1 9 8 4 – 2 0 1 0 (UK)
The Bill was created from a one-off drama called Woodentop (a CID nickname for officers in uniform) in the 1983 Storyboard season and began life as a one-hour weekly series.
In its fourth year it changed to two half-hour shows per week and went from strength to strength, and in 1993 it changed to three half-hour episodes per week. A new rule was also introduced: there had to be a police officer in every scene.
Handheld camera work was introduced to provide a touch of on-the-streets realism and it certainly helped with the pace of the programme, although characterisation and plot development were victims of the truncated format.
Three different production teams were on the road all working at the same time on different episodes. They were dubbed the Red, Blue and Gold teams.
According to the creator of the show, Geoff McQueen, the format changed to half-hour episodes to allow a greater input from dissimilar creative types.
In Australia, it was not seen until 1986, and it was not until 1995 that the ABC began to copy the three episode per week schedule of Britain (though two of them were screened together on Saturday nights).
In 1988, the famous ‘plodding feet’ title sequence was dropped (to the dismay of some fans) and later that year, with ratings falling, The Bill reverted to a one-hour format.
The Bill was set in the (fictitious) Sun Hill Police Station, which was supposedly located somewhere in the East End of London, although the exterior of the fake police station was at 63 Windsor Avenue, Wimbledon (Merton Studios) and most of the locations were actually shot in South London.
There were characters in civilian clothes, members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and the uniformed members. Sometimes the CID were short-staffed and placed some of the Uniform Division in plainclothes. Viewers saw squads from different shifts, but mostly from “A Relief”
Criticised by some real policemen for its portrayal of policing methods (but loved by other members of the force), The Bill was also attacked for suggesting – years ahead of the Stephen Lawrence tragedy and subsequent enquiry – that racism was a facet of today’s force.
Nevertheless, the series continued to show just how coppers cope with the realities of the modern world, showing officers of the law as people with a job to do, however unpleasant that job may be.
Head of the station was Chief Superintendent Charles Brownlow (Peter Ellis), a man mainly concerned with the image of his force, and beneath him worked an ever-changing squad of inspectors, sergeants, detectives and constables.
Most notable were Sergeant Bob Cryer (Eric Richard), the paternal station officer, the hot-headed DCI Galloway (John Salthouse) who was never afraid to bend the rules, and his devious successor DCI Frank Burnside (Christopher Ellison) who was given his own spin-off series, Burnside, in 2000.
Young PCs “Taffy” Edwards (Colin Blumenau) and Jim Carver (Mark Wingett), the hypochondriac Reg Hollis (Jeff Stewart), ambitious Dave Litten (Gary Olsen), impetuous Ted Roach (Tony Scannell), well-groomed Mike Dashwood (Jon Iles), scruffy “Tosh” Lines (Kevin Lloyd) and dependable WPCs Ackland (Trudie Goodwin) and Martella (Nula Conwell) were also prominent favourites.
The series was finally cancelled in 2010 after 26 years of broadcast. It continues to be shown in re-runs in many countries, from Brunei to Zambia, Gibraltar to Norway, and Israel to Saudi Arabia.
NB: The show is called The Bill because “Old Bill” is an English nickname for the police.
WPC/Sgt June Ackland
DS Don Beech
Sgt Matt Boyden
Chief Supt Charles Brownlow
DI Frank Burnside
DC/PC Jim Carver
Chief Insp Philip Cato
Chief Insp Conway
DC Suzi Croft
Sgt Bob Cryer
WPC Norika Datta
PC Taffy Edwards
PC George Garfield
DS Alistair Greig
PC Reg Hollis
DC Duncan Lennox
DC ‘Tosh’ Lines
PC Dave Litten
PC Steve Loxton
WPC Viv Martella
DCI Jack Meadows
Insp Andrew Monroe
WPC Polly Page
PC Dave Quinnan
DS Ted Roach
DC Rod Skase
PC Tony Stamp