1 9 8 2 (UK)
9 x 45 minute episodes
Police was another tele-verité exercise by the BBC to lift the lid on British institutions, following Sailor (1976), Hospital (1977) and Strangeways (1980). Filmmakers Roger Graef and Charles Stewart were given the keys to Reading police station and spent nine months trailing the bobbies of Thames Valley’s ‘E’ Division.
Consent came from senior officers and the Home Office itself, who were anxious to stem a growing mistrust of the police, particularly among Britain’s inner-city ethnic minorities.
The first episode showed a massive dawn stake-out of the home of a Mr Donald Stimpson whose wife had telephoned the police during the course of a New Year’s Eve row to tell them he was about to shoot the family dog. After the police told him on loudhailers to “come quietly” he came, revealing himself as mild and non-violent but amazed by their presence. Eventually, he sued the Thames Valley force for £500 for troubling him.
Later episodes showed a detective breaking down in tears after being demoted back to the uniformed ranks, a stake-out to catch a thief as he robbed a duchess, a drunk accusing the cops of beating him up in a van and an officer being reported and suspended for slapping a black youth.
The scenes to have the most lasting effect though were those in episode three showing Detective Brian Kirk and other officers bullying a girl with a history of psychiatric treatment who claimed she’d been raped. “This is the biggest bollocks I’ve ever heard,” erupts one officer.
The episode caused a public outcry and led to a change in the way police forces handled rape cases. Within months, a new rape squad of five female officers was formed in Reading and the Home Office introduced new guidelines stressing the need for tact and understanding in such cases.
In September 1982 there was a five-part sequel called Operation Carter, which showed the same force’s success in rounding up and putting behind bars 29 criminals for a total of 411 years.
It made a national hero of Detective Chief Inspector Brian Ward, the man in charge of No 5 Regional Crime Squad who looked like John Thaw and spoke like Eddie Grundy. Security had been so tight that Graef and his co-producer Charles Stewart had had to store their films in a fridge at Reading police station until the court trials were over.