By Edward Kellett
When Sun Hill’s real-life base moved from Barlby Road to Merton during Series 6 of The Bill, it was not to be the show’s last upheaval, but it was the most lasting. Having hired two locations that were scuppered by outside forces, industrial action in the first case and redevelopment in the second, the production team found a new site and made it their own, creating what was in effect a studio backlot in south-west London. This enormous operation could only have been possible for a show that ITV recognised as one of its greatest assets, drawing in viewing figures that were already huge and getting bigger as the Nineties continued. Script editor Tim Vaughan observed on The Bill Podcast that in the rush to scrape material together to cover the transition, involving three units filming simultaneously (a few years before this became standard with the move to thrice-weekly), “The pips did squeak… You could feel it rocking a little bit.” But if things were fraught behind the scenes, there’s no appreciable drop in quality in the broadcast episodes. What is apparent is a degree of economy in how stories are structured, and indeed prolonged. It can be no coincidence that throughout 1990, the show leans into serialised stories to a greater extent than any other time before it returned to the hour-long format. This gives the whole year a unique feel, distinct from the years before and afterwards.
There were, of course, plenty of good reasons why the show avoided serialisation for the most part, and they were as much to do with logistics as with staying faithful to the vision of Geoff McQueen. Numerous cast and crew have described the piecemeal way in which episodes were put together: actors recording a scene in one place for one unit, then being bussed across town to film for the other unit. The need to retain guest artists and keep track of continuity for interlinked stories would not have made this process any easier, quite the reverse. The two-part stories from 1989 involved PR disasters at the station that had to be hastily rectified through diplomacy and internal enquiries, whereas those from 1990 are more wide-ranging. More importantly, the ongoing backdrop of building work at Sun Hill gives every episode the sense of being part of a wider, more unified world. The ability of the half hours to press the reset button at the end of each story was a real strength, but a certain amount of continuity is also rewarding for the long-term viewer. Seeing the officers huddled inside freezing portacabins for weeks on end helps to reinforce the sense of time passing, and of a new hurdle that these seasoned characters are having to face.
For a while the station is beset by surveyors wandering into offices and shoving measuring tape in people’s faces. But in JC Wilsher’s ‘Citadel’, Brownlow is summoned to an area meeting to discuss the future of Sun Hill, and introduced to a Home Office man and a security consultant. The latter tells him enthusiastically that if he is expected to meet the policing challenges of the future with reduced manpower, the solutions must be technological, and they unveil “a police station for the twenty-first century”: a scale model which is of little interest to Brownlow until he learns that it’s going to be built at Sun Hill. The officials boast that for low running costs it will combine “user friendliness and combat survivability”, a misplaced optimism that shows no-one in the Met saw the Paul Marquess era coming. “It constitutes defensible space. You have clear lines of sight, and you can drop an armoured shutter over the front door that’ll stand up to an RPG-7 rocket attack!” “I’m not expecting a rocket attack,” Brownlow replies drolly, his blasé attitude not one that any of his successors could have afforded. He is reminded of his own complaints about having to transfer prisoners into the custody area via the rear entrance, which feels like the show itself highlighting a flaw in the Barlby Road design, and told that a new secure yard will enable him to “process busloads of detainees… None of this business of driving armoured personnel carriers against the gates when the hooligans are revving at the base!” “We don’t operate armoured personnel carriers,” Brownlow points out gently, disturbed at the notion of police stations becoming army barracks in this dystopian view of future inner-city life. Wilsher displays a continued interest in the high-level strategic thinking of the Met and how the planning for ‘doomsday scenarios’ has become an industry in its own right, attracting business from the security world. On Brownlow’s doubting face is written the question: can any amount of technical innovation compensate for a lack of officers on the streets and trust from the public? These issues are even more pertinent now, when economies have been pushed further and the community police station that was at the heart of The Bill is itself a piece of history.
When he returns from the meeting, Brownlow puts on his usual game face and leaves the doubting to his hapless subordinate. 1990 is the year the Brownlow-Conway duet really takes off, cementing the dysfunctional relationship that will last for another decade. Many of the show’s funniest, most barbed exchanges came courtesy of the Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau of Sun Hill, and one feels that Ben Roberts was given a single directorial note that stood him in good stead: remember you resent this man with every fibre of your being. “We mustn’t start off with a negative attitude, Derek,” Brownlow insists as the two men step out of the front entrance to examine the new design. “I’m going to get enough carping from certain quarters without you adding to it as well.” We are given a rare view of the street outside as they wander round examining the changes that need to be made – all of which were, in reality, implemented miles away in Merton. Brownlow gives Conway “a sign that I have every confidence in your abilities” by dumping the day to day running of the building works on him. “Not wishing to sound like a barrack room lawyer, sir,” he protests, “my field is operations. This whole thing smacks of admin to me.” “Oh no, I see this very much as an operation – a heart and lung transplant. With a bit of brain surgery thrown in,” he adds, eliciting a look of disgust and resignation from Conway. As the latter gets embroiled in the nightmare of managing cowboy contractors, it becomes clear that Brownlow is both the bane of his life and the source of his only joy. When it turns out that they will have to keep the renovations going and their prisoners transferred to Barton Street for two more weeks, he cheerfully bitches to Cryer and Monroe about Brownlow’s sudden interest in keeping the chief super there happy: “The man thinks he’s trying to make friends… Brown stuff – you could go into business with the amount he’s going to produce!” These small victories are what keep him going, such as the moment Brownlow realises that he has to share a portacabin with him, and fails to convince the commander that he needs his own: “This isn’t a question of rank, but of efficiency… we must at all costs retain our public character… I see sir, that’s your final word?” Conway’s persecution complex finally leads him to suspect the builders of fraud, charging excessive amounts and providing sub-standard materials. He asks Tosh to look into window-frames – “Where’s he gonna stick the Fraud Squad, in the portaloo?” demands Burnside – and when word gets back to Brownlow, he politely suggests that Conway should take some gardening leave. “I can’t leave everybody in this mess,” he replies, as the point sails way over his head.
‘A Fresh Start’, in which the new station takes its bow, is appropriately titled; it feels like the moment in which the whole series tips on its axis. It’s only fitting that this episode marks the introduction of then-Detective Superintendent Jack Meadows, given that the entrance Brownlow stands in front of is the same one that Meadows drives away from twenty years later, having taken his job in the end. This momentous occasion is marked in typical fashion in a Christopher Russell script: one disinterested photographer, rather than the reporter Brownlow was hoping for. Asking for a picture of him next to the scaffolding, he says it’ll show the public what they’re getting for their 1.5 million. “1.3 million,” he is corrected. “There’ll be a press release later, won’t there?” he asks. “I expect they’ll cobble something together from that.” As they go over the VIP list, Conway notes dismally that the loony-left MP Annie Donovan is “bound to be a vegan”, an option which has not been catered for. Having already been embarrassed in a wind-up by Roach, who has told him not to salute DAC Jago because “he hates formality”, the hapless George greets his local, black MP with the words, “You can’t park here, love,” and insists on seeing her identification. Tony reveals that he once nicked her for breach of the peace on a demo: “She didn’t half kick. Got off and all. But she’s a lawyer, so she would. I wouldn’t nick her on a demo now she’s an MP though. It’s what they want, innit? To be martyred.” The dignitaries embark on their tour as Penny admires his new custody area, bemoaning the fact that “the scrotes and slags have to come in again tomorrow and spoil it.” Knowing they are on their way, he observes that everyone wants to see the cells: “It’s like visiting a castle. The only bit people are really interested in is the dungeons.” Anticipating criticism from Ms Donovan, Brownlow says she’ll be pleased to note the number of cells has not been expanded, but she flips this on its head: “Doesn’t that lack a certain logic? If 1.3 million is being spent on increasing your efficiency, how come you’re not expecting to arrest more criminals?” With Brownlow stuck for an answer, it’s Penny who rides to the rescue, assuring her that they have an above average number of cells but “our only problem has been their use for remand prisoner overspill, which we’ve been assured is a thing of the past.” “By the government? Then it must be true,” she smiles sweetly. Penny’s triumph is swiftly negated when the guests look in on the CID portacabin. Brownlow is irate at the heap of debris outside, hissing, “Shouldn’t this have gone by now, Derek?”, but that’s nothing to the sight that greets them within. Sometimes images speak louder than words, so see below!
The disruption caused by the building work serves to remind us that Sun Hill doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We don’t just hear about its rival stations, Barton Street and Stafford Row, we get to see inside them too, and to see how they tackle the same problems that occupy our regulars. It’s arguable that when the show goes into other stations it takes the opportunity to be more overtly critical of the police than it could be on ‘home ground’. The regular characters suddenly become outsiders, the environment around them strange and threatening, as it would be to a prisoner. The sets are more cramped and gloomy, the officers a little less photogenic (not that the show was normally cast for glamour – and in fairness, one of the Stafford Row PCs is played by a young and hirsute Mark Strong, who’s presentable enough). They come across as a miserable bunch, determined to cover each others’ backs at the expense of all else. We visit Stafford Row for the first time when Burnside returns to his old nick in ‘A Clean Division’. He sums up the concrete monstrosity that towers above the landscape: “That building represents us. It’s modern, clean, efficient – and has precisely no relationship to the buildings in the area around it.” Having met a couple of old colleagues, he informs Greig that “all the good officers have gone. That’s why we’re stuck with that pair of foot and mouth.” After trying not to nod off during a conference on managerial co-operation, he is brought to life by the news that Carver has been arrested by a fanatically by-the-book PC for drink driving, even though he wasn’t in charge of his broken down car at the time. Jim points out that he had to blend in during his visit to the pub to meet an informant: “I would have stood out if I was drinking Britvic 55… I was working for us!” “Oh, ‘I was out of my brain for Sun Hill’ – that’s going to sound good.” Burnside embarks on a quest to get it ‘sorted’, but to no avail. It’s no surprise that when Brownlow learns of the incident, he assumes that it was Roach. While sympathetic, he points out that he can’t square the whole thing away just because of his rank: “It hits me just as hard as it does you. It’s every officer’s nightmare, being breathalysed,” he notes prophetically. “But this is not an internal disciplinary matter! Carver has broken the law of the land.” Jim, who has been allowed a quick wash by Mark Strong’s sympathetic copper, is under the limit on his second test and stomps out in a rage, nearly crippling Burnside with a traffic cone he hurls in his wake. Always the optimist, Burnside invites him and Greig for a drink to celebrate his release, and they hastily cry off.
The extent to which each station is a tribe of its own, determined to close ranks when one of their number is threatened, is more apparent when we journey to Barton Street in ‘Close Co-Operation’. Their idea of a welcoming committee is the terrifyingly abrasive Inspector Twist, destined to become Chief Inspector Cato in later years, and the Bald Bastard from Barton Street is already in fine form. Burnside tells him hopefully that several jobs can be pinned on the thief they’ve arrested. “What do you want, congratulations as well? We’ll put up with you, that doesn’t mean we have to like you, all right?” The only Sun Hill man who does feel welcome is Tom Penny, who has struck up a friendship with his opposite number, the dodgy Sgt. Terry Coles. They banter about motors and birds, Coles telling him, “Keep the wife happy, that’s the name of the game – then you can focus on the crumpet!” Penny chats up a woman in the canteen, offering to take her out for the evening and insisting to Peters that it doesn’t mean anything. His confidence comes crashing down when the burglar who was brought in with a head injury is found badly beaten in his cell, while he and the other sergeant were away from their posts. Realising the Barton Street officers are keen to minimise the damage, Penny points out that he’s a Sun Hill prisoner. “Then he’s a Sun Hill problem, isn’t he?” It becomes clear that Coles is responsible, but Penny thinks he can keep this quiet, insisting he must have had a reason for doing it. “Just listen to yourself,” says a disgusted Peters, who keeps pressuring him to reveal the truth. Hearing the observation that it “puts you back twenty years”, Alec muses sadly, “I thought those days were over.” Twist is dismissive, declaring that the facts show an injury committed by Sun Hill during an arrest. In the end Penny cracks, his voice faltering as he admits that, “The prisoner was beaten, sir.” He knows he will take the blame from everyone there for ratting Coles out. Peters has been acting as his conscience during the episode, but his own motives are revealed when he talks to the suspect in his cell. The man insists he doesn’t want to make a complaint, but Peters announces cheerfully that he’s done so on his behalf: “Basically mate, no can do. It’s my back I’m covering – not yours.” In the era of PACE, all that really matters is being able to distance yourself from trouble. By thinking he can keep everyone happy, Penny ends up isolating himself, and it’s Peters who triumphs at the end, walking away from a ‘Game Over’ poster.
This transition period sees the arrival of a short-lived but important figure: Gordon Wray, the first DCI at Sun Hill and the man tasked with dragging Burnside kicking and screaming into the Nineties. He turns up as Frank’s equal, a fellow DI seconded from the Drugs Squad to act as liaison, which Burnside is none too happy about. His mood get worse when the drugs raid he has organised goes south and it becomes clear that someone on the inside tipped off the dealers. Once again Burnside’s reputation puts him in the frame, and with Wray leading the investigation, he discovers that his own team don’t want to get too close to him for fear that the dirt will rub off. Greig is called in to give his version of what happened and receives helpful advice from Dashwood: “You know what they say about resisting interrogation, Alistair – just imagine Brownlow and Conway stark naked.” It doesn’t pay off, and Greig admits that Burnside gave his snout Kenny Stoller a lift home in his car before the raid, increasing the suspicion of him. When asked to account for himself, Burnside suddenly stands on formality now that it suits him: “If I’m under investigation, I want a Form 163 laying out the charges against me. No Form 163 – no comment.” Pressing Tosh for details of how the enquiry is going, he gets ‘no comment’ thrown back at him, and for good reason: “This whole deal smells of bent coppers, and I’m watching my back, ’cos when a diarrhoea bomb like that goes off, everybody gets splattered!” We see Burnside reaping the cost of his selfishness: he keeps his men in the dark so he can hog all the glory, but that is precisely what makes them unable to trust him when things go wrong. Wray’s enquiries reveal that Burnside has been set up by Stoller and Terry Coles, the bully boy from Barton Street, who is secretly on the take. Catching up with Stoller, Burnside puts the boot in and declares that “he made a sudden movement, so I struck him in self-defence. Write that down Alistair, they believe your log sheets.” Stoller is wired and sent to entrap Coles, who realises what is going on, drops a knife in his lap and uses the same excuse of “self-defence” to give him a thumping. “You scumbag, Coles!” yells Burnside, the script highlighting his hypocrisy without beating us over the head with it. His good mood is short-lived; over a celebratory drink, Wray drops the bombshell that he’s been promoted to DCI, and Sun Hill is his first posting.
The Gordon Wray we see in his first two episodes is cut from the same bloke-ish cloth as Burnside: delivering Cockney lingo in a macho growl, swaggering about in a long coat and grabbing slags for a quiet word in an alley. Had the character been nothing but a Burnside clone he would have worn thin, but the show performs something of a bait and switch. When Wray arrives for his first day in charge of CID, his ambitions have broadened. He declares that he wants people “to understand I’m in the business of crime management”, and the glow of approval from Brownlow positively radiates off the screen. “We’ll be talking manpower, budgeting, resources, public relations, and looking after the victims. The days of Jack the Lad doing the business out on the streets and in the boozers are definitely numbered.” Burnside hopes he can fob him off with a quick rundown of cases and figures, but he replies, “I don’t want to pick over the nuts and bolts, Frank; I wanna talk philosophy.” He quickly gets ammunition when he finds Tosh asleep at his desk, flat out after working thirty-six hours straight so he can pick up all the overtime going. With a priceless ‘I told you so’ look from Greig in his sensible sweater, Tosh is summoned into Wray’s office and tries to explain that Burnside wants him on a job. “I don’t care if Jesus wants you for a sunbeam, book off!” Burnside is dismayed, telling Wray that “Tosh loves the old overtime, he can’t get enough of it!” and that he has six kids to feed (an error caused by counting Kevin Lloyd’s actual offspring, rather than Tosh’s!). But Wray points out that he won’t have a family for much longer if he never sees them. He wants to end the practice of pursuing vendettas against certain criminals who are overdue, and focus on delivering a service instead. Burnside gets a call from Jim and clarifies exactly where he stands on victim support: “Salvation Army, Sister Anna speaking. No you pillock, this is Burnside.”
Lurking in the background of these CID power struggles is the ‘fly in the ointment’, Mike Dashwood. On the face of it Mike is the least interesting character because he is the most content with his lot. In contrast to Roach, he’s the alpha male who can sustain the image. Jon Iles, the first actor into the black chair on The Bill Podcast, observed that Mike was a “dry old sod” and he tried to inject more humour into him. But there’s an inherent humour that runs through every scene with Dashwood: the faint air of disdain of someone who knows he’s way too good for his surroundings. It’s particularly obvious whenever he’s paired with Carver, who Mike views as a kind of feral inner-city kid on an exchange program to whom he must reluctantly act as big brother. Stuck in a car together, Jim passes a burger to Mike, who sniffs, “It’s got relish on. I don’t like relish.” Realising he’s swapped them by mistake, Jim passes over his half-eaten one and Mike gives it the disgusted look of a man who would be more at home lunching on Fairtrade avocado. Later Jim chucks a Coke can out of the window in true lager lout fashion, prompting a pained, “Do you have to?” from his colleague. At one point he’s given a hard time about his plan to buy a weekend cottage in Wiltshire, while living in a police-subsidised home. “Ah, moral scruples Jim, that’s what the force needs more of.” Carver and Greig want to know where he gets his income from – a question asked by some real life officers at the time, who apparently hated the character with a vengeance, which makes him all the funnier. “A bit of saving, a bit of investment. I’ll tell you something about the class system, Jim,” Mike lectures him. “You think you’re working class because your dad was. In fact you’re sitting in a comfortable middle-class job. You’re treated as an employee, aren’t you? Now what happens when you retire? You’re out of your police flat and onto the street.” When he’s not baiting Carver he is sniping at Roach – who is technically his superior, but because they’re the two old lags of CID, there from the beginning, they feel more like a married couple who have been together far too long. Learning that they are after a criminal with a blue jumper, Roach notes sagely, “Well, that rules out Rupert the Bear.” Mike looks irritably at the SOCO: “I hate it when he’s in this mood.” On a surveillance job together, Roach spies a couple across the street who are snogging each other’s faces off. “Ah, that takes me back,” he recalls wistfully. “To when, last night?” asks Mike.
Dashwood clearly yearns for the finer things in life, and realises he’s not going to find them among his colleagues. “Yes, I’m a snob,” a burglary victim admits to him as she describes the vulgar couple who turned up to view her home. “That’s all right, Mrs Fillery – so am I.” When he arrives at work in what Jon Iles called his ‘country squire’ outfit, a picture in brown tweed, Burnside is lost for words. To sum up Mike’s whole philosophy, you need only watch one scene in ‘Unsocial Hours’. Burnside learns that a complainant who has been hanging over him for years and held up his promotion to DI has dropped dead, and does the only decent thing: invite his team for a piss-up at the local. Corralled into joining in, the Presbyterian Greig sits there helplessly as more and more pints are downed and the air grows thick with smoke and well-worn anecdotes from the booze cruisers, Tosh and Jim. Finally, his head reeling, he looks over at Mike and asks him how he copes with these lunchtime sessions. The answer is simple, but comes with plenty of shade attached: “I’ve been drinking low-calorie tonic water. I don’t want to end up a pickled-livered tosspot like that mob. I’m surprised at you.” Greig pays for his lack of resistance when he returns to the office and Tosh appears helpfully with two buckets of KFC, to act as “ballast.” He runs out in a vomiting fit, leaving Derbyshire’s sturdiest DC to finish them all by himself. Small wonder that the show’s technical adviser, the ex-chief inspector Brian Hart, observed sceptically on the podcast that if you tried to get a bunch of CID men out on a night-time operation, “They’d all be pissed out of their minds anyway.”
But Mike has greater problems than being stuck with the wrong crowd, something which comes through clearly in Iles’ performance. On the podcast commentary for ‘Greig Versus Taylor’, Oliver Crocker observed that “Greig is what Dashwood could be if he tried harder”, and the gulf between the two men becomes obvious during the episode. Fed up of Mike sulking at their lack of progress, Greig tells him in a rare outburst that if it’s too much bother he can find someone else to work on the case. In theory they are a breed apart from the rest of CID, smooth and upwardly mobile, but instead of emulating Greig’s fastidious approach, Dashwood goes the opposite way. He thinks himself a cut above Galloway and Burnside’s Neanderthal approach, yet deep down seems to believe this is how you get results. Thus he adopts the same ‘hard man’ style when interviewing suspects and it usually backfires. Whereas Roach’s failures take the form of volcanic meltdowns, in the case of Mike you can see them buried deep within: an anxious look behind the eyes, betraying the fear that he may have handled something badly, but is too concerned about being seen in control to admit it. Declaring that some youths want the police to come down hard on them, he is told by Cryer, “You’re even beginning to sound like Burnside.” In a rare insight into his past, Mike talks scathingly of how simplistic life is for uniform: “You chase someone; I get a description, I have to try and find them.” “You were a good PC in uniform. Remember that.” His ruthless streak is illustrated in ‘The Strong Survive’, when he sets up surveillance on a drug-addled teenager played by a young Dexter Fletcher. Bailed from the nick, the youth is followed by a team of officers, all of whom see his condition get worse and worse in the icy weather, until Carver suggests that they should pick him up now before he keels over. Instead, Mike insists that they follow him all the way to his rendezvous with his boss on nearby waste ground. Once he and Jim close in they find him lying on rubble with his neck broken, now that his usefulness is over. Mike radios the death in calmly but the obvious conclusion is left unspoken: that if he had shown a little more mercy, the kid would still be alive.
Dashwood and Greig come to blows a second time in ‘Against the Odds’, when the latter is Acting DI and trying hard to live up to the responsibility. His whole philosophy is contained in a few words of advice to Viv, who is about to join CID for good and wants to get stuck into something juicy: “In my experience, big cases bring nothing but grief and frustration. Consistent work, well-presented, is far more effective in your career.” Meanwhile, Mike is adopting the Burnside approach, engaged in a covert chat with his hapless snout Alfie Dobbs who has news of a huge gang war that’s about to kick off. Greig is horrified to learn that he met a snout without consulting him first or bringing along a colleague, and took no notes or recordings – doubtless standard procedures for handling informants, but which we never see on TV because they tend to hold up the drama. “I was using my initiative,” Mike protests, adding, “Why don’t we just go out with Brownlow and play golf all day?” He has to write up a blow by blow account, but Jim urges him to go it alone, saying “Greig wouldn’t have the bottle to try it.” “Yeah, he’ll want a conference, then he’ll ask for an agenda… coffee, biscuits.” A suspect is pulled in and the case almost collapses after he makes up an obviously fraudulent medical condition in order to bend PACE to his advantage. But once they have got the breakthrough and are celebrating a good result, Greig highlights the outstanding tax owed by the victim, and says they should notify the relevant authorities – which Mike promised him he wouldn’t, in exchange for his co-operation. “If we stand him up in court, he’ll be discredited… I’m just dotting the Is and crossing the Ts, that’s all.” “Just so long as you’re enjoying yourself,” Mike quips as he walks out in disbelief. It’s not until later in the year that Greig receives the first significant blot on his copybook, when he is once more Acting DI and uses the CID regulars to tackle a group of blaggers, without arranging for back-up. A gun is recovered in the struggle, but one of the gang later insists that two were used. When Greig is about to wind up the search for this rogue firearm, thinking it’s a wild goose chase, they hear a shot and find that a little kid has wounded another. DCI Bradby, a placeholder figure covering for Wray, has already hinted that Greig was light on manpower. “You know that anything like that should be at least 2:1, or even PT-17. You didn’t plan it correctly, at least that’s how an enquiry may see it.” Even Greig falls foul of trying to copy the Burnside approach – and it’s easy to forget that, despite being a world apart from Ted Roach, he is destined to end his time on the show in exactly the same way, stuck at the rank of sergeant after a decade at Sun Hill.
By this point Burnside himself is well established as a quote machine, rarely disappointing in that department. A sergeant who breaks the news that Garfield and Stringer have lost his prisoner at the hospital is well aware that he’s annoyed. “First class passengers on the Titanic were annoyed – what I’m feeling now goes beyond that!” When visiting a hardened thug in prison, he is assured by one of the ‘screws’ that the man is now reformed, and wants letters after his name. “He’s got letters after his name – Ralph Pender, GBH.” My all-time favourite comes from ‘University Challenge’, in which Burnside fails to catch the third man in a team of armed robbers and is convinced it was the notorious ex-con Joey Buchan. Visiting his home, he meets his timid girlfriend, who gives him an alibi for the crime. “Nice lady,” Burnside remarks at the door. “The mysteries of human attraction,” smirks Buchan. “Where’s the mystery? You’ve seen one robber’s dog, you’ve seen ’em all.” But it’s not just the police serving up the quotes this time. Buchan, played with louche swagger by George Irving, has become an Open University-educated scholar who likes to give interviews in which he holds forth about police malpractice, and is doing just that when Burnside and Carver arrive. “PACE was brought in to help bridge the credibility gap that I was referring to, as was the Crown Prosecution Service. And yet – and this is my point – something like half the population still believe the police will lie under oath in order to get the job done. Now he can smile,” he adds as he looks at Burnside, “but this is not just paranoia on my part or some popular urban mythology. It’s a widely held perception of the modern British police force. George Dixon does not flex his calves under the blue lamp anymore; he flexes his knuckles behind a riot shield before leading a baton charge.” Urging his colleagues not to be cowed by “the psychology degree, the letters to the press and the articles none of us read”, Burnside has Carver follow the girlfriend and instructs him not to be discreet about it. The woman is quickly reduced to tears by his harassment and he has another of his classic eruptions at Burnside: “I’ve waded through sewers, I’ve collected pieces of people who’ve been hit by trains, I’ve had a crossbow bolt miss me by that much, I don’t mind that – but hassling some innocent woman…!” “Fine, but don’t come to me for back-up on some iffy arrest like you have done in the past, like everyone else in this department has!” Buchan goes straight to Conway with a complaint, threatening to tell the press. When CID are called in to explain themselves, it’s telling that Jim remains loyal to his governor, insisting that he was careless rather than brazen in his surveillance. This is exactly the kind of vendetta-based approach that Wray wants to cut out.
The number of out and out bent coppers increases markedly this year, and while they are always outsiders who we can place at a safe distance from the regulars, they are used to throw Burnside’s shady character into relief. In ‘Once a Copper’, he conducts a raid on a local crime boss, Speers, expecting to find stolen artworks at his home, but turns up nothing. “The last CID golden boy to raid Speers ended up in Her Majesty’s Prison,” Jim observes, and he and Burnside visit him: a former DI, Cooper, who was convicted for taking bribes. The snarling, silver-haired cadaver they meet is showing the effects of prison life. “Do you know what they say in here? ‘Once a copper…’ Like it was some kind of incurable disease. Maybe it is. For six months I couldn’t go to the carsy without a chorus of ‘nick-nick’ seeping out of the sewers. What you staring at?” he asks the silent Carver. “Never seen a bent copper? Never knowingly, son.” When he’s offered help with his upcoming parole in return for info on Speers, he declares, “What really makes me puke, Burnside, is I used to be like you,” recognising his methods and ambitions. “You never think you’ll end up back in uniform,” he quips to Jim, a line which is doubly humorous in hindsight; Carver is looking at his potential future if he were to go off the rails, but in a sense his actual one too. Cooper describes how easy it is to slide into corruption, receiving favours from crooks that lead to good results. “Then you find he’s paid off your car.” “Then he’s paid off your career.” “We all smell a little – you more than most, Burnside. What you don’t like about me is looking in the mirror.” Burnside learns that Cooper’s history of bribes can be traced back to Speers, and realises that the latter is keeping him alive – holding the other convicts at bay, in return for his silence. Cooper agrees to do a deal, on condition that Speers is left alone. But Burnside wants to make sure that in pursuing other leads, he doesn’t “accidentally” fall on Speers. Cooper tells him about his line in smuggling stolen art, using a Docklands warehouse. “We go to that area sometimes… so we need to avoid it,” Burnside hints. As Cooper writes the name down, there seems to be a silent understanding between them: that he will give Burnside exactly what he wants, while keeping up the pretence that he hasn’t. But while he retains an instinctive loyalty to the police, the fact that he has crossed the line means he can be used and discarded, by a younger and more ruthless version of himself. Burnside spells it out to Jim once they have left: “Let’s go and get Speers.” “I thought you’d done a deal?” “I only do deals with people that matter.”
The real contrast to Burnside is provided by the debut of his opposite number, in every sense: the staunch disciplinarian that is ‘Andy’ Monroe. Watching in sequence, it’s when Monroe arrives early in Series 6 that the show begins to take on the feel of the 1990s Bill, just as much as the new station; both would remain for the entire decade, equally firm and impervious to the elements. Despite being the third uniformed inspector in as many years, Monroe is the first to assume control of the relief and become both their leader and representative. When news of his posting reaches the three sergeants, who up till now have been the de facto bosses, Peters is alarmed. Ironically, it’s Penny who reassures him that, “Monroe suits me. He’s rock hard, he’s dead straight. My idea of a copper.” He soon experiences the downside of this straight approach in ‘Roger and Out’, when he learns that a prisoner is lodging with Tosh Lines. Milking the situation for all it’s worth, he summons Tosh to the custody area and humiliates him over his mistake. “Anybody else would have ignored it or had a quiet word, but not you, Penny.” “Sergeant,” he reminds him snidely. Once Tosh lets slip that he is a paying guest, against regulations, Penny sends a report upstairs to Conway and Tosh faces losing his job. “Once the word gets round, the top brass’ll be wetting themselves,” Roach tells Carver. “Brownlow gargles with mouthwash before he picks up the phone to the DAC.” When Monroe learns of this, he tells Conway that best practice would be to “kick his backside and be done with it”, showing that while he may be strict he also believes in common sense. Tosh is saved when Burnside marches into Brownlow’s office and performs the ‘I’m Spartacus’ routine to the hilt, insisting that he knew all about the lodger and he is equally guilty. Brownlow has no choice but to keep the matter in house rather than passing it to area. The wrath of Monroe then descends on Penny, who learns that he can’t out-pedant the ultimate pedant. By informing Tosh of his error, “you acted, sergeant, as an accessory to a disciplinary offence”, and what’s worse, he bypassed the normal chain of command: “I don’t like underhand dealings… My reports go to the chief inspector. Your reports come to me, and that’s how we’ll deal with things in future – correctly.” This is the template for the Lectures of Monroe down the years: the folded arms, the quietly hectoring tone, and the undercurrent of menace in his soft Yorkshire voice. Colin Tarrant became one of the pillars of the show, but to watch this episode in particular is to see three of them in starring roles, all lost far too soon.
Monroe’s obsession with correctness brings him into conflict with those above as well as below him. At a meeting to discuss a forthcoming inspection, he cuts through the optimism by producing a report on areas in which he feels Sun Hill is procedurally under-par – much to the fury of Conway, who accuses him of going behind his back to gain favour with Brownlow. “There are bound to be one or two minor problems, we’re constantly being subjected to rule and procedural changes, almost on a daily basis!” Conway, who doubtless feels that Monroe’s strictness makes him look like a slob in comparison, tells him ominously that “it’s going to take a long time for me to forget about this.” Unsurprisingly in a script by Geoff McQueen, Monroe also comes into conflict with Burnside, who has once again got a uniform prisoner released so they can deliver the goods as a snout, just as he ruined Jimmy Carver’s first arrest at the start of Series 1. The divide between uniform and CID was always one of McQueen’s guiding principles for the show, expanded and developed by successive writers, and their contrasting images are embodied in these two men: Monroe the rock-solid martinet, Burnside the ultimate fruit salesman. In ‘Angles’ by Arthur McKenzie, they clash over the familiar subject of overtime, Monroe insisting that any uniformed officers supplied to CID operations must come out of the latter’s budget. He wonders how Burnside manages to get “sixty hours more than any other inspector”, which Burnside freely admits is him playing the system: “If uniform haven’t got the nous to ask for twice what they need in order to get half, tough! You continue giving overtime back to Brownlow, you get your allocation chopped.” Warning Monroe he’ll face rebellion in the ranks if there is no overtime on offer, he declares, “Ovies is the sweetener. I didn’t learn that on a course.” Burnside’s dismissive opinion of the stats game is voiced in McKenzie’s ‘Tactics’, when comment is made on CID’s clear-up figures of twenty per cent. “Of all crime reported at Sun Hill, eighty per cent s screened out, filed, dead. Yet I’m supposed to wave a magic wand and come up with forty per cent – unless we’re talking about forty per cent of the twenty per cent left, in which case our figures are some of the best, pound for pound, in the force.” When Brownlow is anxious not to go to an area meeting with poor clear-up figures, he advises that “if massaging is needed, I suggest you stick your thumbs in good and deep.” Burnside explains the technique that has brought about Stafford Row’s supposed improvements: “They’ve got a bloke permanently on prison visits, doing deals to clear up cases. Any snot-nosed juvenile they nick down there is leant on to cough for TICs.” “Well get some in!” Conway demands. “You get some in! I’m looking to nick serious villains, not toddlers.”
While Burnside takes most of the flak from Monroe, another CID man has a memorable run-in with him near the end of the year; sight unseen, could you hazard a guess as to which? During Series 6, Ted Roach cuts a more sanguine figure than in previous years, now that he has given up on any hope of promotion. But in ‘A Sense of Duty’, his casual approach to the job collides head on with the fanaticism of Monroe. After subduing a drunk in a restaurant where he is dining with a new lady friend, Roach calls uniform and Stamp and Garfield arrive to bring the man in. However, when he hands him over on the street outside, he doesn’t make it clear that they are the arresting officers, given that he is off duty. Had there been a more intuitive sergeant in custody there would be no problem, but unfortunately it’s Penny, who wants to know where Roach is. “He’s with this woman – she is gorgeous, like a model.” “Oh all right then, that’s what I’ll put down on the custody record: arresting officer, Jerry Hall.” They learn from the restaurant that Ted has already left with her in a cab. Penny then unwisely involves Monroe, who begins a relentless crusade to get Roach in. Ted is located at a nightclub, ignores the request to return to Sun Hill and heads home. Realising events are getting out of control, Penny tells Peters that, “Monroe’s out for blood, the longer this night goes on, the less he cares whose it is. Look out, here comes Count Dracula,” he adds hastily, and Peters makes a crucifix sign once he’s gone. The bolshie streak that surfaces unexpectedly in Peters from time to time prompts him to march into Monroe’s office and suggest a caution; when this is refused, he comments that any issue with Roach should be sorted privately, rather than dragging the whole relief into it. But he is tasked with going to his flat and bringing him in personally. When Roach finally arrives to see Monroe, the spectators have assembled to watch the show, and not for the last time. Monroe orders Roach to hand over his pocketbook so he can issue him with an official caution. The magic of Tony Scannell emerges once again, as Roach’s disbelief turns to fury. The accusing look he gives Penny, who shamefully averts his gaze, is the most telling moment of the story. “Would you like to see me salute, sir?” he demands, before delivering the two-fisted version. “It’s prats like you that make this job not worth doing any more! I’m going to Brownlow, this is victimisation!” he roars as he storms out. The two sergeants take him to an interview room and ease him out of his temper, like calming down a child with a tantrum. As he rants and raves it’s clear that his pride is hurt above all else, after such a calculated humiliation. “What does he think he’s doing? I’ve been in the job twice as long as he has! An official caution in front of everyone in the custody area?” On finding out that Monroe is going to release the drunk anyway, he growls, “So help me, I will smack that man in the mouth…” and the tramlines are neatly laid down for Roach’s final encounter with his nemesis.
Monroe’s principal antagonist over this year, however, is not anyone from plain clothes but his fellow new boy on the relief, Dave Quinnan. When he and Burnside argue over Quinnan being seconded for a CID job, it’s easy to be put in mind of Cryer and Galloway battling over the rookie Carver years earlier. But whereas Jim was an idealist whose true calling was uniform, yet who ended up going to the dark side, Dave – or at least this early wide-boy version of him – is the reverse: a dodgy operator whose natural environment is CID but who has somehow ended up on the beat. This brings him into conflict with all that Monroe stands for. In the same way that Arthur McKenzie focused on Tosh in Series 5, his scripts this year concentrate largely on the ongoing feud between Quinnan and Monroe. In ‘Full House’, Brownlow informs Monroe of a complaint over an assault case that has not been followed up: “PC Quinnan.” “A name which crops up with depressing regularity.” When Dave is radioed and told to see Monroe, he gives his present whereabouts in exact detail: “Just about to flush the pan, Sarge”. He responds to the order with that very sound, finding it a useful metaphor when asked to account for his failings: “I’m always in the sh… mire, sir, it’s only the depth that varies.” Monroe frogmarches him to the scene of the crime so he can make an arrest, coaching him in the basics of policework like a parent helping their child. But they also let a man walk away who they don’t realise is a suspected child molester, because Dave was late for parade and missed the briefing. When Monroe sees the photo fit he realises the error and tears into Quinnan for his sloppy attitude. Things get steadily worse between them, Dave whinging that, “Old Marilyn’s definitely got it in for me.” His other grievance against Monroe is the lack of overtime. A freelancer at heart, he is always on the lookout for extra income: “I’m talking about real bunce – paid rest days, football matches, demonstrations.” After an operation on a gang of car thieves goes wrong, he uses it to argue the case for more overtime, to which Monroe replies sternly that “it’s a concession, not a right.”
Matters come to a head in ‘My Favourite Things’, when Dave borrows a jemmy from the property store to break into the flat of an old lady who has locked herself out. On one of his morale-collapsing tours of the station, Conway checks the inventory and realises that it is missing. In Monroe’s mind there is only one suspect and he sets out to prove it, no matter how unpopular it makes him. He orders every PC’s locker to be searched, suspecting that he will find the offending item in Dave’s. Reg adopts his Federation guise, insisting that he will advise his members to say nothing, but his objections are swept aside. We are given some interesting glimpses into the lives of the relief: Reg has absolutely nothing in his locker, pointing out that there’s nothing in regulations to say he must, while Tony’s has the priceless motto ‘Those of you who think you know everything are annoying to those of us who do’ engraved on the front. But when the search extends to the female lockers, the bad feeling intensifies. “He’s got no right to read my letters, it’s an invasion of my privacy,” declares an outraged Norika. June tries to placate her, saying, “Look, if I’d wanted a private life I wouldn’t have joined this one.” But she gets roped in when Norika insists on a female officer being present for the search of her locker; and when it’s her turn, she too is not immune to Monroe’s relentless drive for perfection. “Urgent paperwork not completed,” he scolds her, brandishing it in her face. June leaves in disgust, and the increasingly worried Peters tries to tell him the damage he is doing: “She’s the best policewoman we’ve got.” When Dave finally returns, the padlock on his locker turns out to have been broken all along, and there is no jemmy inside. The farce is brought to an end by Conway, who on learning of the search declares that, “This place gets more and more like a crèche every day.” The jemmy turns up magically in the property store and Monroe wants it forensically checked. “Oh no you’re not,” Conway overrules him, wiping his fingers on it. As per tradition, the last word goes to Cryer, who tells Monroe some home truths: “I often wonder, if I was a kid again, whether I’d still join… When I ask them to do a job, it’s Bob Cryer asking. The day I have to cling to my rank for respect – well, that’s the day I’ve lost.” “Stuck with each other, aren’t we?” says a defiant Monroe. He was always a stickler for the rules, but there’s no way the character could have lasted over a decade if he had remained quite so stiff and tyrannical as in this first year. The change in his persona from outright dictator to fussy stick in the mud is typical of the gradual shift in long-running characters. It’s more pronounced in the case of Quinnan, the slippery geezer in denim who eventually becomes the most loved and relied on PC at the station.
One cannot discuss Dave without bringing up his one true love down the years, George Garfield; but Sun Hill’s greatest bromance gets off to a rocky start. In ‘Watching’, they are called out to a school by the caretaker to investigate the sighting of an intruder. Demonstrating the flexibility of the format, we are given a character study of the two men that could easily be a play in itself. We learn a little about Dave, but a great deal more about George, especially his rigid view of what the police are for. After Norman Rossington’s caretaker has left them alone, he remarks that “he’s one of them berks who try to make a friend of you – ‘George’ this, ‘George’ that… If I’m in civvies down the pub then fair enough, I’m George to anybody. But in uniform it’s different. I don’t want kids and dossers pulling at me sleeve and calling me George. There’s got to be some distance, otherwise it don’t work. Popularity brings contempt in my book, not respect. Like we’re soft teachers. And I’m not – soft.” Touring the school brings back plenty of bad memories, which a grinning Dave teases him about. Describing the teachers as all talk, he observes, “Even then I could spot a phoney,” and fantasises about being able to nick a few of them now. Dave is keen to hang around, rather than getting back on watch. “You’re not a copper, Quinnan,” George sneers. “Why join if you don’t want the hassle?” “The same reasons you did – money first, uniform second. Except with you the uniform comes first.” Dave suggests that George was looking for status and respect, that “from your first day on the beat, you’re a somebody”: hinting, but never stating, that he sees the job as a chance to get back at those who looked down on him in the past. Bemoaning the lack of respect on the street, George observes, “We’ve no status within the force either. We’re not even trained properly, just expected to pick it up as we go along. After two years on the beat, you know two things: one, it’s the most important job on the force, and two, nobody wants to do it.” The intruder turns out to be a notorious ex-pupil who has taken to ‘patrolling’ the place himself, believing the caretaker can’t do it properly. “Our gaffers aren’t keen on self-styled vigilantes,” George snaps, getting in his face while Dave stands by looking embarrassed. “You have got a file, haven’t you? You’re scum, and if we don’t sort out con artists like you, people won’t know who to trust, will they?” George’s anger at heavies and security men who try to usurp the role of the police bubbles up again during his time as Fed Rep, when he has an even greater concern for protecting the job and what it stands for. But the complexes that he is nursing arguably make him ill-suited for the post. When they take the man away, Dave, who seems to have used the whole event as a chance to psychoanalyse George from a distance, observes, “Strange thing is, if it come to the crunch, I’d rather have him on my side than you.”
Considering that he was later appointed to represent the views of the police, the events of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ make Garfield a worrying choice. After touching on the AIDS crisis and the surrounding attitudes in Series 3, it returns to the subject. A well-spoken, middle-aged businessman is found setting fire to a sports car, which turns out to be an act of revenge on a man who has conducted a hate campaign against him, daubing his garage with ‘AIDS lives here’ and breaking into his house to spray the walls with ‘AIDS scum’. I observed of the earlier episodes that they weren’t prepared to examine the issue through the eyes of a gay character, which was a little too far outside the mainstream at this point, but this episode turns that on its head by highlighting the perception of AIDS as a ‘gay problem’. The businessman’s daughter reveals that he got HIV in the mid-80s from Factor VIII, a haemophiliac medication that passed on the disease in blood plasma before reforms were made. “He joined a pressure group for compensation. They had photos of him lobbying MPs… They presume he’s gay, whoever’s spraying. Mum and him divorced years back, so there’s no loyal wife standing by. He’s been a director at Bendrick’s Computers for 12 years: society lunches, rotaries, the lot. Suddenly he’s someone who brings the house prices down.” But problems are brewing elsewhere. Realising he’s handled a prisoner with HIV, George tells Cryer anxiously that he’s never brought in anyone like that before. “Who says? I might have, you might have. These people don’t go round with flashing neon signs on their foreheads.” He asks if there’s a “right procedure” and whether the Chief Medical Officer should be informed automatically. Despite Cryer’s attempts to reassure him, he contacts the CMO himself and this gets back to Conway, who wants an explanation from Cryer. “His secretary asked me if everything was all right at Sun Hill, or if there was any doubt as to the procedure. Do you know how embarrassing that is? It’s tantamount to saying that I, not we, have no idea what I’m talking about.” Cryer tears a strip off George, telling him that he’s lost his bottle: “That man, at least in here, has to feel that he is safe from the ignorant kind of prejudice that sprays paint all over his house – but he isn’t, is he?” “It’s not the same thing,” George wheedles, his head down, but Cryer leaves him in no doubt that it’s “exactly the same bloody thing!” When the man is shown out, Cryer makes a point of shaking his hand right in front of George, who reluctantly does likewise at the exit. The moral is straightforward and heavy, but none the worse for it. In a clever touch, the flash loudmouth behind the attacks is revealed to have been sacked from the businessman’s company some time ago, suggesting that he used the AIDS stigma as an excuse to get back at him; people who have become outcasts from ‘normal’ society make an easy target for anyone with a grievance.
The major event of 1990 besides the station move is the death of Ken Melvin at the hands of a car bomb, right on the cusp of the handover from one place to the other. While this dramatic exit is certainly attention-grabbing, it doesn’t come out of nowhere; a number of episodes from the first half of the year establish a continuing thread about the work of the security services, and how it impinges on police business. Terrorism had always been a background theme in the series, going back as far as the bomb threats to Jewish restaurants in the second ever episode, ‘A Friend in Need’, which the sceptical Galloway is urged to consider as the work of a Palestinian group. The real explanation turns out to be far more mundane, and when author Barry Appleton invoked the idea in subsequent episodes it was usually window-dressing as part of his action-oriented plots. But the show examines the issue in greater depth in ‘Something Special’, when a tight-lipped Detective Super from the Fraud Squad, Martins, arrives at Sun Hill offering a six-month assignment to one of the CID team. Burnside has no choice but to put his men up for selection, only to be informed that “there are a couple I can dispense with straight off.” Learning that he and Roach are off the list, Greig points out the one thing they have in common: they’re both Celts, on opposite sides of the religious divide. “I don’t keep a picture of the Pope on my desk,” quips Roach, but Greig suggests they could be seen as hardliners, therefore a liability, and that the job must be in Belfast. Dashwood, who had thought it was the Costa del Sol, is told by a gleeful Carver that “I hear they do a pretty good paella down the Falls Road”, but counters this by pointing out the generous living away expenses. It shows the danger money the police had to offer to fill roles that were both personally and politically risky, the same way we learnt of Muswell’s bonus payments for getting stuck into the miners five years earlier.
Having spoken to the three DCs, Martins reveals the purpose of the assignment: to investigate corruption in the Belfast government, namely the willing or unwilling channelling of funds as a result of “sectarian influences.” Because the RUC are too close to the problem, “an independent team is going over. We’ll be interviewing, we’ll be collating evidence, and we’ll be very unpopular.” The episode cleverly depicts the competing dynamics within CID, and what each man’s approach is to the job. Jim is dismayed when he learns that Burnside has taken him out of contention, but is told, “There are plenty of people with enthusiasm over there already. Look at it this way: who can I most afford to lose round here?” It comes down to Tosh and Mike, with Burnside urging Martins to back the former. The latter, meanwhile, gets a broadside about his seeming lack of ambition to progress beyond the rank of DC, given his obvious intelligence. Defending himself, Mike reveals that he hopes to move up the ladder and that this could be his big break. “I work quietly, without a fuss, and I don’t get people’s backs up. You’ll need that quality in Belfast.” Despite this patently ludicrous view of his ability not to annoy people, he remains the frontrunner, but Burnside steps in and makes a formal recommendation for Tosh, who duly gets the post. It’s a sign of how well-developed the characters are that we know why he’s being pushed forward, long before he spells it out: Burnside wants him to get the extra money to support his huge family. But after calling his wife to let her know, he backs out for one simple and overriding reason: “I can’t leave them. They need me more than the money; and I need them.” Burnside is philosophical, proving that regardless of what he said to appease Jim, he doesn’t want to lose any of his team, least of all Tosh.
It’s not long before the show employs the same set-up of a mysterious visitor digging into officers’ lives, but this time to shed light on just one character. In ‘Citadel’, the newcomer is the MI11 officer Stark, who cuts a brilliantly sinister figure, his short hair and clipped moustache showing his origins on the parade ground. Installing himself in Conway’s office, he brings in PCs for questioning on the subject of Richard Turnham: firstly Datta, who has been out for several meals with him lately. Noting that Turnham is a Cambridge graduate, Stark wonders what common ground they had to discuss. “I have been known to read the odd book myself, sir,” Norika responds cuttingly. “Without moving my lips.” We are led to believe that they have broken the rules in some way, but when Norika is asked why Turnham never made a move after escorting her home, she realises what Stark is getting at: “You think Richard’s gay! He’s not like the others, he doesn’t come into the nick in the morning shouting about getting his leg over.” She is quickly dismissed and replaced by Melvin, who is grilled over his moral beliefs on the state of the environment and how much Turnham shares these. “So the whistleblowers and protesters have got a point?” Stark goads him. “If some protest group were planning to sabotage a pipeline that put nuclear waste into the sea, Turnham would have sympathy with that?” “If it was against the law, he’d nick ’em for it,” insists Ken. Meanwhile, the man himself is being kept out of the way on the vital work of guarding a hole on the high street, pestered by Michael Bilton’s hilarious tramp: “You think someone’s going to pinch it?” “It’s being dealt with, sir.” “No it’s not.” When the workmen finally turn up, the old geezer notes that “they wouldn’t have lasted long in Malta during the war. Full of holes, that was.” Turnham soon realises that he’s being fobbed off with pointless jobs, but remains in the dark as to why.
Stark tackles his next interview in the pub, sitting down for a drink with Dave Quinnan. “Bow Street – the lad with something in his locker.” Dave thinks he has been exonerated, but is told that the incident is still on his file, and he needs to prove his innocence by co-operating now. “We wouldn’t be talking about a certain senior officer’s lady wife?” asks Dave, describing how he met the woman in question coming down the stairs of his bedsit when he had lent it to Turnham for the evening. Finally, Turnham is brought in and has allegations of a more serious kind put to him. The pub he frequented before he went to Cambridge “did more than play Irish music. They took up a collection every evening.” “For the families of Irish political prisoners.” “Oh you believed that, did you?” Insisting that he paid up just to keep the peace, Turnham is then asked, “Sign your name under duress too? ‘We, the undersigned, call for the immediate withdrawal of the British Army of Occupation from the six counties of Northern Ireland and the disbanding of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Signed, Richard Turnham.’” “I had some rather simplistic political views in those days… I was seventeen!” After Stark brings up his affair with an officer’s wife, Turnham complains that he’s being discriminated against because of his background and that his application will be turned down. “You’ve got a lot going for you,” Stark reassures him. “But if you find the process of positive vetting distasteful, you might need to ask yourself whether Special Branch is where you really want to work.” It’s a rare narrative turnaround for the show: instead of learning about a crime and then seeing its investigation, we see the enquiries first and only at the end are we told what they have been for. After the traits that make Turnham a potential security risk have been dredged up and evaluated, his application is granted and he heads off to his new post with a parting shot from Quinnan – but the IRA issue has been planted in viewers’ minds, and it’s not long before it comes home to Sun Hill.
Such concerns were not plucked out of thin air, but a direct reflection of the real world at the time. It was in 1990 that the Provisional IRA, having mounted recent attacks against British military targets on the Continent, switched its focus to the mainland and launched a two-year bombing campaign. The events of ‘Trojan Horse’ proved disturbingly prophetic; two months after its broadcast, the Eastbourne MP Ian Gow, a hardliner on Northern Ireland and close ally of Thatcher, was blown up by a car bomb in his driveway, having had Carol Thatcher in the passenger seat only a week earlier. The device that claims Melvin’s life is also intended for a VIP, a colonel in the parachute regiment, but the accidental nature of what occurs adds another layer of tragedy to proceedings. The plot relies on the show’s familiar technique of overlapping crimes, but the element of chance doesn’t end there; the first half of the episode is a series of Sliding Doors moments that seal Ken’s fate. He and Dave are in the high street on foot patrol at the same moment that a stolen Jag comes roaring round the corner and jerks to a halt on a zebra crossing, drawing their attention. Once they have established that the shifty driver has no proof of ownership, Tony and Reg turn up and the former is about to take the motor to Barton Street before Ken intervenes, insisting that it’s his collar. Reg hitches a lift with him back to Sun Hill and they idle away a minute of precious time on chit-chat, Reg getting nosy about Ken’s posh barrister girlfriend and begging some money off him. He is then summoned to the scaffolding by Cryer, taking him away from the greatest danger. Brownlow leaves for the night, ordering Ken to clear some of the construction debris away before he moves the stolen car into the garage. But he spots a mistake on the envelope that Conway has addressed for him, returning to their shared portacabin in a huff to get it corrected; his gratitude is subsequently lacking, given that without it the station would have had Tom Chandler ten years earlier. They are still in their office when the bomb goes off moments later, blasting Ken to the ground in a heap of rubble.
What follows is several minutes of largely visual storytelling, dialogue pared to a minimum as the officers hurry out of the stripped-down building and rescue their comrades. Conway has an injured shoulder, Reg a severely wounded back and Brownlow cuts and bruises, but it’s Ken who is rushed to intensive care, having taken the full blast. When Supt. Davidson arrives from the anti-terrorist branch of Scotland Yard and is told the car’s registered owner, he fits the pieces together instantly: “Geoffrey Benson. I always thought he was lucky.” At Barton Street he talks to the unwitting bomber, opening with the marvellously condescending line, “Right, you steal cars, do you Mr Wilks?” The terrified thief has no idea why they’re talking to him about bombs. Nowhere is the economic storytelling of the half-hour era used more effectively than in the last few minutes. When the moment comes, there are no prolonged bedside scenes or dramatic monologues. Meeting Dave in the corridor, Tony asks him if there’s any news on Ken. “Yeah,” comes the flat reply. “He’s dead.” It transpires that SO13 had Benson under surveillance because he was a known target, and saw Wilks scouting his place on several occasions; the theft could have been avoided if they’d stepped in earlier. But our expectations of the characters are cleverly turned on their head. When Tony and Dave return to Sun Hill, Cryer is his dependable self, reminding them that there’s work to be done, only for Tony to break the news about SO13. Instead of calming them down, it’s Cryer who marches up to Davidson in a fury, tearing into him in front of Brownlow and the area Commander. “We’re working in the interests of national security,” Davidson tells him curtly. “What do you want, an advert in the newspaper?” The last three scenes are heartbreaking in their simplicity. After a fireman recovers a crumpled photo of Ken and his girlfriend from the wreckage, Brownlow and the commander hold a press conference to update the media. Asked for details of the PC who died, Brownlow gives a short summary of Ken’s career, but his real feelings show in his bowed head after he sums him up as a person: “He was aged twenty-six, unmarried… and he was a very popular officer.” The final moment goes to Cryer, looking out over the ruined yard as he wipes a tear from his nose.
The show’s first bona fide death, after the fudging of Ramsey’s exit a year earlier, is afforded the kind of space that would rarely be seen again. It was another decade before a killed off regular even got a funeral scene, let alone an entire episode, as happens immediately after in ‘Rites’. But it’s typical of the multi-faceted character work that people remember Ken for what he was: not just an innocent angel taken too soon, or a polite God-botherer, but at times a one-man disaster area. Having delivered a death notice to the wrong woman, pulled the door handle off a CID car and taken up a stallholder’s plea to test the strength of his new gate only to demolish it completely, things get worse in ‘Blue-Eyed Boy’ when he returns from a holiday in Ireland a day later than planned, completely forgetting that he was due in court on an assault case. After Sgt. Penny warns the “sanctimonious little prefect” that he’d better have a good excuse, he gets a stern lecture from Monroe, followed by the full wrath of Burnside: “You divhead, I thought at least you were dead! I don’t care whether you were in Rome playing tiddlywinks with the Pope! What are you Melvin, a Section 8? You cretin!” Then, out on enquiries with Stamp, they chase a burglar from a house and Ken is confronted by the homeowners, thinking he is the intruder. Finding that he has lost his warrant card, he radios Dave to get his identity confirmed and receives the following message in a cod Indian voice: “Sorry, this is Brick Lane minicab service, I think you got the wrong number!” Ken gets so paranoid that he thinks Burnside is investigating him, but the latter is all smiles when he meets his glamorous girlfriend Maria in the flesh: “We’ll have to get him transferred into CID.” The top brass find it less easy to forgive his blunder. Writing Ken’s eulogy, Brownlow speaks of a “much loved and valued colleague” and the “loss of a promising career”, only for the miserly Conway to bring up his no-show in court. “Well, perhaps I should just say ‘promising career’,” Brownlow concedes.
This comic exchange only adds depth to the tragedy of the episode itself. We are treated to return visits by Taff and Yorkie, the latter now a civilian in a flash suit and shades, but when it’s put to them separately that they could join the relief for a drink afterwards, they both say half-heartedly, “Yeah, maybe.” They know that the old times are gone and they can’t bring them back. Penny makes things worse by cracking an unwise joke about life in the private sector being much safer for Yorkie. All that morning the PCs have tried to get on with their job and blot out the impending ceremony, but it becomes real again when the hearse arrives. The authors of Classic British TV observe that the episode “achieves a poetic beauty that is far removed from most viewers’ expectations.” The shot from the back of the hearse, as the pallbearers shoulder the coffin and are quietly marshalled by Cryer, is so low-key it could almost be from a documentary. The next few shots are anything but: the coffin borne slowly into the church accompanied by Bach’s haunting Actus Tragicus, the camera panning past each officer who knew Ken, in a bold and expansive piece of storytelling that feels more like a conventionally made drama. The very oddness of this style, for us as a viewer, reflects the alienated feelings of the characters, dealing with something they never imagined possible. As a result, the emotion is even more powerful. The pained look that June throws at the coffin as it goes past speaks volumes. She has already turned down a request from Cryer to read a psalm at the behest of Ken’s family, because it would be too hurtful for her. Instead it’s the big lug Tony who steps forward in the absence of other volunteers, to the astonishment of everyone else. Having coached him earlier in the car, there is a shot of Dave waiting anxiously to see whether Tony will get it right, but he delivers a perfect reading, and gets pats on the back afterwards in the pub. Further light is cast on the saintly Ken, when it’s noted that his recent squeeze Maria had to stand behind the family and his long-time girlfriend Michelle in church. “I feel sorry for all of them,” says Peters. “An occasion like this really ought to bring people together.” His colleague Penny gives him words of wisdom: “Nothing brings people together except lust, terror or hard cash.” There is a sense of closure for the PCs – but not for Cryer, who under his calm exterior still has the burning anger he showed in the previous episode. When June tells him blandly that she feels better now, expecting that it’s what he wants to hear, he replies, “I’m glad someone does, ’cos I don’t. I won’t feel any better until someone at the top, and I mean way above Mr Brownlow, has the decency to admit that they’ve cocked up. What are the chances of that? We’re dispensable, girls – all of us. You’d better remember that.” With that comforting thought he disappears, leaving the women to muse on the fact that even their ultra-dependable skipper doesn’t trust the job to keep them safe.
We shouldn’t, of course, be surprised by Tony’s successful reading in church, as it’s an example of seeing the actor emerge from behind their part. The vocal difference stands out immediately: Graham Cole delivers the lines in his natural register, deeper and more refined than the chirpy Cockney he put on as Stamp. It’s rarely heard, but when someone offends him or he faces accusations of wrongdoing, Tony becomes more and more glacial until he sounds positively cut-glass. Moreover, whereas he is thoroughly out of his element delivering a Bible recital, the real-life Cole would not be. In the 1991 Tony Lynch book on The Bill, Cole talks about the importance of making Stamp sufficiently distinguishable from his real self: “The producers once asked me if I’d mind if Stamp was married with two children. But that’s my situation in reality… I felt decidedly uneasy about art imitating life quite so closely. I pleaded with them not to do it and to let Tony remain the eternal bachelor.” In a long-running series where someone spends more time being a fictional person than not, the blurring of boundaries between character and actor can be both beneficial and dangerous, and the flow can work both ways. Some made a conscious effort to distinguish themselves from their part by changing their appearance, such as the scar that Ralph Brown asked for when playing the villainous Pete Muswell. Others brought a lot of themselves to their role. Tony Scannell’s real-life experiences as a DJ and RAF serviceman on Cyprus were salted into the early hour-long episodes; he is given an uncredited role as the voice of a DJ in Series 1, then in ‘Not Without Cause’ we learn that Roach saw military service, like the husband of the woman they are investigating. “What, flogging RAF petrol to the natives on Nicosia?” Dashwood sneers. “Groundsman, second class?” “All right, so you know about it.” One colourful hell-raiser adds depth to another, and no harm done. But then there is the example of Kevin Lloyd. As detailed by his biographies in various books, he came from a police household, the son of a sergeant killed en route to a hoax 999 call, and was related to other police officers who approved of his work on the show. His trademark tache was forced on him purely because he looked too similar to Christopher Ellison without it, yet he had to adopt it 24/7, and with it Tosh’s expanding waistline; his large family mirrored Tosh’s, with some of his actual kids playing his fictional ones; his actress wife had the same first name as his real wife. Taken together these things seem trivial, but then throw in the other defining facet of Tosh: the hours put in at the pub, sinking pints in an atmosphere of humour and merriment. From the hard-drinking culture of showbiz (as it was then), to the hard-drinking culture on the screen, when did the booze ever stop flowing, and where was the line drawn between fiction and reality? With the benefit of hindsight, when you watch Lloyd you get a sense of someone being immersed in a world that became too real, damaging and deadly.
On the same subject, by far the most interesting material in the Tony Lynch book is the biography of Nula Conwell, and her observations on the transfer of Viv Martella to CID. Talking about clothing, she notes that Viv is a conservative dresser, whereas “I’m into lots of casual clothes and sportswear. She isn’t and I’m very glad about that – if we wore the same things, or shopped at the same shops, then I’d be living and breathing this job every single minute of the day.” Her say in the character, however, went beyond what she wore. She mentions having to stand her ground about the ways in which Viv was used when she joined the CID men: “I especially requested that she wouldn’t have an affair with any of them… I felt it would make her no more than the token female in the office.” Moreover, “I’ve had to fight quite a bit against the old idea that when a female is upset, she automatically bursts into floods of tears. I’m not saying women don’t cry, of course they do, and I’ve gone along with that in certain scenes. But on other occasions I’ve rebelled a bit.” Conwell goes on to mention an episode where Viv had made a mistake and was supposed to sob throughout a scene with Burnside, but managed to get this changed. Seeing Viv try to make it as Sun Hill’s only female detective, one senses the show itself trying to get its head around the concept, walking the fine line between challenging sexist attitudes and endorsing them. Her first proper CID episode, ‘One of the Boys’, opens with her sat behind a typewriter, already installed as office dogsbody. Complaining that in the past week she’s “only been out for sandwiches and chips”, she is given an errand by the sympathetic Tosh, the only one not to treat her like a tea lady. She rehearses her introduction with a warrant card in the mirror, trying to convince herself she belongs. She is told to bring in a prostitute for questioning, but the woman gives her the slip and Viv has to chase her over half the manor in a pencil skirt and high heels that are ill-equipped for the job. En route, there is a darkly telling scene where she hitches a lift from a young Andy Serkis, who sees her ripped skirt, propositions her, then orders her out when she refuses to play ball: “You shouldn’t promise what you can’t deliver.” Swapping heels for sneakers, she finally collars the woman only to learn that Tosh doesn’t need her anymore. On seeing Viv’s bedraggled appearance, Burnside notes that she “looks like she had a bit of rough over lunchtime” and she suddenly explodes at him: “Don’t you ever talk to me like that again – sir!” “Welcome to the firm, Viv,” he replies calmly, and we get the sense that the whole day has been an initiation ritual; that she has to jump through these humiliating hoops to become accepted.
The title is well chosen, given that Viv has always been one of the lads in spirit. We see that she can put away food and booze as well as the men, and has the same bawdy sense of humour, which proves useful on many occasions. When the plastered Tony tries to pull her at Taff’s leaving do, with the enticing promise that “it’ll only take a minute”, she tells him scornfully, “You’d never make a living at this!” But she, and we, are never allowed to forget that she is the CID newbie. In ‘Line Up’, Tony brings in a suspected attacker who he saw fleeing the scene but didn’t actually identify as the culprit. Viv takes on the case, together with Mike, who hardly contains his annoyance at having to babysit her. In the interview room the thug’s misogyny gets to her and she loses her temper, leaning in his face. She puts the idea of an ID parade to him, to the dismay of Mike, who insists afterwards that “ID parades are a total waste of time. You’ll be public enemy number one round here, and no one will do us any favours for the foreseeable.” Monroe reluctantly agrees to it and the police eventually cobble together volunteers for the princely sum of £4 each. An angry June points out that if Jim or Tosh were running the investigation no-one would mind, but because it’s Viv “she’s accused of throwing her weight around.” The injured woman picks out the right man, but inconclusive forensic evidence means the CPS is unlikely to proceed. Burnside hauls Viv into his office and lectures her on her conduct in the interview room: “I am talking about pursuing your investigation professionally, not pratting about like some masked avenger with a chip on his shoulder!” Given Burnside’s track record of professionalism, this is hypocritical at best; it’s the familiar jibe about a woman letting her emotions get the better of her, when he and Roach do this all the time, and use it to their advantage too. But we, the viewer, realise this from our experience, rather than inferring it from the episode itself. The takeaway message is still that he is her boss, she needs to listen and learn, and the double standards go unchallenged. Christine Frazer was presented as out of touch and unpopular in the ranks, yet when the focus switches to a female officer at the sharp end she is still somehow in the wrong, needing to be taken down a peg and to learn her place.
It’s important to bear in mind that this episode has a female author – and not just any author, but Elizabeth-Anne Wheal, one of The Bill’s best and most prolific writers over the next decade. This, her debut, was only the third script by a woman in the first six years of the show, and in another case of art imitating life, reflects the challenges of a female trying to succeed in a male-dominated world. But the show didn’t have a blind spot towards women altogether, and in the second part of this review there are plenty of examples of stories that address sexist attitudes in quite forward-thinking ways. What’s startling to realise is that 1990 is as distant from us now as 1960 was then, and at the start of the caring, sharing Nineties, attitudes had not moved on as much as we might imagine. When the boys’ club acquires a female leader at the end of the year, with the arrival of DCI Kim Reid, Jim suggests that Viv will be “well in – all the girls together, eh?” and she plays down the idea that it’s good news for her: “You can’t assume that. A woman that makes it in a job where there’s always been men can end up more chauvinistic than they are, there’s plenty of examples of that!” Hot on the heels of the ‘too emotional’ cliché comes ‘women beware women’, and we know that these engrained views had an expression in reality. Attendees of the online Bill Reunions on Zoom may have heard Carolyn Pickles speak about the treatment she had to endure from some of her fellow cast members during her time on the show. She didn’t name names, but she hardly needed to – the evidence is right there on screen, in their characters’ attitudes. Her observation, that some people were incapable of separating their fictional resentment at a female boss from real life, proves the point of those quoted earlier: that living the part you play is a dangerous thing.