We are proud to present the newest feature to our website: a series of reviews written by guest writer Edward Kellett. We hope that as fans of The Bill, you enjoy reading the following reviews as much as we have. So with our grateful thanks for sharing his reviews with us, we will let Edward introduce his work to you.
The reviews posted here began as an idle thought I had while browsing through Oliver Crocker’s The Bill Podcast. I had just finished an eight-year, partial marathon of The Bill that started with Woodentop and ended in the aftermath of the Sun Hill Fire. Listening to the interviews on the podcast had inspired me to go right back to the beginning and start again, so I thought there was an opportunity to commit some of my ideas and observations on the show to paper. What started out as a vague idea has become three detailed reviews, each covering the show’s first three, hour-long seasons. Having moved onto the half-hour era, I intend to keep providing reviews of six-monthly ‘blocks’ of episodes. My intention was to dig deeper behind the basic facts, to examine the unique qualities that made the show so successful and enduring. In the process of writing I have discovered far more fascinating material than I ever expected, and hopefully this comes across in what you will read. The enormous length of the programme is daunting, but has its benefits too. Many episodes, even entire eras, seem fresh and surprising when they have not been looked at for a very long time. This will be my second full viewing of the half-hour era, but in total my third time watching these early hour-long episodes, known as ‘the originals’. I credit the first viewing of these episodes as my springboard, from mildly interested viewer to full-blown fan.
Back in 2008, having seen odd episodes of the show during the mid to late 90s but not thought about it for years, I bought the box set of Series 1-3 out of curiosity and quickly worked my way through it. I was keen to see more, only to realise that the trail ended there. Given that the DVD releases in this country by Network could at best be described as measured, I started tracking down isolated episodes on YouTube. This was a tantalising but enjoyable process, getting glimpses of how the show developed but with huge gaps in between. In 2010-2011, one particular user began posting a huge number of episodes, especially of the mid-90s half hour shows, and it was always exciting to check his channel and realise there was a new one out there. In early 2012 I decided to do as big a marathon as I could, from the very beginning to the start of 1989 – and suddenly I realised that the DVDs were coming out in Australia, moving through the entire series. So the would-be marathon became the real thing, buying each volume in advance – and eventually buying several at a time, which turned out to be wise. I’m lucky enough to have about 95% of all the material I would want to own, but the second hand price tags for picking up these DVD sets by other means are colossal. I only hope that they are re-released at some point. In many ways Oliver’s podcast is providing the supporting material that the DVDs deserved, but never got.
The other source of old episodes, the Drama Channel’s repeats of a few years ago, dried up swiftly after reports of low viewing figures. But given the shoddy way these were presented, I don’t feel it’s a great loss. Trimming episodes for ‘unsuitable’ content begs the question of why post-watershed TV is being repeated in a pre-watershed slot. Editing out entire chunks of story simply to accommodate ad breaks, given that the amount of advertising in one hour must easily have doubled since the show was made, is unforgiveable. This, along with a degraded picture caused by poor quality prints and artificial zoomed-in ‘widescreen’, is typical of the disrespect shown to archive television. Until a broadcaster is willing to commit to presenting the show properly, then these elusive DVDs are the best method of watching The Bill. But the demand is clearly out there, and I hope these reviews can play a part in stimulating discussion of the show.