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Suffolk mourns death of TV cop

PUBLISHED: 10:35 31 January 2002 | UPDATED: 15:24 03 March 2010

TRIBUTES have been paid to the actor who came to fame in one of television's earliest cop shows who died at his Suffolk home.

Stratford Johns, who played the hard-nosed Detective Inspector Charlie Barlow in Z Cars, died at his home in Heveningham, near Halesworth on Tuesday.

TRIBUTES have been paid to the actor who came to fame in one of television's earliest cop shows who died at his Suffolk home.

Stratford Johns, who played the hard-nosed Detective Inspector Charlie Barlow in Z Cars, died at his home in Heveningham, near Halesworth on Tuesday. He was 77.

It is understood the heavyweight actor, who led a colourful and sometimes controversial life off screen, had heart problems and suffered a couple of small strokes in recent years.

Mr Johns was familiar to millions of viewers in Z Cars screened in the early sixties and later in Softly Softly and Barlow At Large when he became a Chief Superintendent.

Born Alan Stratford Johns in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, he came to Britain after the Second World War, arriving on a one-way ticket in 1948.

He found work touring with a comedienne, but in the mid-fifties began to land bit parts in films and on television.

He married actress Nanette Ryder as he began to find more lucrative work but money was still short and it was his partner who paid for the marriage licence.

Small parts were plentiful, he played minor roles in 200 television plays and 30 films, but he was 37 before he landed his breakthrough role as Barlow.

His agent, Michael Whitehall paid tribute by describing him as one of the biggest stars in television in his day.

"He was an extraordinary television actor," he said. "Most actors came into television and gave stage performances, but although he was very powerful he was also very contained in a way that played best to the small screen. I think is what made him so popular.

"He was one of the biggest stars in television in his day. The equivalent of John Thaw these days, possibly even bigger."

Although most famous for his role as Charlie Barlow, Mr Johns later drew acclaim for his stage role as Daddy Warbucks in Annie and, as one of television's better known faces, he was in demand for many one-off appearances in long-running series.

They included Blake's 7, Doctor Who, Minder and Boon. His most recent TV appearance was in ITV's Heartbeat in 1998.

Success in work, however, was not always reflected with a happy private life. He was reported to have had frequent and occasionally violent rows with his wife and they separated for seven years, but got back together when their son Alan was jailed for drug smuggling in 1983.

Two of their three daughters also had brushes with drugs.

Illness led to Mr Johns winding down his roles towards the end of his career and he moved permanently into the converted pub and former coach house in Heveningham, which he first bought more than 40 years ago.

Throughout his time in Suffolk the actor often helped out in the local community and made public appearances at various charity events throughout the county.

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