As TV’s Crown Court returns after 40 years, can YOU work out who the stars from the1970s drama are?


All rise! Crown Court is back. The 1970s afternoon drama series that took viewers into a fictional courtroom – but with a jury of real people delivering their verdict – is being shown on British television for the first time since its original run ended in 1984.

From 2.30pm tomorrow digital TV channel Talking Pictures will repeat the ground-breaking show – which ran for 11 series and 879 episodes from 1972 to 1984 – from the start.

And practically every British actor you have heard of appeared in it: from Peter Capaldi to Maureen Lipman, Jim Broadbent to Colin Firth, whose first TV role was playing a policeman called to give evidence in a 1984 episode.

Each 25-minute episode saw barristers examine witnesses in front of a jury of 12 members of the public – who were often pulled off the street before recording. In the jury, only the foreman delivering the verdict was an actor, as in the heavily unionised 1970s, speaking had to be a job for an Equity member.

Colin Firth

Darcy’s Debut: Colin Firth’s first TV role – a PC giving evidence

Jim Broadbent

Jim Broadbent

The secret’s out: Harry Potter’s Jim Broadbent was a reporter accused of getting hold of classified information in 1984

The storylines reflected the range of cases heard at Crown Courts, from domestic violence and drug abuse to business disputes and sometimes murder.

It was shot like a play at Manchester’s Granada Studios. There were no retakes, but two endings were rehearsed depending on the verdict.

In 2017, ITV rebooted the idea with celebrity judge Rob Rinder, but made just two episodes.   

Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Maureen Lipman as a prosecuting counsel, Birds of a Feather’s Pauline Quirke as a single mum caught shoplifting, Peter Capaldi on the witness stand as a young, red-haired punk, and Floella Benjamin as a victim of racist abuse.

Alison Steadman

Alison Steadman

Cult star: Gavin and Stacey actress Alison Steadman played the victim of a violent commune leader giving evidence in 1975

Pauline Quirke

Pauline Quirke

Doing Bird: Pauline Quirke was a thieving hostel warden in 1978, before playing convict’s wife Sharon in Birds Of a Feather 

Richard Wilson, the future Victor Meldrew, made a name for himself as a snooty QC, while Oscar-winner Colin Firth landed his first ever TV role in a 1984 episode, playing a young policeman called to give evidence. Look out also for Liz Dawn (Coronation Street’s Vera Duckworth) as a warder.

The show was set in the fictional town of Fulchester, with each case heard over three consecutive days, and shown from Wednesday to Friday.

Each 25-minute episode saw barristers cross-examine witnesses in front of a jury made up of a dozen members of the public – who were often pulled off the street before recording. They then carried out their deliberations behind closed doors. While they were not required to speak on camera, they each had to be eligible in real life for jury service.

But, in another intriguing twist, the foreman delivering the verdict had to be an Equity actor, as he had spoken lines. This was the heavily unionised 1970s, after all.

I couldn’t be more thrilled that Crown Court is back in session because, as a 13-year-old schoolgirl in South Wales, it was my guilty pleasure.

Richard Wilson

Richard Wilson

I don’t believe it: Long before he was Victor Meldrew, Richard Wilson was a barrister in the trial of an arsonist in 1973

Peter Capaldi

Peter Capaldi

Doctoring the evidence: Future Tardis owner Peter Capaldi was a rockabilly singer taking the witness stand in 1984

Despite loving school, I lived for the holidays, and those times when I was confined to my sick bed – because I knew that, once Pebble Mill At One was over, it was time to switch to ITV for my favourite courtroom drama.

Cue the familiar opening theme tune – the trumpet-driven fourth movement of Janacek’s Sinfonietta – and a wobbly close-up of the royal coat-of-arms, and we were away!

The storylines were varied in tone and theme, reflecting the range of cases heard at Crown Courts every day – from domestic violence and drug abuse, to local business disputes, arson and sometimes even murder.

We never got to see the crimes taking places, nor did we get any insight into the lives of the barristers and judges. The show was shot like a play, on a custom-built set at Manchester’s Granada Studios.

Paula Wilcox

Paula Wilcox

Special case: Paula Wilcox was already famous from Man About The House when she appeared as a lawyer in 1981

Maureen Lipman

Maureen Lipman

Has she got a criminology? Maureen Lipman as a barrister in a 1973 episode about a student-teacher relationship

Robert Powell

Robert Powell

God is my witness: Robert Powell, who would go on to portray Jesus as Nazareth, was a vicar’s son in a 1974 episode 

There were no retakes, but two different endings were rehearsed. The actors only found out which way the jury had voted when the foreman announced the verdict to the judge.

One trial, entitled Treason, features a white Congolese man who was found guilty by the court and sentenced to death for treason – still punishable under British law at the time.

Does it stand the test of time? Fifty years is a long time in television. These days, with so many channels, both terrestrial and streaming, 50 minutes can seem an eternity.

Certainly, one throwback to the 70s is quite how much smoking was acceptable on screen back then: the wreaths of smoke in the courtroom corridor suggest every witness had a crafty gasper on the go.

When it comes to the juries, it’s a veritable Fraggle Rock of ‘ordinary people’ – women in hats, men’s sideburns that bear a closer resemblance to yetis, and hairpieces that look like squashed chihuahuas. That’s when you notice how the series has dated. Also, there is rarely a black face to be seen.

Over the years, efforts have been made to revive the show for modern audiences – one recent reboot centred around a celebrity judge, Rob Rinder, and went out in a Friday evening slot. But it’s difficult to escape the feeling that the original, tried-and-tested format remains the best.

On what I believe will be the undoubted success of its re-run on Talking Pictures, I reckon it’s only a matter of time before the series is remade.

Just don’t ever have me on the jury: they’re all guilty as charged – send them down!

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