During the summer of 1983, Thames Television aired a series of six one-off plays under the title ‘Storyboard’. The fourth episode of this series was a 50 minute long play written by Geoff McQueen, called Woodentop, it aired on 16th August 1983. The play followed a young officer, Jim Carver on his first day at Sun Hill Police Station. It was little wonder that Thames Television rapidly commissioned a series in continuance from this play, the series was to be called The Bill.
Whilst writing the first few episodes of this new drama ‘The Bill’ Geoff McQueen invented a formula which was used for decades and kept The Bill different to all other police dramas. McQueen declared that the viewer would only see events from the police officer’s perspective, never from criminal’s point of view. And we never, ever, went home with an officer.
On Tuesday 16th October 1984 the first episode of ‘The Bill’ aired on ITV. The first three series of hour long episodes were aired once weekly after the watershed, allowing storylines to be gritty and true to the era they were filmed in. Each episode had its own individual storyline whilst the workings of the station continued through the series. We were introduced viewers to legendary characters such as Sergeant Bob Cryer and DI Roy Galloway. Many of the characters and the actors who portrayed them rapidly became household names.
After four years, The Bill had become so popular, viewers wanted more. In 1988 the format of The Bill was tweaked to fit into its new timeslot, it became twice weekly airing every Tuesday and Thursday at 8pm. Although many of the storylines lasted for a single episode the programme had a more serialised feel. Due to the earlier timeslot, stories, although gripping became less gritty and much more humour was injected. We were introduced to more characters such as PC Tony Stamp and Frank Burnside. By 1993 the drama was a stalwart of ITV viewing, it was such a hit with viewers that it began to air three nights a week. On 26th March 1993 that The Bill had its highest ever viewing figures; over 16 million viewers watched an episode called ‘Short Straw’ in which we saw Viv Martella shot dead.
By 1998 it was all change again and episodes were once again shown at two episodes a week, however, this time each episode became one hour long. Although still following the basic guidelines set down by its creator Geoff McQueen, the series had become much more serialised. This serialisation was further enhanced when Paul Marquess took on the role of executive producer in 2002. The Marquess era was quite divisive amongst fans of the show both then and now, some viewers loved the new ‘soapy’ story-lines and characters, others felt the story-lines and loss of many well known and much loved characters took way the very essence of The Bill. One other marked change was the removal of episode titles, instead each episode became a number.
In 2003 The Bill celebrated the twentieth anniversary since the first airing of Woodentop. To celebrate this remarkable achievement The Bill aired its first ever live episode. The episode was an enormous success and was watched by almost eleven million viewers. The Bill also aired a second live episode, this time in 2005, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of ITV.
2005 also marked the year when the Marquess era came to an end and along with it the format of The Bill changed yet again. The focus of the show changed returning to police procedure rather than the personal lives of the officers. By 2007 the episode regained their name titles. In 2009 The Bill linked together with a German police drama, SOKO Leipzig to create a two episode cross over story filmed both in the UK and Germany.
In 2009 The Bill saw its final change of format. It was moved back to 9pm and given a much gritter feel making the most of its post-watershed timeslot. The feeling of the show was quite different to recent years, for the first time music could be heard in the background of some scenes. Another big change the theme tune: Overkill was dropped for a more ‘edgy’ theme.
By this point viewing figures were rapidly declining. Fans of The Bill have argued the cause of this for the past decade and will no doubt continue to do so: many pointed out that viewing figures of all programmes had dropped considerably. Some fans point to the continued change in format of The Bill and many others blamed to the continued changing to the schedules by ITV. One thing was for sure, the quality of the show was never in question. On 26th March ITV announced the cancellation of The Bill blaming poor viewing figures. Fans of the show were livid with this decision and created a Save The Bill campaign. After the final episode, Respect Part 2 aired on 31st August 2010, the campaigns rapidly turned into a ‘Bring Back The Bill’ campaign. Even to this day there are social media accounts working toward this end.
One character, however, outlived The Bill and in 2011 Jack Meadows played by Simon Rouse appeared in a second episode of SOKO Leipzig. Other characters live on in fan fiction which can be found throughout the internet (and in time on this site). The Bill itself continues to live on through DVDs, the internet and repeated episodes aired daily in the UK. The fanbase of ‘The Bill’ is still thriving and continuing to grow. Many still believe it is only a matter of time before new episodes of The Bill return to our television screens.