By Edward Kellett
If Series 7 was an unusually stable year in terms of cast changes, then Series 8 is anything but. The last year of twice-weekly episodes is full of comings and goings, some better-fashioned than others, as the show gears up towards the marathon effort of producing three episodes a week. This is also perhaps the year in which Michael Chapman began to wield his power as executive producer in full. The man with the naval background, known as ‘the Admiral’, who once literally axed some rushes that were not to his liking, has been praised by some for his resolute attitude and criticised by others for his stubbornness. As noted in a previous review, Roger Leach was the only cast member to get a script on the air, but not for want of trying – it’s just that the other scripts, including the ones Leach co-authored with Larry Dann, were vetoed by Chapman on the basis that “actors act, writers write.” The same ruthless approach can be seen in the hiring and firing that went on at this time.
The Bill Reunions of the past two years have highlighted many happy experiences that actors had in common during their time on the show. But the event hosted on behalf of Centrepoint revealed a more specific memory shared by Larry Dann (sacked by letter), Carolyn Pickles (sacked by letter) and Jon Iles (sacked by letter, which never reached him because Michael Chapman’s secretary forgot to post it, so he found out from his agent in the middle of filming). In fairness to that secretary, the franking machine was seeing heavy duty at the time; Tony O’Callaghan revealed on his podcast interview that he too received such a letter when he was only a few months into his twelve-year stint as Sgt. Boyden, thanking him for his contribution but declaring that it hadn’t worked out. On the advice of the producer Richard Handford, he hung on for a few months while they sorted out a replacement – and, hilariously, seems to have got another decade of work out of it because Chapman briefly forgot he was there. But then, going by Andrew Mackintosh’s comments on his interview, the same Richard Handford ended his contract when he took over as executive producer at the start of 1998 without realising it had six months left to run, thus giving him a six-month paid holiday before his departure. To disparage the showrunners as a forgetful bunch would be unfair when they held responsibility for the entire programme, budgets, schedules and all; but with a constant focus on the future, on the next new face and the next batch of scripts, it’s arguable that they took some of the long-established actors for granted. Consider the bizarre criticism that Larry Dann got from producer Peter Wolfes, of Alec Peters’ return to work after his stabbing, as “the laziest acting I’ve ever seen.” Dann observed that because he often came to Michael Chapman to air the cast’s grievances, he may have become viewed as a nuisance, and perhaps – though this is pure conjecture on my part – there was also a slight blurring of fact and fiction: an assumption that he could be talked down to as easily as his character. Peters may have been drifting along, happy to make up the numbers and lacking in ambition to do anything else, but the same was not true of the man who played him. The fudged exit that follows has all the signs of a production team getting rid of someone who has become inconvenient, but there are plenty of them in the course of this year.
First on the chopping block is Carolyn Pickles, as the ongoing feud between Reid and Burnside from the tail end of 1991 is resolved. After a messy armed robbery in which an innocent bystander has his legs blown off, Burnside is under pressure to get a result, and Reid is happy to let him take the lead. A chance remark by Tosh makes him realise that he is being set up to fail, and he forms an alliance with Roach, both men recognising the threat to their careers. Roach tells him to play the long game: wait for the stolen goods to turn up on the black market, before tracing them back to their source. But after a dawn raid produces nothing, the pressure increases. Confirmation is supplied by the Oracle of CID, Dashwood, who’s always wise after the fact: “I could have told him the raid’d be a no-no…. What, and get my head bitten off for giving good advice? No thank you. She wants him transferred, or she wants out. Reid’d have him in a traffic warden’s job given half a chance. You know what they say, when you get above the rank of sergeant? Never let police work get in the way of your career.” Burnside goes after a result at all costs, leading to perhaps his most famous and definitive scene. Cornering his snout, he takes him into the toilets of a nearby pub and administers a ducking while the guilty Jim watches the door, forced to become the enabler for his boss’s immoral tactics. The Bill may be an ensemble piece about daily life in a police station, but on a more selective level then it’s also the story of one man’s gradual loss of innocence. The baby-faced Carver of 1983 has become tired and cynical, yet there are still flashes of his idealism now and then. “Don’t ever do that to me again, guv,” he snaps afterwards. “You were bang out of order in there!” “Oh, and what they did wasn’t?” counters Burnside. “A man of sixty goes out shopping with his old lady, meets up with them and loses the use of both legs? He’ll never walk again! Now you listen to me, Jim. Never mind what the governors say. What the public wants is a bit of muscle. Helps them sleep at night. If you can’t see that you’re in the wrong job, pal.”
We see how officers further up the chain react to a pressure situation when Reid is called to a meeting with MS15 at Scotland Yard. Convinced it is about an appeal hearing on a case she was involved in, she goes on the offensive, telling AC Renshaw and Commander Huxley that she would like to know if she is under investigation and bringing up the rumours of misconduct at Sun Hill. Bemused, they reveal that they are discussing a vacant superintendent’s role. “There are boards coming up next month. If you applied… who knows how lucky you’d be?” Reid’s bashful smile acknowledges the cosseted world that she has joined, where posts are found for the person rather than the other way round. But if she is painted badly for schmoozing her way to the top, then Burnside’s actions are hardly moral – and they come at a terrible price. He carries out another raid and turns up two shotguns used in the robbery, but is told that the snout who begged him for protection has been found kneecapped. “Don’t you think we should share some of the responsibility?” hisses Jim. “We got the information out of him in full view of a known pub, now what do you expect?” “What I got,” Burnside replies without a shred of remorse. He pops into Reid’s office, flushed with success, and is told to leave the report on her desk. “No,” he declares, shutting her door. “I’m worth more than this. You’re not giving me the brush-off.” Aware that she is off to bigger and better things, he sneers, “So whose back are you going to be climbing on next, then? You know what gets me with you people on accelerated promotion? You never get your hands dirty. Even when you’re rubbing someone’s nose right in it.” The unfazed Reid asks, “If you know so much about how it’s done, what’s stopping you?” “Self-respect.” She gives him a pitying look as she leaves, and there is a sense of stalemate: that both of them would hate to use the other’s methods to get ahead.
This could have been the last we saw of Reid, and was perhaps intended as such, but there’s an almost grudging exit provided for her a few episodes later, in ‘Somebody Special’. There are still moments to savour, courtesy of Christopher Russell, whose flawless track record had by now made him the go-to writer for almost every significant episode. “Twenty-eight quid?” says Burnside in disbelief as he surveys the piles of ten and twenty pence coins gathered in the whip-round. “I don’t think that’s too bad, she has only been here for a year,” says Jim. “I can do you a bent car radio for twenty,” adds Mike. “I thought you would have had me shipped out sideways,” Burnside tells Reid as she clears her office. “Well if it had come down to you and me, I would have done. I wasn’t about to disappear in a puff of smoke like Gordon Wray, I can assure you.” “You’re not rushing off, are you? The troops will want to mark your departure later.” “With a footprint on the backside in certain cases, I’m sure,” she notes drolly. Burnside slips into a stupor as he listens to Brownlow’s farewell platitudes about her forward thinking and initiative. She opens her leaving gift, a task dumped on Jim at the last moment. His shortcomings as Secret Santa are exposed when she pulls off the wrapping to reveal a silver tankard. “Well I didn’t know what else to get her!” he protests as Burnside mouths something at him. “We always give people tankards, don’t we?” “No Jim, thanks very much, it’s very nice,” Reid assures him. “I shall put it on my mantelpiece; next to my pipe.” The party ends abruptly when the whole of CID leave on a job, with the exception of Jim, who’s forced to stay and be mother: “Would you like some scotch, ma’am?” “Yes, in that,” she snaps, passing him her tankard. When they return in high spirits, they pass her carrying her belongings on the stairs. “Bye, Frank. See you in court, perhaps.” “You’ll have to catch me first,” he mutters as he heads the other way.
One gets the feeling that Reid, like Christine Frazer before her, was an eighteen-month experiment in female leadership brought to an abrupt end when the gimmick had worn off. That, at least, seems to have been the view of Michael Chapman, given his aforementioned view that there was no real place in The Bill for women. The circumstances in which Carolyn Pickles left the show hardly inspire confidence in the regime: having asked for a more favourable schedule to juggle the demands of filming with motherhood, her reward was a promotion for DCI Reid, in recognition of all the good work she had put into the character, which coincidentally removed her from the show. The following ten years of stable and almost entirely male casts in the upper ranks suggest that the producers were happy to have hit on a winning team that wasn’t going to make inconvenient requests for childcare or maternity leave. When Reid returns for one final appearance as a superintendent, investigating an allegation of rape against George Garfield, she is used to provide further commentary on the gulf between the troops and the out of touch governors. “You’ve never had much faith in the system, have you Frank?” “You’re a necessary evil,” he replies graciously, on the role of MS15. “I’d rather have you than some raving loony council committee.” He evidently sees it as another stepping stone for her, keeping a watch on other coppers so she can keep her own stock high for future promotions. This gulf between senior female officers and ‘our lot’ seems to reflect the feelings of the production team, that women were a breed apart and not worth exploring in the same detail. As noted in previous reviews however, this partly-conscious sexism wasn’t unique to The Bill, and reflects the attitude of much film and television of the time that women were an optional extra.
The next figure to leave, or rather not leave, is Larry Dann, in another hangover from a story begun the previous year. The friction between Cryer and Peters over the former’s role as duty sergeant gets steadily worse as Cryer longs for a return to his old job. In a meeting with Brownlow, he realises that the chief super is trying to push Peters out, theorising that he is not yet over the trauma of the stabbing and should seek professional help. “If anyone wants to see the job psychologist, it’s me!” retorts Cryer, declaring that he has had enough of being duty sergeant. Brownlow insists he’s been very successful. “Too successful – I didn’t join the job to be a politician! I have reconsidered; I’ve spent months considering.” This reflects Eric Richard’s own feelings about a change of scenery that he wasn’t enjoying, and in the resulting game of musical chairs, someone has to lose out. The dispute is resolved in brutal fashion in ‘Chicken’, perhaps the most memorable episode by Julian Jones, who brought a vivid reality to all his episodes. Learning that Cryer wishes to return to the relief, Peters observes tartly, “I wasn’t aware there was a post for him to return to.” Brownlow reminds Peters that he was first choice for the duty sergeant post, but he dismisses the idea that there are any lingering effects from the stabbing: “It was really only a flesh wound. It’s just one of those things that happen. It was months ago, I’ve forgotten about it.” Furious that Cryer has been “stitching me up with Brownlow”, he refuses Bob’s offer of a drink and the latter has to contemplate another six months in post before someone new is recruited. “He’s a desk jockey!” Boyden tells Peters. “Bob Cryer’s a pedantic pain in the arse. I tell you, I wouldn’t be duty sergeant, mate. It’s a civilian’s job. It’s for old coppers that are past their sell-by date.” “That’s why he doesn’t want the job.” “A has-been! Lost his bottle.” In response to a spate of trespassing by children on the railway line, Monroe tells Peters to liaise with British Rail over repairs to fences. Peters dismisses it as “a waste of time, if you ask me”, and is hit by one of the headmaster’s greatest takedowns: “I didn’t ask you – and that’s not the attitude I expect. Perhaps you should keep an eye on the company you keep,” he adds in a pointed reference to Boyden. The situation gets worse, two kids shoving a trolley onto the live rail which catches fire. After the power is cut, Steve tells June to move the trolley. “Get stuffed!” “Why, you chicken?” “I go near that mate, I could be Kentucky Fried!”
Peters and Stringer respond to another shout involving a gang of kids playing on the line. One boy tries to cross at the last moment and is shocked by the current, then takes the full impact of the train. Barry looks away, but Peters watches from beginning to end, and is briskly efficient afterwards. Observing that the paramedics will not be needed, he adds, “An undertaker and a couple of refuse bags should do it.” He visits the boy’s mother at the factory where she works, and the sight of his last effects – mainly the shoe that was knocked off in the collision – causes her to break down in tears. Back at the station, Cryer apologises for going behind Peters’ back, but Alec doesn’t care anymore; the mask he has been keeping on finally cracks. One assumes there were no charges of lazy acting brought against Larry Dann for the ensuing monologue, which is one of the most powerful in the show’s history. “I was thinking about Gary Mabbs. I can always remember him holding the knife,” he declares, proof that his claims to the contrary were to reassure himself more than anyone else. “The next I remember is the blood on my shirt. But the moment in between – the vital moment… Today, when that lad got hit by the train… somehow Stringer managed to turn away. I didn’t. I watched. I saw him hit. And when I went down on the track, I saw his body. His torso – his head was… Of course I went to tell his mum; and all these faces around me. All I could see was grief, pain. And all the time I was thinking: ‘There’s no way you’re getting my job.’ I mean, it’s really sick. But it’s true. Just now, I was thinking about Mabbs. I always remember what he said. He said he was going to kill me. And I was thinking… in some ways it’s almost as if he did.” There’s a real impact in hearing these words from Peters, the man who’s always tried to coast through: to stay away from anything dangerous and ride out his time until retirement. But the damage done to abler, younger men catches up to him in the end, like it does to everyone who stays in the job long enough. The blunt, ‘professional’ attitude that he adopted to show he still belonged on the front line is ultimately hollow – what point is there in clinging onto a role that puts you through this? Cryer suggests a holiday, and Peters puts the idea to Brownlow when he goes to see him. “It’s the timing, sir. I’d like to take it the week before I start as duty sergeant.”
As memorable as it is, this storyline leaves the character in limbo. The purpose of the job swap was to get Cryer back onto the relief, but after a year of watching him battle with the duty sergeant post, there would be no point retreading the same ground with Peters. Instead he puts in two more brief appearances, the last of them at Viv’s birthday bash in ‘Party Politics’, before disappearing into the ether in what Eric Richard described as “going upstairs for a pencil and never being seen again.” These Crossroads-style non-departures were an odd feature of the half-hour era, and Larry Dann’s was by no means the first – both Ashley Gunstock and Kelly Lawrence had vanished abruptly when their contracts were up. A better, but no less bizarre exit from early 1992 is that of Natasha Williams, who had a memorable onscreen presence as the bumptious Delia French. Delia’s farewell follows a pattern we see repeated throughout the decade; in the same way that a new character is introduced and then hardly seen for a while as a role is carved out for them, so an unwanted figure disappears for such a long time that we almost forget they are there, until they return for a final story that either does or doesn’t provide an exit. ‘Acting Detective’ does at least give her a central role, forced to go undercover with no notice to replace a Nigerian drug mule who has been admitted to hospital after the packets in her stomach burst. Pressed for an update on her condition, Burnside reveals that “she won’t be using her return ticket.” Pointing out that “June Ackland blacked up’s not really gonna cut it”, he asks Delia and she accepts the challenge, but without the macho bravado that was always her strongest trait. Her worries are borne out when both surveillance teams manage to lose her, in part because of the good old reversing lorry, which may be the show’s most groan-inducing cliché. Some quick detective work narrows her location down to the street, but not the address. In a typically bold move, her cover blown and the villains closing in on her, Delia chucks a chair out of the window and gives the game away. The cavalry burst in and she is saved just in time, but the ordeal isn’t quite over. The laxatives she was given to pass the drugs suddenly kick in, and she is sent dashing upstairs. As final scenes go, it lacks a certain dignity but at least sticks in the mind – which is more than can be said for others that followed.
Supplying two dozen actors with decent material, via as many writers, must have been a tough balancing act. Some long-running characters went through not just fallow months, but fallow years. Thankfully, the sheer volume of episodes meant that their time came round eventually, and we see this in Series 8. Following his introduction at the start of 1989, Alistair Greig had a standout first year but perhaps a quiet two after that, overshadowed by the sturm und drang of Burnside and Roach. But in 1992, there is a sudden rush of episodes in which he plays a central role. Most memorable and hard-hitting of these is ‘Lost Boy’, which not only gives Greig an origin story, but slightly redresses the balance after a year of episodes focusing on child abuse, rape and prostitution that all featured female victims. The search for a missing boy, Stephen Watson, is proving fruitless and the police suspect he has gone looking for his friend Lee Garside, who left home months ago. Lee’s parents don’t want to know, and the father eventually reveals why: “He’s selling himself.” Greig is tasked with finding the two boys, based on his experience with the Vice Squad in Central London. “We think you’ll be able to look under the right stones – if Lee is on the meat rack.” When he learns that Loxton and Ackland are his back-up, his response is swift and emphatic: “I don’t want Loxton on this case. He’s not right for this sort of job. This young boy, if he’s thirteen there’ll almost certainly be a ponce involved. The macho approach is out; Loxton’s attitude is all wrong.” He insists on taking Dashwood instead, and Steve’s hopes of a night out in the West End are crushed. “In this operation we’re going to be mixing with the gay community, looking for their support. I can’t afford to take along anyone with the wrong attitude.” Never failing to disappoint, back comes Steve with the immortal response, “You what? I’ve got nothing against shirt-lifters.” The stony look on Greig’s face says it all. When he, Mike and June reach the centre of town, they visit a rather arch nightclub manager who used to be his best informant. He immediately recognises the photo of Lee: “He sometimes acts as hook for a ponce called Matthews. He’s likely to be trolling around Victoria.” The notoriety of the place is reinforced in a later episode, when Ted Roach tries to speak to some youths at an arcade. “Bog off granddad, go to Victoria if you’re that desperate!” snaps one – prompting another of Tony Scannell’s classic raised eyebrows.
The remainder of the episode unfolds in the station itself, a remarkable piece of filming that allows real life to carry on around it, complete with commuter bustle and platform announcements. It’s all-too appropriate for a story about what goes on in view of the public, if they just turn their eyes to the corners now and then. Looking out for Lee, Greig’s team is soon rumbled by his old colleagues from the Vice Squad, who are on an undercover job of their own. The rough and tumble band they meet in an upstairs office, led by Robert Glenister’s bearded, woolly-hatted DI Baker, look more like dossers than policemen, showing the need for specialist units to blend into the seedy worlds they investigate. In a later episode, a Drugs Squad DI who turns up to question an informant looks as if he should be hanging around with him on a street corner. Realising they are targeting the same villain, Greig asks to come in on their operation, but is told that Mike and June must remain off the plot: “The officers down there have all been specially trained for this sort of work. In fact I think you helped train a couple of them, Alistair.” Thoroughly out of his element, Mike learns some bleak truths about the business: the same ones that would have been learnt from the real police in researching this episode. Down on the concourse another pimp is talking to one of his employees. “Looks fond of him, doesn’t he? You see the way he’s stroking his chin? He’s actually feeling to see if he’s started shaving yet. He’s worth more if he’s still a chicken… twelve to sixteen. Younger than that, they call them spring chickens. Some of them are only three years old.” Baker tells June that “Matthews is making over a thousand quid a night from these boys. That’s after he’s sampled the merchandise himself, of course.” She wants to know what happens to them once their employers are caught, and is told that most of them go into care but don’t stay there, given that they have already run away from home. “Half the time they’re back here in a few months. When you live like that for any length of time you find it hard to form a normal relationship. It takes time, care… love, for want of a better word. These kids haven’t got that. So they just drift back.”
Matthews turns up in the throng of people below, as do Lee and the terrified Stephen. Greig has to push his undercover role to the limit when Lee approaches him, asking if he’s cottaging. With the promise of “a real chicken”, he is taken to meet Stephen, then Matthews, who tells him that the action will take place “in the back of my motor. I’ll be watching. I want to keep an eye on this one.” He gets Greig to dump the money into a rolled-up newspaper, a transaction that caught the eye of the real-life British Transport Police, who came up to the actors asking them what was going on (that fact gleaned from Andrew Mackintosh because I asked him about this episode on the last Bill Reunion – first-hand research sometimes pays off!). When he is on his own with Stephen, he reassures him that he is a police officer, come to take him home. These last few minutes tell us exactly why Greig is the way he is: the calm, measured temperament built up through years of having to extract painful memories from vulnerable people. Matthews does a runner and is grabbed by officers in the station, but the real heft of the story comes afterwards, when June asks Stephen how he got ensnared in the sex trade. The grooming process is visible on screen, in the cigarette he tries half-heartedly to smoke and then discards. He is equally unimpressed by the scotch he was plied with: “Tastes bloody horrible… Lee called me; said it was great up west, said he’d meet me off a train. They got me in this flat. There was videos and that… fags, booze, whatever you wanted. Do what you like. No-one telling you what to do. But then it got horrible. Matthews, he made me do things. I said I wanted to go home, but he wouldn’t let me. He locked me in this room, said he’d beat me up if I ran away. He said he knew my address, and he’d find me and kill me.” Baker asks Greig if he misses his old job, and he declares, “This kind of operation, yeah.” “Of course you’re only remembering the good bits. When you’ve been working twenty-two hours a day, you’re dead on your feet, nothing’s happening, you wonder why you do it at all. And then something like this happens. I wouldn’t work for any other section.” Baker’s certainty reveals a lot about the kind of people who fill harrowing jobs like this. They can find a way of processing the horror they come across, because the adrenaline high when they save someone from that horror makes it all worthwhile. But there’s a sobering finale when Greig and Dashwood spot another group of youngsters touting for business in the station. “Just carries on, doesn’t it?” notes Mike grimly.
Two episodes later, Greig is to the fore again in ‘Something Special’, trying to recruit a new snout on the Fairways Estate. George has brought in Nicola Purdie, a “twenty-four carat slag”, for shoplifting and stabbing a security guard, but points out that she has valuable local knowledge, and Greig spies an opportunity. “Nicola Purdie, turn informer?” scoffs Burnside. “She wouldn’t give you a hanky with snot on it. I’ve always managed to keep out of gobbing distance.” He allows Greig to try, but doubts he will be able to “build a relationship.” “Well it’s better than pushing people’s heads down lavatories,” says a rebellious Jim. With the cell door open, Greig goes in for an informal chat, and Christopher Russell delivers a sequel to his Series 5 classic ‘Greig Versus Taylor.’ Once again it’s a near two-hander between policeman and criminal – and once again, Greig’s dead straight approach wears down the opposition, in a way that no amount of threats could. Purdie is a memorable adversary, sporting a thick Northern Irish brogue and a fearsome pair of earrings that would defeat even Pat Butcher. Insisting that she “only scratched the wog”, she scorns the charge of GBH, but is told that she is looking at crown court this time, followed by a custodial sentence. Greig asks if she has considered what it will be like inside, away from her two children and the possible family break-up. He mentions her boyfriend, hinting that she may find the loss of sex as big a problem as male offenders do: a tactic no-one else in CID would try without making it a coarse joke. Then he hits her with the gentle reminder that she is looking at six months minimum, which could become eighteen. After he brings up the drug situation on the estate, she realises he is angling for a grass. But as he goes to leave, she snaps, “What can a prat like you do anyway?” – a classic buy sign, proving that she wants the deal. As he did with Taylor, Greig makes no false promises, saying he can’t predict the judge’s decision but could try to get a suspended sentence. She balks at the idea of grassing on drug dealers but could provide info on stolen goods. If Burnside’s way of dealing with opposition is to swell up, making himself bigger and more threatening, then Greig’s is to blend in – taking advantage of people’s willingness to talk when they’re in a tough situation. But Russell doesn’t take the easy route of suggesting that he’s a saint among sinners. When he returns with news of a shop selling bent gear, Burnside is astounded that Purdie came across, all for the sake of hanging onto her boyfriend. “What chance has a slag like that got of finding anybody who thinks she’s special?” “None whatsoever – but we all have to dream, don’t we?” replies Greig, proving he can be just as ruthless and cynical as Burnside. The difference is that he knows the value of keeping these traits hidden, especially from the people he does business with.
Greig’s desire for a new informant is motivated partly by his elevation in rank. The departure of Reid prompts a round of pass the parcel in which Greig is shifted to Acting DI and Burnside to Acting DCI. The latter finds himself sucked into Brownlow’s world of senior management, “taking an overview – strategy, innovation, thought.” “Rest assured, sir. I shall grasp the challenge with both hands.” Meeting Greig in the corridor, Burnside observes, “Anyone would think I was standing in for God.” “Whereas I am, of course,” comes the brilliant riposte. But a few episodes later, Greig starts to learn that God’s shoes are very hard to fill. This time it’s the show’s other veteran writer, Barry Appleton, who returns to the office politics of CID that were always such fertile territory for him. In ‘It’s a Small World’, Tosh watches Greig making a phone call in what has become his office and notes that this Acting DI gig has changed him. “You watch, someone’ll pull the rug out from under his feet and bang, he’ll be back in the land of three stripes before you can say ‘Sir Robert Mark.’” Viv storms into the office, fresh from being humiliated in court, and lays into her supposed boss: “I lost the Vinci case. It was thrown out as a result of your advice! You told me Vinci was no longer a suspect, so I kicked him out. Then I should never have held a street identification two weeks later… It’s not technical when you get a slagging-off from the beak! ‘A total disregard of the code’, that’s what he said. You made a complete fool of me!” Smarting from this public attack, Greig holds a staff meeting in which he tries to correct the idea that his promotion carries no real authority. “I’ll make decisions that prove unpopular, and from time to time I’ll make mistakes. If there are any comments, criticisms, whatever – let’s hear them now and clear the air.” He singles out Roach, asking for his views and pointing out that he should call him ‘sir’, not ‘Alistair’; “It’s a question of respect for the rank.” Given the floor, the court jester makes full use of it: “Sir – you can rely on my complete co-operation. And if you need any advice, please don’t hesitate. No, sincerely!”
Overhearing this blatant piss-take, Burnside drags Greig into his own office. “What the hell was all that about? You were letting Ted Roach take centre stage. He is finished – over the hill, played out, as far as promotion is concerned. He’s got nothing to lose. You have got a future. Protect it!” He advises Greig to delegate his workload to his subordinates: “If stamping your authority means being uncompromising, stuff ’em!” “I don’t work that way!” “Well then it’s time you did.” Marching back into the office, Greig begins laying down the law to all and sundry. After dumping his caseload on Roach, he orders Tosh to “smarten yourself up. Your appearance is not becoming to a member of this department. I’d suggest a haircut for a start, and I want to see this suit cleaned and pressed. There won’t be a second warning.” Then it’s Viv’s turn, chastised for taking too many short journeys by car. “This office has become very sloppy. I want to see maximum effort from everybody.” This charade has echoes of Roach’s behaviour when he was Acting DI at the start of the half-hour era – kicking people’s backsides in order to prove he is in charge, but failing to disguise the air of desperation about it. People with excellent qualities don’t always make excellent leaders, and if Roach was too chaotic to cope with the demands of being DI, then Greig is simply too nice. This is the moment where the show starts to realign the two men. With Roach headed for the exit a year later, it’s arguable that Greig takes over his role from this point, as the hardened veteran getting steadily more disillusioned with his lack of progress. But there’s plenty of heartache to go round, with Dashwood the main focus of the episode. He is thinking of leaving the force, observing that, “People are getting promotions, I can’t even get a transfer!” Greig asks if he’s serious, declaring that “rank isn’t everything.” “So what was all that about this morning?” “That was about personalities. Pips on your shoulder mean nothing if people don’t listen to what you say. People like you, Tosh, even Ted – you’re good at what you do. This job’s about getting a good result, not promotion.” Mike isn’t fooled by this reassuring pep talk: “You being straight? Or honing your management skills?” “What do you think?” asks the enigmatic Greig, before he shuts his office door.
The planets are restored to their orbit when Jack Meadows arrives to take up the reins as DCI, the one and only figure from the Nineties who would last through to the end of the series. It’s not the purpose of these reviews to be iconoclastic just for the sake of it, but I would argue that the way we view Meadows nowadays is the result of some unintentional rebranding by the show itself. In the 2002 revamp he was one of the few who survived into the new era: positioned as the decent man from the old school, working with Mickey Webb to bring down the corrupt Superintendent Chandler. Longevity brings status and respect, but the respect afforded to Meadows comes from some unlikely places. When Sally Johnson returns as a private eye, delving into the Sun Hill Fire, the two pop out for lunch and reminisce over the good old days – a strange development when her last experience of Meadows, like the DIs before and after her, was one of betrayal, anger and recrimination. Even stranger is the farewell episode for Ted Roach a year later, described by Meadows as a “good friend”, which was commented on in Oliver Crocker’s podcast interview with Larry Dann. Judging by their time together as colleagues in the early Nineties, and Ted’s return as a free agent in 2000, Meadows would only turn up to Roach’s funeral to make absolutely sure he was dead, and wasn’t about to climb from the grave swearing vengeance, one fist clenched and the other holding a bottle of scotch. The Meadows of the Nineties is not a rough and tough legend who watches the backs of his troops, but a slippery fish always looking out for number one – a much more interesting role to play, lest it sounds like I’m running him down. In his early days as a Detective Super these traits are well established, even when he isn’t humiliating Roach. Arriving at the scene of a lover’s tiff that became a murder, he learns the unusual domestic set-up and mutters, “Poofs, great.” With the culprit in the bag, Brownlow wants the media to hear the good news, but Meadows is less keen: “It’s not the kind of case I like to be associated with, to be quite honest. I don’t think it merits the publicity. ‘Gay love nest murder solved’? You know what the press are like.” If only, you can see him thinking, I had got this result for the Graham Butler and Jenny Price murders: catching a child killer would have made him a hero, whereas solving the death of ‘that sort’ will do nothing for his career prospects. In ‘Plato for Policemen’ he attends a seminar where the lecturer keeps playing devil’s advocate with his audience, to challenge their ingrained views on policing. While Greig tries to engage with and rebut these ideas, a bored Meadows asks “where this is getting us”. To him the whole day is a tick-box exercise in order to climb the ladder, little realising the twist of fate that’s in store.
After two DCIs who were on their way up, it was a smart move to bring in one who is heading in the other direction. By now Meadows has become such a familiar face that there is no announcement of his takeover. His first episode as a regular, ‘Re-Hab’, sees him put in his place by his successor at AMIP, Detective Superintendent Douglas, and the scorn comes from below as well as above. Passing Meadows on the stairs, George asks Steve curiously, “He’s not the new DCI, is he?” “Corruption,” Steve declares, and Meadows is after them in a fury: “You got a problem? Well you will have, if I ever hear you use that word again.” The murder of a young drug addict has been confessed to by his father, a known armed robber. “Once a villain, always a villain,” says Douglas cheerfully in a loaded remark to Meadows. In a rare moment of sincerity, Burnside offers to help: “I know I’ve only been Acting DCI, but if there’s anything I can do…” “Thanks,” replies a grateful Meadows. “Is the DCI’s office clear?” “Well, it’s all in boxes, sir.” “Well if you could clear all your stuff out by the end of the day, that’d be great.” Once he’s cracked the case, he delivers a lecture to his new team on standards that echoes the one they have heard from Greig: “I don’t want my officers walking around as if they’ve just fallen out of bed. So, if you’re interviewing a suspect you wear your jackets. If you’re outside the station, and that includes the front office, you wear your jackets. Shirtsleeves will only be worn in here, or if you’re not dealing with the general public. Ties will be worn done up, properly, at all times.” The dismay on Roach, Jim and Tosh’s faces as this news sinks in, and they all tighten theirs, is matched by Burnside as he has to do likewise. The episode ends with Brownlow meeting Meadows outside his new office, struggling with a keychain. He assures him that he has his full support, and that his door is always open. “You haven’t got a key for this one, have you?” asks Meadows feebly. As time goes on, his efforts to distance himself from his past become obvious to his subordinates. When Jim racks up four complaints of harassment in a week, Meadows assures him that he does not believe they are founded, but he doesn’t want to see any more for the next month. “He can’t afford to be associated with anything iffy with his history,” Jim later observes to Tosh. In ‘True Confessions’, a defence barrister suggests that Roach did a deal with his client to give him the amphetamines he needed in return for putting his hands up. Roach drags the innocent Viv into the cross-fire, asking her to sit in on the trial and let him know what is said, which will enable him to prepare a defence if needed. She is lambasted by the furious Meadows, who then hauls Roach in to give him the score: “Mistakes I can cope with, up to a point, as long as you come clean with them. But laziness and corruption I have no time for! Do I make myself clear?” He may be temporarily cowed, but Roach knows that Meadows was himself guilty of the former and hasn’t dispelled all hints of the latter. Now they’re working together full time, their relationship is well on the slide, and gets worse the following year before they part company.
Meadows’ first outing as DCI sets the trend for what is to come; unlike his predecessors, who sometimes got stuck into arrests but were concerned mainly with paperwork and ‘blue sky thinking’, he is out there on the streets leading enquiries as much as he is sat behind a desk. At one point, when another CID raid has gone south and a post-mortem is being conducted on who may have leaked the info, Burnside is keen to go out with Roach to find his snout and leave the formalities to Meadows. But the latter insists that his DI grills the troops while he accompanies Ted, seeking out addicts in their hiding holes and questioning them. Simon Rouse may have been given this more active role as an incentive for him to stay on, providing continuity that was badly needed after so much chopping and changing at the top – but it does detract from the realism of the show, sometimes reducing the DCs to mere functionaries who grab the bodies after their boss has done the meat of the detective work. It’s a problem that was never envisaged in a show that started out with no chief inspectors, no uniformed inspector, and just two characters above the rank of sergeant. But in fairness, Galloway got ninety per cent of the action in his team of three or four, and muscled in on plenty of uniform jobs, during his time as DI. The expansion of senior command gave the show a whole new dimension, one which had to be kept fresh. To repeat the struggles of the modernisers Wray and Reid with the Neanderthal Burnside would have been to push a well-worn theme to its limit. Taking a long-term view, Meadows’ crime-busting is perhaps a necessary step towards the show’s eventual return to the hourly format, when characters get personally involved in cases and end up being compromised in far more unbelievable ways. Even for a series like The Bill that put so much emphasis on procedure, realism can be stretched a long way if the audience is willing to go with it.
Having demoted Meadows to a role he must put up with, the show approaches it from the opposite angle when Burnside goes for the job that he never took seriously when he was Acting DCI. In JC Wilsher’s ‘Overdue’, it’s his turn to face the ordeal of a selection board, like Roach and Brownlow before him. “I don’t think he’ll get it,” Woods tells Carver as they sit in the back of a van on an obbo. “He’s not the right flavour at the moment. He’s… passé.” True to form, Burnside is keen to get stuck into the job that is going down that afternoon, but Meadows assures him that the boys can handle it: “Crime management, that’s the name of the game – the art of delegation.” Meadows reveals that he started out with a resume of his police career, a subject on which Burnside is understandably cagey: “I know the things I want to bring to light… and the bits I want to leave out.” When he arrives at the Yard, he is met with the familiar combination of hostile admin followed by a three man hit squad in the interview. They ply him with flattery about being an active officer, “not afraid to get stuck in”, before reminding him what the role of DCI entails: “Delegation, supervision, control of resources. Budgeting. Not your style at all, is it?” Burnside maintains that operational experience should be a valued quality, and that people have always been recruited from the ranks. “Yes, but this is a police service for the 1990s. Shouldn’t you be more interested in change?” He uses Reid’s street robbery scheme as an example of this, while conceding that the initial idea was not his. When asked for his view of women in the police, the story begins an interesting examination – and arguably, criticism – of the show’s previous record. “A good woman officer is worth her weight in gold, sir. That’s especially true in CID.” “So how come women are disproportionately concentrated in the uniform branches? And at the lower ranks?” “Well I expect they’re discouraged by some aspects of police culture from fulfilling their potential. It’s not a level playing field, is it? Canteen culture still discriminates, unfortunately.” His attempt to recast himself as a feminist for one afternoon does not fool the board: “If you get your promotion, you might be posted to serve under a female chief superintendent…. Of course, you had the experience of serving under DCI Reid when she was at Sun Hill. And you’re telling us that was a model relationship, are you?” Burnside insists that any difference of opinion was down to a clash of personalities. “The job seems happy enough with Reid’s attitude and personality. She got made up to Superintendent in complaints.” “Yes, well I’m always pleased to see someone find their right niche,” he snipes back.
Glancing at his watch, he realises that the nightmare isn’t yet over. “Some senior figures in the legal system have been talking about an officer corps in the police: graduate entry for inspectors and those above. What is your view on that?” “Well if it came, I’d have to live with it. But I don’t like the idea. It would make your average constable feel like a second-class citizen. And he or she would have no great prospect of advancement in the job. I don’t think an academic qualification can tell you whether someone’s got the right stuff or not.” “Be better placed to make that judgement if you had an academic degree yourself, wouldn’t you?” Burnside explains that he has never been able to take time off to pursue these studies – only for one of the board to reveal that he hadn’t either, but still managed to complete his degree. “Well I find that totally admirable, sir,” he replies through gritted teeth. “I’m just not the scholarly type.” By the time he leaves, his record has been torn to shreds without anyone saying so openly. These interview episodes were a unique sub-genre of The Bill; whereas most drama appeals because it depicts situations that we never face in real life, they are quite the reverse. To see the gulf between who someone wants to be, and who they really are, exposed so brutally is something we can all identify with. Burnside has a debrief with Meadows, who has spent all day running round after the former’s snout to recover stolen gear that the man had swiped, again proving that the DI is too close to the villains: “In future, keep your distance. It’s the modern way.” Christopher Ellison always gave Burnside an interesting quality whenever he was confounded or defeated; the man with the eternal swagger becomes subdued, retreating into himself where Ted Roach would lash out. “The trouble is, once you get a bit of a reputation in this job people are all too willing to think the worst. I mean would you believe it, there are stories going around that I shoved a prisoner’s head down the carsey! They got it all wrong, anyway. He wasn’t a prisoner.” Meadows gets a phone call, and gives Burnside a four word summary: “Better luck next time. Maybe they thought you just weren’t quite ready.” “Yeah, well… by my reckoning I’m a bit overdue,” he mumbles. He finishes his drink and leaves quietly, taking his frustrations with him.
The difficulty of leadership is one of the most enduring themes of the show. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in ‘Man of the People’, which marks a momentous day in the life of Charles Brownlow: “After five long years, I’m finally going to be able to shut the door on Hollis… He’s only held onto the Federation job for so long because nobody else wanted it.” Convinced that the ballot that afternoon will see him off, Brownlow celebrates by inviting Conway to join him in the staff canteen for lunch. “Apparently we’re rather out of step here at Sun Hill, in clinging to the privilege of a senior officers’ dining room. Other divisions have done away with theirs some time ago. Today’s as good a day as any to take the first step away from remote elitism.” “But I like remote elitism!” a dismayed Conway protests. “I like having my dinner in peace. I don’t want to share a gunged-up sauce bottle with the likes of Loxton or Garfield!” Dragged into the world of the common man, he glowers at his boss across the table as they tuck into their cod and chips. Hollis himself is less certain of his impending demise, hanging around the station so he can make sure his rival, Barry Stringer, doesn’t gain an unfair advantage at the last minute. “I’m banished to the streets and my opponent is snug in here where he can exert influence!” he complains to Maitland. “Today is vital, one vote could make all the difference!” Conway warns Brownlow that Barry’s fresh approach may not be a great thing: “Do you want a Federation Rep with common sense? Hollis is a clown, you can ignore him. You won’t be able to ignore Stringer.” “For God’s sake Derek, stop sulking!” In the half-hour format each moment of onscreen time is precious, and the little details that make it to screen draw the viewer’s attention. This episode is crammed with so many that one wonders if they were all specified in the original script, or if some were devised during filming. The long camera move panning out from Brownlow and Conway to the totally empty canteen around them, as the former insists that “the them and us attitude is outmoded”, is a rare example of the direction making itself noticed to emphasise a point. Even better is the glimpse of Norika’s reading material, which she abandoned earlier as she made a speedy exit before her masters could sit beside her: Dirk Bogarde’s wartime novel A Gentle Occupation.
When she informs the relief of Brownlow’s plan, Tony is having none of it. Dave reminds him that Reg is yesterday’s man and a delegation descends on Barry, observing that he will want to get stuck in straight away. “There are certain issues that need looking at,” he admits. “Sector policing, changes in the shift system.” “How about the rights of plods and plonks not to be spied on?” Once the polls close, Brownlow swoops on the ballot box and carries it to his office. The votes are emptied onto the desk in front of Reg and Barry – including a Skittle packet that Brownlow discards sternly – and the count begins. After Barry scrapes through by the narrow margin of fifty-eight to two, the relief are instantly on his case about the canteen. He goes to see Brownlow and, though visibly nervous, puts across the position of his members: “They’ve asked me to inform you that they’re in favour of the status quo. They appreciate your efforts sir, but they feel that retaining the existing catering facilities will enable all ranks to relax in the appropriate manner. This being a disciplined uniform service where the differentials of rank have an important part to play, they don’t want the edges to be blurred.” The episode notes shrewdly that unpopularity comes with the job when you ascend to a senior position; in a familiar paradox, people complain about management never being around but complain even more when they are. Barry meets Reg in the toilets and tells him where his extra vote came from: “Didn’t seem right voting for meself. It’s nothing personal, is it? After five years people fancy a change.” Keeping a sense of proportion, Reg observes that “it is history repeating itself. Being kicked in the teeth by an ungrateful electorate. Winston Churchill had the same trouble in 1945.” The ending is the greatest in the show’s history, featuring its funniest ever dynamic. Oddly for someone presented as a ‘comedy character’, Reg is the straight man in this double act, in the sense that he never, ever changes. It’s the reactions of Peter Ellis that sell the joke: the sudden tension that grips Brownlow’s entire body as he enters the car park to find Reg waiting for him. “Off home are we, sir? It’s just that having stepped down from public office, it occurred to me there’s an even more useful avenue I could pursue.” Reg declares that divisional newspapers have been a great success, and he wants to start one at Sun Hill, with himself as editor. “Shall I pencil it in for tomorrow, then?” Brownlow glances up forlornly at the sky. A massive crack of thunder greets him as he walks away, shaking his head; even the gods feel his pain.
It’s testament to the layers in the writing that, despite Hollis being written off as “a clown”, we later see how he understands the theatrics of the Fed Rep job when Barry struggles in this regard. Conway posts a notice about policing a demo, for which A Relief will have to give up their Saturdays on the next three long weekends. Amid the cries of outrage, Barry is warned by his meddling predecessor that he needs “some fire in your belly if you’re going to see the governors over this. Otherwise they’ll walk all over you if you let them.” George passes as they discuss their strategy, and for one moment the Reps of Past, Present and Future are all in shot. Reg explains the basic principle of collective bargaining: “Aim over the top. If you’re angry, be furious. If you want two pence, ask for ten pence! It’s all part of the negotiation process, you see?” The psyched up Barry marches into Conway’s office and starts ranting at him: “You won’t get people’s co-operation in the future, and I’m speaking on behalf of the sergeants here too. No-one is going to accept this!” This angry rhetoric bounces off Conway, who asks what alternative he can suggest. Chastened, Barry is pointed in the direction of Monroe and receives some gentle wisdom: “When a dispute blows up, being the Rep isn’t about shouting everyone out. It’s about being the sort of person who can go between ranks: talk to the PCs, then talk to the management. Understand both, and be understood by both. Let Reg choke on it, Barry; and the rest of the relief. If you can get Mr Conway on your side, you’ll achieve more in one day as Fed Rep than Reg Hollis did in five years.” This advice has the ring of authenticity from Colin Tarrant, who in real life became the cast’s rep to ‘management’ when issues cropped up. Barry sees Conway again, and this time is so meek and accepting of his point of view that he is about to leave without offering a single challenge to his scheme. Hilariously, it’s Conway who suggests that they sit down and discuss it, recognising the need to play the game. He later reveals the compromise they have agreed: if the relief can decide the numbers of people on duty between themselves, they can ensure they each get one weekend off. “But Barry… what happened to the negotiations? I’m flabbergasted, I’m lost for words!” “That’s the general idea, Reg.”
Reg’s foray into the world of journalism ends up sucking in most of his fellow officers, even though they have no influence on the result. “As far as I can see, Reg is writing the whole paper himself!” complains Tony. “Quite sensible, he’s the only one who’s gonna read it,” says Dave. Forced to supply news from CID, Tosh is advised by Roach to “make it snappy, make it grabby, make it up.” We already know who will bear the brunt of these discussions; what we didn’t realise was that, every time Brownlow looked on disapprovingly as Burnside ducked out of a meeting because of a ‘vital message’, inspiration was starting to dawn. When his ever-loyal secretary Marion announces grimly that Hollis has arrived, “the appointment we moved from last week”, she adds, “How long before the urgent phone call?” “If you leave it more than three minutes, I’m going to find some very urgent typing that needs doing before you go home, all right?” Unaware that George has slipped a top shelf mag into his envelope, Reg passes it to Brownlow – “I just wanted you to see the way my mind is working” – but the latter doesn’t bat an eyelid as he pulls out the offending item: “Full colour printing. Rather ambitious, don’t you think?” The chinks that appear in the armour of Brownlow and Conway from time to time are some of the best character development of the show, proving that big dramatic storylines are not always necessary to provide a deeper insight into someone. Instead there is a slow drip-feed of pressure and resentment, as both men come to terms with long-running situations that they cannot escape. Outdoing Brownlow in the quiet misery stakes is, of course, his long-suffering deputy. To try and single out one episode, or even one year, as a particular highlight for Conway would be inadequate when the skill and timing of the late Ben Roberts made the character such a vital part of the show for nearly fifteen years. But in Series 8 there is an attempt to dig beneath that doleful exterior and shed some light on the true source of his unhappiness. The perpetual career knockbacks, and the empty promises from Brownlow, may be as much of a symptom as they are a cause. Discussing Mike Dashwood’s transfer to the Arts and Antiques Squad, he remarks scathingly, “If he wants to spend his time fondling objets d’art, that’s up to him; it’s not what I joined the police for.” Voicing the thoughts not only of his colleagues but the viewing public, Brownlow asks curiously, “What did you join the police for, Derek?”
This jibe is explored in more depth a few episodes later, in ‘Hands Up’. Christopher Russell always seemed to relish writing for Conway and Stamp in particular, which is perhaps unsurprising given that bellyachers supply the best dialogue. Emerging from a Yard lecture on management structure, the former asks Brownlow wearily, “Will there be an interpreter next time, sir? How much does he get paid for making the obvious unintelligible?” On the top-heavy problems of the service, he observes, “There’s too many Chiefs and not enough Indians, there has to be, doesn’t there? Otherwise the Indians wouldn’t have anything to look forward to. Promotion’s the only reward the job has to offer.” “Well you don’t sound very rewarded, Derek. To be perfectly frank, you never have done.” “It’s like that throughout the service. You’re a red-hot PC, brilliant on the street, and what do they do? They promote you! And then they carry on promoting you until they find something you’re completely useless at. Then cock up too many and they retire you early on a full pension, it’s crazy.” “You telling me you’d rather be a constable back on the beat, would you?” “To be honest I would, sir.” Putting his money where his mouth is, Conway tells Tony that he’s coming out as a passenger in the area car. “It’s only a whim; I am allowed them, you know.” “Of course, sir. Nice to have you onboard,” says Dave unconvincingly, and their despair begins to mount as he embarks on a nostalgia trip. “What’s the crumpet like round here? When I was your age I used to park up the RT car by the local Tube station of a morning; watch the dolly birds going to work. Mini-skirts, hot pants… you ever do that?” He gets them to drop him off at a street market and they make a hasty exit “before he changes his mind.” Walking the beat, he hears a crash and discovers that a sign has been lobbed through a shop window. He soon finds the culprit, a drunk with a plaster cast over one arm. “Right, that’s the one-armed drunks taken care of,” notes Boyden back in CAD. “Wonder what he’ll go for next – one-legged grab and flees?”
But his problems are just beginning. The yob’s lawyer points out that the detailed description given by the shop owner places the cast on the wrong arm, and insists on an ID parade. “Where am I supposed to find eight people with their arms in plaster?” Conway demands. “You could always send out snatch squads to the local hospitals,” ventures Cryer. “What I did when I had a case like this before was bring in eight volunteers and… break their arms,” adds Maitland. When even he is scoring points, you know the chief inspector is in trouble. Without a witness, as the shop owner has gone on holiday that afternoon, Conway throws his toys out of the pram: “Forget it. Stick him on for the D and D. Drop that as well if you like, give him a commendation for all I care. I don’t want anything more to do with it.” While he has much in common with Tony in terms of their perpetual whinging, it’s arguable that Conway’s real soul mate in the lower ranks is June: both of them rootless and dissatisfied, looking for more out of the job and failing to get it. Where her frustrations were milked for all their dramatic worth, however, Conway’s play out as comedy, and are no less real or affecting for it. He thinks his experiment in front-line policing is over – and then the puns begin. “Shouldn’t worry about it, sir; he seemed ’armless enough,” Maitland remarks. Meadows reveals that they have caught an armed robbery suspect and asks if he wants to sit in on the interview: “Just thought you might like to chance your arm again.” The final insult comes when Brownlow, who has suggested he may follow Conway’s good example “when my workload eases”, drops in at the end of the day. “I thought you were enjoying the simple life downstairs, Derek.” “Downstairs, upstairs – the job’s not ‘simple’ anywhere, sir,” he muses as he drags on a cigarette. “Quite. Money’s better up here, though. At least you’re not out on a limb, hmm?” Conway gives him an acid look as he leaves.
Conway is put under the microscope again in ‘Force is Part of the Service’ by JC Wilsher. Steve has brought in a black man, Jackson, for questioning over an alleged robbery and given him a bloody nose in the course of restraining him. His protests threaten to ruin the cosy impression that Brownlow and Conway are giving of the rebranded service to the council’s police committee. “Well there’s a new generation coming to the fore, isn’t there?” remarks one. “They talk about the policemen on the beat getting younger, but when you see the top brass on television some of them only look as if they’re in their thirties!” The irony isn’t lost on Conway, who quickly fakes a smile. He sees the “floorshow” beginning in the custody area and ushers them away, but when the genuine robber is caught, Jackson wants to make a complaint. Monroe is straight with him about how long it will take and the questioning he will face, and seems to have deterred him – but after returning home to mull it over, he phones to reveal that he is going ahead. Conway asks Donna to try and dig up some dirt on him, but to no avail. “It’s one thing getting an assault allegation on somebody we’ve charged, but this sort of thing does PR no good at all,” Brownlow declares. “I’m sure there’s something we can charge him on if you think it’ll help, sir.” “Don’t be facetious, Derek.” While the evidence may not support disciplinary action, it could be enough to try in civil court, which requires a lower standard of proof. “And Sun Hill won’t earn any brownie points by letting the job in for twenty grand’s worth of damages,” notes Conway. He is dispatched on a charm offensive to try and talk Jackson out of it. “Is this afternoon soon enough?” “If that’s the best you can manage, yes,” replies Brownlow icily. “And bear in mind: a soft answer turneth away wrath.” Suited and booted, Conway enters Jackson’s dump of a high-rise flat and tries to accentuate the positive: “Well you certainly get the views from up here, don’t you? Right across London, more or less.” “Yeah – except for the good bits.” Pointing out that the address wasn’t his choice, he clears away the pile of takeaway junk in front of the TV. Given that police mistreatment of black suspects had become a familiar theme, it’s refreshing that a young David Harewood gets to play more than ‘wronged and angry’. As he talks of his career as a mechanic, in a bland matter-of-fact way, we get the sense that Jackson is a hopeless case: a drifter who accepts the punches life has thrown at him and doesn’t have the will to change. He had hopes of starting his own business, but was made promises by his boss that never materialised. Conway is quick to empathise: “Believe me Malcolm, I’ve been there.” Jackson lost his home, then his wife and child when they couldn’t cope with their new accommodation. “But you know, that’s life, you’ve gotta keep going I suppose,” he adds briskly, as though repeating a mantra someone has told him. After exploring his life story in detail, Conway treats the complaint as an afterthought, asking what he really wants from it. He agrees to withdraw it, and Conway returns flushed with success. “What did you make of him, as a matter of interest?” “Jackson?” he says dismissively. “He’s a loser – I can spot ’em.” Cue a look of sympathy from Brownlow, behind his deputy’s back.
Compared to the previous year, the sudden reduction in courtroom stories during 1992 suggests that the pressure to economise had lifted a little. But if there is less attention on the relationship between the police and the courts, that between the police and the criminal is still very much in the spotlight. In Philip Palmer’s ‘Suspects’, Greig has a cordon of armed officers surround the house of a robbery suspect, Bartlett. Their wonderfully phlegmatic inspector is quite prepared for a siege – “No skin off my nose, get the caterers in” – but he gives himself up after his terrified girlfriend Karen has walked out past the heavy artillery. When a search of his home reveals no gun, it looks as though Greig has severely overreacted. “You can’t be bothered looking for the thieves can you, you just go down your list, ‘He’ll do’!” snarls Karen. “Who can we stitch up today, let’s plant the phoney evidence, lads!” Greig receives a head butt from her lover, and is in no mood to discuss it at the nick. “Touch of the old Glaswegian martial arts,” Roach informs Meadows, “the man was under arrest and handcuffed.” “Have to use a blindfold next time.” “Nah – he’d still lose.” After getting nowhere in the interview, Greig is taken to one side by Bartlett’s solicitor Wilkin, who is trying to persuade him to plead guilty. “I told him he hasn’t got a ghost of a chance, not against the forensic you’ve got lined up.” One puzzled look later, he adds, “Thought as much. See you in court, chum.” He puts in a claim for unlawful detention and Meadows realises that Greig’s evidence is fairly thin on the ground. Annoyed that his most able man is pulling people on the basis that they’re likely, he suggests he is falling into bad habits. A tip-off puts someone else in the frame, and Meadows urges Greig to take this claim seriously. “He can’t afford to go all the way, a court case would cost him…” “It won’t get that far. You’re gonna apologise to Bartlett, smooth things over with that sophisticated charm of yours.” Greig tells Bartlett curtly that he is being released, and the latter is far from grateful: “Just like that? You get me up at gunpoint, chuck me in a cell, and when you’re fed up of mucking me about I’m free to go? Till the next time!” Greig agrees to give him a lift home and he insists that an apology is owed to his girlfriend. “It doesn’t matter to me, I expect to be picked up, but she finds it hard.” “She should learn to expect it.” “She shouldn’t have to expect anything, she’s not a thief!”
Karen reveals that she is taking legal action through their solicitor, which Bartlett isn’t keen on, and we realise that she is the driving force – he only wants a quiet life. Greig asks how her law-abiding boyfriend could afford a “pricey brief like Wilkin” and she says she paid for his services: “I wanted the top man, I can’t trust your lot.” “Hiring Wilkin did you no favours.” Alarmed at this comment, Bartlett follows Greig out of the house and reassures him that he will get her to drop the action: “Am I in the clear, are you taking me off your list? I’m no fool; if I stay the wrong side of you, you’ll do me. Whatever happens, I’ll go down.” The bemused Greig insists that he doesn’t work like that: “I don’t bear grudges. Come on, do I look like that kind of bent copper?” “All coppers are the same, I’ve had me share of it. I haven’t always gone down for the jobs I’ve pulled – but it evens out in the end.” “Not in my book. I want you to believe this: I have no intention of fitting you up.” “Don’t make me laugh, it’s the game, isn’t it? I’m one of yours.” He heads inside, and Greig is left more disturbed by his attitude than by the lack of a result. It suggests that he himself is a lone figure trying to uphold the rules, while all around him dodgy practice has become so widespread that he ends up being tarnished with the same brush. To the criminals this is the natural order of things, Bartlett accepting that there is a kind of justice in being hassled and intimidated for crimes past rather than present. But the ‘bent’ perception of the police can also be used by villains to their advantage, as seen in ‘A Friend in Need’, which highlights the rise of compensation culture that we see in other episodes. Dave is facing a civil action and a complaint from a thug who claims he was assaulted during his arrest: “Our pal Garrod decides he deserves a few quid for being so legless he falls over and cuts his head!” The latter is averted, but when Dave calls at the police solicitors, the woman he speaks to suggests they may not fight the action: “It would cost at least twenty thousand to defence the case in court; more like two or three times that. And there’s absolutely no guarantee of winning. We’re talking about the civil court. There’s none of your ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in civil courts. Juries are instructed to decide on the balance of probability. The jury will know that Garrod got six stitches. Would you bet forty thousand pounds that a jury would believe you? People believe that policemen lie these days, you know.” “A bloke walks free for two crimes and I’ve got to watch him get paid for it?” says an astonished Dave. “I’ve wasted a whole day and picked up a complaint on my file, just so a villain can earn himself a couple of grand for falling over!” “It’s a matter of economics!” “No, it’s much simpler than that. It’s a matter of I’m a copper, he’s a villain. I arrest him, I get a complaint; he gets a couple of grand. If that’s justice you can shove it!” he roars as he storms out.
Whereas we usually see policeman and criminal preying on each other, a very different relationship is explored in JC Wilsher’s ‘Principled Negotiation’. The great Pete Postlethwaite has a starring role as a famed blagger of years past, Ray Goller, who is brought in after a raid on an antiques shop, carrying a slashed set of ladies’ underwear. Seeing him in custody, Roach insists that he’s no knicker-snatcher, and Burnside observes irritably that, “You talk as though you were old pals.” However, he gives Roach the opportunity to talk to Goller alone, with the tape off. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you Ray?” “Well of course I would, if it was a bit of work – but it’s not.” He insists it is personal business, and we learn how personal when Viv brings in the woman whose underwear was stolen. “There’s no way it can be Raymond Goller,” she exclaims when told of the thief. “He’s my dad.” “This is beginning to sound like the women’s page of the Guardian,” remarks Burnside. “Are we going to have to add incest to injury?” Viv observes that the daughter is scared for Goller, not of him, and when his car is found trashed it becomes obvious that someone is putting the frighteners on him. Burnside hopes this news will “wind him up nicely”, but Roach has other ideas: “There’s a time for the stick, and a time for the carrot. Let him walk now; he understands favours, I’ll get it out of him.” Burnside is keen to know about their past dealings, and Roach tells him a story: “A wage snatch goes down. One of the bandits turns out to be a bit of a psycho. He half-kills a security guard with a pickaxe handle, beats the stuffing out of his girlfriend, and threatens to do the same to his mates. Ray is under pressure to put this guy in order. One way is to kill him. Now rather than do that, Ray gets into negotiations with a young DC who badly needs a good collar. Matters are handled with discretion and efficiency on both sides. The DC puts a dangerous nutter in the bin. Within strict limits, there’s a basis for trust and understanding.”
Roach accompanies Goller to his upmarket house, which is being used as security for the bank loans he needs for his business. He bought gold in an overseas deal which turned out to be a scam, and “my creditors were expecting their money at noon today. There isn’t any.” Roach suggests he can help, but Goller asks what will happen to his reputation if “it gets around that I call the law in? Don’t try and kid me Ted, I’m not Salman Rushdie. How much protection am I going to be worth in the long term?” After receiving a threatening phone call about his daughter, he went round to her place to find her slashed underwear lying on the bed. Viv is sent to babysit her while Burnside joins Roach, promising Goller and his girlfriend that they can get the loan sharks to roll the debt over. “You’re all the same,” she scoffs. “You’re like eight-year old boys fronting each other up on the playground. You all think you’re in the last reel of a John Ford movie!” “She’s got A-levels,” Roach informs Burnside after she has swept out. Viv, meanwhile, assures the daughter that her father is “with two officers who are highly skilled in dealing with aggravation. They have to be; they cause enough of it.” But their front proves ideally suited to the task at hand. This is the flipside of Greig’s honest approach – instead of writing off Burnside and Roach as outdated, the show suggests that there is a time and place for their brand of inflated machismo. A car pulls up with two heavies and two suits, and the latter are introduced by Goller to his friends from the Old Bill. “There hasn’t been any misunderstanding here, has there?” they ask, suddenly on their guard. “People think we’re always on duty,” grins Burnside. “Can’t even have a drink with an old mate without some slag getting anxious… Oi, Wickhead!” he calls as he looks out of the window. “The name is Wickford.” “There’s an ugly-looking scrote out here molesting the gnomes. Tell ’em to stop.” Wickford hastily gets his thugs to stop decapitating the statues in the garden. After they have gone, a delighted Goller reveals that they think he has a couple of bent coppers on his payroll – but Roach and Burnside turn out to be predators after all, only a different kind. “We don’t want readies in a brown envelope. We want information.” “Now Ted can tell you Mr Burnside, I’ve never been a snout. That’s well-known.” “Which is why you’ll make a very good one,” Roach chips in. “Ray understands really, Frank. He knows what he owes. He’s just getting used to the idea.” The dismayed Goller realises that he has a couple of new business partners, not as violent but every bit as ruthless as the ones he has fended off.
The early part of 1992 marks an important turning point in the show’s history, in more ways than one. The episode that introduces Meadows as DCI, ‘Re-Hab’, comes right after the final contribution to the show from perhaps its most influential writer, Barry Appleton. If Geoff McQueen was the man who devised the concept and characters, Appleton is the one who fleshed them out, establishing the scope of the series, what kind of stories it could tell and the dynamics between officers. As technical advisor turned lead writer, there can be few people who had such a huge creative input into one programme in such a short period – 18 of its first 36 hours, followed by another 31 half-hour episodes for good measure. There is a solid procedural element to all of Appleton’s stories, informed by his background as a detective, but also a remarkable imagination: he displays a gift for finding unusual scams and schemes and exploring them in offbeat ways, comparable to the great TV thriller writers of the Sixties and Seventies like Brian Clemens and Robert Banks Stewart. His episodes focus on ‘high-end’ crime: gangland feuds, jailbreaks, armed robbery, terrorism and industrial espionage, often involving connections to Europe or South Africa. But his ability to spin an entertaining yarn is only half the story. Throughout his episodes there is an eye for odd details and imagery, drawn from the bizarre nature of real police work. His debut effort sees Galloway nursing a hangover after getting rat-arsed with a Greek restaurateur, and these colourful touches continue. There’s the turnip top in ‘Country Cousin’ who causes a punch-up in a belly dancing joint and still won’t tell Burnside what he’s bought for his wife when he leaves; the dope smuggled to a remand prisoner inside a cup of tea in ‘Fort Apache – Sun Hill’; the naval ratings shuffling double-time through custody after Peters detains an entire ship in ‘Good Will Visit’; and the trail of dismembered pets in ‘When Did You Last See Your Father?’ that turns out to be the work of an escaped panther. There are action-packed scenarios like ‘Hostage’, and intimate pieces like ‘Conscience’ – or both running side by side, as in ‘Somewhere by Chance’. And during his episodes there is a slow, believable growth of characters in both uniform and CID: in particular of Cryer, his values tested by his delinquent son, and Roach, always searching for the next rung on the ladder and being knocked back. Perhaps only Christopher Russell did more to make the world of Sun Hill feel like a living, breathing place – together, they brought a richness to the writing that many series would envy.
Appleton’s last two episodes home in on the figure he was increasingly drawn to towards the end of his tenure, Mike Dashwood, who was also on the way out. Mike is getting itchy feet when he attends a sales pitch by a security firm in ‘It’s a Small World’. The audience is composed mainly of people like himself: coppers wanting a change, nearing retirement, or already drawing their pension. The two polished suits giving the talk are so convincing that many of the attendees feel sure they can flog the company’s burglar alarms, and thus earn a hefty commission. This is the world that Appleton had explored many times before, of upmarket hotels, ‘defence contractors’ and investments that are not as sound as they first appear. Mike is instantly suspicious, saying he answered their ad on the basis that they were looking for security consultants, not salesmen. He runs into an old colleague, Len Dorton, who is about to retire and is ready to invest his five grand into the scheme. Mike urges caution and begins to delve deeper into the firm’s international credentials, with the help of the Fraud Squad. He soon uncovers the criminal past of the men in charge, but we realise that his interest was genuine, not part of some undercover operation. Asked if he might have fallen for it himself, he replies, “If I was someone like Len Dorton with a lump sum burning a hole in my pocket: yeah, I’d probably have gone for it, hook, line and sinker. Coppers… we never believe we can be conned.” The crestfallen Dorton is brought in, musing that he nearly lost all his savings. “It’s not just the money,” he confesses. “It’s the fact I’ve been a copper for thirty years, taken in by a couple of conmen. It’s my pride that hurts… bastards.” Mike tells him that his evidence should be enough to put them away, but warns of the publicity that will come with it. “I’ll go all the way,” he promises. This storyline again feels drawn from Appleton’s background as an ex-copper, knowing that life after policing can go in different directions – not all of them as fortunate as being a TV scriptwriter.
His final episode, ‘Going Soft’, is fittingly titled for a story that has the makings of another all-action spectacular and turns into something very different. Mike is sent to the home of a magistrate on a Saturday afternoon to pick up a search warrant. Getting no answer, he enters via the side entrance and finds her bound and gagged in the living room – moments before a gun is shoved in his face by one of two balaclava-clad thieves. The usual machinery of a siege operation swings into gear, but we soon realise they are not professionals. The magistrate has an asthma attack and they have to find her inhaler before she chokes to death. She recognises the man as the son of her former cleaner, urging him and his accomplice “not to put your lives at risk.” “Lives? What lives?” he replies. “That’s why we’re doing this – to try and start one!” With their hoods off, his girlfriend reveals that the gun he is holding on them is a toy. “He wouldn’t have hurt you. We’re broke and I’m pregnant. Eddie just wanted the best for me. When my mum found out, she threw me out.” Mike promises he will do what he can for them, and leads them out of the house. He then announces his intention to plead on their behalf in court. Given that Appleton must have written more gun-toting villains into the show than anyone else, this is an interesting note on which to end: that not every criminal is an irredeemable hard case, and many deserve sympathy rather than punishment. It’s a sentiment that grows on some police officers – viz. Don Henderson, best known for playing fictional copper George Bulman during the Seventies and Eighties, who left the real force because he began to feel sorry for the people he was dealing with. Roach, the man who deliberately failed his firearms training in Appleton’s ‘Hold Fire’ as he didn’t want to hold the power of life and death any more, is furious. “Come on Mike, they’re villains!” “They’re kids.” “Kids? Holding a police officer and a magistrate hostage?” “It’s an imitation gun.” “Oh, and you knew that when you faced it? All we see is a masked gunman, what are we supposed to do? Give them the benefit of the doubt? You guess wrong and you’re dead. What matters is the intent was there!” “Was it?” Unmoved, Mike walks off down the street – a fitting end, not quite for him, but for the man who brought him to life eight years earlier.