The Bill – Country Cousin


Barry Appleton’s Country Cousin wastes no time in setting up three storylines within the space of the first few minutes.  Burnside is at the train station, waiting impatiently for the arrival of DS Jarvis (John Labanowski), Edwards and Haynes deal with the fallout from a bus crash whilst Tom Penny hopes to learn whether he’ll be allowed back onto active service.

The bus crash is rather nasty – this might have been pre-watershed, but there’s still plenty of blood and pain on show.  The bus-driver is shown to be in a very bad way, whilst several elderly passengers are in a pretty distressed state.  Edwards and Haynes, first on the scene, are therefore placed in the thick of the action – and by the time the ambulances arrive they’re caked in blood.

Once the ambulances do turn up, the work of Edwards and Haynes is over, but it’s not surprising that both – especially Edwards – find it hard to disengage.  The later revelation that the driver was an epileptic pushes the narrative into a different direction.

Burnside’s encounter with Jarvis is highly entertaining.  Jarvis is an almost stereotypical country bumpkin (albeit one with a hard centre).  The fact he’s not come to London to apprehend a major criminal (his quarry is only responsible for burning some hay) serves to reinforce this point.  And when he catches his man, he gives him a backhander – which offends Burnside.  We’ve already seen that Burnside isn’t averse to giving criminals a slap himself, so it’s not an objection to force per se – I think it’s more to do with the fact that Jarvis is on Burnside’s manor and therefore it’s not the done thing to dispense a little rough justice without asking permission first!

Despite the fact that Burnside clearly has little time for him, a sense of duty still means that he’s honour-bound to show him the sights for a few hours.  These sights, somewhat inevitably, involve a seedy bar full of prostitutes.  Burnside is called away, leaving Jarvis in the safe hands of Mike Dashwood – who inevitably loses him ….

I’m not sure whether the music we hear in the bar – instrumental versions of various Human League hits – is meant to serve as a signifier of the downbeat nature of the place (they couldn’t even afford a tape of the real thing, so have to make do with ersatz copies) or has more to do with the issue of licencing music for television (since it’s presumably cheaper to use sound-alikes).

Tom Penny, driven to and from his assessment by Viv, fluctuates between confidence and despair.  One minute he’s feeling fine, the next he’s convinced that his days as a copper are over.  And if he’s no longer a policeman then he’s nothing – an admission that for him, like many others, the job has become all-consuming.  It’s very much the “c” plot (we eventually learn that Tom will be reassessed in a month’s time) but Roger Leach is always worth watching as the pained Penny.

Jarvis gets involved in an all-mighty punch-up, but still comes up smelling of roses, much to Burnside’s irritation.  Alongside the more downbeat narrative of the bus crash, the way that Burnside finds himself comprehensively bested by a mere carrot-cruncher acts as a welcome dose of light relief.  Country Cousin feels a little insubstantial, but still manages to juggle three mainly non-station storylines with ease.

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