Guest Actor Biography
Page 55 of 127


Stratford Johns

Sir Thomas Weller, The Frighteners
Sidney Street, Legacy of Death

by Pete Stampede

Stratford Johns dominated one of the other key TV series of the 1960s, Z-Cars, as Superintendent Barlow. Wearing the classic uniform of trilby and raincoat, he was totally convincing as the bluff, authoritative, north country cop, so it comes as something of a surprise to find that he was born Alan Stratford Johns in Pietermaritzberg, South Africa—where his family had emigrated to from England—on February 22 1925. After serving in the South African navy during World War II, Johns dabbled in accountancy, but soon realised that his vocation lay elsewhere and became involved in amateur dramatics. In 1948, he purchased a one way ticket to Britain and started in repertory theater in Southend-on-Sea. For four and a half years he learned his trade there, receiving the not-so-princely sum of 8 a week for his troubles. Soon after, he found work touring with a comedienne and slowly but surely began to make an impression on the British film studios, resulting in several bit parts during the early 1950s, including an appearance in the classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers (1955).

In 1962, Z-Cars debuted and before long, Stratford Johns was a familiar and popular face on British television. He initially felt that his character, Charlie Barlow, was rather two-dimensional and he is reputed to have argued with producer David Rose in the early days of Z-Cars, that Barlow's mood should be governed by his home life. When confronted on set by Rose who wished him to explain his interpretation, Johns explained that "Barlow went home last night, had a row with his wife, got out of bed, went downstairs and drank a bottle of scotch on his own. He went back to bed and woke up with a hangover." This became the blueprint for his creation. During Z-Cars' long (1962-78) run, he transferred to a spin-off series, Softly Softly (1966-72), later retitled Softly Softly Task Force. Yet another spin-off, Barlow At Large in the 70's, which saw the big man transferred to an outpost of British Intelligence, didn't really work. His impact as Barlow was marked in 1973 by his being named BBC TV Personality of the Year by the Variety Club of Great Britain.

Johns later had the bad luck to be in a couple of Ken Russell disasters, Salome's Last Dance and The Lair of the White Worm (both 1988), but was in fine scenery-chewing form the same year in Brond, a Channel 4 thriller, as the mystery man of the title. His wealth of stage work includes Daddy Warbucks in the West End version of Annie. Other guest appearances include Department S, "The Man In The Elegant Room" (1969, with Peter Wyngarde), and Doctor Who, "Four to Doomsday" (1982). Johns also had a prominent role in the BBC's acclaimed historical epic, I, Claudius (1976), as Calpurnius Piso.

After several years of poor health, Stratford Johns sadly passed away as a result of a heart condition on 29 January 2002. He was 76. Johns' creation, Charlie Barlow, dominated primetime schedules in the UK for nigh on twenty years. A true legend of British television. You can read Stratford Johns' obituary at BBCi.

Peta Stratford-Johns writes: For your information, Barlow At Large then became a series just called Barlow and it was in fact as popular as the original Z Cars. He played Magwich in the 80s BBC series Great Expectations. Played the jailer in The Secret Life of Albie Sachs, probably my most favorite, and from 1990-95 played The Ghost of Christmas Present, starring alongside Anthony Newley and Jon Pertwee, sadly both no longer with us.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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