Gangsters (TV series)

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Written byPhilip Martin
Directed byAlastair Reid
Roger Tucker
Kenneth Ives
Starring(See article)
ComposerDave Greenslade
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series2
No. of episodes12
ProducerDavid Rose
Production locationsBirmingham, West Midlands, England, United Kingdom
EditorOliver White
Running time50 min.
Production companyPebble Mill Studios
Original release
Release9 September 1976 (1976-09-09) –
10 February 1978 (1978-02-10)

Gangsters is a British television programme made by BBC television drama and shown in two series from 1976 to 1978. It was created by Philip Martin and starred Maurice Colbourne as John Kline, a former SAS officer recruited by law enforcement to become an undercover agent in Birmingham.[1]


Produced at the BBC's Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham by David Rose, Gangsters began its television life as an edition of Play for Today in 1975, followed by two series transmitted in 1976 and 1978. The series, set in the multi-cultural criminal community of Birmingham, has remained a cult favourite, memorable for its strong violence, multi-ethnic cast (and realistic – and now rather shocking – depiction of the racism of the time) and highly stylised, post-modern approach to storytelling.[citation needed]

Gangsters featured references to film noir, gangster films, westerns, Bollywood and kung fu movies, as well as increasingly surreal end-of-episode cliffhangers and a bizarre final scene where the characters not only "break the fourth wall" but walk off the set.

The two series had quite different tones. The first was a gritty thriller whilst the second was more surreal, with more emphasis on the post-modern elements although it wasn't well received at the time.[citation needed]

The theme music was an instrumental composed and performed by Dave Greenslade. It was released as a single with a character theme from the series, "Rubber Face, Lonely Eyes", on the B-side; the single was credited to Dave Greenslade's band Greenslade, even though the only performers on both tracks are Dave Greenslade and a session drummer. Greenslade recorded their own version of the song for their album Time and Tide. At David Rose's request, for the last series Dave Greenslade adapted it into a version with lyrics sung by Chris Farlowe.[2]


  • John Kline (Maurice Colbourne) – a tough, shady former SAS soldier recently released from prison who becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the local underworld while attempting to go straight.
  • Khan (Ahmed Khalil) – police detective who uses Kline as a pawn in his bid to nail the organised crime syndicates of Birmingham.
  • Anne Darracott (Elizabeth Cassidy) – a young woman and former heroin addict who becomes Kline's live-in lover.
  • Aslam Rafiq (Saeed Jaffrey) – the charismatic boss of a racket trafficking illegal immigrants.
  • Sarah Gant (Alibe Parsons) – glamorous undercover CIA agent out to nail the drugs trade in the city, with a private mission to avenge the murder of her sister.
  • Kuldip (Paul Satvendar) – Rafiq's murderous henchman.
  • Malleson (Paul Barber) – a former thug who takes over his boss’s underworld empire after he is killed and proves to be a formidable adversary of Kline and Khan.
  • Shen Tang (Robert Lee) – the leader of a local Chinese triad gang.
  • Lily Li Tang (Chai Lee) – the daughter of Shen Tang, who assists her father in the running of the triad.
  • Rolf Day (Rolf Day) – The racist night club comedian who performs in the Rum Runner night club.
  • The series's writer, Philip Martin, also appeared in multiple roles, playing the gangland boss Rawlinson in the original play, the hired assassin 'The White Devil' at the end of season two (though Martin was credited as Larson E Whipsnide, a reference to his W.C. Fields-inspired performance as the character), and as himself, dictating the script to a typist, in cutaways throughout season two.


All episodes written by Philip Martin.

Series Overview

Series Episodes First Aired Last Aired
1 6 9 September 1976 6 January 1978
2 21 October 1976 10 Feburary 1978

Series One (1976)

Incident One

Incident Two

Incident Three

Incident Four

Incident Five

Incident Six

Series Two (1978)

The Dictates of Sheng Tang

The Red Executioner

While Beauty Sleeps

Double Peril

Enter the White Devil

East of the Equator

DVD release[edit]

The complete series of Gangsters was released on DVD (Region 2, UK) through 2 Entertain/Cinema Club in April 2006. According to Philip Martin,[3] the box set became a collectors' item after the company went bust. The series has to date not been re-issued and goes for high prices.


Philip Martin novelised the series several times:

  • Gangsters: No 1 (1977) - covers the original Play for Today.
  • Gangsters: No 2 (1978) - covers the first series
  • Philip Martin's Gangsters: A Lust for Life (2017) - covers the Play for Today and the first series
  • Philip Martin's Gangsters: Deathtouch (2021) - published posthumously, it covers the second series.


  1. ^ Bang, Derrick (2020). Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen Since 1971. McFarland. ISBN 978-1476681634. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  2. ^ Dome, Malcolm (2019). Time and Tide (Booklet). Greenslade. Cherry Red Records Ltd. pp. 3–9.
  3. ^ Mill?says, Interview with Philip Martin-What Was Pebble (8 April 2021). "Philip Martin (1938-2020) Part One: Philip Martin on Gangsters (BBC Play for Today, 1975, and series, 1976-78)". Forgotten Television Drama. Retrieved 15 January 2024.

External links[edit]