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.

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 – Good Will Visit


In later years Sun Hill nick would become a hotbed of tangled interpersonal relationships and corruption.  But in 1988 things were much simpler.  Back then, if the boys and girls in blue had personal relationships they had the good grace not to let it interfere with their work whilst rotten apples were few and far between.

True, the likes of Ted Roach were happy to bend the rules, but there’s no sense that he was actively fitting up suspects.  Even Frank Burnside, briefly glimpsed during the 50 minute series and shortly to return as the new DI, was on the side of the angels.  The series made capital out of his reputation for corruption several times, but nothing was ever proved (although you could always argue that he was simply good at concealing it!)

The introduction in this episode of PC Ramsey (Nick Reding) helps to shake up the relief.  Ramsey, transferred from Barton Street, brings with him an unsavoury reputation and is viewed with suspicion and mistrust – at least to begin with – by the others.  Ramsey didn’t stay at Sun Hill for too long (about six months) and it’s interesting to observe that over time his rough edges were smoothed down, leaving him as just another member of the team.  The Bill would make capital out of bent coppers later on, but back in 1988/89 it was a storyline that seemed to be off-limits.

Ramsey’s first appearance – driving a flash car very fast (and parking in the Chief Super’s space no less) – is a non-verbal signifier of his attitude and his brusque manner when asking June and Yorkie for directions also helps to quickly define his character – he’s a self-contained unit, not interested in making friends unless (like Ted Roach) they can further his career.

His interview with Chief Inspector Conway (Ben Roberts) helps to fill in some of the blanks.  Conway regards Ramsey as a bent copper, although Ramsey counters that he was cleared.  Conway doesn’t see it that way – in his view (one shared by Ramsey’s previous Chief Super) Ramsey was clearly guilty, although when we discover what his crime was – cheating at cards – it doesn’t seem too bad, but it was serious enough for Ramsey to be busted down from plain clothes to uniform, a clear humiliation for him.

It doesn’t take long before Ramsey makes himself comfortable, demanding bribes from local traders, such as Leslie Fisk (Tony Portacio).  But his actions quickly catch the attention of Bob Cryer, which sets up a nice dramatic tension – Cryer now knows that Ramsey’s a wrong ‘un, so he’ll be watching him like a hawk ….

Ted Roach continues to rampage around the building.  Now he’s acting DI, Ted spends his time giving Mike and Jim a very hard time.   Ted forces Mike and Jim onto the streets where they tangle with a couple of Asians.  One of them launches himself at Jim with some flashy kung-fu moves, but the ever resourceful Jim throws a bin at him, which does the trick!

Mix in another subplot concerning Alec Peters and some sailors and you’ve got a typically dense episode of the series.  The arrival at Sun Hill of a well-drilled squad of sailors (responsible for smashing up a bar) is a nice comedy moment, as is Conway’s acid response when he discovers exactly what Alec has done.  “How can you board one of her majesties frigates in sight of traitor’s gate, of all place, without permission?”

The Bill – Home Sweet Home


Cryer leads an operation to evict a group of squatters.  Councillor Thomas (John Bowe) is on hand to ensure that there’s no police brutality, but it seems any brutality will come from the squatters side ….

Whilst Thomas is quick to jump to the defence of the squatters, not many share his opinion (certainly not the other residents or the police).  The squatters may soon be homeless, but Bob opines that it’s out of choice not necessity – they all come from affluent families and are indulging themselves by playing as revolutionaries.  Cultural slumming, according to Hollis.  CND posters serve as clear signifiers of their beliefs, although their desire to make a stand for liberty and freedom is rather dissipated when we see them bailed out by their parents to return home with fleas in their ears.

Marie Tucker (Sasha Mitchell) is also homeless, although she has no-one to come to her aid (apart from social services).  Her social worker, Sonja Bloomfield (Janet Dale), is concerned, not only for Marie’s two young children, but also for Marie herself – who could be suicidal.

There’s a circular path to the story as Marie holes up in Councillor Thomas’ bathroom.  On returning home, Thomas is less than impressed to find his house has been invaded (he makes a swift beeline for the scotch).  There’s a clear irony at work here – Thomas was keen to champion the rights of the squatters earlier on, but (at least initially) he has little or no sympathy when events move to his own doorstep, as he urges Smith and Frazer to extract Marie as quickly as possible.

Bloomfield is on hand to discuss with Frazer how the system has failed Marie and countless others like her.  Marie and her children had previously lived in a grotty bed and breakfast (“wardrobe there, bed there, damp bit there, rotting bit there, roaches all bloody over”) but walked out when she could stand it no more.  Instead of pumping money into bed and breakfasts, Bloomfield despairs that there should be a better way.

The core of the episode – an unhappy Marie pouring out her heart to Frazer and Bloomfield – is unusual, since we can only hear Marie, we can’t see her.  This means that Frazer and Bloomfield are the ones who have to react as Marie’s monologue takes an increasingly dark turn.

There’s no happy ending.  Marie overdoses on pills from Thomas’ bathroom and by the time the door is broken down she’s unconscious and fading fast.  The fact she’s surrounded by her two young children only serves to make this emotional punch even greater.  Thomas sums it up (“what a mess”) and reflects how he entered politics to help people like Marie, but has failed to do so.

Cleverly changing gear away from the squatters (who initially seemed to be the focus of the episode) Home Sweet Home offers little hope or reassurance.   When PC Haynes frets that the ambulance is taking too long, Thomas shrugs and says that it’s a sign of the times.  “But we’re running out of time” counters Haynes.  Can we draw any solace from these events?  Thomas (who saw his marriage disintegrate due to his political ambitions) reacts with compassion to Marie’s children, which offers hope that in the future he’ll redouble his efforts to help the most vulnerable, but it’s about the only crumb of comfort on offer.

Nicholas McInerny contributed twenty nine scripts for The Bill between 1988 and 2008, although given the quality of Home Sweet Home, his debut, it’s surprising he didn’t write more.  He’ll return later in 1988 for Old Habits, but then takes a break until 1995.


The Bill – All in Good Faith

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All in Good Faith shows the sharp delineation between two very different types of coppers – on the one hand there’s Ramsey and Roach, on the other are Frazer and Conway.

Frazer calls Ramsey in for a chat.  She’s concerned about his attitude – seven members of the public have made complaints about him this year alone.  Given his faintly contemptuous and sarcastic attitude in front of her, it’s easy to see that he takes this same persona onto the streets.  Ramsey doesn’t disagree, telling her that he treats people the same way others treat him – which isn’t really what she wants to hear.

He can’t resist adding that a frontline policeman is always going to be the subject of complaints which someone like her, with little or no experience of policing on the streets, will never be able to understand.  This conflict – between the sharp end and the executive level – has been played out numerous times across multiple police series.

We also see it again with Roach and Conway.  Ted Roach’s time as acting DI is going fairly smoothly (he’s off the drink for one thing) but the wheels start to come off when a gun handed in at a recent amnesty is tied back to a man called Duffy (Leslie Schofield) and linked to a crime which occurred five years ago.

Ted is keen to go round and nick him, but never stops to consider the nature of an amnesty.  Conway decides that for the sake of community relations it wouldn’t be a good idea to arrest Duffy (if they did, the public would lose all faith in future weapons amnesties) but Roach ignores him and nicks him anyway.

Conway and Frazer discuss Ted, with Frazer musing that “surely he must understand there’s more to police work than arresting people, we have to gain the public’s cooperation and respect.”

However when Ted brings Duffy in, Frazer is more forgiving.  “We’re sadly lacking good practical officers, with all his faults I wouldn’t like to see Roach get into trouble over this.  I’m positive he’d make a good DI”.  Conway then makes a revealing statement – as long as Brownlow is in charge at Sun Hill, Roach will never rise above his current status as DS.

All in Good Faith adds a little more meat to the bones of Ramsey’s character, whilst also throwing the spotlight on Conway and Frazer.  Conway is shown to be more of a politician than a thief-taker, but in his position – where he has to face both public and political pressure – that’s understandable.  Frazer’s character traits are teased out nicely – it’s difficult to say whether she or Ramsey came off best during their meeting (both made fairly valid points) but she seems more able to straddle both sides of the fence (a desire to catch criminals allied to the realisation that they need the respect and cooperation of the public) than Conway does.

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 – Caught Red Handed


Barry Appleton’s Caught Red Handed juggles several plotlines at once and, as with previous episodes, it takes a little while before it becomes clear which ones will dominate and which will fade away.

The episode opens with the fallout from a stabbing.  Jill Kelsey (Chrissie Cotterill) attacked her husband, John (Jim Barclay), with a breadknife – stabbing him eight times.  It’s instructive to see how pretty much everybody (apart from Alec Peters) treats her with compassion, from Ted Roach at the scene to Inspector Frazer and Viv Martella at the nick.  Jill Kelsey is positioned as a victim rather than a criminal, which explains why Ted’s usual brusque manner is absent.

Of course, the fact she stabbed her husband not once but eight times suggests this may be more than a family row which escalated.  But she seems genuinely contrite and he – as soon as he regains consciousness – is completely forgiving and disinclined to press charges.  It slightly stretches credibility that he recovers so quickly (after eight stab wounds? Clearly they were very shallow ones).  His revelation that the argument started when he complained about soggy cornflakes signifies that this crime has a faintly comic air, strengthened when John turns up at Sun Hill to take his wife home.

So Burnside’s quite happy to let them go – the whole incident written off as a domestic – although it seems rather unlikely that he’d be discharged from hospital quite so soon (even if they were desperate for beds).  That he turns up at the nick still dressed in his hospital pyjamas also seems a little unbelievable.  There’s a late coda to this part of the story, which once again is played rather for laughs.

Attention then turns to an obbo at the local swimming baths with Tom Penny and June Ackland.  This is chiefly of interest due to the way Tom reacts when put under stress (not very well).  They’ve rigged up an observation point to monitor the changing rooms in an attempt to identity a thief who’s been rifling through the lockers.

When someone is spotted, June tells Tom to switch on the video recorder.  This is a slight plot weakness – back in 1988 VHS tapes would have been quite cheap, so why not just keep the recorder running all the time?  Although they catch the criminal, something goes wrong with the tape and they’re left with no visual evidence.  This is enough to once again push Tom to breaking point – showing that whilst he appears to be fine on the surface, whenever there’s the merest hint of stress he’s liable to fold like a pack of cards.  As before, there’s never any suggestion that he’s not in a fit state to do the job – or that the next time he makes a mistake it may have more fatal results – presumably everybody just expects that eventually he’ll pull himself together.

This part of the episode has a happy ending, money treated by the SOCO (Susan Curnow) was placed in the lockers.  It contained an invisible red dye, which would stain the hands of anybody who handled it.  Hence the episode title.

But Caught Red Handed could also refer to Yorkie Smith, who’s observed in the pub acting in a very suspicious manner.  Frankly he wouldn’t make a very good criminal as he’s far too transparent (although his fashion sense – rolling up his jacket sleeves as though he was in Miami Vice – should certainly be against the law).  Jim suspects he’s been buying drugs and a search of his locker reveals a packet of pills.

This places Jim in a moral quandary.  After confronting Yorkie and a brief moment or two of soul searching he feels he has no alternative but to make it official.  Later, Ted Roach is withering in his condemnation – telling Jim he may have irreparably damaged Yorkie’s career.  Ted’s viewpoint would no doubt be shared by many of his colleagues, where it would be seen as closing ranks to protect your own, rather than concealing a crime.

Yorkie comes clean.  The drugs are anabolic steroids, designed to help him rebuild his strength as a rugby player.  He claims that many athletes take them (which is true, although his statement that it’s not an offence is a little harder to swallow).

Had Burnside not been DI then it’s possible it would have been dealt with unofficially.  But Caught Red Handed provides us with early evidence that Burnside is keen to mould Sun Hill in his own image, and this incident gives him an ideal opportunity to clip the wings of the uniformed branch.

His summary of both Brownlow and Conway is insightfully caustic.  He claims that Brownlow “is more interested in his golf swing and that converted barn he’s got up in the lakes than what goes down at Sun Hill”.  He concedes that Conway is a good man and a good copper but that he has to play things “by the book. And that is a worse handicap that Brownlow’s golf swing.”


The Bill – Homes and Gardens


Yorkie Smith and Taffy Edwards arrest Mickey Cozens (Stephen Lee) after he causes a disturbance on the high street.  Yorkie quickly assesses that “he’s not the full shilling” and it later transpires that he has the mind of a seven-year old, albeit with the sort of powerful frame that could easily cause someone damage.

And he’s been in trouble before – cracking a bouncers head open a few years back – although his main problem is that he’s easily led (surrounded by so-called friends who manipulate him to create havoc).

Sun Hill is no place for him, as the cells are full of remand prisoners.  Penny suggests that Yorkie either lets him go or sections him – a stark choice.  Whilst Yorkie is uneasy with the thought of Mickey being restrained in hospital, Hollis takes the opposite view.  He believes it’s the best place for him, as sooner or later Mickey’s going to step way over the mark.  No surprises that it happens later in this episode.

Mickey’s father George Cozens (Brian Peck) arrives at the station and Yorkie drives them both home.  Although George maintains that Mickey is normally placid, we see how quickly that can change after he’s told he can no longer see his friends (or “yobbos” as George calls them).  Mickey lashes out in anger, accidentally knocking Yorkie out.  George panics, bundles Yorkie and Mickey into the police car and drives off …

Homes and Gardens has some nice character moments.  We see Alec Peters taking pride in his tomato plants, although he’s unsuccessful in interesting either Viv or Ken Melvin in taking one off his hands (Ken tells him that he has no room – his cannabis plants take up too much space!).  But Frazer is impressed with Alec’s plants and later nips out to buy some of her own.  Taffy is less than overjoyed when he hears that Yorkie’s been kidnapped, complaining that he did it on purpose as he knew Taffy wanted to finish a little early.  Meanwhile Hollis wafts around the building darkly muttering that he knew all along this was going to happen.  Tom Penny is in an uncompromising mood, running the charge room with an iron hand – a far cry from the previous episode when he was very flaky (possibly this was due to the episodes being recorded out of sequence?)

There’s a subplot centering around Jack and Edie Fairweather (Anthony Collin and Pamela Pitchford) return home from holiday to find that their garden’s been stolen.  Poor Jim is lumbered with this one.

Rather like Home Sweet Home, there’s something of a sense that the most vulnerable in society are being neglected.  Although few would agree with Reg Hollis’ opinion that it would be best to lock Mickey up in an institution for the rest of his life, he doesn’t seem to have received anything like the appropriate level of support.  It’s plain that his father is the rock in his life, but following the incident with Yorkie both father and son face an uncertain future.  We don’t know what will happen to them and never will, meaning we end on a troubling note.

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.

The Bill – Alarms and Embarrassments


Before the start of the episode proper there’s a nice moment of character comedy.

Tom Penny mentions he’s thinking of going to Corfu, bad move says Hollis.  He tells him that the place is crawling with sea urchins which although not deadly are still rather unpleasant.  To prove his point he takes off his sock and shows Tom some grim evidence – even after two years the spikes from a sea urchin are still embedded in the sole of his foot.  But there is a solution – urine.  Tom wonders exactly how you’re supposed to pee on the sole of your own foot, but Hollis sets him straight – you get someone else to do it for you.  Tom suggests that for Hollis that wouldn’t be a problem.

Alarms and Embarrassments features some familiar faces.  After six years playing Fay Lucas on Grange Hill, Alison Bettles made the first of a handful of post-GH appearances.  Here she plays Mandy Peake, a bag-snatcher who preys on the elderly and vulnerable.

You get the sense right from the start that the police are on something of a hiding to nothing.  An identification parade has been organised – with Mandy present in the lineup – but the eye-witness is somewhat doddery.  We’ve previously seen that Frazer and Roach are very different officers and it’s restated here – Frazer is keen to not to put any pressure on the eye-witness, Miss Everleigh (Margot Boht), but there’s the sense that Ted rails against this softly softly approach.  No doubt if he had his way he’d tip her the nod as to which one to pick out.

Another well-known actor, Jeff Rawle, also guests.  He appears as a mugging victim called Derek Pardoe, whose ability to give evidence is hampered by the fact that he’s severely physically disabled.  It’s not an easy part to play – as Pardoe has issues both walking and talking – but Rawle certainly throws himself into the role.  Possibly it’s a case of changing attitudes, but nowadays you’d expect a role like this to be played by a disabled actor, which means there’s something a little unsettling about watching an able-bodied actor pretend to be disabled.  I don’t quite know why this would be, since all acting is pretending, but there’s a nagging sense that, as good as Rawle is, there’s something not quite right.

Carver befriends Pardoe, although it’s clear that the line between friendship and patronisation is very fine.  Jim may have the best of intentions but Ted’s not best pleased to find that he’s been neglecting his assigned duty (the theft of fifty thousands pounds worth of tyres) in order to hold the hand of a robbery victim.  Had Pardoe not been disabled, Jim wouldn’t have given him a second glance – harsh, but true.  Another sign of the times is that both Jim and a passer-by at the scene refer to Pardoe as a spastic.

There’s also a robbery at an off-licence whilst Frazer, rushing back to the station for a meeting with Conway, encounters a bag-lady slap bang in the middle of the road.  The juxtaposition between the normally cool Frazer and the squealing, filthy bag lady is acute.  Just another normal day at Sun Hill then ….

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The Bill – Stealing Cars and Nursery Rhymes


Yorkie befriends a young lad, Jimmy Nelson (Martino Lazzeri).  Jimmy and his mates have little going for them, which means they are almost guaranteed to drift into a life of crime.  Yorkie is keen to help but others, such as Haynes, are much more cynical and convinced it’s bound to end badly ….

Yorkie’s first meeting with Jimmy isn’t terribly auspicious.  Jimmy, sitting in a van, is attempting to start the engine.  When Yorkie asks if he’s trying to steal it, the boy replies that he is.  The owner of the van – from the local youth centre, St Marks – quickly diffuses the situation, but Jimmy isn’t impressed with Yorkie’s warning not to do it again (“go lick your bottom”).

When Jimmy’s with his friends then they’re all something of a handful – stealing Yorkie’s helmet when he enters the youth centre, for example – but later he encounters Yorkie on his own and they start a conversation.  For Yorkie this is something of a breakthrough, Jimmy may appear to be something of a bad lad (there’s a suggesting he’s into glue sniffing) but Yorkie’s convinced there’s good underneath.

He can’t find anyone else to share his opinions though.  Haynes tells him that the boys are worthless – they don’t respect their homes, families or anyone else.  It would be interesting to get to know their future customers, but apart from that what’s the point?  Eamonn Walker and Robert Hudson go at each other hammer and tongs in an entertaining scene.  Since arriving at Sun Hill, Haynes hasn’t done anything controversial, so this is the first time he’s really emerged as a character.

Indeed, Haynes’ outspoken views might have been better suited to Nick Ramsey, but he’s got troubles of his own – a stray dog has attached himself to him and won’t let go.  Exactly how the dog managed to sneak into the station without anyone noticing is anyone’s guess, but it sets up a nice comedy reaction when Ramsey twigs that the pooch is still dogging (sorry) his footsteps.

Luckily the dog is wearing a collar, so Ramsey is able to off-load him back to his owner.  Except that the man (Tom Cotcher) tells him that it isn’t his dog (he died) but it is his collar!  So he takes the collar and leaves Ramsey still holding the dog.  Cotcher would return a few years later as DC Alan Woods.

Martino Lazzeri might have been fifteen at the time, but he was rather diminutive for his age, meaning that Jimmy appears to be a much younger character (barely into his teens).  With the other subplots being quite minor, Julian Jones is able to concentrate on the relationship between Yorkie and Jimmy.  Yorkie sees plenty of good in the boy, but is it enough to keep him on the right side of the law?

After being introduced with a bang a few weeks earlier, Ramsey’s not really featured terribly heavily since, nor has his shady past been referenced.  This was something of a feature of this era of the programme, with each episode tending to be very self-contained.  But Ramsey has his hands full here – not only does he have a new canine best friend, but he also has to reassure an anxious old woman that the Martians haven’t landed next door (it’s a satellite dish) and then deal with a mugging victim.  At least with the mugging there’s a nod back to the fact that he’s not really a people person – Ramsey often struggles to keep a civil tongue in his head when dealing with members of the public.

But then he does something unexpected – giving the UFO woman the dog.  Yes in a way he’s simply offloading a problem, but the old woman reacts with such pleasure that it’s hard not to imagine that he was partially motived by the thought of doing a good deed.

There’s a glimmer of hope for Jimmy and the others as the episode ends on an optimistic note.  It would have been nice to revisit Jimmy a few years later to see whether he did manage to stay out of trouble, but although Lazzeri made a few more Bill appearances, none were as Jimmy.  Lazzeri had a particularly active career during the 1990’s (he’ll be recognizable to Grange Hill viewers as Joe Williams) and it’s Jimmy’s amusing interaction with Yorkie which forms the heart of a strong episode.

The Bill – Hold Fire


Hold Fire opens with a bang – literally – as Melvin and Smith tangle with an exploding car.  Melvin – or rather his stunt double – is set on fire whilst Smith is caught up in the aftershock of an impressive pyrotechnics display.

Both Melvin and Smith are hospitalised, although neither are badly hurt (Melvin’s hands require attention whilst Smith has a dislocated shoulder).  This could have been the end of this particular plot, but events then move in an unexpected direction as we learn that the car isn’t all it appears to be.

It’s Frazer’s call as to whether she brings in CID, but for the moment she decides not to – which later displeases Burnside.  We’ve already seen him sniffing around the CAD room and when he runs into Frazer at the accident scene he’s typically forthright.  “You’ve got one burnt-out bent motor, a geezer dead, another one in hospital suspected of carrying explosives, and you don’t know what you’ve got?”

Apart from this, Jim and Viv are engaged in a stake-out at a pub.  This isn’t the worst job in the world, as it allows them the chance to have a few drinks and play all the video machines.  We learn that Viv is much better at Out Run than Jim is ….

Ted also has a decent subplot, as he deliberately flunks his firearms retraining.  Dashwood reacts caustically to the news when Conway tells him (wondering if Ted shot the instructor!) but doesn’t feel able disclose the reason why.  Thar’s left to Ted later in the pub, when he obliquely discusses his day with the barmaid Sadie (Cheryl Hall).  This would be Hall’s last appearance as Sadie (a semi-regular since 1984) although Hall would rack up six later credits on the show, each time as a different character.

Ted tells Sadie that it’s easy to shoot someone, and for Ted it’s obviously too easy.  You wouldn’t expect such a seemingly self-confident man to be wracked with such doubts, but it’s a nice beat that serves to strengthen and deepen his character a little more.

Apart from Cheryl Hall, Hold Fire also features several other familiar faces.  Walter Sparrow, someone who may not have had a very recognisable name but had a very familiar countenance, plays an elderly, garrulous patient at the hospital whilst Peter Wight, an incredibly busy actor, is the firearms instructor who gives Ted a hard time.

As so often, there’s an open-ended feeling to proceedings as the “A” case (the exploding car and the suspect at the hospital) doesn’t end the way that Burnside and the others would have hoped.  It remains rather nebulous anyway, since we never learn exactly who they were and what the job, if any, was.  But elsewhere there’s better news, as Jim and Viv get their man.  You win some, you lose some ….

The Bill – Bad Faith


Bad Faith opens with Carver and Dashwood on the hunt for a suspect called Warren Michaels (Anthony Lennon).  Michaels lives on a typical inner-city estate – complete with burnt out cars, barking dogs and a general air of oppression.  Dashwood spots his prey and both he and Carver give chase down numerous flights of stairs.

Michaels trips and gashes his head, which obviously creates a bad impression once other people start to take notice of the melee.  The sight of an injured young black man being roughly handled by two white police officers generates a brief moment of tension.  This is clear when Carver tells the gathering crowd that they’re the police, only to realise a second later that this statement might not necessarily diffuse the situation.  And the onlookers aren’t troublemakers, they’re a small crowd of solid citizens (both black and white) faced with a scene which will probably reinforce their low opinions of the police force.

There’s a disorientating sense to the early part of this episode, reinforced when Michaels is brought to the station, as Frank Smith’s direction favours unusual low shots.  Dashwood tells Michaels that he’s a suspect in a murder case, although that doesn’t prove to be the case – it’s simply a ruse designed to unsettle him.

When Burnside joins the fun then the tension ramps up another few notches.  Michaels is nervous and twitchy, but Burnside ruthlessly overrides his request for a solicitor.  The interview, conducted in something of an ad hoc manner, also doesn’t seem to be recorded.  Dashwood later explains to Carver that “boys like this want us to give them a good hiding, gives them status, martyrdom.”  Cryer, overhearing the conversation, mutters that Dashwood is beginning to sound more and more like Burnside.

Dashwood and Cryer are plainly placed in opposition here.  Dashwood is keen to nail Michaels for a series of burglaries but admits that without clear evidence they’re dependent on an incriminating statement from him – so he sees nothing wrong in pushing as far as he possibly can.  And with a rising crime rate (allied to pressure for convictions) it’s a point of view that’s no doubt shared by many of his colleagues.

Cryer operates in a different field.  If the plain clothes branch deal with detection, then the uniform police are more concerned with prevention and maintaining law and order in general.   Cryer’s comment that Dashwood was a good PC indicates that he’s changed after switching “sides” although this could be taken as an inevitable consequence.

Carver, younger and more idealistic, attempts to see both sides.  Unlike Dashwood he views most of the residents on the estate as ordinary people trying to do the best they can.  If they demonize them or make the estate a no-go area then it’s only going to inflame the situation.  Will Jim manage to retain his optimism or will the system crush him?  Only time will tell.

After someone nicks the tyres from Dashwood’s car (and then drops a fridge on it for good measure!) the episode ends in confusion.  We never find out whether Michaels was guilty or innocent, although the inference seems to be that Dashwood’s been wasting his time and energy in the wrong place.  What’s certain is that police/community relations have suffered something of a knock.

Witness Statements: Making The Bill Series 1-3 by Oliver Crocker (Book Review)

Given The Bill‘s length of service (1983 – 2010) it’s surprising that books about the series are very thin on the ground. Although maybe it’s worth remembering that this is the fate of most television shows – programmes like Doctor Who (which have been examined in painstaking detail) are very much the exception rather than the rule.

During the series’ lifetime, The Bill generated several glossy, large format books (by the likes of Hilary Kingsley and Geoff Tibballs). These are good to have, but Witness Statements: Making The Bill Series 1-3 offers a much more forensic examination of the early years of the show.

Oliver Crocker’s Bill podcast has been running for several years now, clocking up an impressive number of episodes (each one interviewing a different Sun Hill alumni). With all this material to hand, it made sense to distill some of it into book form (plus Crocker has carried out new interviews especially for this book). Witness Statements concentrates on the original incarnation of The Bill – when it was a post-watershed 50 minute series (prior to its re-formatting in 1988).

Each episode, from the Woodentop pilot to the final episode of S3 – Not Without Cause – is given its own chapter. A highly impressive roster of personnel – both in front of and behind the screen – provide commentaries on the episodes in turn.

Every contributor offers something of interest, but John Salthouse’s comments were especially fascinating (possibly because he’s rarely spoken about his time as DI Roy Galloway before in any depth).

I’ve recently been revisiting the first series of The Bill and I’ve found Witness Statements to be an excellent companion. If you have any interest in The Bill – or indeed British television of this era in general – then Witness Statements is an invaluable book which comes highly recommended.

Witness Statements: Making The Bill Series 1-3 by Oliver Crocker, published by Devonfire Books, is available from Amazon.

The Bill – Requiem by P.J. Hammond (3rd September 1988)

Between 1988 and 2004, P.J. Hammond wrote 39 episodes of The Bill. Given that his unique style is very noticeable on series such as Z Cars and Angels, I’ve decided to review his contribution to The Bill, looking to see how he worked with this format and if he ever attempted to stretch it in unexpected directions.

Requiem was one of the early half hour episodes (number fourteen). Even with the reduced running time, some writers still juggled multiple plotlines, usually with one emerging as the dominant theme. Hammond eschews this – instead the focus stays fixed on the grisly discovery inside a nondescript house.

What’s actually been discovered is teased for a few minutes. Haynes emerges from the house slightly shaken and advises Ramsey to go and take a look. The camera stays fixed on Ramsey when he goes inside, so we only see his reaction (the same thing happens when Cryer turns up a few minutes later). Indeed, it’s not until Roach and Dashwood roll up that the reveal finally takes place. Whether this works is debatable, as the object of their interest (a skeleton hidden behind a wall) does look a little fake.

Mr and Mrs Trant and their young daughter have lived in the house for about five years. Doing some DIY (smashing through the living room wall to install a fireplace) Mr Trant came across this unexpected guest. Both Mr and Mrs Trant seem rather disconnected from events – remaining unemotional throughout, they cast a rather odd atmosphere over the episode (the moment when father, mother and daughter all sit down in unison catches the eye).

Requiem features a few familiar faces guest-starring. One of Ronald Leigh-Hunt’s final television roles saw him cast as the pathologist Passmore. Cryer and Roach, discussing Passmore’s imminent arrival, express amazement that he’s still working, which primes the audience to expect someone rather doddery and incompetent.  The reality is quite different though – Passmore is sharp and methodical, although clearly of the old school (scowling at the flippant remarks made by his photographer colleague, for example).

Russell Dixon and Deila Linsday both sketch decent cameos as Mr and Mrs Jenner. Neighbours of the Trants, they have a marriage which is best described as voluble and volatile, although there’s the odd streak of affection visible too. They add little to the plot, but help to briefly lighten and humanise the tone of the story.

Since there’s a body, it seems reasonable to suggest there must be a miscreant somewhere at hand. The Trants can be ruled out, as the events behind the wall took place long before they bought the house. Talk turns to the reclusive Goodhall (Richard Beale), a resident of one of the upper flats, who seems a likely candidate. Another veteran actor, Beale makes the most of his few minutes’ screentime.

Goodhall turns out to be a red herring as the true resolution of the mystery is revealed in the final few minutes. It seems slightly hard to swallow, but I daresay even odder things have happened in real life.

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.