By Edward Kellett
Among a spate of cast exits in Season 9, one name stands out as being not so much a departure as a transfer. Conforming to Michael Chapman’s ‘one string, one bow’ policy, Sam Miller gave up the role of John Maitland in order to move into directing for the series. Given that his four episodes of The Bill kicked off a directorial career that’s led to BAFTA wins and Emmy nominations, one imagines that he has few regrets. If itchy feet are an inherent part of being an actor, they are liable to grow itchier when tied down to a long-running series. Interviewed on The Bill Podcast, the stories of the cast are revealing as much for the similarities as the differences. Oliver Crocker has brought up the challenge of how ‘granular’ the questioning should be: trying to extract memories of individual episodes and scenes from somebody’s distant past. He gave an example of how Lynne Miller was asked at an event for her recollections of walking past someone on a street and observed that it wasn’t leaping out at her from the three hundred plus episodes she appeared in. It’s notable that the strongest memories of the cast are often of the directors they worked with, especially the prolific ones who they grew to like and trust, rather than of storylines or even other actors. They’re the people who spent hours guiding their performance, and got to know what made them tick. Conversely, actors aren’t always best placed to judge the artistic value of stories that they experienced as two-minute chunks, filmed for different units at different times, in different places, long before they were edited into a cohesive whole. The one time they would have seen their work in context, as a finished piece of drama, would have been on broadcast – and I doubt it was just their filming commitments on the show that precluded this. As Monroe wisely informs Reg in ‘Sun Hill Boulevard’, “I never watch programmes about the police. Too much like a busman’s holiday.” Perhaps this syndrome is behind the other trend revealed by the podcast: the number of actors who ended up moving into pastures new after they left the show. With the experience of twenty years running the charity S.A.F.E., creating artistic projects in African communities to educate on social issues, the year that Nick Reding spent three decades ago playing an evil lank-haired spiv must feel very odd indeed. He did, of course, serve his time in police series after The Bill, specifically Silent Witness – and once you’ve been on the ultimate cop show treadmill, everything that follows in that vein is the same old, same old. It’s hard to make leeway in an industry that is itself typecast as a blue light factory, let alone the typecasting of the actors within it. After ten years as a non-maverick copper, Andrew Mackintosh made one more TV appearance in Taggart before deciding that the business wasn’t for him. His subsequent career in IT accompanied by a sideline as a musician must be far preferable, giving him a reliable income and the freedom to do something creative on top. Gregory Donaldson, in his interview, voiced similar thoughts on the stress of scrapping for a handful of roles and never being sure whether he would succeed. His move into therapy demonstrates the transferrable skills of acting: empathy and insight applied to people’s real problems rather than their fictional ones. See also Barbara Thorn and Russell Boulter, both of whom have become life coaches, helping people to work on their body language and presentation. This retains all the enjoyable aspects of acting without any of the associated drawbacks: having to bid for the job by performing it in front of a group of strangers, or standing in a rain-sodden field at two in the morning, telling yourself it’s ‘for the craft.’ Russell Boulter revealed that his guest role in Waking the Dead convinced him to give up the acting game: “In one day I had to film killing someone and shoving them down an air conditioning unit; and then in the afternoon, raping his wife. And I got home that day and I just went, ‘I didn’t go to drama school for this. I’m not feeling it any more.” Not only did that same episode feature Philip Whitchurch, but that same series was another of the directing credits notched up by Sam Miller on his way to awards glory. If we’re all headed for the slab eventually, then telly people are headed there earlier than most.