, attempt to work out how the crimes were committed, though usually, nothing new was conclusively proven.

They were spun off into one further outing, Second Verdict. Over six weeks, they re-investigated some of the most baffling historic criminal cases, including the Lindbergh kidnappings and the murders of the Princes in the Tower by King Richard III. The characters sparring off each other to get to the truth made for entertaining television, but with the exception of the final episode, it was hampered by a lack of actual evidence to offer real 'second verdicts'. A comparable ITV series Killers featuring detailed reconstructions of notorious crime trials used much dialogue based on actual transcripts, which at the time didn't help Second Verdict. In a contemporary interview, Stratford Johns remarked that: "I did not like the title. It was too limiting. I would have preferred 'Second Opinion'".

The character of John Watt would see one final solo appearance in the last ever Z-Cars, in September 1978.


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