Geoff McQueen hadn’t read a book until the grand old age of twenty nine. However, when he finally picked up his first book, HMS Ulysses by Alistair Maclean, Geoff McQueen discovered a passion for fiction. Not only did he find himself reading several books a week but Geoff also found himself coming up with more and more ideas for his own stories.
With no experience of writing and Geoff quit his full time job, took on part time work and with the help of his trusted dictionary he began to write a novel. The novel was rejected by every publisher who read it. Not one to give up and at this point in dire financial straits Geoff came across a book on how to write for television. “In fact I didn’t have enough money to buy it, so our local book shop manager agreed that I could pay the balance later,” (1). With the help of the book, Geoff wrote a drama, ‘Till His Eyes Watered’ and posted it off to the BBC.
After reading his work Jack Henderson at the BBC contacted Geoff; he loved the grittiness and dialogue of the script. The only BBC police drama at the time was Juliet Bravo, not quite the right place for McQueen’s script so he forwarded it to Michael Verney-Elliot the producer of The Gentle Touch. Verney-Elliot asked Geoff to come up with a storyline for The Gentle Touch. Within four days Michael Verney-Elliot had a completed script for an episode of The Gentle Touch written by Geoff McQueen sat waiting for him on his desk. The script was commissioned and televised.
After another year of ideas, hard work and sheer determination Geoff was contacted by David Reed, the Head of Series at the BBC. He liked some of Geoff’s ideas and commissioned a seven episode drama of Geoff’s starring Paul McGann and Robert Lyndsay called ‘Cue For The Top’. This was followed shortly after by another hit series of Geoff’s: Big Deal.
It was around this time Geoff was contacted by Michael Chapman of Thames TV and asked if he could come up with a script for a series of one off plays under the banner title, Storyboard. As Geoff himself said, “Since starting writing, I’d had a trilogy of plays called ‘Old Bill’, each one dealing with a different rank in the police force. Michael asked if I could condense it into one.” (2) This one play written for the storyboard series was given the title Woodentop it was aired on 16th August 1983, its central character a very young looking Jim Carver on his first day at Sun Hill. Just one month later Thames TV decided they wanted to expand the idea of Woodentop into twelve 60minute episode series and The Bill was born.
In writing the first few episodes of The Bill Geoff invented a formula for an award winning drama that would run for another twenty six years. Everything was to be seen from a police point of view and the cameras didn’t follow the officers home at the end of a shift, if they had a problem at home the viewer only saw how it affected them at work. Geoff created some of televisions most memorable characters: Jim Carver, June Ackland, Bob Cryer, Frank Burnside and his final character for the show Tosh Lines.
Geoff McQueen sadly died in 1994 at the age of 46 leaving a legacy of a drama that would run for over 2400 episodes. A true inspiration and an absolute genius, his programme may have finished (for now) but it will live on in repeats, dvd players and in the hearts of fans of the show for years to come.
(1) McQueen, G. in The Bill Annual 1991, P12.
(2) McQueen, G. in The Bill Annual 1991, P15