Shaw Taylor: The face of 'Police 5' who told viewers to 'keep 'em peeled' as he spread the idea that TV could help catch criminals

Taylor presented 'Police 5' for 30 years, exuding the warm authority of an idealised village bobby

Friday 20 March 2015 01:00

A policeman's lot may not be a happy one, but for 30 years it was often made a little easier by Shaw Taylor. As the presenter of Police 5, television's first programme to appeal to the public for help in solving crimes, Taylor had exactly the right blend of decency and command required to mobilise an unwitting witness watching idly from his armchair. His tone was urgent but unsensational, and he exuded the warm authority of an idealised village bobby.

Police 5 began in 1962 at ATV, when Lew Grade needed a five-minute programme to fill a gap in the schedules for six weeks caused by an American import underrunning. The idea came from Steve Wade, Head of Outside Broadcasts, and, commendably, Grade refused to copyright the format, allowing other ITV regions to launch their own versions with Taylor fronting them (there was even a junior edition). The programme's hit rate was phenomenal; almost a third of the appeals led to an arrest. In time, the format caught on overseas; in Germany it was a networked hour-long programme which became the blueprint for the BBC's Crimewatch; Taylor had pitched the idea for a centralised version to Channel 4 in 1982 but the idea had been rejected.

But while the German version's host, Eduard Zimmermann, required a bodyguard and regularly received death threats, Taylor could on occasion transform convicts into starstruck autograph-hunters. "I've got to hand it to your programme," said one recently released thief when he spotted him in the street. Taylor's status was confirmed when he and the programme were name-checked on more than one occasion in The Sweeney, and more recently when he appeared as himself in an episode of retro crime drama Ashes to Ashes, delivering once again his catchphrase, "keep 'em peeled!".

Eric Stanley Taylor began his career as an actor. Born in Hackney in 1924, the son of a fitter for the Gas, Light and Coke Company, he attended Upton House Central Council School until it was bombed in the Blitz, and then joined the RAF, serving first at the radar station on the Isle of Wight and later fighting in Burma.

Back on the Isle of Wight after the war, he joined an ex-servicemen's acting group, the Gateway Players, then went to Rada. His acting career was brief; when his agent sent him to audition as a continuity announcer at ATV, he was unenthusiastic until he found that the salary was £1,500 a year and included four weeks' holiday.

Astutely, having noticed the impresario Val Parnell's name so often in TV Times and sensing that he must be an influential figure, at his audition Taylor made a point of emphasising the name in every announcement. Parnell was managing director of the channel, and had been watching the auditions: the tactic paid off.

Continuity announcers at this time were in-vision, the face as well as the voice of the channel. Taylor also mucked in hosting game shows such as Dotto and Pencil and Paper, commentated on everything from ice-skating to ten-pin bowling and even snatched an interview with Nikita Khrushchev on a visit to Moscow in 1961. His other presenting work included Friday Spectacular on Radio Luxembourg (on which he got to interview all four Beatles), Royal Command Performances, and ITV's motoring programme Drive-In (1971-78).

But it was Police 5 that he felt most at home with: when the idea was presented to Scotland Yard, Sir Joseph Simpson, the then Commissioner, was uneasy about what might be a sensationalist enterprise, and asked for editorial control. Taylor disarmed him by promising this and also by pointing out that the programme would be giving them "three million house-to-house enquiries in five minutes".

The first edition appealed for a getaway car used in a bank robbery, and the parents of two babies abandoned on the steps of a church in Dalston. Within minutes of the broadcast, both mysteries had been solved.

Even the Queen owed a debt to Police 5; when she appointed Taylor an MBE for services to law and order in 1987, she thanked him for an appeal which had led to the recovery of a set of priceless medallions stolen from Kew Palace. Taylor hadn't disclosed her identity in the appeal, but had cryptically described the aggrieved victim of the theft as "a distinguished lady who was not amused".

But Police 5 never shied away from the most serious of crimes, and in the late-1980s, inspired by an American offshoot of the format, Taylor voiced urgent appeals that were fired at viewers during commercial breaks and that offered rewards. In its first six months, Crimestoppers led to the arrests and charging of 2,657 criminals, including 22 charges of murder.

Taylor retired to the Isle of Wight, where he was a passionate supporter of the Shanklin Theatre, a venue he had performed at as a young man, and of the local Labour Party, believing its priorities should be the elderly and the NHS. His wife Jane died in 2008; he is survived by his partner, Shirley Ferrari, and his son, Richard.

Charmingly, after his last edition of Police 5, he said, over a gin and tonic with Steve Wade, "well, that was a long six weeks." It was also an honourable one.


Eric Stanley Taylor (Shaw Taylor), presenter and actor: born London 26 October 1924; MBE 1987; married 1948 Jane McKay (died 2008; one son); died Totland, Isle of Wight 17 March 2015.

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