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.