Witness Statements – Making The Bill: 1988 by Oliver Crocker

In July 1988, The Bill underwent a major format change – from a series running thirteen weeks each year (with a single 50 minute episode) to a twice-weekly “soap” format (with episodes now running for just 25 minutes).

The Bill wasn’t the first programme to have undergone such a transformation – something similar had previously happened to both Z Cars and Angels. However, it’s probably fair to say that the best years of both of those series were behind them at the time they were re-formatted.

With The Bill it was a different matter. Although the restricted running time and move to a pre-watershed slot concerned some, the series quickly moved from strength to strength. For many people, myself included, the late eighties and early nineties were a golden age for the show.

Following on from his previous volume, which chronicled the fifty minute episodes that comprised the first three series, Oliver Crocker’s new book takes an in-depth look at the 48 episodes broadcast in 1988 – from Light Duties in July 1988 to Taken Into Consideration at the end of December.

It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it’s very pleasing to have such a dense, oral history of a show like The Bill. Rare series – like Doctor Who – have an embarrassment of production information available for the curious reader. But the vast majority of other programmes are lucky if they have a single book dedicated to them – and even those that do, tend to offer general overviews rather than an immersive episode by episode analysis.

Witness Statements – Making The Bill: 1988 is in the same format as the previous volume. Each episode is given a brief teaser synopsis, cast and production listing, production notes and then ‘witness statements’ from an impressively wide variety of contributors (both actors and technical personnel). There’s so much value to be found in these interviews. Unlike some popular series, where people have been interviewed so many times that they now have little new to say, there’s a real freshness to this book.

To take just one example, whilst P.J, Hammond has been interviewed before, it’s almost always been about Sapphire & Steel. But I’ve always felt that Hammond’s work as a writer for hire (on Z Cars, Angels, The Bill, etc) to be an area of his career that’s worthy of more investigation, so it was very pleasing to hear from him.

Wilf Knight’s technical notes from 1988 (such as uniform protocol) were also fascinating, but to be honest there’s so much of interest in this book that I know I’ll keep on coming back to it.

For those beginning a rewatch of the 1988 series, this will serve as the ideal companion or you can simply open a page at random and find something to catch the eye. Witness Statements – Making The Bill: 1988 is an engrossing read and comes highly recommended. It can be ordered directly via this link.

All Memories Great and Small – Expanded Edition by Oliver Crocker (Book Review)

With one notable exception (Doctor Who) the production histories of many British television programmes aren’t terribly well documented. There are exceptions of course (the sterling work carried out by Andrew Pixley for a variety of series, David Brunt’s painstaking Z Cars tomes and recent books about programmes as diverse as Star Cops and The Brothers have all been more than welcome).

Until the original edition of All Memories Great and Small in 2016, the BBC version of All Creatures was one of those neglected series, but Oliver Crocker’s wonderfully exhaustive book certainly rectified that. Now reissued with additional interviews and fascinating production information for 35 of the series’ 90 episodes, it’s better than ever.

Since the original publication, several of the interviewees (such as Bill Sellars and Robert Hardy) have sadly passed away, which makes the book even more of a valuable resource as there’s no substitute for first hand recollections. The roster of those who agreed to be interviewed is impressive – not only key regulars such as Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Carol Drinkwater and Peter Davison, but also a plethora of guest stars and behind the scenes crew who are able to share many stories about the series’ production.

The icing on this particularly succulent cake has to be a slew of wonderful production photographs with the odd studio floor plan thrown in for good measure,

The format of All Memories Great And Small is straightforward and effective. Each episode (from Horse Sense in 1978 to the final Christmas Special in 1990) is given its own chapter. All have reminiscences from a variety of contributors (some specific to that episode, some more general) whilst selected episodes also contain production info (handy if you’re looking to pinpoint specific locations used, for example).

Clocking in at just over 400 pages, it’s plain that this book was a real labour of love. If you’ve got the original edition then it’s still worth an upgrade for the additional material. But if you’ve yet to buy it and have any interest in the BBC series, then All Memories Great and Small is an essential purchase. An absolute treasure trove of a resource, I know that it’ll be something I’ll return to again and again in the future.

All Memories Great and Small can be ordered directly from Devonfire Books via this link or from them via this Amazon link.