The Bill – Just Call Me Guvnor


Frank Burnside (Christopher Ellison) returns to Sun Hill to take up the vacant post of DI.  But first he has a little undercover business to deal with – rounding up a violent gang of football supporters.

Burnside had previously made three appearances in the 50 minute series at Det Sgt Tommy Burnside (his name was later changed to Frank when it was revealed there really was a Tommy Burnside serving in the Met).  That he already has a little history with both the viewers and the officers at Sun Hill is something that works well.

We open with Conway explaining that Operation Red Card has infiltrated two undercover officers into Front Line (“a highly organised and extremely dangerous gang of thugs who are responsible for a great many of the violent acts at football matches up and down the country”).  And now they’re going to arrest them all.

The countdown to the start of the operation takes place in the peace and quiet of the CAD room with Viv, Hollis and Tom Penny.  Viv’s keen to be out on the streets with the others but the more pragmatic Hollis knows they’re well out of it.  Ted, who is present at the scene, is wise enough to know that you don’t go rushing in – you let the uniforms soak up most of action and then bring up the rear.

One of my favourite moments occurs when one of the Front Line yobbos spits at Ted.  He responds with a well-aimed headbutt!

It’s been expressly stated to all the troops that when they come across the undercover officers they should make no sign if they know them.  However, Ted and Jim can’t help but goggle as Frank Burnside is taken away (dressed in a natty pair of underpants) which immediately blows his cover.  Not the best way for Ted and Jim to encounter their new boss ….

Burnside and Bob Cryer have a history.  Bob has always regarded Burnside in a very jaundiced light, convinced that he’s corrupt (and later tells him to his face that he doesn’t understand how Operation Countryman – set up to investigate police corruption – missed him).  They don’t really hit it off when Burnside returns to Sun Hill either – as Frank enters the charge room and gives one of the suspects a quick slap.  Unsurprisingly, Bob takes a dim view of this.  “Let me remind you, as one of the duty officers on this relief, I will not have my prisoners assaulted.”

The needle between Bob and Burnside always remains bubbling under the surface, as – of course – does Ted’s spiky relationship with his new boss.  Burnside does have some supporters though – chief amongst them being Inspector Frazer.  This is partly because she knows that Burnside previously acted the part of a corrupt officer in order to ensnare others.  Problem is he played the part so well that the likes of Bob Cryer are now convinced he actually is bent.  Not that he’s bothered what others think of him.

The fact that Burnside and Frazer have a history is an interesting touch.  He greets her with a “hello sexy” which doesn’t upset her.  When he calls her Chrissie, she melts a little more – although both accept that “the past is the past” (there’s a hint that they had an affair back when he was a married man).

Just Call Me Guvnor is a cracking reintroduction for Burnside.  It sets up the parameters of the character perfectly whilst letting the audience know more about him than his colleagues do.  We know that Burnside isn’t corrupt, although Bob and Ted – contemptuously referred to as “a couple of tossers” by Burnside – and the rest of the nick believe otherwise.  Bob is later put straight on this by Frazer and he’s forced to apologise to Burnside, although he also tells him that it still doesn’t mean he has to like him …

A late story beat (revolving around the prisoner headbutted by Ted) might not come as a total surprise, but it’s yet another victory for Frank Burnside who ends the episode very much on top.

The Bill – The Three Wise Monkeys

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Geoff McQueen returned to script The Three Wise Monkeys.  It opens with Ted in a bad mood (for a change) although DC Mike Dashwood (Jon Iles) is, as ever, much more sanguine.  Ted wants to be back at the nick, so he can deal with Blakelynn (Tom Owen) but instead has to deal with the fall-out from an attempted armed robbery.

Blakelynn ends up being extracted from Ted’s clutches and delivered into the care of DC Willis (Mark Carey) and DC Hawtrey (Nick Brimble).  They come from the West Country, so are obviously “carrot crunchers”, as Ted so nicely calls them.   Brimble makes the most of his handful of lines.  Towering over Ted, Hawtrey tells him that “if you don’t shove off within the next five seconds I’m going to bounce your head around this yard for a pastime.”  Lovely!

Tom Penny’s still on light duties (in the CAD room) but all this talk of shooters isn’t doing him any good.  Frankly, he looks so flaky that it’s rather strange nobody has noticed anything is amiss – not even Chief Supt. Brownlow (Peter Ellis – sporting a severe new haircut) who’s wandered into the CAD room to stick his oar in (or coordinate proceedings, depending on your point of view).

But having said nobody’s noticed Tom’s traumas, that’s not quite the case.  Both Alec Peters (Larry Dann) and Bob Cryer (Eric Richard) are aware he’s got something of a drink problem, as does Inspector Frazer.  She’s only had a short time to make her presence felt, but the fact she elects not to do anything official about Tom- leaving it to Bob to have a quiet word – indicates that she’s on the side of the troops.  The counter-conclusion we can draw is that she somewhat negligently leaves an officer she knows to be sub-par in a position of considerable authority.

Ted and Mike are cruising the area, looking for the armed robbers (they’ve stolen a car and taken the driver hostage).   They have no joy, but WPC June Ackland (Trudie Goodwin) and PC Yorkie Smith (Robert Hudson) are more fortunate, or maybe unfortunate ….

They pick up three armed TSG officers who are rather forthright (“get right up his end son”) and it’s clear that their gung-ho attitude is going to bite them on the bottom very soon.  And so it does.  There’s a spot of gunplay before the end of part one, which is chiefly notable for how bad a shot the baddy is – he lets off twelve rounds at fairly close range but doesn’t hit anybody.  It’s still a traumatic event though – which becomes plain later on as both June and Yorkie come to terms with their close escape.

And if it was stressful for them, then it’s even more so for Tom Penny.  He might have been safe in the station, but even thinking about it is enough to push him to the point of collapse.  Frazer continues to demonstrate her sense of empathy as she takes June into the toilets and encourages her to have a good cry (“there’s no men in here”).  June prefers to throw up instead, which seems to please Frazer just as much.  After a good cry or a good puke, she’ll no doubt feel a lot better.

The Three Wise Monkeys quite neatly shows how police work can be seconds of pure terror.  The plotline with Tom Penny will be referenced again, which is a rarity during this period of The Bill as normally it didn’t string out character angst across multiple episodes.  How that would change ….


The Bill – Light Duties


Light Duties, the first episode from the reformatted 25 minute incarnation of The Bill, aired on the 19th July 1988.  It gave us our first chance to see Jim Carver (Mark Wingett) in plainclothes (and demonstrates he’s something of a landlubber – Jim feels seasick after a trip down the Thames).

It’s not a pleasure cruise though, Jim and Ted Roach (Tony Scannell) are interested in a body fished out of the river.  But anywhere that Ted goes trouble’s not too far behind – he finds himself tangling with DS Dougan (Andy Secombe) and DI Corrington (Anthony Dutton), both of whom claim the body for their own.  Ted glowers at them in his trademark fashion.

Scripted by series creator Geoff McQueen, Light Duties demonstrates that even though the running time of each episode had halved, there wouldn’t be any problems keeping multiple plotlines on the go as per the previous series.  A collapsed man in the street (along with his dog) and concerns over the health of Sgt Penny (Roger Leach) are both developed (Penny’s the one on light duties following a recent incident where he was shot).

Plenty of new characters are swiftly introduced.  PC Haynes (Eamon Walker) is the new token black character, whilst Inspector Frazer (Barbara Thorn) is the new token female officer.  PC Edwards (Colin Blemenau) remains as the token Welshman ….

Some of the troops aren’t too impressed about serving under a female officer.  Given this was 1988 and both Juliet Bravo and The Gentle Touch had aired some years ago, this seems slightly surprising.  Clearly Sun Hill was a very conservative area.  Frazer’s first appearance, in plainclothes, is a treat.  Poor PC Stamp (Graham Cole) shooed her away from the incident with the collapsed man in a rather heavy-handed way, not realising who she was.  The audience didn’t know at the time either, but I’ve a feeling that the penny dropped with them long before it registered with Stamp.

Ted’s continuing to grizzle.  With the DI’s room vacant, he feels that he’s the man for the job – but obviously nobody else does.  So Ted does what he does best in times of crisis, grabs his bottle of whisky and heads off to drown his sorrows.  The toilets are an obvious place for a spot of peace and quiet – presumably why Tom’s there, chugging down a handful of pills in order to soothe his shattered nerves.  Ted offers him a swig from his bottle (“might help”) which Tom accepts.  Pills and alcohol, not a good mixture ….

These episodes of The Bill tended to be self-contained but, as we’ll see, Tom’s issues carried over into the next episode – The Three Wise Monkeys.  Understandable, since it would have been a little unbelievable to have neatly wrapped up his problems within twenty five minutes.

Ted’s blood pressure continues to take a pounding when he learns that Burnside (“bent Burnside!”) is a contender for the vacant post of DI.  Although the pre-watershed placing of the series now means that his oaths (“naff off, Bob”) lack a certain something.

Rather coincidently, there’s a connection between the old man who collapsed and Ted’s dead body.  This allows him to score something of a coup, although I’ve a feeling that any kudos will be short-lived.  Ted operates on such a short fuse that you can guarantee he’ll soon put somebody’s nose out of joint and be back to square one.

A number of characters didn’t make the transition from the 50 minute format to the twice weekly 25 minute series, but I’m glad that Ted Roach did.  Sun Hill wouldn’t have been the same without him, although it’s plain that one day he’s going to go too far.  Luckily, that won’t be for a while yet.