Softly, Softly is a British television drama series, produced by the BBC and screened on BBC 1 from January 1966. It was created as a spin-off from the hugely successful series Z-Cars which ended its fifth series run in December 1965. The series took its name from the proverb "Softly, softly, catchee monkey", the motto of Lancashire Constabulary Training School..
Softly, Softly centred on the work of regional police crime squads, plain-clothes CID officers based in the fictional region of Wyvern, supposedly in the Bristol area of England. It 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 police series Z-Cars, which had just finished its original run in December 1965 (no new episodes were produced in 1966 but it was revived in a different format the following year). 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.
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 after only nine episodes. He later played the recalcitrant Number 48 in the final episode of The Prisoner.
The first two series continued the trend set by producer David Rose with Z-Cars, and transmitted the majority of episodes live. This was one of the last long-running British TV series to do this. From series three onwards all episodes were pre-recorded.
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.
Much of the original Softly, Softly is lost, especially from the first two seasons, many of which were transmitted live.
The survival rate for episodes is variable, especially from the first and second series. Many were transmitted live and are believed lost. (In comparison, all episodes of the follow-up Taskforce survive.)
In 1969, to coincide with the BBC's move to colour broadcasting on BBC 1, Softly Softly series ended. The characters of Barlow, Watt and Hawkins were promoted and moved to the South East of England in a new series set in the fictitious Thamesford. Here, as a result in changes in criminal activities, the police force itself needed to develop a new approach to tackle it. Taskforces were set up: these were groupings of police expertise and manpower drawn together for special operations in the region. This was a new series in its own right and it was simply going to be called Taskforce. However, starring three strong characters from a popular brand the BBC were reluctant to drop, this new series was renamed to Softly, Softly: Taskforce.
Stratford Johns left the Taskforce series in 1972 (Barlow had his own spin-off series Barlow at Large) and 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.