There have been many court room dramas over the years, but, in my opinion, Granada Televisions series ‘Crown Court’ rates as the best, in fact it's television gold.
Running from October 1972 until March 1984, and consisting of 879 thirty minute episode over 11 series, it was, and is still is the longest running fictional court room drama series.
A typical case normally involved misdemeanours taking place in or around the fictional town of Fulchester.
Mr Justice Campbell played by William Mervyn
The case would last over three afternoons, presented in half-hour episodes.
The regular format was for the prosecution case to be presented in the first two episodes and the defence, summing up and verdict in the third, although this sequence would sometimes change.
The Judge , Barristers, defendants et al were all actors, but the jury consisted of the general public eligible for jury service on the electoral register plucked from the Granada Television franchise area.
Mr Justice Mitchenmore played by John Barron
The unique twist being it was this jury alone who decided the verdict. Although, due to the cost of studio time, they were only allowed 30 minutes to reach their decision. But the ending could never be predicted. In fact, the production publicity of the time stated that, for most stories, two endings were scripted and rehearsed, to cope with the jury's free decision, which, just like in a real court case, was delivered when the jury foreman was asked, by the actor playing the clerk of the court, have you reached a verdict upon which you are all agreed?.
Mr Justice Yearsly played by Basil Henson
Because the Forman had a speaking part, Granada had to comply with the rules of equity, the actors union, so he or she had to be played by professional actor.
However, some cases, just like in real life, the jury could directed by the judge to return verdict of "not guilty" were appropriate.
Jeremy Parsons QC Played by Richard Wilson
The stories tacked a wide variety of criminal charges such as domestic violence, drug abuse, murder, arson, infanticide and espionage. And many civil cases such as libel, insurance or copyright claims.
The series boasted appearances of the cream of British character actors of that period, with the likes of William Mervyn, John Barron, John Horsley, Edward Jewesbury, Richard Warner, Basil Dignam, Laurence Hardy, Frank Middlemass, and Basil Henson who played the judges in their own inimitable styles, and the barristers. being played by John Alkin, David Ashford, Keith Barron, Jonathan Elsom, Bernard Gallagher, Peter Jeffrey, Charles Keating, Maureen Lipman, T. P. McKenna, Dorothy Vernon, Richard Wilson and William Simons
Barrister Martin O'Connor played by William Simons
The rest of the cast, the witnesses, defendants and the accused where regularly played by actors, relatively unknown at the time, but who were destined to become household names, a few examples, Eleanor Bron, Warren Clarke, Tom Conti, Brian Cox, Philip Bond, Michael Elphick, Sheila Fearn, Colin Firth, Brenda Fricker, Derek Griffiths, Nigel Havers, Bernard Hill, Gregor Fisher, Ben Kingsley, Ian Marter, Mark McManus, Vivien Merchant, Mary Miller, Geraldine Newman, Judy Parfitt, Robert Powell, Peter Sallis, Michael Sheard, Juliet Stevenson, Mary Wimbush, Peter Capaldi ,Mark Wing-Davey. Ben Kingsley, Bob Hoskins, Michael Elphick and Pauline Quirke.
If you look carefully, in some episodes, you will can spot a young Elizabeth Dawn (the future Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street) as a non-speaking prison officer.
Jonathan Fry QC played by Bernard Gallagher
The programme's writers where already well established in television drama, and they included Ian Curteis, David Fisher, Peter Wildeblood, John Godber, and Jeremy Sandford.
Each programme always started with the voice over of Peter Wheeler, the court reporter, he was a voice over artist contracted by Granada and used on many other shows such as 'What the Papers say', he would give a brief deception of the case, or a summary of what had occurred on the previous episodes.
Peter Wheeler, the Court Reporter
Musically each episode normally, but not always, opened with Sinfonietta 4th movement by Janáček, and closed with Simon Parks ‘Distant hills’, which was released as the B-side to the 1973 UK number 1 hit "Eye Level" which was the theme tune to "Van der Valk", the Amsterdam-based detective series.
Both of these pieces feature on the Radio Sounds Familiar playlist.
Barrister Quentin Ingrams played by Ian Marter
Each episode was recorded in Granadas largest stage (Studio 2) at their Quay Street facility in Manchester.
Each case (3 episodes) would be recorded on the same day and where possible was recorded as live, with minimum use of retakes
Quay Street Granada's Head Quarters until 2013
The post production involved the minimum of editing and was mainly just dropping in shots (cutaways of the jury, defendant etc.) on the master recording.
The series was cut on 2”Quadruplex videotape, and one of the by-products of performing 'vision only inserts', was that a low level 1khz tone would spill onto the mono audio track. As the nature of the production was dialog lead and no background music, you can quite clearly, hear it. Occurring about half a second after the drop in and ceasing half a second after the out. (This was a regular occurance on videotape programmes edited in the 1970s, but it quite pronounced on this programme.)
First TV Times Listing Wednesday 18th October 1972
Unlike many of the other ITV companies of that time, Granada was forward thinking and did not have a policy of whole sale erasing and desposing of master tapes, so thankfully all 879 episodes have been preserved.
Sadly they have not been dusted off and aired for a while.
The now defunct Satellite channel ‘Granada Plus’ transmitted some episodes in the 1990’s, as did the short lived channel ‘Legal TV’ which closed in 2008
Barrister John Lloyd played by John Flanagan
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1972 season
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1973 season
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1974 season
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1975 season
Barrister Helen Tate played by Dorothy Vernon
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1976 season
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1977 season
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1978 season
Barrister Marcus Golding played by Jonathan Elsom
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1979 season
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1980 season
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1981 season
Barrister Charles Lotterby played by David Ashford
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1982 season
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1983 season
Click here for episode guide with transmisssion dates for the 1984 season
Here is a case transmitted on 20/21/22 October 1976
entitled 'A Working Girl'
Mr Justice Crowther -Smith played by William Fox
All these case storylines have stood the test of time, albeit sometimes politically incorrect by today’s standards.
It would be great if a nostalgia channel, such as UKTV’s ‘Drama’, purchased the rights and air them again.
However, as always, those lovely people at ‘Network on air’ have released Seven Volumes, each containing 12 cases.
As a special treat, Volume six has the 1973 Christmas Special entitled ‘Murder Most Foul’, a spoof one off single episode of 60 minute duration, with guest stars including John Le Mesurier, Arthur English, Liz Frazer and the excellent William Mervyn totally over playing his part as Mr Justice Campbell.