Matlock Police (1971 - 1975)
228 episodes x 60 minutes
A weekly drama series following the uniformed and plain clothes police of the fictional Victorian town of Matlock. Hippies on motorbikes, art students protesting for peace, a desperate man struggling to pay his wife’s medical bills and a young pregnant woman ostracised by neighbours because there’s no husband in sight are just some of the characters and stories Matlock police encounter in the course of duty. And while town attitudes might be quick to declare a person guilty, these level-headed policemen wait for proof.
Like its younger relative, Mount Thomas of Blue Heelers (1994–2006) fame, the fictional Victorian town of Matlock sees a little more than its fair share of criminal activity. When the locals aren’t misbehaving, the road into town provides plenty of opportunity for outsiders to show up with the week’s drama.
Matlock Police first went to air on Channel 0 (later Ten) in Victoria in February 1971 and later on the same channel in other states. At the time, Crawford Productions’s Homicide (1964–75) and Division 4 (1969–75) were already screening on Channels Seven and Nine respectively, meaning the production house now had a police drama on every commercial network. Matlock Police’s key difference is its rural setting – where the cops know the community and 'having a yarn’ sometimes doubles as a police enquiry.
The setting acts as something of a social microcosm. Individual characters sometimes stand in for entire social groups or ideas – for instance, the local rich family who own half the town, the town drunk, the decorated First World War veteran or the Indian immigrant doctor. Matlock Police is at heart a police procedural series, its focus on its police characters’ activities as they investigate crimes – but these crime plots are often used to explore social issues and attitudes.
Although Matlock does not refer to concrete events of the ’70s, some episodes explore tension over social change. In episode one, Matlock Police – Episode 1, Twenty-six Hours, a group of hippies motorcycle into town and fall out with the locals. In episode 16, ‘Hero’s Day’, a young peace protester defaces a war memorial in the lead-up to Anzac Day and the police try to change his thinking by having him talk to a local war hero. Strikingly, this episode focuses on First World War veterans but chooses not to mention the Vietnam War, which was the subject of widespread protest in Australia at the time. Instead, it stays firmly rooted in its fictional setting and indeterminate time frame. Nonetheless, Vietnam is a clear subtext.
Where Homicide focused on a police homicide unit and Division 4 on a tough inner-city squad, Matlock’s premise gives it more scope for storylines that don’t emphasise the law and order side of policing. Alongside robberies and violent crimes, the Matlock police investigate ‘softer’ crimes, such as petty incidents, acts of protest and so on. The series also sometimes demonstrates an interest in the social circumstances surrounding crime. Episode 186, ‘Gary’, is one example of a storyline that doesn’t focus on a criminal investigation at all but on police attempts to help the pregnant wife of a jail inmate who is about to be evicted from her home.
Unlike more soap-oriented police dramas like Cop Shop (1977–83), also a Crawford’s production, or Blue Heelers, there is not much emphasis on serial storylines or the police characters’ private lives. Episodes are largely self-contained. As was common practice at the time, Matlock Police combines location scenes shot on film with studio scenes shot on video. Starting out in black-and-white and remaining that way for much of its run, Matlock Police switched to colour in its later seasons.
After Matlock was axed, Crawford’s produced Solo One (1975), a 13-part spin-off for children featuring motorcycle policeman Constable Gary Hogan (Paul Cronin). Hogan had grown in popularity throughout Matlock’s run, reportedly raising the profile of motorcycle police. Cronin went on to star in the Crawford hit, The Sullivans (1976–82).
Titles in this series
A group of hippies on a road trip arrive in the country town of Matlock just as a frightening chain of events takes place. First, town matriarch Miss Falconer (Sheila Florance) is robbed and left for dead in her home. ...