Written by Edward Kellett
When this website surveys fans of The Bill to learn which characters are their favourites, the answers range over the whole history of the show, from the early Eighties to the late Noughties. But rather small in number are the nominations for DCIs Wray and Reid, Sergeants Maitland, Corrie and Kendall, and PCs Smollett and French. The early Nineties feel like an overlooked enclave of the show, an opinion that may be based solely on the time it took me to experience them. Before the whole series was released on DVD in Australia, and while Network’s UK releases of the early half hours were coming out at a trickle, UK Gold recordings of the mid-Nineties episodes emerged on YouTube. The hour-long episodes from 1998 onwards were also well represented. But of the years 1991 to 1993, there was virtually nothing save a few fragments from people’s domestic tapes. This gave them an air of mystery and intrigue, and when I was finally able to see them in full, it felt like stumbling on something fresh and undiscovered. The early Merton years are perhaps my favourites for this reason, but they were, of course, hardly overlooked at the time of broadcast. They received some of the programme’s highest viewing figures, and with good reason.
In terms of the cast 1991 is an unusually stable year, bookended by two return visits from members of uniform now clad in civvies, but for different reasons. One is the final appearance of Yorkie Smith, back in the police force and a member of Sheffield CID, who arrives on New Year’s Eve to take back a prisoner. He and Jim end up on a northbound train, knocking back cans of lager as they ponder the ways they hoped to see in the new year, in a story that’s entertaining but, perhaps appropriately, goes nowhere. The other face from the recent past is Tom Penny, living up to Galloway’s ‘bad penny’ jibe from Series 3 in more ways than one. Now the head of security at a car factory, he swaggers up to the front desk expecting to be let in as though he’s still ‘one of us’, when everyone knows he isn’t. The PCs he used to order around call him Tom now, which he finds disconcerting. Still in policing mode, he chunters on about the massive thieving operation he believes is going down in his new workplace, while Peters and Roach try to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Others aren’t willing to give him the time of day; seeing he is around, Monroe makes his excuses and then remarks to Cryer, “Security bloke now, isn’t he? There but for the grace of God…” Even Bob, Penny’s old mate, is not keen to accept his offer of a drink and knows that no-one else will. “Tell him if he gets any more hunches, take them to Barton Street – he owes them a favour,” snipes Peters, showing that he has neither forgotten nor forgiven Penny’s actions the year before. Roach is given a guided tour of the factory, but when the boss turns up, Penny’s newfound status is made abundantly clear: “You’re not a policeman any more, you’re a security officer and you’d better remember that.” Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t want his firm branded as a hotbed of crime. Now he’s in the private sector, Penny’s job is to uphold the business, not the law. Afterwards Roach gives him some overdue home truths. “You don’t get it, do you? He didn’t hire you to do a job; he hired you to cut his overheads. Having a chief security officer with police background cuts his insurance premium by thousands – more than he’s paying you, and that includes your medical insurance, and your private pension, and the minicabs you have to have to visit the other factory because you’re a disqualified driver. He knows what’s going missing, and it doesn’t worry him. And to be honest, if there’s no victim then it doesn’t worry me either.” “And you call yourself a policeman?” asks the astounded Penny. “Yeah, I do – but maybe you shouldn’t call yourself one any longer.” His loss of standing is made brutally clear in the apartheid of the closing credits. As per convention, all the police characters are billed first, with their ranks, followed by a man now known simply as ‘Penny.’
That episode, ‘Start to Finish’, is something of a discussion on the changing fortunes of policemen. At the same time Penny is brought down to earth, Brownlow attends a commander’s board at the Yard. Already running late, he is further delayed when he and Stamp come across an RTA, and his quick work ends up saving the victim’s life. He is dismayed to learn that the board includes DAC Hicks, the plummy-voiced bureaucrat elevated to a semi-regular role in this year. It’s a mark of the show’s depth that no one character is ever entirely secure; Hicks is to Brownlow as Brownlow is to Conway, the immovable obstacle to progress who remembers every one of his faults and brings them back to haunt him when he is trying to climb the ladder. The other figure Brownlow has kept under the thumb for years is of course Ted Roach, always denied promotion because of the chief super’s disdain for him. In an echo of Roach’s board in ‘Taken for a Ride’ eighteen months earlier, where he struggled to give PR answers about community engagement that were totally alien to him, Brownlow gives the same hollow responses as he falters under pressure. When he brings up the recent success of cracking the Donald Blake murders, Hicks is instantly on his case: “Do you think that the party you gave the day Blake was arrested did very much for your close community relationship? I understand it was quite a knees-up, and yet the man downstairs hadn’t actually been charged.” “I don’t make any apology for what happened, it was a good clean result and everybody knows it!” Brownlow insists. “Now if I choose to congratulate my people, if I choose to open a couple of bottles at the end of a shift, then so be it.” This sharp piece of continuity helps to maintain the feel of a consistent world, and shows that even the best achievements on someone’s CV can be twisted and held up as weaknesses. On his return he suggests to Conway that these boards are used “as an excuse to have a pop at you and your division”, and is more to the point when he calls his wife: “Well, I survived.” We can guess the result without being told, and the whole story serves to enhance rather than diminish Brownlow as a sympathetic figure. It’s not that he is a hypocrite, but simply a middling figure in a dog eat dog world, pushing down on those below him as he is pushed down from above.
Brownlow’s status as one of the longest-serving officers in the Met is put to good use during this year. When enquiries begin into a possible leak of info from CID, Conway muses, “I thought we’d put all that behind us, sir. The years of anarchy – the ‘firm within a firm.’” “I still don’t believe there’s hardcore corruption on anything like the scale of fifteen years ago,” Brownlow cuts in impatiently. This refers to the era chronicled in the recent BBC2 documentary Bent Coppers, not coincidentally scheduled during the run of Line of Duty: institutionalised corruption in the Met and City of London police, their CID taking backhanders from the worlds of porn and armed robbery. It’s the era that produced Operation Countryman, the attempt to uncover these rotten apples, and more pertinently for The Bill the character of Burnside, hovering on both sides of the law. The shady events of this period were very much in the public eye in the early Nineties, thanks to a series of miscarriages of justice being brought to light, and convictions quashed. It was in March 1991 that the Birmingham Six were released after sixteen years behind bars for the IRA pub bombings of 1974, their confessions obtained via threats, beatings and doubtful forensic evidence. This came hot on the heels of the release of the Guildford Four two years earlier. It would have been around this time that writer Victoria Taylor devised a story that plays out as two separate two-handers, between Brownlow and people with an interest in the ‘dark years.’ In ‘Lest We Forget’ he has an important visitor in the shape of DCC Fuller, investigating a complaint of corruption from seventeen years earlier. “At the time the alleged incidents took place, you were a constable in the CID, stationed at Hillingdon – a position you held for just over two years. What made you go back to uniform?” The defensive Brownlow claims he was “temperamentally better suited” to it. He is asked about a murder case to which he was the first responder from CID. Two brothers were convicted of the killings in October 1974 and are serving life sentences. The question marks about the man who led the case, the popular DI Mowbray, won’t affect him as he is now dead and therefore “beyond worry”, which Brownlow disputes, suggesting that he can still be smeared without the ability to defend himself. He recalls that once the suspects were charged, “I had a couple of drinks, but I left early; I’d just got engaged to be married.” “It had nothing to do with the fact that the Wilson brothers were crying ‘fit-up’?”
Fuller points out that the younger brother had a history of schizophrenia and was educationally backward, yet signed a confession even though “he could hardly write his own name!” Brownlow is quizzed about his relationships with Mowbray and his subordinates, Henderson and Davis – the latter was Mowbray’s protégé and has now risen to Assistant Chief Constable. Fuller reveals that electro-static detection has been used on the confessions: “He never knew about the trick with the formica, did he, Mowbray? Under the sheet of paper? If you’re going to add something to a confession after it’s been signed, it pays not to leave a calling card. Of course nobody knew that in 1974, the test hadn’t been developed then.” He shows Brownlow a lab report which proves that some pages were written later and inserted into the original. But the window in which this occurred rules out Mowbray, because Brownlow had invited him and his other colleagues to his engagement party in Suffolk; except that Davis backed out at the last moment, saying he had “things to finish off. It explains this, it’s the work of a novice. It also explains why there was an unholy row when we got back.” He admits that Davis is still a close friend of his and has invited him over recently – to get advance news of the investigation, it would seem. “Davis is one of the finest police officers in the country, he could even make Commissioner,” observes Fuller. “This won’t do much for force credibility.” Brownlow accepts he will have to give evidence in court, but feels no sense of triumph at outlasting Davis. The CID career race was not for him: “To be honest with you, I didn’t really fit in. I didn’t have the confidence, or at least that’s what people used to say.” This becomes clear in ‘Innocence’, where he meets his former colleague, played with icy menace by the great Tony Doyle, giving his audition piece for the slimy John Deakin in Between the Lines the following year. Confronted with the evidence, Davis produces his trump card: while they were in Suffolk, he was with Mowbray’s wife. “I was seeing her, Charles – or seeing to her, if you want it in the vernacular… He found my watch on his bedside table. I stood up to him in the row we had, faced him out. I suppose he had to take it out on somebody, so he fitted up the Wilson brothers.” “You make it sound like a fit of pique,” says a disgusted Brownlow. “You were right to get back into uniform,” notes Davis. “They really were the bad old days of CID.” But Brownlow realises that his remarkable deductions are not recent. “You knew, didn’t you? You knew at the time and you never said a word.” “I was a DC, who was going to listen to me? I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes, a corruption allegation in those days?” “What were you thinking of, your career prospects?” “It was 1974, people like Peter Mowbray were getting away with murder! I will say whatever I have to, to get those men released.” “But you’ll wait till the call comes?” Davis asks him to “stay in touch”, but when Brownlow walks away this time it feels as though he is turning his back for good on a world that he was always too nice for.
One of the defining features of Series 7 is the presence of DCI Kim Reid, the highest-ranking female officer in the show’s history. Introduced at the tail end of 1990, she is seen as a safe pair of hands by Brownlow, in that while she shares the managerial ethos of her predecessor Gordon Wray, she’s unlikely to dabble in affairs with her colleagues. Trying to head her off at once, Burnside extols the virtues of targets and man management as though he has seen the light, but she’s not fooled. When Roach gives her the same flannel at the end of her first episode, the suspicious look she throws at him is a sign that she realises she is in for a battle, every step of the way. Like most of the new characters introduced during the half-hours, there is a settling-in period where Reid has little to do while the scripts gear up to incorporate her. This fits the character’s initial remit to observe, sizing up the strengths and weaknesses of the troops now under her command. She is careful to preserve an air of mystery, analysing people’s views while she is sparing with her own. We first see what she is made of in ‘Just Deserts’ (that’s what it says on the opening caption, so who are we to argue? Not a camel to be seen, however), a tale of a man being pushed to his death at a building site. Reid accompanies Dashwood to the scene; a passing workman sneers at her, “Want a piggyback, love?” and gets the instant riposte, “Are you licensed?”, showing that she can give as good as she gets. Burnside accuses Mike of trying to impress “Madam”, and Tosh zeroes in on his hang-up: “He doesn’t have your problem: with women in the job.” “I do not have a problem with women governors.” “Neither do I – but I’m married to mine,” jokes Tosh, in a lovely and revealing line. Reminded by Reid that hard hats are a site rule, Burnside picks up his and chucks it in his car. When told to liaise with SOCO and the factory manager, he protests, “With all due respect ma’am, I’m not very good at liaising.” “No? Well I’m not very good at driving a desk,” she replies affably, and leaves him to it. Her playful sense of humour and ability to cut people down with a sudden quip are apparent when she and Mike question a loudmouthed, slobbish builder, whose alibi is that he was with a woman at the time of the killing. “I think I can say it was pretty memorable for her,” he boasts, swilling a can of beer. Without pressing for details, Reid points out he could be in trouble if she denies all knowledge of it: “Which is likely – I mean, toms are as reliable as the building trade when it comes to remembering.” They pick up the deceased’s criminal record from CAD and Burnside radios in irritably, asking for the whereabouts of his boss. Reid shakes her head at Peters and makes a quick exit, preferring to keep her DI guessing! “If Reid feels the need to go glory-hunting, that’s her problem,” the thoroughly selfless Burnside tells Dashwood. “I must say, I’m not too happy about the way you’ve suddenly changed sides, though.” “We don’t have sides in CID,” Mike replies coyly. “We’re a team.”
The irony of his statement comes to the fore in ‘The Better Part of Valour’ by Arthur McKenzie, a superbly packed episode that shows how much incident and detail could be crammed into a twenty-five minute Bill script. Opening with an impressive aerial shot of the wreckage left by a bullion hijack, the story follows the hunt for the robbers, but its real focus is on those doing the hunting. The knives are out for Reid, whose responsibility to recover a haul of six hundred grand is looked on with keen interest by her subordinates. “First division job, this,” Roach observes as he and Burnside make their way to the burnt-out van. “It’ll certainly test Madam.” When Reid asks if someone is with the security guard in hospital, he shrugs insolently, “I don’t know!” and is told to find out. “Attitudes like that have to be jumped on, Frank,” she declares once he is gone. “At times like these I’m glad I’m a woolly,” says Monroe, realising that the media is about to descend on the case. Reid speaks at a press conference and becomes the face of the investigation, her image plastered over the front page. The publicity doesn’t faze her: “This report is basically correct…. as far as the photograph’s concerned, it’s definitely not my best side.” But she finds it less easy to keep a rein on the toxic pit of ambition beneath her; a huge crime that burdens some people represents a golden opportunity for others. Still determined to put the ‘me’ in team, Roach has a lead that he wants to pursue on his own. “Ted, you don’t have to prove anything,” insists Burnside. “You’ve got two pips, I haven’t – a job like this could put them there.” Suspecting an inside job, he visits the security firm that hired the guards to see their head of personnel, his former colleague Harkness. “Same old Ted Roach, kicking the verbals up front, brains and strategy down the pan.” When he refuses to hand over confidential files, Roach suddenly, and unpleasantly, switches tack. “Let’s stuff the turkey a different way then, shall we? Does your boss know the real reason why you decided to leave the force?” Harkness’s good cheer instantly vanishes. “You slug… I was cleared of that.” “Never went to court, old son. Lack of corroboration, if my memory serves me right. And if they’d asked me, I’d have been able to supply it.” “So this is blackmail?” “Persuasion – and unlawful sex with a fourteen year old does carry with it a certain stench… I would be a foolish man not to play my hand.” “You really do leave a trail on the ground, don’t you?” “One for one, Chris. You get me the details; I develop amnesia.” When he unearths a likely candidate for the attack, Roach wants Harkness to make a statement so it’s all signed and official. “You’re a user, Roach.” Ted looks at him blankly, playing dumb as he always does when it suits his interests. “I’ve always wanted to know what people meant by that. There’s only two words that mean anything to me: winners, and losers.”
Roach slips the info to Burnside under a cubicle door in the gents’, pleading that he keep it between them for the time being, and Burnside agrees to “bat her off for a while.” But Reid sees through his blithe assurance that a lead will turn up. “You’re keeping something from me, Frank. Like why you haven’t mentioned the fact that Roach has been making enquiries at the security firm. This is a public investigation, and I’ll tell you this: Roach has not only alienated the whole company against us, but he may well be receiving a complaint for harassment.” Unimpressed by Burnside’s defence of him, she warns that “we work as a family. You and your pal Roach had better learn that, and learn it fast.” The two dinosaurs of CID are united by their disdain for the new girl, but they have need of her when the cracks in their stormy relationship open again. ‘Caught Napping’/‘Hammer to Fall’ by Russell Lewis deals with the fallout from his previous episode ‘Safe as Houses’, in which supergrass Lenny Powell was shot dead outside a police safe house after Burnside ordered the armed response teams on the case to be stood down. The initial episode could have stood on its own, a follow-up investigation taking place off screen, and was probably designed that way; but returning to those events and making them the subject of a formal enquiry provides a tense and, more importantly, cheap episode based within the station. When the Serious Crime Squad turns up, headed by DCS Petch, they commandeer the incident room and order CID to halt their business while they go through their paperwork, scenes echoed a decade later in the aftermath of the Don Beech scandal. Reid arrives to find her department being turned upside down. Suddenly keen on team spirit, Burnside says, “You could tell them that I got hold of you, and we agreed the decision to stand down the AFOs and extra bodies together.” She doesn’t take the bait, reminding him that as she was brand new at the time, he is the one who’ll face awkward questions. She plays down her role in the affair but refuses to throw anyone else under a bus, telling Petch that she won’t “indulge in wild surmise when there’s so much at stake. You must find your own answers.” Burnside declares that he’s not losing any sleep, but his bravado vanishes when he tells Roach that they need to be on the same page. “We stood the troops down, didn’t we?” “No, you gave the word!” he insists, wide-eyed with suspicion. “As I remember it Ted, you asked if you could stand them down and I agreed. There’s no one in this department who doesn’t owe me,” Burnside drawls with the cold, calculating air that emerges now and then to remind us he is more than a cheerful ducker and diver. “Time to call in a few favours.” Recognising an attempt to drop him in it, Roach refuses to play ball: “If I agree to this, that’s it for me – I’ve done my legs for promotion once and for all!” “You did your legs a long time ago, Ted.”
When asked who gave the stand down order, Roach gives a straight answer, putting Burnside in the frame. “I’m not lying for you. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Or are they getting a little too close for comfort? Whelan got you in his back pocket?” “Don’t push your luck, Ted. You gonna run and tell Reid? The pair of you have done me up like a kipper!” “Well maybe she can’t stand bent coppers either,” sneers Roach, and Burnside finally snaps. “You slag!” he roars, shoving him against the wall, and they have to be separated by the DCs. It’s telling that when Burnside is interviewed, all his tricks of the trade have deserted him. Believing that the rubber heels have already made up their minds, he lounges back casually, treating it as a joke. He defends the call he made, but is told that “the force is changing. The attitude you have displayed here today, Mr Burnside, is sadly outmoded.” In the next episode, the rancour between the two big beasts is making everyone in CID suffer. “It’s been brewing ever since Reid arrived,” Viv tells Dave. “I mean, neither of them are what you’d call new men, are they?” Reid wants Burnside to repair the damage, and puts them on a night-time surveillance to give him a chance. His gratitude is not forthcoming: “Old cow. I bring home the bacon and this is my reward? Stuck on a roof, freezing me cods off with Paddy McGinty’s goat for company.” “That’s one thing I won’t be sorry to see the back of,” Roach comments acidly. “Your cheery Cockney humour.” Burnside accepts that he was wrong to pressure him, but declares that “attack is the best form of defence” and they achieve a reconciliation of sorts. CID busts a drug deal involving a courier of Whelan, the crook at the heart of the enquiry. Reid then has a tip-off fed to him that his rival, Palmer was responsible, unaware that Roach and Burnside have gone for a drink with the latter. They nearly have their heads blown off before the cavalry arrives. The whole saga shows that CID remains a group of individuals rather than a team, the suspicion of people’s motives leading to poor communication and very nearly disaster.
The battles that Reid has to fight are not confined to CID. Right from the start, her opposite number resents her presence. When Conway learns that she has “a following” at area and is pally with DAC Hicks, he is suspicious that he will get frozen out of major decisions. After a sudden wave of absenteeism spreads through the relief, he scoffs at Brownlow’s idea of a training course for senior managers on stress detection. But when Reid endorses it he is forced to go along with the prevailing wind. He later complains that these training courses are simply an extra burden, and that “pressure is part of the job.” “In which case Derek, I’m sure you’ll relish the challenge of some more,” Brownlow hits back, summing up their entire relationship. The stress indicators they should be looking out for are “irritability, insomnia, heavy drinking.” “I think you’ve just about described all the relief, sir,” Conway notes tartly, which brings a smile to Cryer’s face. The moment he spots an opportunity to put the boot into Reid and CID in general, he leaps at it. Having unwittingly helped a car thief tow away a pricey motor, Reg is hauled into Conway’s office for an ear-bashing. “I have bad dreams about you, Hollis. But even in my worst nightmares, you don’t pull strokes like this… It’s bad enough that we can’t stop thousands of cars being nicked all over London every year. But the public, disillusioned and cynical though they may be about our performance, still don’t expect us to function as accessories to acts of larceny!” However, when he learns that no information on hook-up thefts had been passed to uniform by CID, he can hardly contain his delight. In Reid’s office he puts on a prize performance, insisting that “you could have knocked me down with a feather. I said, ‘That’s not the way Kim Reid runs CID, she’s got them by the short and curlies’, but… One way or the other, the DAC’s gonna hear about it, which is particularly unfortunate given that he’s been such a strong supporter of yours.” Batting him off with her usual measured calm, Reid’s smile vanishes once he has left. We’re reminded that, despite being one of the bosses, they still view her with suspicion because she’s part of “the brains.” She doesn’t expect her team to be transparent and pure at all times, in contrast to the firm opinions of her uniformed colleagues. After Dashwood is hit by a complaint from his snout, he clears his name and assists a raid on the man’s house to recover stolen property, which is frowned on in a subsequent meeting of top brass. “It’s no big deal, I mean malicious complaints are an occupational hazard, we all get them,” says a diffident Reid. “I’ve never had one,” Monroe replies pointedly, making it clear that he views CID as a bunch of chancers.
The benefit of a new character, especially one in authority, is that we get to look at established figures with a fresh eye. The first episode of the year, ‘Grief’, focuses on the antics of Dashwood, who is once again employing a dubious tactic to get the result he wants. He escorts the elderly victim of a purse theft onto her day centre bus, then gets it to stop by the courtroom where the alleged thief is due to emerge at any moment. This shaky attempt at corroborative ID is blown out of the water when a CPS official reveals that the case has been postponed, so the man will not be appearing in court. “All parties were informed of the application for a month’s adjournment.” In full on prima donna mode, Mike heads for the Crime Support Unit to demand an explanation. The secretary there explains she’s “not used to these new word processors” and gets a broadside in return. Reid learns that a complaint has been made by the CSU about his behaviour, and calls him into her an office for an informal chat that turns into a discussion of his failings, particularly his attempted stunt earlier that day. “Three years ago you could have got away with it. But you knew he was going to be there! It would stink to high heaven as a set-up job, it wouldn’t even get beyond CPS! No Mike, it’s like car conversations, they don’t – no, can’t – happen any more.” When she tries to get under his skin, asking if he has any problems at home or work, he denies it. “There’s something niggling at the back of my mind about you,” she persists. “All right, so you’re always immaculate and your pocketbook is spotless, but if you were giving it one hundred per cent you wouldn’t really have the time. Tell me, what are your ambitions?” “I don’t want to talk about it.” “Which confirms my feelings about you. You have an attitude problem. I believe in saying it as I see it, and in my view you are a loner, and somewhat on the defensive.” Standing by his belief that the support unit is to blame, Mike is taken to his desk by Reid and asked if he’s looked at his in-tray. “I’ve been stitched here,” he protests, before grudgingly reading out a memo about the case postponement. “And what date was that signed?” “Yesterday.” “Now I want you to take stock – I don’t know where your mind is, but it’s certainly not on work. And you can resist me all you like, but I intend to find out.”
Reid homes in on another DC in ‘Now We’re Motoring’, a beautiful character study of Tosh, the “last man on my little list… Whenever I fix up a heart to heart with Tosh Lines, something always seems to come up.” “Well Tosh likes to put himself about a bit – you and I might see him as a bit of an old-style DC.” “Alistair, we’re talking about a man who’s pushing forty. We’ve got kids who could do the legwork. Frankly, I’d expect a man of his commitments to be setting his sights a bit higher; looking for advancement?” “Not everybody’s leadership material, ma’am.” “No, but being a detective on my firm is going to be a bit like riding a bike: you’ve got to keep moving or you’ll fall on your head.” Tosh insists that he’s “not competing for brownie points. I get the job done and that should be enough.” We have already seen him leave his rust-bucket of a car at a local garage, where he tells the mechanic wistfully of his early days as a wannabe racing driver, and the ambitions he had for the future. “We were going to go places. But you need sponsorship, money to burn – you get married, start a family, they burn your money for you. I’ve done hard graft now for twenty, what – twenty more years? Never taken a penny off the dole, the S.S., and what have I got to show for it, nothing! Nothing but debts! If I got behind the wheel of a great car, I’d floor the gas pedal, never come back.” “What about the wife, the kids, the mortgage, the MOT?” “Life is not a dress rehearsal, Billy. You get a chance and you go for it. It might not come again.” Impressed by his strength of feeling, Billy arranges a meeting with a business contact of his, who offers him the chance to drive a stolen car all the way to Spain that very evening. “It can’t be too soon for me, mate.”
Meanwhile, Reid wants to look at the case papers Tosh has been working on. In a priceless moment she fishes out an empty crisp packet and passes it to the apologetic Greig. “Looks as though he hasn’t got around to writing up his notes yet, ma’am.” “Looks to me as though he hasn’t got off his bum – where is he?” She tracks him to a cafe, watches him tuck in for a while and enters to confront him, moments before his new business partners return. Vamping, he reassures them that the deal is still on, but that she is part of it: “Kim and me, we’re going to Spain – together. We don’t have any secrets, do we?” he asks, taking her hand in a show of affection which she returns with a hidden glower. “We’re doing a runner, we can’t turn back! I’m ditching a wife and five kids.” “Alfie said this was our big chance together,” she continues, gamely picking up the baton and gilding it with her Fraud Squad background. “I work for a building society. I’ve been transferring money into a fake account. We’re going to use plastic, we’ll rip it off in slices at every service till between here and… the Spanish frontier.” Her hangdog expression falters when Tosh asks if the villains can book them a double cabin on the ferry. “Sure,” replies the boss. “I’ll ask them to lay on a bottle of champagne and a Janet Reger nightie, how about that?” “There’d better be a result out of this or I’ll have your guts for garters!” she hisses at Tosh. But they manage to keep up the act while they collect the motor from the garage. On the open road, he reveals that he is supposed to deliver it to Spain for shipping to Morocco, in exchange for cannabis. He suggests hopefully that they should play their parts right to the end: “Keep going, through France, over the border, front up the real barons.” Reid tells him that someone probably will, but it’s a job for an agency way above their heads, and directs him to take the next left. “Yeah, I know ma’am,” he replies in a resigned voice. “It brings us back to Sun Hill.” This lovely ending makes it plain that no leap of imagination was required for Tosh’s cover story; if he had the chance, there’s nothing he would love more than to run for the hills.
Watched with the benefit of hindsight, Reid’s tenure on the show is rather overshadowed by the sheer number of guest appearances by her eventual successor, Jack Meadows. They become so frequent that it seems as if Simon Rouse was being courted for the DCI role well in advance. At this stage Meadows is still a Detective Superintendent, and keen to let people know it every time AMIP are called in, marching around dispensing orders while his bagman, DS Chris Lovell, rides happily on his coat-tails. The latter proves a constant source of irritation to Burnside and Roach, passing on the governor’s instructions as though he is their superior. When they get a scoop on a major source of information and Lovell asks feebly if they want him in on this, Burnside is happy to oblige: “Yeah – go and fetch us two teas.” “You mustn’t let Burnside wind you up,” Meadows later impresses on his deputy. “He’s all wind and water. Put it down to the generation gap, Chris – you’re the future.” However, the same episode proves him spectacularly wrong. A year of suspicion and finger-pointing within CID turns out to be an extended practical joke on the viewer and on Meadows in particular. In ‘On the Take’, a team of armed robbers is a no-show and it’s clear that information is being leaked. Roach looks into a dodgy garage used by the firm, on the pretext of checking their MOT certificates, and discovers one belonging to a C. Lovell; the Lovell they know used to be on the robbery squad and still drinks with them. When the idea is put to Meadows he dismisses it as a personal vendetta by Burnside, but the garage owner is pulled in and names Lovell. Meadows listens to the tape himself and is forced to call in MS15, headed by the fearsome DCS Petch, who finally manages to get someone’s head on the block. It’s not suggested that Lovell was behind the previous leaks, in some huge web of corruption, but there is an echo of the unmasking of H in Line of Duty, in that the culprit turns out to be an innocuous little weed who was hiding in plain sight the whole time. Grilled over his lack of supervision, Meadows learns that his own car was taken into the garage by Lovell, supposedly on the promise of getting it MOTed for him. “I trusted you!” he yells at his former subordinate as they meet in the corridor. “They’re going to throw the book at me on this one,” he tells Burnside – and his punishment is just around the corner…
One can feel the gears grinding as Reid is also shuffled towards the exit. Her friendships with senior officers in the chain of command, which are established right from the start, provide a useful pretext for moving her on as she is destined for bigger and brighter things. In ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, she attends a meeting on European inter-agency co operation with Assistant Commissioner Renshaw, who asks cautiously whether everything is all right at the nick she was parachuted into at his request. “Just a clash of personalities, nothing that can’t be fixed,” she assures him. But she has already found Jim conducting an interview for a case that Roach dumped on him at the last moment, when he was supposed to be doing a report for her. Before he can get to it, Jim is dragged out on enquiries by Burnside and spends all day trailing round in pursuit of a result. For a second time he has to explain to Reid why he’s not finished the report: “I’ll work late tonight and finish it, I know what to do.” “Did Inspector Burnside know about the report?” she asks him, and he realises he is a pawn in the eternal power struggle between them. As he settles down to a long night with the typewriter, he gets a further warning from Mike: “When two worlds collide, if I were you I’d try not to get stuck in the middle.” Then in ‘A Woman Scorned’, Reid uses a lunch with Renshaw to suggest that Burnside should be encouraged towards a new role that suits his “obvious leadership skills.” He sees right through her bluff: “Your predecessor at Sun Hill, Gordon Wray, tried to get him moved on. He was a bit more honest about his feelings. He said he couldn’t get on with him: found him belligerent and obstructive. Turned every disagreement over policy into a personal battle. But I’ve never believed in solving a problem by shunting it somewhere else,” he declares – an attitude evidently not shared in real life by Michael Chapman. “If this is your way of telling me you can’t cope with him, it’s something I’d rather not be hearing; at least, not in any official capacity.” She returns to Sun Hill to find that Burnside has authorised overtime for Jim without asking her, and tries to contain her anger. When he swans off to the pub with Roach, saying he will have to postpone their planned meeting, she has had enough. “You’re mucking me about, Frank,” she announces, ordering him in for 8 am the next day. “We’ve got a lot to discuss.” In the ladies’ she meets Viv, who sympathises with the woman she has just arrested for murder, after putting up with months of abuse. “Taking a spanner to the back of a man’s head?” “Well, haven’t you ever felt like that?” “You want to know how often? Every day of the working week,” declares Reid, in a line that now seems to chime uncomfortably with Carolyn Pickles’ experiences on the show. “But there are more subtle weapons.”
Given her background as the daughter of a renowned judge, James Pickles, it’s ironic that Carolyn Pickles is one of the few cast members not to appear before one this year. The sudden explosion of courtroom stories in Series 7 is another sign of the need to economise, following the expensive move to Merton, and that economy is built into the move itself. When the show settled in its new home, the production team fashioned not just a new station but a specially constructed hospital and courtroom set. The latter sees so much action throughout 1991 that we realise how absent court episodes have been up to this point. Save for a brief scene of Galloway collecting an arrest warrant from a magistrate in Series 1’s ‘The Drugs Raid’, we are kept out of court until the early half-hour episode ‘Witness’, where Taff is giving evidence at a trial. Inevitably it falls through, and he kicks his helmet down the corridor in frustration as he leaves. It’s no great surprise that the show had kept well away from legal proceedings up till now, the same way it avoided undercover work for the most part. This territory was already well-traversed by other police dramas, dating back to shows like Crown Court. The Bill’s M.O. was to get out into the real world, on the shoulders of the officers, following multiple plot strands at once; by its very nature, courtroom drama is static and limited, defined by a rigid visual and verbal framework that makes it hard to offer the unexpected. At a basic level there are two stories, the criminals on trial or the police themselves, but since it would be rather dull and linear to proceed smoothly to a conviction, the majority of these trials end in acquittal. When it’s an officer in the dock, there is some satisfaction in seeing a character admired and respected by their colleagues getting off the hook, as in the case of Tony Stamp (or Sally Johnson; or John Boulton; or Eddie Santini… all right then, just Tony Stamp). At this stage in the show’s history, when the regulars are all on the right side of the law, this option is off the table. In theory, courtroom stories offer little but the dispiriting sight of crooks going free due to police blunders.
But for any work of fiction to rise above the generic, the devil is in the detail, and this is what The Bill was made for. Instead of just depicting court procedure, the show is more ambitious, digging below the surface of the justice system and asking why the same assumptions, and mistakes, are continually made. This is the same ground that’s been explored so well in long-form, twenty-first century crime shows like The Wire and Spiral, which over the course of ten episodes depict not just the efforts of the police to catch villains but the resulting struggle in the courts to convict them, and how the two overlap and influence one another. Despite a completely different format of self-contained episodes, The Bill was equally well placed to take this ‘big picture’ view, each story highlighting a different but connected aspect of the same problem. We are reminded that every case that has been weighed and measured by the police before being submitted for prosecution has to go through the same process all over again, to meet the threshold required for success. Moreover, when it reaches court the issues are only just beginning. In PJ Hammond’s ‘Machines’, the efforts of Roach to put away a fraudster are hampered by his defence team’s claim of a medical condition, peritonitis of the kidneys, which has kept him away from the committal hearing. “It’s my bet they’ll try for a further remand,” says the prosecuting counsel, “with bail again.” “That can go on and on until it no longer looks like a triable offence!” Roach explodes in frustration. “Which means we can’t take it to a higher court, because some clever bastard will start saying that a long remand is sentence enough! And why was this case switched to a bench? Because a stipendiary wouldn’t have put up with this, he’d have seen right through the bull.” “You can thank Price’s solicitor for that… Let’s say she know her courts, and when to keep her clients away from the stipes.”
It turns out that the magistrate chairing that day’s bench is none other than a member of the General Medical Council, and therefore inclined to look sympathetically on a medical ailment. In spite of the prosecutor’s request that he be committed to trial at a higher court straight away, the magistrate insists that Price is given the chance to present his case in person first, and bail is duly granted. Sneering that he “plugs himself in and out of that machine whenever he feels like it”, Roach sets out to prove that Price is faking his illness and stakes out his home. “He’s probably sitting in there right now, his feet up with a glass of scotch, toasting to British justice… To think I paid my national insurance contributions all these years to support toe rags like him. Haven’t got a pair of pliers, have you?” he asks Jim hopefully. “You could get up on the roof and disconnect his electricity supply.” They seek the advice of an ex-DS from Sun Hill who was invalided out of the job after an assault that left him needing dialysis four times a day. We see that the bonds of the police are stronger than those of illness; far from telling them to back off, he recommends that they hound Price relentlessly and talk to all his neighbours and people in the area, in the hope of panicking him into error. Their tactic seems to be working when a woman runs into his home and they leave together, driving away at top speed. Roach and Carver’s pursuit leads to the car crashing, and the woman yells at them hysterically that she was rushing her father to hospital because his machine has failed. But instead of a pat ending in which we all learn the importance of not jumping to conclusions, the story finishes on a far more cynical note. “What about the warrant?” Jim asks as Price is wheeled off to a hospital ward. “What’s the point? He’s just brought himself another six months’ freedom,” observes Roach – and sure enough, Price is well enough to give them an airy wave goodbye from his trolley.
Throughout these courtroom episodes there is a sense of two tribes at war, police and solicitors, the criminal case providing the battlefield. Each has their own particular culture and set of rules that they guard jealously, and the principle of justice begins to recede into the distance. When prosecution lawyers explain the tactics used by the defence and the implications for the police, it’s couched in professional admiration for the skill of their opposite number. One writer in particular, Carolyn Sally Jones, delivers a whole string of episodes focused on legal procedure. ‘In Chambers’ sees DS Greig visit the CPS office to discuss an upcoming arson case. “You know your CPS onions Alistair, there’s no denying that,” Tosh observes. “Yeah, you don’t get files back marked ‘try harder’,” Viv adds bitterly. Yet, despite being the only member of CID besides Dashwood who could mingle with the legal fraternity without being asked to serve the drinks, Greig soon finds himself well out of his element. After being told that he can’t park in the space reserved for the head of chambers, he meets the foppish barrister who has been assigned to the case, his first priority to tot up the expenses on his previous job. The arsonist now admits that he started the fire but claims not to be of sound mind. An expert psychiatrist arrives, is introduced to DS ‘Alan’ Greig, and makes an intriguing comment on the weaknesses of British law: “There’s no doubt he’s suffering from a serious psychiatric disorder.” “So you’d side with the defence psychiatrist?” “That’s the trouble with an adversarial system, experts are supposed to take ‘sides.’ I’m just here to give you my unbiased opinion.” Greig is dismayed as he realises the plea of diminished responsibility could work. “You must look like miracle workers, doctor, to devious bastards like that,” he remarks venomously – the embarrassed reaction of the CPS official proving that ultimately, Greig is a copper at heart.
There’s a sense of a performance being put on, people going through a ritual, and this continues in Jones’ next episode, ‘Jobs for the Boys’, where the focus is on the front line of the legal profession and the legacy of Tom Penny’s ‘that’ll do’ approach. Stamp and Datta bring in a conman suspected of breaking into an antiques shop and Tony calls on Ray Baker to act as his brief. “He never gives us any aggro, does he? Sgt. Penny used him a lot. Good as gold, is Ray. I mean there’s some briefs that like dragging things out – it’s a bit of an ego boost, and a waste of taxpayers’ money.” When Baker arrives he is all smiles with the PCs, handing out gum and laughing with them about old cases, which the irritated Maitland puts a stop to. Baker sees his client and immediately advises him to put his hands up, as he always does when representing someone. But Maitland declares he is not happy and wants further investigations, adding, “I don’t like tame briefs.” It transpires that this conman had ‘swapped’ jobs with an accomplice of his, having in fact committed a much bigger robbery that night. Baker returns, asking why time is being wasted on a straight guilty plea, only to learn that he nearly aided a miscarriage of justice. Realising that Tony wants to distance himself from him, he reveals that he saw Phil Young conduct an illegal pocket search in custody earlier, in the absence of Maitland. “Now I could have kicked up a fuss about that, but no – I kept my mouth shut, like I always do. Only it’s not appreciated any more, is it? Even if you don’t make trouble, people treat you like you’re some kind of bad smell, now why is that?” “Maybe because you’re supposed to make trouble,” Tony replies tellingly. The adversarial system extends into police stations as well as the courts: there is an expectation that lawyers will cause problems, and that battles will need to be fought, so when one of them is too accommodating it makes the police suspicious.
The ongoing tension between CID and CPS comes to a head in ‘With Intent’, where Jim and Tosh are working on an aggravated burglary. They learn that the original solicitor is off ill and have to deal with his replacement. “Would you believe it, they’ve done it to us again – sent us a two bob lawyer who doesn’t give a toss what happens!” snarls Jim. Like Dashwood before him, he hasn’t received a crucial piece of correspondence, and on his return to Sun Hill he continues to rant about being saddled with “some pillock from the agency.” “It’s impossible to use in-house lawyers every time, Jim,” Greig points out. “Look at the courts they have to cover.” After another unhappy visit to the Crime Support Group, where he finds the mislaid correspondence, Jim suggest that “stuff gets sent over by carrier pigeon next time, seems we haven’t quite got the hang of the fax!” With perfect timing, he is sent to a seminar where the hapless chief prosecutor Robert Hayward has been given the unenviable task of explaining, and defending, CPS procedure to a room of sceptical officers. “I hope this isn’t going to end up in a lot of personal axe-grinding,” a worried Reid tells Conway beforehand. “I don’t blame them for wanting to let off steam, do you?” he replies. Hayward declines Brownlow’s offer of a drink, saying he needs his wits about him: “I’ve got my flak jacket ready. They make it regulation wear on occasions like this.” He opens with a history lesson on the origins of the Crown Prosecution Service – along with PACE, the two real-life developments in policing during the life of The Bill that had the biggest influence on its storytelling. We learn that it was formed five years earlier, and the year in question, 1986, is significant as it coincides with the enforced eighteen-month gap between The Bill’s second and third hour-long series, when the show had to relocate from Wapping to Kensington. It can’t be accidental that in Series 3, Galloway and the rest of CID are suddenly jittery over the questions they’re being asked by the courts and the evidence they must provide to judges; real life issues filter into the show after writers have been able to reflect on them, in the same way the demands of PACE make themselves known in that series for the first time.
Hayward explains that the primary goal of the CPS was to relieve the pressure on overworked police departments and their legal teams. “Because you were trying to be two hundred people at once, too many weak cases reached court. Nobody knew which legal criteria to apply; officers wrote statements on the back of cigarette packets. Well, you’ll notice: that doesn’t happen any more. Instead we send you hundreds of forms to fill in… it must feel like a never-ending pain in the neck. Am I right?” Roach challenges his assumptions about the weakness of police cases, and that knowing a suspect’s form makes the police prejudiced when examining a new offence. “Isn’t there something to be said for that old adage: ‘Let the courts decide’?” “It’s a very old adage indeed; it encourages a certain laxness in officers. Why weigh up all the evidence when you can just have a slanging match in court?” His frustration boiling over, Jim starts to barrack him relentlessly: “You only back odds-on favourites. You cover your backs, don’t you?” “It’s a fallacy that we only back winners. If you look at the code, you’ll see that all we ask for is a realistic prospect of a conviction.” “Well maybe we should turn back the clock, to a time when we did our own prosecuting. Because one way or another, we’re getting a second-rate service; the CSG doesn’t know its arse from its elbow half the time, there’s no communication, no backup!” His discontent spreads to other officers, and an increasingly annoyed Reid takes him to one side, ordering him to listen to the answers for a change. Conway typically sits on the fence, agreeing that the CPS do good work but pining for the days when he did his own prosecuting. “Of course if it was a complex case, we called in our own legal team for advice – and I must say, we took a pride in the reports we sent in to them. They were works of art!” “And occasionally, if you’ll forgive me Chief Inspector, they were works of fiction. Only nobody mentioned it because in those days, if a policeman said ‘jump’, a lawyer said ‘how high?’”
Back on the offensive, Jim argues that isolated incidents of cases falling through are in fact the norm. “Like this morning, getting some second-rate lawyer who bottles it out, lets the defence get away with every dirty trick in the book. I start wondering whose side you’re on!” His tirade is only curbed when the “second-rate” lawyer he was complaining about shows up and turns out to be another senior CPS prosecutor. “When did you get your law degree, Jim?” Reid asks scathingly afterwards. “Night school, or some kind of correspondence course?” Taking him into her office, she reveals that there is an immediate ban on overtime: “I’ve seen it Jim, I’ve been there, done it, got the T-shirt. Live this job every waking hour and you’re in the funny farm.” The episode stops short of endorsing Jim’s view that the legal system has become skewed too heavily in favour of the criminal, as opposed to the shaky convictions of former times; but it does imply that when the system is split in two, this leads to both communication problems and a clash of perspectives. The police’s firsthand view of crime and its devastating effect means that “getting involved” is not just a cop show cliché, but an unavoidable reality. This rubs up awkwardly against the detached view of prosecutors, examining facts months after the event. At one stage Hayward notes the difficulty in law of establishing criminal intent, which should be borne in mind when one thinks of the improbable success rate at Sun Hill over the years. If you consider how many of these ‘good results’ actually end in a conviction, and how many are discontinued through failings of evidence or because it’s not deemed worth the time and effort, you realise that actual victories for the officers are scarcer than they appear.
There’s more than one person expressing anger at the CPS during this episode, however. When June declares that they have failed her, we know she has good reason to be aggrieved. The major storyline from the first half of this year involves her ordeals with the legal system. Like the hunt for the Canley Fields serial killer the previous year, the story is entirely the work of Christopher Russell, and displays all the qualities that made him the show’s outstanding writer. The first instalment, ‘Fear or Favour’, opens with those two likeable stalwarts of the Nineties, Tony and Dave, the subject of a racial harassment complaint by Everton Warwick, a community representative of the notorious Jasmine Allen estate. Introduced by Russell in the early half-hour episodes, only in this year does the JA become Sun Hill’s bête noire, the place that officers fear to tread owing to the constant hostility from the locals. Monroe instructs the relief at parade to ensure they handle themselves with courtesy and tact when policing the estate. Once they have gone, Cryer protests at the implication that “this relief is suddenly full of racists… It’s like football. Active players, the ones that get stuck in, well they’re going to get a booking now and then, it’s inevitable. And it’s the same with active policemen.” “So it’s all right for Stamp and Quinnan to push the likes of Everton Warwick around and call them bastard spades?” Monroe challenges him. “Allegedly.” “Allegedly, of course – the classic defence of the crafty copper. Sit tight, say nothing, and they can’t touch you.” “Well it works for the criminals, why shouldn’t we have the same rights?” Cautiously, Delia French asks Tony and Dave exactly what the complaint is about. They explain that they were called to a car theft on the estate and were questioning a suspect when Warwick suddenly popped up to harangue them. “He must have radar,” suggests Tony. “Any arrest within a mile radius and Warwick or his mates are there discussing your parentage.” “So we discussed his,” Dave adds bluntly.
At the same time, the management is trying to build bridges. Brownlow, Conway and Reid attend a meeting to discuss the problems of the Jasmine Allen with Warwick, his friend Rice (played by a young Anthony Warren) and a councillor, Lawrence Joseph. The two youths are unimpressed by this charm offensive, hardly bothering to shake Reid’s hand as she introduces herself. Joseph is straight on the attack: “What is Everton to think of his chances of getting justice when your own statistics are against you? More than three hundred cases of racial harassment in the last three years and only one per cent of officers involved get disciplined. One per cent? Does this mean that ninety-nine per cent of black people are liars?” “To your people on the streets we’re still crap and that’s the way you’ll go on treating us!” Warwick declares, which ignites Conway’s temper. “That does cut both ways – our officers are a constant target!” Brownlow tries to drag the conversation back to the wider issues of policing the estate, but faces more criticism for heavy-handed tactics and sudden TSG raids without any warning. “If pushed too hard,” Joseph warns him, “members of our community may also start acting without consultation.” Brownlow later describes Conway’s input as “not the most constructive I’ve seen you make”, urging him to consider the progress that has been made in getting the black community to set foot willingly in a police station, something that wouldn’t have happened two years earlier. Conway, however, is having none of it. “We both know crime is flourishing on Jasmine Allen – not big crime, admittedly. Crime we turn a blind eye to… And when the crime gets a little too big, and we act, what do we get? Co-operation? Community understanding? No! We get a bollocking from Councillor Joseph, and a threat. He’s virtually telling us to keep out. Policing is a very simple thing. You screw the ones who deserve it and help the ones who don’t, and you do that on the Jasmine Allen estate just the same as anywhere else – without fear or favour!”
Once they arrive on the estate, Tony wastes no time informing Delia, “I hate this place.” With the misanthropic view of humanity that comes with years in the job, he observes, “I don’t mind the architecture. I suspect it looked quite impressive as a model, when they built it. It’s just a pity they had to move people in and spoil it.” As they pass along a walkway, he measures the progress of the last two years in slightly different terms to Brownlow: “Two years ago they would have dropped a telly on your head if you walked under one of these. They don’t drop tellies any more; they’ve all got new ones.” They pay a visit to a sympathiser on the estate, a middle-aged black man called Monty who is happy to “make tea for Babylon now and then” because of his concerns over the growing drug problem. When Tony spots a deal in progress from his window, he convinces the doubtful Delia that they can make a quick, low-profile arrest, which turns into a full-on disaster. Chasing a youth through the estate, Tony sees him run into a youth club guarded by Rice and his mates, insisting that they won’t allow anyone in. Delia begs Tony to pull out, but he insists he’s not leaving without a body. “You’ve got a body, Babylon,” Warwick purrs menacingly as he appears from nowhere. “Keep it.” When back-up arrives, Tony and Delia are being chased by a raging mob. In the darkness of the garages, a scuffle breaks out in which June is thrown to one side and punched in the stomach and face by Warwick. She is bundled into the car with Delia and the police vehicles make their escape as though fleeing a war zone. The full scale of the problem becomes apparent at the nick, when Peters is charging Warwick and learns there are two witnesses to the attack: PCs Stamp and Quinnan. “So, this is policing without fear or favour, is it?” Brownlow asks Conway. “Acting on your instructions, was he? PC Stamp. He couldn’t have made a better hash of it if he had been.”
In floods of tears, Delia admits that in the scuffle she lost the bag of drugs that proved there was any dealing going on. “We were outside this club, and they just started pushing and shoving Tony… I was so hyped up to do well this week, and then I’m no bloody good when all the trouble starts, I know that! They could have done anything… anything, and I couldn’t have stopped them… I was like an observer, you know? Pathetic…” “You’re not pathetic, you’ve got plenty of bottle,” Cryer reassures her. “What happened today is different. It takes a lot of getting used to. Pure hate, it shakes you up.” But in a clash between the police and the black community, she knows that she will be seen as having let ‘her’ side down, because she’s not really one of them. When Cryer asks whether Tony was “doing his Lone Ranger bit”, she gamely sticks to the code of honour, insisting that he did nothing wrong, which doesn’t fool her seasoned skipper. The injured June, having been told, “It’s lucky that you weren’t pregnant”, is sent to hospital by the FME, who doubts that a charge of GBH will stick. “The injuries are worth an ABH, no question. Are your witnesses, that’s the point?” Meanwhile Brownlow tells Peters to bail Warwick as soon as he is charged: “I want you to understand the wider political implications of this. Less than an hour after attending a meeting in this building, Warwick is dragged back in. Of the twenty or thirty people allegedly attacking the police on the Jasmine Allen estate, he’s the only one brought in. A lot of people are going to find that extremely provocative.” “Aren’t we forgetting something?” Cryer intercedes. “June Ackland has been assaulted! She was punched in the face, whacked in the stomach. She may be permanently damaged for all we know. And all I’ve heard since then is, ‘Ah, are we sure, can we prove it, why have we arrested him, what about his friends?’ I don’t give a toss about his friends. A police officer has been hurt!” “Of course I’m concerned about June Ackland,” Brownlow hits back. “I’m also concerned for the welfare of life and property in this borough. And I do not need you to teach me my responsibilities, sergeant.”
When Conway speaks to Tony, he wastes no time getting to the heart of the issue. “Are you a racist, Stamp? Only whenever there’s a point of friction with the black community, you’re the piece of grit they’re rubbing up against. Would you like a transfer to Aberystwyth?” “No thank you, sir. I hate the Welsh.” “You are a racist then.” “Only against the Welsh. Otherwise the only people I hate are slag – black, white, pink, green, the colour’s immaterial.” Brownlow suggests that he escort June to hospital, “As it was effectively you who put her there.” But Tony only realises the wider cost of what has happened when he drops June off at casualty and sees his ally, Monty, being stretchered in by paramedics. “I fell down the stairs,” he insists as he is wheeled into the hospital. The ‘political implications’ that Brownlow hints at begin to unfold in subsequent episodes. When he learns from Reid that the case papers have been returned by the CPS, “discontinued in the public interest”, he opines that this is probably for the best. “I’m not sure that’s how Ackland will see it, sir.” At an area meeting with DAC Hicks, he reassures him that everything is quiet on the estate at present, only to be informed that there is a whisper of “something serious being orchestrated London-wide, on certain estates – and one of those estates is Jasmine Allen. The community initiative there means a lot to us. It would be a pity to see it go up in flames: metaphorically or literally.” Learning that the officer concerned will probably want to take the issue further, Hicks asks, “Why, does she have a querulous nature? Perhaps your ‘very sound’ officer could be encouraged to take the wider view. We are here to preserve the social and physical fabric of the capital. We do that through preserving our team spirit: by shrugging our shoulders, not by developing chips on them.”
But June proves unwilling to pull together and accept the big picture. “The Jasmine Allen estate is a tinderbox at the moment, this is just the sort of spark that could set off serious public disorder. You have to ask yourself what is more important, the possible loss of life and property or you pursuing your pound of flesh?” “It’s not a pound of flesh sir, you’re being totally unreasonable! I don’t see how denying someone the right to justice can possibly be for the greater good, not in the long term! Warwick’s not facing trial for murder, all we’re talking about is a measly ABH. So what if he gets done, what’s he facing? Life? No, two months’ suspended at the most. How can that possibly be an excuse for mayhem? It’s blackmail, on you and me, and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise! Whose public interest are we talking about anyway? The ones who might get in the way of the petrol bombs, or senior officers at area, who do sod all for community relations except write papers about it?” ‘Disappointed’ at her attitude, Brownlow observes that her negative feelings about the job are understandable in the wake of the Gordon Wray incident, which triggers what was always The Bill’s greatest, most satisfying spectacle: June in attack mode. “Actually sir, I do have ‘negative feelings’ about the job at the moment – and they have nothing to do with my sex life. They have to do with questions like, ‘What the hell are we doing? Why the hell are we doing it?’ And it seems to me that all we’re doing is screwing up people’s lives! And if we’re not doing that we’re letting other people screw ours up, by assaulting us! It seems to me, as a humble foot-soldier, that nineteen thousand assaults a year on plods and plonks is a good few thousand too many. And as far as I’m concerned, if the CPS won’t prosecute, then I will. I shall take out a private summons against Mr Warwick – and if area don’t like it, they can write a paper on it; and you know what they can do with their paper!” The scene is memorable not just for the fire and fury that Trudie Goodwin excelled at, but for that wonderful, characteristic touch of Peter Ellis: bowing his head in defeat as someone embarks on a rant, knowing his efforts at diplomacy have failed yet again. “I’m afraid you rather overestimated my powers of persuasion,” he informs Hicks by phone, sounding suitably chastened.
The next chapter, ‘Saints and Martyrs’, highlights the thankless task June has taken on by pursuing her claim. With a further appeal to the CPS rejected, her only option is a private prosecution, at her own cost. She asks Reg if the Federation can contribute towards this and is told “they should be able to come up with something in a defence situation”, but not in other circumstances. Unsurprisingly he wants to turn it into a political issue, emphasising the lack of support from management, and is keen to check that she isn’t backing out. “You’ve got a wider responsibility here, you know.” “My only responsibility is to myself,” she corrects him sharply. She is then sounded out by Cryer, who points out that she had little hope of keeping her private summons private: “Consult Reg Hollis, consult the world!” He asks if she’s thought it through, observing that, “If you want to throw away five hundred quid on a barrister that’s up to you. What exactly do you think you’re going to win?” Whatever she may have told Reg, June surely speaks for every officer in the force when she declares emphatically, “The right not to be used as a punchbag!” “Your card will be marked. You will be the WPC who put two fingers up to the system. If you’ve got any ambition left in the job, think about it carefully.” Hurt by the scepticism of someone she always looked up to, June thanks for him his advice but insists that she will proceed. Later, there is a tense exchange between Cryer and Reg where the former suggests that June has never got the support she needed, hence her now being out on a limb. “She ain’t out on a limb! You ask anyone in this station, we’re right behind her, one hundred per cent!” “Right behind her?” Cryer scoffs. “Canteen cowboys, egging her on from a safe distance?”
Meanwhile, Brownlow attends a further area meeting about Jasmine Allen, and a press officer sits in on their deliberations. He takes a calculating view of the situation: “If Warwick went down, riots, either spontaneous or manufactured, would be on the cards. But if that was as a result of the full and fair process of the law, the PR damage would be sustainable. Certainly more sustainable than the damage that might result from the alternative. If you keep putting the squeeze on this stroppy WPC to pull out, who’s to say she won’t squeal? There’s plenty of newspapers, quality and tabloid, not entirely in love with us. They’ll have a field day. Whatever the truth of the matter, you’re talking about another big dent in the image of the Met. She’s likely to lose the damn case anyway, why don’t you just let her go ahead?” This is too much for Brownlow, who finally displays some backbone: “I don’t think she should be allowed to go ahead. I think she should be positively encouraged to. She is not ‘stroppy’; she is an efficient, conscientious and loyal officer. She feels badly let down, not by the CPS, but by senior management. It seems to me that we expect an awful lot from our foot-soldiers. We control their lives whether they like it or not, both on and off duty, we never let them forget that they’re police officers. June Ackland accepts the high standards we set and lives by them; it seems to me she’s entitled to expect loyalty and support in return. If we’re going to put image and damage limitation first, and police officers second, then morale in this force is going to reach the rock bottom that we deserve.” When he returns to Sun Hill, Cryer is surprised to see him, expecting that he would have stayed for lunch. “No, I might have got ground glass in my soup,” he mutters darkly. He calls June into his office and this time promises that he will support her “to the hilt, in any way that I can. Now that may not amount to very much, but at least I can assure you there’ll be no repercussions, career-wise. Not while I’m your chief superintendent.” Gobsmacked, June thanks him and the episode ends in a rare moment of happiness for her, grinning from ear to ear.
What stands out in this storyline is Russell’s remarkable, and rare, ability to discuss contentious topics in an even-handed way without being lofty or disengaged from them. We are told, not lectured, about the issues and we come to understand how political forces end up overriding and crushing the rights of individuals. ‘The Public Interest’, in which Hicks raises the spectre of mass riots on the Jasmine Allen, was transmitted four days after the beating of Rodney King by LA police officers, captured by a witness on a camcorder. The riots that followed the clearing of these men the following year are exactly the kind of thing that we see the senior command running scared from in the show. The events of the next few years in LA, and the plummeting reputation of the LAPD, also seem pertinent when watching the final instalment, ‘The Best You Can Buy’. When Tony arrives to support June at the magistrate’s court, she feels compelled to remind him that “this isn’t us and them – it’s me against Warwick.” He proves her point by assuming that the black barrister he sees is Warwick’s brief, when in fact she is June’s. On the stand he is reminded of the harassment complaint that resulted from their previous encounter: “The complaint is still outstanding, your honour, but I fully expect to be cleared.” When it’s Dave’s turn, he backs up Tony and is confident afterwards that they are winning. “You didn’t have to smile through the whole thing,” Monroe says disapprovingly. The defence tactic is not to malign June but rather her colleagues, arguing that in the dim light of the underground garages she made a mistaken ID that they reinforced because they had a grudge to bear. The prosecutor does her best to smear Warwick in return, pointing out that he has three previous convictions in the past three years. “And on each of these occasions, you pleaded not guilty – is that correct, Mr Warwick?” Reminded of a previous complaint he made over racial harassment, he admits, “Yes, it was dismissed – they’re all dismissed. What chance have we got against Babylon?” he proclaims, playing to the appreciative gallery that has already cheered him into the witness box. In summing up, the defence counsel argues that there is a degree of reasonable doubt, “that in the middle of a violent and frightening melee in semi-darkness, she glimpsed a face – and that her colleagues’ certainty became her certainty.” Even June herself seems briefly convinced by this argument. “You sit there listening to the defence and half the time you wonder if you imagined it all.”
When the not guilty verdict is announced, the outcome is rendered doubly humiliating by the presence of the relief as moral support. The scenes instantly put the viewer in mind of America’s reaction to the OJ Simpson acquittal a few years later: every white face dismayed, every black face jubilant, save those connected with the police. Similarly, the outcome has everything to do with the image of the police, and nothing to do with the facts. “Can we move?” Tony snaps as the officers stand watching Warwick’s team celebrate. “It’s a travesty, whole system’s on their side,” he rants as he strides away. “I’ll have him next time. I’ll do a really professional job.” June is straight on his case: “You mean you will fit him up?” “June, he’s given you a hiding and walked away from it!” “Yeah, why?” “Because what is laughingly called ‘the criminal justice system’ has got naff all to do with justice. It’s all about poncy briefs playing word games!” “No, it’s all about juries listening to people like you and thinking: I bet he can tell porkies if he has to. If you want a jury to believe you, then tell the truth – every time, even when it hurts!” But the most telling moment comes afterwards. We expect anger and idealism from June, who always holds people to high standards; but when Cryer asks if she wants to come down the pub to drown her sorrows, she immediately switches tack and tries to make light of the whole thing. “No, there’s nothing to drown. I gave it a go; that’s it. You did warn me.” This playing down of her feelings, from a woman who is always so passionate in her beliefs, is the surest sign of how devastated she is inside. On the steps of the courtroom she runs into Warwick, celebrating in a huddle with his mates, and he steps aside, showing a hint of his guilt. Unlike most other times when we see an officer leaving court in failure, there are no verbals exchanged with the criminal and no promises to get even. Realising that it would be pointless, and that she has to be true to her principles, June simply says, “Thanks” and walks away as the party starts. The moral high ground is a lonely and unrewarding place, as the show so often demonstrates.
Trudie Goodwin revealed on one of the podcast commentaries that she didn’t enjoy the half-hour episodes as much as the hour-long ones – and if one looks at the first twelve to eighteen months of the half hours, it could be argued that the two characters who don’t get a fair crack of the whip are, ironically enough, June et Jim. But as the action shifts to Merton, she starts to get a heftier role in proceedings, and 1991 is perhaps the Year of June: a year that sees her assaulted and pushed through the justice system, ends with her being held hostage by an escaped convict and his deranged lover, and still has time to fit in an armed siege where she plays a central role. JC Wilsher’s ‘Cold Turkey’ is something of a break with the two-part stories that had gone before, which were usually split over different time periods and individually titled. This time the action follows on continuously, giving it the feel of an hour-long episode that has been sawn in half. The detective work is confined mainly to Part 1, in which a series of crimes are gradually connected to the same man, an addict suffering from barbiturate withdrawal who takes refuge in the flat of his partner and her child. Called out because of sounds of an argument, Tony thinks he is dealing with a domestic and gets no response when he calls through the letterbox. “If there’s one thing that really gets on my box, it’s dumb insolence; slag just ignoring you,” he whinges, and almost has his face taken off when a knife is thrust out at him. The standard police operation for hostage scenarios swings into gear. Having discovered the man’s name, Barry Cutler, they deliver a phone to the flat so that Conway can negotiate with him. However, since he cannot control the troops on the ground from the next-door flat, they need to bring in a PC from the relief who has negotiating experience – and June is the lucky lady. Collecting her thoughts for the challenge ahead, she learns that Reg is going to be her back-up in the flat, “Just you and me, and the hotline.” “Do you think Conway’d agree to swapping me for the hostage?” Cutler is getting increasingly wound up by the police activity outside, and June promises, “Nothing bad will happen while you and I are talking.” As she tries to build empathy with him, she asks about his past life and he reveals that, “People have been telling me not to worry since I was a kid. I’m the sort of bloke, I walk down the street and old dears say to me, ‘Cheer up love, it may never happen.’” “They say that to me sometimes,” June reveals. “It comes of taking things on board too much. You start feeling you’re responsible for everybody else’s problems.”
An attempt is made to lure Cutler out with a tray of food, but this backfires and he becomes enraged. Conway radios Brownlow, saying he wants PT-17 to take Cutler out, and to Brownlow’s credit he is prepared to back up his assessment: “Yes, Derek. Shoot him.” “You heard it. You log it,” Conway instructs Tony bluntly. Reg passes a note to June that makes it clear she has to set up the target. Hearing the child crying of thirst down the line, she says in a hollow voice, “You must be thirsty too, Barry. Why don’t you get yourself a drink? You go to the bathroom, get a drink for yourself and Micky and come back and talk, that’s what matters.” We see a glimpse through the bathroom window from the marksman’s POV, watching Cutler set the child down. The moment he moves to the window, a shot rings out and June bolts back in her chair, eyes wide. TSG break into the flat and the boy and mother are removed safely. Conway goes to see June and in a wonderfully revealing moment finds her sitting with eyes closed, clutching the hand of Reg, the station joke and nuisance, for comfort. He offers his own hand and she snatches hers away, rushing out in fury at being turned into an executioner against her will. Cryer, a man who has already shot dead a criminal himself and had one blown away right in front of him, urges her to see the bigger picture: “It was a better result than we had any right to expect. Thank God we pulled the plug when we did.” “Who’s we?” demands June. “I did it to him! I’ve never touched firearms, I’ve never wanted to, I’d jack this job in if we went armed!” “Now look: stop wallowing in your own grief and think of other people,” she is reproved, an interesting contrast to her own observation about taking on the problems of all and sundry. “From the moment the DAC sanctioned firearms, he was responsible for a death. Mr Brownlow didn’t have to turn up, but he put his fingerprints on it. Then there’s the boy who pulled the trigger.” “So there’s a whole bunch of people out there with bad dreams, is that supposed to make me feel better?” The ethics of firearm use is a subject Wilsher returns to later in the year, but this episode shows how many different judgements go into producing a cut and dried result; paradoxically, the man who did pull the trigger may have the least guilt to deal with.
The great success of June Ackland as a character is to disprove the assertion that baddies are always more interesting than goodies. She strives to do the right thing, but is forever rubbing up against the hypocrisy of the real world, which make it harder and harder for her to contain the innate cynicism that runs alongside her idealistic streak. We can never be sure what situation will provoke her, but we know that what keeps driving her is the importance she attaches to her job, and the difference that a police officer can make. To find the one scene that arguably defines her, look not to her memorable, impassioned rants but at another episode from this year, ‘Kids Don’t Cry Anymore’ by Barry Appleton. Having found a child’s lunchbox with a notebook recording drug deals – “and my mum used to think the Rolling Stones were a threat” – June goes to the local school to identify the boy. The teacher she sees is emphatic that she cannot disclose names. However, June has realised that a drawing of a racing car on the wall matches one she saw in the notebook, and feigns an interest in the kids’ artwork. “You know it’s funny, when I was a kid I always used to draw these quaint little cottages – you know, blue sky, smoke billowing out of the chimney. I suppose it was the kind of nice little home I wanted when I grew up. Now that kid knows what he wants.” “Oh yes, Louis Boosey, he wants to be a racing driver.” Realising too late that she has been conned, the teacher observes that June made the right career move. “Yeah, well, I forgot to mention – that little house I used to draw as a kid. Used to have a little blue and white police car parked in the driveway.”