By Edward Kellett
1992 is a year dominated by the misadventures of Matt Boyden, introduced towards the end of the previous series. Boyden is one of those figures that is indelibly associated with the show for me; whenever I caught an episode during the Nineties, he was there behind the custody desk, greeting each new arrival with a sour look and a cutting one-liner. It’s fair to say that he came along at the right time, giving the uniform branch a vital injection of energy. By 1991 the original ‘Holy Trinity’ of Cryer, Penny and Peters had given way to the ‘Holier than Thou Trinity’ of Monroe, Cryer and Maitland, each one a stickler for the rules. Boyden provides the rogue element, a man who does the business on the surface while grabbing every perk that he can get out of the job. From the moment he appears he is trying to be one of the lads, his glib manner at parade earning him a quiet word of advice from Monroe. New characters often give a fresh perspective on events, which we see when Stamp gives Boyden a guided tour of the ground. Easing him into his new role, he helpfully points out the spot where Penny got done for drink-driving, followed by the road where Peters got stabbed. “Bit accident-prone, the skippers on this relief,” comments Boyden, the show poking fun at its recent track record of catastrophe. Mike informs Ted that A Relief’s new sergeant has come from Romford. “I don’t blame him,” remarks the latter, before we learn that he used to be stationed there himself. Once Boyden’s name is mentioned, he adds, “Small world.” Boyden has been transferred following an incident with a married WDS, which isn’t yet over. Dividing his time between manning the custody area and breaking up with her by phone, the template is set for one of his most enduring trademarks. The other, his role as custody sergeant, is forced on him when Peters strains his back and has to be taken to hospital. Boyden’s first customer is a tottering drunk who passes out. Challenged by Monroe about the lack of evidence of arrest on the custody record, he invents the details and then quickly has to tell Stringer what to write in his notes before Monroe checks with him. “He won’t care if we say he was hanging from a lamppost by his ankles dressed as Batman. All that matters is we’re both singing from the same page of the hymn book,” he chirps, in a somewhat higher-pitched voice than the impatient drawl that Tony O’Callaghan later settled on.
The title of Boyden’s debut, ‘Balls in the Air’, seemingly refers to his ability to juggle problems, but is all too fitting for a man with one preoccupation. He became one of the show’s biggest assets throughout the Nineties because he could slot into either a comedic or dramatic role if the storyline needed it, and at the root of both is one thing: his eternally restless zipper. The woman from his old nick who he tries to cut loose was also courted by Roach, which is the source of some needle between them. “No hard feelings at all, Matt,” he assures him. “As my old dad used to say: what’s given to a friend is not lost.” When Boyden helps him solve a case, Roach says he owes him one. “No Ted. We’re square.” But this gentleman’s agreement disintegrates the following year, and by that time Boyden has already sailed dangerously close to the wind. In ‘Illegals’, Tosh is trying to crack an immigration scam. He and an official from the Home Office break up a wedding between a Nigerian woman who has overstayed her visa and an elderly man who has been co-opted into the scheme. Waiting in a Panda outside the town hall, a bored George asks Boyden if they’re here to provide the back-up: “Yeah. Could have been bridesmaid if you’d asked.” Seeing the devastated woman emerge in her wedding dress and veil, Boyden coos, “Ahhh… Ask custody to have the bridal suite ready, would you?” They attend their next call, a follow-up visit by George to a woman whose missing vehicle has been located. Boyden watches from the car as she does everything to tempt him inside for a quickie, short of disrobing on the doorstep. Sure enough, good old George looks a gift horse in the mouth and walks away with nothing. “Well you made a right pig’s ear of that,” Boyden informs him on his return. “She was on a plate from the moment she opened the door. The leg was there, George – leg and a half, open door. Dressing gown tied, but loosely. I’ve known probationers could have read all that, and done something about it. Obviously you’ve never been taught the facts of life on the beat, my son. We’re policemen – it’s there for us! If they want it from a uniform, what’s wrong in providing a public service, eh?”
This vignette could easily have been a throwaway scene in another episode, adding a touch of colour before being forgotten. Instead it’s used to soften up the audience for the gut punch that follows. An anonymous denunciation letter names an illegal immigrant who is running a minicab firm. Tosh organises a uniformed raid, the eager Steve suggesting they should target a kebab house down the road that has “a lot of new faces.” George ponders whether Tosh enjoys this work as much as Steve does: “Nah – sheer necessity with him. He’s filling up the country with his own kids, isn’t he? He can’t afford to let the rest of the world in.” The limits of Steve’s enthusiasm are exposed when an immigrant escapes over the back fence: “Stuff that, these are new trousers.” Cuffing another prisoner, he adds longingly, “Just wish they’d put up a fight sometimes.” Boyden snoops in the upstairs rooms and finds a startled woman on her own. Giving Tosh the all-clear, he has the prisoners loaded, then sends George off to scout for the missing man. Back in the house, he sits the woman down on her bed. “Are you legal?” he asks coyly, a line that is even more loaded when you know the choices he will make in the future. “I don’t like to see young women in trouble. I like to help them. Would you like me to help you? You know I’m a police officer. That means I can help. I can sort things out for people.” Without spelling it out, his intentions are clear – and they are only halted by the sudden arrival of Tosh, who lets them leave with a suspicious look. Later he walks past Boyden as the latter brags to George: “Even you couldn’t have failed. She knew what the game was, she just sat there waiting for me…. Beautiful black hair, skin like velvet; all dark and creamy…” “You make her sound like a pint of Guinness!” snaps George. Cathy pays her a cell visit, assuring her blithely that “we’re quite human, you know,” as the woman gives her a hooded stare. But the reckoning comes at the end, when Tosh drops in on Boyden for a little chat. “I just wanted to tell you I had you sussed. I know what you were thinking.” “It happened like I said. I nicked her and she put herself on offer.” “She was offering nothing. We all know you’re the man with the golden Y-fronts, you never stop telling us. But if you’re ever out on a job with me again, you never use this,” he snarls, poking Boyden’s uniform, “to get what you want.” “Getting too old for it yourself, then?” “I’m too old to give a toss about your career, pal. But if you want to put yourself down the pan I’ll happily pull the chain. Received – sergeant?” Boyden nods grudgingly as the episode ends.
It’s a recurring theme of these reviews that many of the characters we got to know were not so whiter than white when they began. But of all the flaws and failings that are exposed in early episodes, none is more startling than this – certainly to me, when I first saw it. It’s remarkable to think that this storyline would have spelt the end for Boyden after only a few months if the original plan had been followed through: a short-lived character exposed as a nasty piece of work, then sent packing. Instead, viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the story is that much more effective for dwelling on the dark side of someone who became such a familiar figure. Disturbing though it may be, there is nothing here that is inconsistent with the Boyden of later years. The skirt-chasing that we often see played for laughs is founded on this unquenchable desire. His willingness to use the uniform not just as a status symbol but as an assault weapon is a reminder that abuses of power come in many shapes, more than just ‘fitting up’ suspects. The episode also proves that even in the space of twenty-four minutes, character and theme can be given equal weight. ‘Illegals’ might be a story about Boyden’s wrongdoing, but it’s also fundamentally about immigration, a subject tackled with the sharpness, finesse and lack of preaching that typifies Christopher Russell’s work. In some respects it’s a sequel to his second-ever episode, ‘This Little Pig’ from Series 2, in which Cryer is frustrated at having to use his relief as Home Office muscle to bust illegal immigrants. Several years on, the police are handling the problem with a little more care but the same air of despondency. “Busy week for denunciations,” Monroe remarks to Stringer about the anonymous letter, “that’s the fourth. He’s probably on a good earner and our pen friend’s not, that’s all it takes.” When Tosh interviews the Nigerian woman, Monica, he points out that she has been working, as well as residing, illegally. She describe the various jobs she has been doing – “cleaning offices; washing dishes; making beds” – and he notes that it’s been a hard slog. The money she’s earned has gone into paying for her fake husband, but when Tosh observes that it’s a one-sided deal – “They’ve got your five hundred pounds and all you’ve got is a one-way ticket out!” – she still refuses to name the people responsible. He suggests she has nothing to lose, when she is probably playing the long game: staying on the right side of the traffickers in exchange for help in the next attempt.
Tosh pays a visit to “the bridegroom of the year”, a dosser named Prentice who lives in a miserable one-room hovel. “It’s better than the gutter.” “When you’ve had a drink, yeah,” he mutters as he puts down his bags of supermarket booze. Tosh warns him that he is an accessory to a crime, but he is confident they will never catch the criminal. “Most people know which side their bread’s buttered. Junk people. Unemployable old tosspots like me. Why do you have to give poor little cows like her so much hassle anyway?” “’Cos if every one of them’s allowed to get away with it, this island is going to sink.” “Yeah, well they work their butts off don’t they, ones like her. We all know there’s thousands of illegals out there, thousands of young bucks who never do a stroke – fraud, drugs, more fraud, you don’t catch many of them, do you? And they’re all poncing off the state while they’re at it.” “Like you, you mean?” “I’m allowed to ponce, I was born here,” he declares – fully aware of the double standard, indeed commenting on it. And running beneath this whole exchange, in the grim surroundings, is another message: that this is the glittering life most of these people have to look forward to, if they manage to go unnoticed by the authorities. “Still, you have caught me little Monica; and screwed her to the floor. Good for you,” declares Prentice, raising his beer in tribute. The flipside to this story comes at the station, when Tosh and Maitland speak to a high-priced lawyer representing the detained drivers. “My clients wish to apply for political asylum,” he announces smoothly, to the disbelief of Maitland. “Obviously no further action can be taken to remove them from the UK, pending initial interview.” “If they needed asylum, why didn’t they apply on arrival?” “Fear is a stronger motivator than logic.” “Then it was fear that forced Mr Simsek to become a cab driver, was it?” The lawyer maintains that “my client has no knowledge of such employment”, and that bail will not be a problem: “Our community looks after its own, sergeant. I’ve already spoken to respected permanent residents who will stand surety if required.” The police, like the immigrants, are stuck in a vicious circle, trying to enforce a law that isn’t even applied consistently. Those who can work the system because they have communities ready to help may be successful, while people like Monica, out on their own, are not. “Makes the whole thing seem ridiculous,” says Maitland. “All this huff and puff about an accident of birth. I don’t know why they don’t just build a few hundred tower blocks in Exmoor and have done with it.” Cathy, whose own brusque attitude towards Monica is that she knew what she was doing, tells her that she’ll be able to see her family again after nine months away from them. “We have four children,” she replies coldly. “My husband has no job. I earn one hundred pounds a week here. Would you be glad to see me?”
Russell lifts the lid on another hot topic, begging, in ‘Street Cleaning.’ A furious man turns up at the front desk with his daughter, who has been abused and spat on for not handing over her money to a couple of homeless men. They are thought to be part of an organised gang of bogus beggars that goes into London in the summer, when tourism is thriving and there are rich pickings to be had. Greig is conducting an operation against the ones that have relocated east to Sun Hill, following a crackdown in the West End. George mentions the usual man with a dog who works the Tube station, observing that he would never spit on anyone. “Perhaps he’s trained his dog to do it,” chips in Steve. Conway stresses that “this is not an excuse for harassing life’s unfortunates. Genuine beggars are not our target, OK?” But even as he speaks, he receives a venomous look from Tony, who as always in Russell’s scripts is the man who goes against the crowd. “Sorry sir, but when you say ‘genuine beggars’, is that like saying ‘genuine shoplifters’ or ‘genuine burglars’? I mean begging is an offence, after all.” “Are you saying none of them are genuine?” June later challenges him. “There’s not a single family breakdown in the whole country, not a single hostel that hasn’t got room?” “So how come they’re only homeless in the summer? You don’t see many of them in the streets on the winter, do you?” “You’ve obviously been looking in the wrong direction, mate.” They meet a well-known old tramp, Harold, whom Tony views with affection, giving him a few quid to tide him over. “He is genuine. He’s the only truly homeless person in Sun Hill.” “The local tramp, you mean? Like everywhere’s allowed one, and he’s it. You’ve got some very quaint ideas, Tony. You ought to have been a village bobby.” His age-based view of the deserving and the undeserving poor, that the elderly are a sympathetic case and the young should be out there finding a job, becomes clear when Harold is found injured on a staircase, thrown down there by the gang. At the hospital, Tony gives June the man’s history: “He was at home on leave in the war. House he was in got blown away by a V2. His wife and baby with it. He’s not set foot in a house since.” June, however, has a rather different account of his life story: “I heard he became a tramp to avoid the call-up and just went on walking.” After a doctor catalogues the life-changing injuries he has sustained, June adds glumly, “Sorry. I think I preferred your version.” “Don’t make a lot of difference now, does it?” Steve offers his own thoughts on the homeless community after speaking to a group of winos: “It’s a pity we can’t recycle them along with the bottles.” He and George find Billy, the man with the dog, a shrewd and well-spoken individual who doesn’t seem to have ended up on the streets through grinding poverty or addiction. He has been evicted from his usual pitch by the station by two men who “came round taxing. Like you said, taking me money. The next day they told us to bog off.” It becomes clear that nothing, not even street begging, is immune from market forces: where there’s profit to be made, the big operators are there taking their cut, charging their rivals or scaring them away with the same violent methods as drug dealers and protection rackets.
Like ‘Illegals’, this episode examines an interesting subject in depth while allowing the characters to breathe. Cryer views the operation as a team-building exercise, to restore the morale of the relief after recent events that have split them apart; and once again, Boyden is at the heart of the problem. In ‘Up All Night’ by Tony Etchells, George is rushed into hospital with a head injury after trying to stop an escaping burglar. Having found him and brought him in, Tony and Dave are reassured that they did everything they could. “That’s not strictly true, is it?” snipes the former. In fact they were already at the hospital, enjoying a party with the nurses, when the call for urgent assistance came through. “We both know what happens if this gets out.” “We’re not the only car on the relief, where was everyone else?” protests Dave. “You don’t let a mate down.” “You think I don’t know that? I used to work with this bloke at Bow Street, right. He let a probationer get a kicking because he didn’t go to an urgent assist. You should have seen it when the relief found out. The bloke’s selling life assurance now…. I mean we didn’t even like this probationer!” But this is not the only problem; there is also the mystery of what has happened to Boyden, who was in the area but isn’t answering his radio. They are beginning to fear the worst when he pops up from nowhere, his radio now magically working. “He was there, wasn’t he?” Cathy declares as she goes past Dave and Tony. “In a dead spot? For half an hour? He was there.” When George comes round, he tells June that they were on patrol together when Boyden departed, saying he had “something to see to, and he’d see me later. He just walked off.” The recriminations have already begun, with Steve commenting that Dave and Tony took their time. A contrite Boyden turns up at George’s bedside, still blaming radio trouble. But the truth emerges when a woman called Jackie Welland arrives at the station to see Roach, complaining about harassment from Boyden. It becomes clear from their frantic argument that she is another woman the two men have ‘in common’. “You’re still seeing him?” “Seeing him? He practically broke into my flat last night, I can’t get rid of him!” “I told you not to get involved with him… You want me to sort him out, don’t you?” “Well what the hell do you think I’m doing here?”
Roach meets Boyden in the corridor and snarls, “You are ruining my snout.” “Is that what she is?” Boyden hits back. “Not doing too bad for a snout, is she? I think you’d better ask yourself who’s using who. I’d watch yourself, because if she does make a complaint, both you and I are out of order.” When Roach admits that he can do nothing without dropping himself in it, Jackie makes it official, opening the fault lines in both uniform and CID. The latest chapter in Roach’s best-selling disaster series is reviewed by Burnside: “So you got involved with this snout on a personal level – found out Boyden’s giving her one. You don’t discuss work, I hope?” “Oh come on, guv. Look, the wives of villains are the best informants; you know that, you’ve been there yourself. You sail in, you put the old man away and then you work on the wife while she’s vulnerable.” “Yeah, but you don’t have to become the surrogate husband. Next thing you’ll be telling me you take her round Tesco’s on a Saturday morning!” “Right little mess this, isn’t it?” Meadows rages as he comes in, just in case Roach had missed the point. “In future you keep your ears open and your trousers shut!” But things are even worse for Boyden himself, which highlights an interesting difference between the two. While they both have a weakness for women, Ted’s ham-fisted attempts at advancing his career are the real source of his trouble, whereas Boyden’s sex drive leads him to rack and ruin. Haggard and unshaven after his electric razor fails on him, his alpha male image begins to fray at the sides, just as Roach’s does on so many occasions. Following Jackie to her home, he tries to win her back with a bunch of flowers, urging her to accept them with the most romantic argument any woman will ever hear: “Because I look stupid holding them!” “You were just a good laugh Matthew, and you weren’t that for very long. I’m sick of being there every time you and Super Cop fancy a bit on the side! He’s using me for information and you’re just using me! It wasn’t very good, OK? It wasn’t very good with him and it certainly isn’t very good with you!”
Boyden reveals the depths he is capable of plumbing when he warns that the only way she will be rid of him is if she drops the complaint. She does so, but the damage has already been done. The coughs and chicken noises that he gets from the relief as they crowd round him at parade, like birds ganging up on a cuckoo in the nest, soon give way to outright hostility. The furious Monroe demands a written account of his actions, and Brownlow is equally scathing: “You let down an officer under your command in a potentially life-threatening situation! You’ve lost that officer’s respect and that of every other officer under your command! I don’t have to remind you, do I, that this could end your career?” “Sir… I was considering a transfer,” mumbles Boyden. “Well you will do it without my help. I’d think about clawing my way back here before running off to wreck some other relief. And God help you if you ever get involved with another incident like this!” Enduring the walk of shame past the assembled PCs, he takes refuge in the sergeants’ locker room – but on opening his, he pulls out a pillow wedged inside and is showered with feathers. “Bastards…!” With George due back at work in ‘Snakes and Ladders’, Steve opens a book on whether he will punch Boyden’s lights out before the shift is over. George himself cuts a morose figure when he appears, knowing he has been let down by more than just one man. “I know where you were,” he tells Dave coldly. “You were at a knees-up in casualty. You got lost round the back of a staff nurse,” he adds, in a line that could have fallen through time from seven years later. “I hate to do this to you lot, not play the hero and all, but I’m out there getting battered and none of you lifted a finger, did you?” The main dissenter, once again, is Tony, who wants nothing to do with this vengeful atmosphere and holds George back when he goes for Boyden. He and Dave are assigned to CAD and June informs them with some relish that “I’ve just found out who your sergeant is. You laugh that off!” Cryer is astounded to learn that Monroe is happy to let George try again: “Or would you rather I stuck Garfield on, turned him into some kind of hero, because that’s what Loxton and his pals are looking for! Matthew Boyden’s dropped himself right in it… I’m not fighting his battles for him.”
George is dispatched to a domestic call on the Cockcroft Estate, and a bizarre pantomime develops. Dave wants any excuse possible to get him back in the nick, Tony the exact opposite, and they start feeding him contradictory orders. After the desperate Tony has handed him another shout, George announces that he’s going off watch. “You can’t keep me out forever, you know,” he warns the raging Boyden. “I’m coming back in.” Enjoying the show, Roach observes that he has “a crisis of leadership. The whole nick wants you out. You don’t know what it’s like in Sun Hill. Covering you in feathers is nothing. You’re finished!” “I haven’t even started!” snaps Boyden as he pulls free of him, and he is proved right when their fortunes are dramatically reversed a year later. With Dave and Steve ganging up on him again, Tony reveals his true motives: “Do you want Boyden off this relief? If Boyden gets hit now then this whole thing’s finished. But if we keep the pot boiling then we can get rid of him! Why do you think I’m doing all this? I’m trying to stop George hitting him and this prat is making money off it!” The story may have been partly budget-inspired, as it keeps the action confined to Sun Hill, but it also demonstrates how the show is still primarily about the regulars at this point. When a damaging event like this occurs, it exposes a range of attitudes that we were not aware of before. In line with his belief in old-fashioned Victorian values, Monroe feels that a punch-up is a healthy way for blokes to resolve a dispute, in the same way one might give a lad a clip round the ear for stealing. “If you can’t take what’s happening, look the other way,” he advises Cryer. Having learnt of the book from Roach, Boyden lets George know when he storms in, fist raised: “You’d better do this, ’cos if you don’t they’re gonna lose a lot of money.” George eventually does so – but the moment is hidden from us as well as the other characters, refusing to satisfy our bloodlust. Boyden is found in the CAD room with a bleeding lip, and twigs what Tony’s game was: “You didn’t want this over, did you? You wanted me to get transferred. Thanks. Sorry Dave, all over,” he announces as the latter enters. “I reckon this relief’s finally got a sergeant it deserves.”
Cryer soon gets to say ‘I told you so’ when this release of tension makes things worse, not better. With morale steadily falling, Brownlow asks for his opinion and he concedes that Boyden was “way, way out of order. But that was a matter that should have been dealt with by senior officers, not his PCs. He’s still here, so presumably the offences weren’t sackable. Letting Garfield thump him didn’t help the relief, it just split it.” “With hindsight, I’m inclined to agree,” adds a chastened Monroe. Things are still uneasy when we reach ‘A Blind Eye’ by Julian Jones. Called into Monroe’s office for an update, Boyden jokes that it sounds as though he is on probation, and is informed sternly that he is: “A transfer is still very much on the cards… The main difficulty I have with you, Matthew, remains your inability to command respect. You don’t earn it by drinking half a yard of whisky with the lads or going at it like a fiddler’s elbow with every pretty girl you see. It’s not difficult; there’s a rulebook. You make sure that you, and everyone on the relief, knows you’re going to work by it.” His point is soon demonstrated when Boyden drops in on Stamp at a day centre, making himself visible to the old folk. “You’ve got biscuit on your chin… just testing,” he winds him up. “Yeah,” Tony mutters as he walks to his own car, “knew you’d skive off and take afternoon tea.” The man who once observed that Tom Penny could dish it out but he couldn’t take it finds Boyden equally lacking: “Oi, come here! If you think you can get away with a comment like that you’ve got another thing coming.” Tony is called away on an urgent shout to assist George, asking Boyden if he wants to keep talking. “I’m sure George is getting used to being let down. Probably enjoy another week in hospital.” “I’ll speak to you later!” The urgent call is quickly settled, but Tony and George are then alerted to a woman who is being mugged; the latest in a spate of attacks on old people by a psychopath who seems to be in it for the beatings rather than the money. As they approach in the car they see a man standing over her body, going through her purse. He is set on by a vigilante gang that knocks him to the ground and piles into him – while Tony keeps his foot off the gas. “Get a move on, he’s getting a kicking!” “He’s getting what he deserves.”
Finally Tony crawls up to the scene and chases after the gang while George calls an ambulance. He quickly ‘loses them’ round the back of the estate, then learns that there is a witness in one of the tower blocks and is just as quick to go speak to her. But her description of the attack changes everything: “The woman fell over. Passed out, I imagine. The young guy in the jacket came over to help her. Then I saw the three lads; like you they must have thought she was being mugged.” Tony is already panicking when he gets more good news from Cathy, who has gone through the man’s belongings: “It’s a warrant card. PC Trevor Gale.” “This is a joke,” he sighs in disbelief. Knowing the irony better than anyone else, George lays into Tony on their return to the station: “Even if that bloke had been the mugger, you don’t stand there ringside and watch him get lynched. If this comes out you’ll be done.” Boyden has already passed news of the incident to Monroe, “not that you knew he was a PC at the time.” In private he gives Tony a dressing-down over his insolence, telling him he’s missed his chance to get rid of him. “I’m here, and I’m here to stay. Got it? You continue to throw your weight around and I’m going to do your legs so badly you’ll never walk again. This relief’s been allowed to go Humpty Dumpty. I’m going to put it back together again.” One of the gang is caught and asks why “your mate let us off earlier.” He repeats this accusation to Boyden, saying that a big bloke “smiled and let him vanish” even though his asthma meant he couldn’t run fast. Boyden puts the charge to Tony, gets him sweating, then heads off to report to Monroe. “We all make errors, we don’t all get punished for them – but believe me, there’s always going to be someone at this station that won’t let you forget.” “What are you going to do?” “Same as you, Tony,” he replies cheerfully as he knocks at Monroe’s door. “Turn a blind eye.”
It’s no surprise that Boyden cements his place with the relief not by occupying the moral high ground, but by taking theirs away. He may be a chancer, but he’s surrounded by fellow chancers. In that sense he’s a perfect fit for the show’s morally grey world, and he starts as he means to go on. In ‘Open to Offers’, by Russell Lewis, uniform have brought in two loan sharks for smashing up a pub. One, played with the sleaze dripping off him by Tim McInerny, recognises Dave as the electrician who did some work for a friend of his last year. Realising that he is a copper, and was moonlighting at the time, he has a hold over him which he threatens to use unless Dave gets the charges dropped. The first person to hear of this, because he happened to be listening near the door, is Boyden. His advice is characteristic: “Front it out. Deny everything, let him prove it. If they say anything to me, I’ll swear it was never mentioned.” “Maybe I should pre-empt him, maybe I should cough to it voluntarily.” “Dave, you’re looking at a sackable offence. You put your hands up to moonlighting, you could be out of a job!” But Dave decides to own up and goes to Maitland, who plays it straight as we would expect. He informs Monroe, and though the latter condemns what has gone on he also makes an effort to help, on the understanding that it will never happen again. When the two sergeants discuss the matter, the chasm between them is revealed. “Pity that couldn’t have been avoided really, innit?” says Boyden. “I would have found someone to alibi Dave for that particular day in question.” Maitland asks a simple but profound question that echoes down the years as we reach the activities of Beech, Santini and co: “Where does that road lead?” Boyden later questions why Dave went to him: “You know what he’s like. He’d offer a drowning man a glass of water if that’s what the rulebook prescribed.” But there is a telling addition to this view of Maitland as whiter than white, when he asks Monroe not to let Dave know that he spoke up for him: “I don’t want to be thought of as a soft touch.” He’s well aware of his do-gooder image and the value of maintaining it. To him it’s essential to keep a distance from the troops, whereas Boyden wants to prove he is one of them.
The show always got great mileage out of this clash of opposites, and Boyden’s feud with Garfield is a perfect example. Where the former always has a hidden agenda, there is an utter lack of guile about George that makes him an appealing figure, but also one destined for misfortune. One of the best things about the assault storyline, visible on screen but never commented on, is the hurt etched on his face while all around him people egg him on and try to excuse their own part in the debacle. When he learns that his trauma has become a betting event, he shelters in the locker room and we see him on the verge of tears before he composes himself. In the subdued atmosphere of ‘Street Cleaning’, there’s an extra air of guilt hanging over him for causing it all, even though he is the wronged party. It’s telling that when Cryer gives the relief a pep talk, asking if they will prove his faith in them, it’s George who announces firmly, “Yes skip.” Likewise, at the end when Dave and Tony suggest that the drinks are on Cryer, he counters, “Maybe we should buy him one?”, showing an instinctive, dog-like devotion to natural leaders. Boyden has proved himself far from the latter, and tension resurfaces between them when it’s George’s turn to get in trouble over a woman. In ‘A Scandalous Act’ a house is hit in a drugs raid and he finds a teenage girl, played by a young Martine McCutcheon, hiding in an upstairs room. Unlike Boyden he doesn’t take advantage but he does know her of old, having arrested her for shoplifting, and this nearly proves his downfall. He takes her back to the station in a Panda by himself, and she makes a complaint of indecent assault. Monroe lays into him for his naivety, but Boyden is quick to say the fault is his, which earns him a sarcastic look from George. “All I can say is she must have a vivid imagination if she thinks George is giving her one,” remarks Dave. “I don’t think he knows where it is yet, does he?” says Tony. After Boyden gives evidence to MS15, he assures George that he told them nothing; but, in a textbook example of projection, adds, “I think they’ve sussed you’ve been giving her one.” “I was trying to be nice! Just because I wear a uniform doesn’t mean I can’t be nice sometimes.” He reveals that he first arrested her when she was thirteen, and thought he could keep her out of trouble. “She’s a bright girl, I didn’t want to see her get on a downward spiral.” It turns out that the evidence of sexual contact on her is from a boyfriend that her father wants rid of, and George was the victim of this dispute. “You all right George?” asks Boyden. “Yes sarge; no thanks to you.” The girl tells him she is sorry. “Not half as sorry as I am”, he replies bitterly, realising that someone else’s ulterior motives have sailed way over his head.
Much like Greig, George gets an overdue turn in the spotlight during Series 8 after a quiet couple of years. His optimistic belief that he can “be nice sometimes” as a police officer has already been tested in ‘Fair Play’, which reveals his origins as a promising young boxer. Like the fracas with Boyden, it demonstrates that George is still a long way from being best mates with Dave. It’s the latter who goes after George’s former rival, and idol, boxing star Mal Grant, for being parked illegally and then finds a bag of drugs in his car. “Look, if PC Quinnan has reason to believe…” “‘PC Quinnan has reason to believe’ – Garf, is that you in there? I need some help here!” He gives George a black eye and assault is added to possession. Back at the nick, George asks Grant for permission to approach his doctor to prove that the drugs were legally prescribed. But now he’s in uniform, his old mate can’t take an offer of help at face value: “OK… how much? You know, you want me to buy you a drink. I’ve got it, you need it!” “Don’t insult me, Mal!” “Why are you doing this then?” Grant explodes. “Just a little power trip, is it?” George is dismayed to learn that they really are steroids, as the image of the man he admired begins to crumble. “You never understood about wanting to win,” the latter murmurs. “Boxing was just a part-time thing for you. You had a day job.” George is insistent that he is not going to press charges over the assault, but Monroe has other ideas when told of this. “He’s in the police now; I think someone ought to remind him of that. I’m not having someone thumping one of my men in front of a crowd of people and then walking away scot free.” George declares that it would “be like hitting a man when he’s down” to charge him with assault. “Garfield, it isn’t your decision. I want a statement of what happened: an assault on a police officer.” “Yeah, but that’s it! He hit me because it was me. Someone he knew; someone that could have helped him but didn’t.” “The people who saw him do it don’t make that distinction. The people you work with don’t. If you can’t wear that, you’d better think very carefully about your future in the job.” It’s a dilemma that Dave has recently encountered, when he goes undercover in his former role as electrician and meets an old mate who is willing to push some dodgy credit cards his way. He puts this ‘hypothetical’ scenario to Cryer, whose advice is that “the officer’s got to decide whether he wants to be a copper or not.” Dave makes his choice and gets spat in the face by his friend’s wife, then head-butted by the man himself. But for George there is an added poignancy in having to charge someone he not only liked but hero-worshipped, for achieving greater things than he ever could. It reveals a lot about how he views himself, as an average guy who hangs on the coat-tails of better people. “Do you ever wish you could keep your life in separate little boxes?” he asks Norika as he writes his statement. “Home, friends, work, family, just keep them all apart. That way you might not end up feeling like something that just crawled out from under a stone.” Dave sits beside him, pointing out that Grant has been using drugs for years. “He probably was when he beat you.” “Yeah, he was always better than me though,” says George, humble to a fault.
As the show moved deeper into the Nineties, from the Thatcher era to the Major era, it perhaps became less politically charged than it had been in its early years. In this regard the stand-out episode from 1992 is JC Wilsher’s two-parter ‘The Paddy Factor’/‘The Wild Rover’, which returns to the subjects of terrorism and the security services that he and other writers had explored two years earlier. Jim and Viv are tailing a burglary suspect who is trying his luck with parked cars. They watch a man leave a flat and load a holdall into his motor, then get inside and lean under the dashboard. The target emerges from a nearby pub and spots an opportunity, but is then hit by two gunshots at close range. The car speeds off, leaving him twitching on the pavement. Meanwhile, pre-empting The Fast Show’s ‘Fat Sweaty Coppers’ by several years, Tony is giving Dave his order for the Chinese takeaway: “I’ll have a pancake roll, chicken chow mein, prawn crackers, fried rice with egg, packet of soy sauce and a large Coke.” “Is that all?” asks a deadpan Dave. “Well, I’ll be sinking a few later, so I’ve got to leave a bit of room.” They get a shout to pursue the car and Tony wisely hands Dave the soy sauce, which splatters him as they drive off. Meanwhile, an ambulance arrives at the scene of the shooting, followed by the new Armed Response Vehicle outlined by Wilsher in ‘Shots’ the previous year. The command structure that the Met trainers promoted as a step forward also comes under the spotlight. Jim wants to go into the flat the gunman appeared from in case there are more weapons inside, and is told, “You’re the officer in the case pal, you set the objective. If it’s feasible we’ll do it for you, but it’s your decision.” This new state of affairs is commented on by Tony as he and Dave chase the car onto a ring road. An armed vehicle appears behind them and he is advised to pull back, given that the suspect is tooled up. “I wish I was; they changed the rules,” he mutters. The police set up a roadblock and the car ploughs into a lorry, crushing the driver to death. The ARV men fear that Dave has got caught up in the carnage before he explains, “Sweet and sour sauce,” and licks some off. The boot of the car contains two AK-47s. The flat is raided and its startled occupants, an Irish man and woman, frisked at gunpoint. “You still think you can treat us like shite, don’t you?” he complains. “Do your snooping somewhere else, we’ve got rights you know. Make up some really good lies, out there you’ll need ’em!” she adds venomously. Maitland informs Jim of the weapons that have been found, and points out that this is a different ball game now: “Kalashnikov assault rifles. That’s not blagging gear.” “No – we’re talking politicals.”
The two flatmates, Paul Harris and Marie Sinnot, are arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The moment they are taken into custody, an attempt is made to turn Sun Hill into the fortress that its planners allowed for two years earlier, when they discussed the design with Brownlow in Wilsher’s ‘Citadel’. The officers are issued with firearms which they have to sign for, as per established procedure. “That doesn’t make us a high security nick,” a worried Boyden reminds Monroe. “No, but it’ll only be for a short time. The anti-terrorist squad are on their way, they’ll take them off our hands.” As he gets another verbal broadside while trying to fill in the custody record, Boyden asks Sinnot if she understands why she is here: “Oh, I understand all right. I understand the position of people like us in the British state.” Superintendent Grace from SO13 arrives with his deputies and dispels any hope that the prisoners will be transferred to Paddington Green. “I have to say I’m not personally confident that Sun Hill can handle high security prisoners for more than a brief period,” Monroe warns him. Carver observes that “under the Act you can really take off the gloves, can’t you?” “That’s a bit of an unfortunate way of putting it,” he is told. Grace reads the list of names the prisoners want informed of their arrest, and the high-profile lawyer they’ve asked for, and declares that “they’re out of luck on both counts. If they’re allowed outside contacts at this time, I believe it may prejudice my enquiries. Alibis may be constructed, witnesses interfered with and evidence suppressed, OK?” “The prisoners are Sun Hill’s responsibility,” Monroe protests. “I can’t abrogate their rights on your say-so.” “No, but a senior officer can: a chief super or above. So why don’t you get Charlie Brownlow on the blower?” Boyden explains to the astonished Harris that they cannot get legal representation, and won’t be getting out any time soon: “Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, you can be held in police custody for up to forty-eight hours without being charged. Then, if the Secretary of State agrees, you can be held for a further five days.”
This contentious law was another legacy of the 1974 pub bombings, together with the wrongful conviction of the Birmingham Six, which the show had already reacted to after they were freed. Other events of 1991 kept the IRA very much in public discussion: another bombing campaign, this time in Central London, and a mortar attack on Downing Street in February that could have caused severe injury to the Cabinet if not for reinforced windows that had just been fitted. And in regard to the show’s depiction of police procedure, an interesting change was going on at this time – the transfer of powers for investigating the IRA from the Met’s Special Branch to MI5, which already handled all other forms of terrorist activity. The handover was finalised the month after these episodes aired and was getting plenty of attention in the press. The other period in the show’s life that cried out for an in-depth look at anti-terrorist policing was of course a decade later, in the aftermath of September 11th; and had it not been vanishing down the rabbit hole at the time, The Bill would surely have made great play of this. Instead, as the real world became more frightening and unpredictable, terrorist storylines were forbidden in case the news got there first. But everything we see in this story could have been experienced by real officers in London at the time: most of all, the rising discomfort of the PCs who find themselves on the frontline of a war. “We are looking at dedicated revolutionary fanatics here,” babbles Reg, doing his best to alarm his colleagues. “If they can’t shoot their way out, their comrades will be round with rockets and mortars, it’s been done before. This mob’s been known to hijack helicopters before now to blag their mates out. All I am doing George, is warning against complacency in the air and maximum danger.” “All you’re doing is going home to bed, the same as me.” Tony and Dave return from going “eyeball to eyeball with the terrorist scourge” and Dave assures George that the mess on his shirt is just what it looks like: “Blood, brains, guts, monosodium glutamate, the full works.” Further up the chain the discomfort is of a different kind, and the attitudes we expect from certain people have been turned on their head. The rule-bending Boyden is increasingly anxious about the treatment of the prisoners, telling Monroe that he has no idea how the interviews are being conducted: “A lot of what’s going on here would be right out of order under normal circumstances.” By contrast, the man who lives by the book offers a blunt and surprisingly ruthless reply: “They’re not suspected of anything normal. The rules are different in terrorist cases. You weren’t in this station when a car bomb took it apart and killed one of our constables. You can’t fight a war by the everyday rules.”
Grace reveals that PIRA’s Active Service Units have been equipped with Kalashnikovs supplied by Gaddafi’s regime in the mid-Eighties. A recent series of attacks in and around London are connected to one of these units, whose front-line troops are now in custody at Paddington Green. “What you’ve tripped over here looks like the support cell: long-stay players with deep cover who arrange transport and accommodation; store weapons, equipment.” “They’ve lived normal civilian lives, waiting for the call to arms. Had a chance to soften up,” says a hopeful Grace. “We get a clear run at it, keep them isolated – we can break ’em.” But these assumptions begin to fall apart in ‘The Wild Rover’, when Ted Roach gets on the case. The lengthy recap that takes place for the benefit of him and Tosh, but really for the audience, suggests an anxiety not to leave new viewers at sea, even though there was only a single day between the two instalments when they were broadcast. At the same time, it demonstrates how far the two-parter had come since the early days of procedural cock-ups and church fetes. If Wilsher’s ‘Cold Turkey’ the previous year was a fifty-minute episode sawn in half, then this story is essentially a dry run for Between the Lines, exploring the same territory of the police, the criminals and the security services, and the unholy alliances between them. The casting of Lynda Steadman, later to play Tony Clark’s wife in that series, as Julie Sinnot, together with guest appearances from Tom Georgeson and Siobhan Redmond in other episodes this year, enhance the sense of two programmes sharing the same DNA. While Sinnot and Harris are grilled yet again by SO13, Sun Hill CID are given the legwork of checking out their past lives and associates. The picture that emerges of these two terrorist masterminds is far from convincing: one chucked off a polytechnic course for late night partying and drug-taking, the other sacked after two days on a building site. “They’re irresponsible, loud, piss artists – maybe druggies,” Roach informs Grace. “If I wanted a couple to live here undercover, I’d want people who kept their head down and melted into the landscape, not walking disaster areas!”
His anxieties dismissed, Roach goes to Burnside and reminds him that if the case gets blown out years later on appeal, i.e. another Birmingham Six, “Sun Hill’s prints will be all over it.” Against orders, Burnside reveals that the dead man, Joseph Pearce, was an Irishman who served in the British Army from 1967 to 1974, during the onset of the Troubles. “You don’t have to tell me. I was in the Air Force at the time,” says Roach, in another nod to Tony Scannell’s real-life history. “Well he wouldn’t be the only Irish soldier in the British Army who started to have doubts about his loyalties at the time of Bloody Sunday,” notes Burnside. With the official ignorance of his governor, Roach begins to dig around Pearce’s old haunts, and for perhaps the first time his own background is used to good effect in a story. Having ruled him out of a politically sensitive job in Belfast two years earlier, here it’s his ticket into an Irish pub. He has barely got inside before he’s accosted by a man with a tin collecting “for the families of Irish political prisoners”, the same worthy cause that we learnt a young Richard Turnham gave to in ‘Citadel’, and he duly pays up. The barman, an old contact of Ted’s, works both sides of the fence but doesn’t want to know as soon as Pearce’s name is mentioned. “Joe Pearce isn’t bad news because anyone thinks he’s a volunteer. He’s bad news ’cos they think he’s a tout! He’s suddenly started spending a lot of time in the company of his old Army pals. Those still serving, I mean – and he’s tried to do it on the quiet.” The next day, he meets Ted and reveals that three men came in after he had gone, asking about Pearce but not having met him. “I know British soldiers when I see them. Is military intelligence tied up with this?” They want to set up a business deal that evening, and Roach decides to pose as the dead man. Meanwhile, Grace has made a complaint about a Sun Hill officer “playing the wild rover” to Brownlow, whose face sets in weary resignation when he learns which one. Here the story weaves its political themes with the long-standing subject of career politics in CID. Brownlow sees Burnside, asking him how he’s finding his post as Acting DCI and stressing the importance of effective supervision. “Of course, support for subordinates is essential. But I’d hate to see an able man held back through misplaced loyalty. Believe me Frank, you can’t save a man who’s determined to drive his own career into the ground.”
With Harris beginning to talk after thirty-six hours in custody – “Who’s he naming? His girlfriend, his Auntie Mary, the milkman?” – Roach meets Burnside and puts forward his own theory. The oddness of a hardened terrorist panicking, making a run for it and literally losing his head has already been ascribed by one of the SO13 men to ‘the Paddy Factor’. This was the working title for what became The Long Good Friday, and the film’s key twist, in which a campaign of revenge seemingly conducted by rival criminals turns out to be the work of the IRA, is cleverly inverted here. “We’re all assuming that automatic weapons mean terrorists, but what if there’s a trade in them for non-political criminals? We all know the kind of scumbags who go in for armed blagging these days – they’re all doped up to the eyeballs. Mention automatic weapons to those zombies and they go bandy.” “So Pearce is the middleman, the armourer?” Learning of Roach’s plan to buy the latest consignment, Burnside warns him, “If the wheels come off this one, and Brownlow does your legs once and for all, I’m going to have to help him. I am Acting DCI, I can’t have my firm second-guessing SO13! It’s etiquette. Self-defence is no offence.” However, on the proviso that “this really is about pongoes flogging off equipment”, he calls in help from the military police, who were about to nail Pearce for his sideline before he left the army. In an upstairs room at the pub, Roach is introduced to his three mystery suppliers: “It’s no secret you’re in the mob… A good sergeant’s a mother and father rolled into one, right? You see much action in the Gulf?” “Of a kind. The Iraqis weren’t shooting at us. And the Yanks missed.” “Brought back a lot of souvenirs?” “There was too much lying around to carry. Still,” the sergeant adds, “if I’d known about the defence cuts I’d have bought a crate.” Roach is taken to their car to inspect the goods and armed police swoop in. Burnside points out that this result won’t do either of them any favours – “No greater offence than being right too soon” – but for once, Roach has other motives besides getting the glory. He may be a policeman first and an Irishman second, but the latter still counts for something. In another pointed reference to the real events of 1991, he notes, “At least they didn’t take fifteen years to sort this one out.”
The use and potential misuse of ARVs may have been highlighted by Wilsher, but it’s a different author who explores that scenario in depth this year. In ‘Snap Shot’, by Tony Etchells, Dave and Tony are called out to a man who has been accused by his neighbour of threatening him with a gun. They enter his flat, which is filled with military posters and memorabilia, and discover a display case of handguns and automatic rifles. “I collect replicas, all right?” reveals their twitchy owner, Gary Miller. “Replicas and militaria.” The upstairs neighbour, who was broadcasting his music to the entire block, admits that Miller threatened to get a gun but didn’t actually produce it. Tony wants to go, saying that if the music gets turned up again, “It’s not our problem, is it? You’ll have to see the council, Environmental Health, they’ll sort him out.” “He says noise makes him nervous,” Dave clarifies once they have gone. “He reckons armed struggle’s the only thing he understands.” “He should feel right at home here then, shouldn’t he?” They are called back to find Miller shouting up at his neighbour. After another round of promises, Tony is itching to get away and accepts a new shout, but Dave wants to stay: “He’s out of his skull, he’s drinking neat gin.” “So are half the people on this estate!” The neighbour storms into Miller’s flat to “sort him out” – and when Dave follows, he finds Miller holding a gun on him. They are both ordered out. A report of a gunman is phoned into CAD, which prompts a call from the Yard asking if they want armed assistance. Tony and Dave try to cool the situation, the former advising that the ARV is not needed as they are only facing a replica. But as he is urging Miller to put it down, an ARV appears from nowhere and a stand-off develops. The man responsible is Conway, who tells Tony that “until we’re certain this man is unarmed, I’ve told MP I want the ARV there fully deployed. We act on the assumption the gun is real, all right?” Realising that this circus is only making things worse, Tony insists, “He’s a berk!” “That’s as maybe, but I’d rather be safe than sorry,” says Donaghee, the lead ARV man. “Get down!” Tony is urged as he stands there trying to reason with Miller while the others take cover. They order him to drop the weapon as he begins waving it around. “Gary, stand still!” yells Tony. “He’s going to shoot!” Moments later one of the officers opens fire, hitting Miller in the chest.
An enquiry begins, headed by Superintendent Cochrane from MS15. Tony maintains that the ARV crew mishandled the situation and is prepared to make it official. “You nearly got yourself killed friend, it was real,” Donaghee informs him smugly. “Nine millimetre semi-automatic, five live rounds, would have blown your brains out. Mind you, that wouldn’t take a lot.” Tony goes for him and the two have to be separated. There’s a small but telling moment when Chapel, the officer who actually fired the shots, walks by with a mumbled, “Sorry.” Regulations mean that he cannot be interviewed for twenty-four hours following the shooting, so everyone else is questioned first. The incident has been captured by a man with a camcorder, and Cochrane reviews the footage. Conway informs Tony of Miller’s psychiatric history, admitting that “it’s terrible that a man like that should find himself facing armed officers”, but tells him to stop dwelling on the ifs, buts and maybes. “Perhaps if you’d handled him differently, you’d have brought him in unharmed – and perhaps he’d have slaughtered half the street!” It’s revealed that Tony’s warning cry of “He’s going to shoot!” is what prompted Chapel to fire first – thinking the warning was for him, when it was for Miller. This tragic misunderstanding echoes another real-life miscarriage of justice, the hanging of Derek Bentley in the Fifties: a policeman ordered his accomplice Christopher Craig to hand over his gun, Bentley called out, “Let him have it!” and Craig shot him. This ancient history would have been fresh in people’s minds after the release of the film Let Him Have It in 1991. Like Bentley, Miller is a man of diminished mental capacity “and suddenly there are three people pointing semi-automatics at him! The ARV responded to the threat from Miller by trying to dominate the situation, only he thought that was his cue to be more threatening back!” But Tony’s argument is in part a smokescreen for his guilt. Cochrane puts it in simple terms – “If you go tooled up for a shootout, you’re going to find one” – and rejects Brownlow’s suggestion that this applies to the ARV crew as well as Miller. Brownlow advises Tony not to pursue his complaint as the report will likely exonerate them. “Doubts have been expressed about your handling of the domestic matter – doubts which, perhaps, you feel yourself.” This brings to mind the two kinds of copper that Cryer warned in ‘Shots’ would be created by ARVs, “Social workers in uniforms, and tooled up paramilitaries.” Tony, who has flirted with the latter in his role as an AFO and so often complained that he is not the former, is revealed to be a lot closer to it than he realised. A beat copper at heart, he wanted to keep the situation under control, but doesn’t have the patience to deal with people he views as hopeless cases. The baleful look on his face as Brownlow raises the subject shows that he knows it better than anyone. “I’ve heard from the hospital; Miller never regained consciousness. Nothing’s ever clear-cut, is it Tony?” “There’s nothing more clear-cut than that, sir,” he replies bitterly.
The familiar refrain of ‘we’re not social workers’ rings false during the early Nineties in particular, given the presence of Ron Smollett, home beat officer and community copper. Ron starts out life as another in the endless revolving door of collators, all of whom return to the beat because they want a decent slice of the action – or more likely, the actors who played them did. By the time he hands over the baton to Donna Harris near the end of Series 7, she is the fourth collator at Sun Hill in little more than three years, and unlike the others she is in it for the long haul. The way is paved for Ron’s return to the big time in ‘The Taste’ by Julian Jones, which tells parallel stories of the desk-bound Smollett and Cryer both hankering for street duties again. Meeting a man whose flash sports car has broken down, Ron becomes suspicious about whether the vehicle is really his. Meanwhile, Cryer has stepped in as custody sergeant and got embroiled in a dispute with Maitland over the correct application of PACE. Maitland finds Monroe in the yard and asks him for his advice on how to resolve this thorny issue. “What a poser,” declares Monroe – as he watches Ron pull up in the convertible. “You can’t help it, but it makes you feel like a superstar in one of these!” “It’s a shame it can’t make you look like one.” But Ron’s suspicions are proven correct, and soon he is installed as Sun Hill’s home beat officer: an attempt to get it right after Yorkie’s brief stint on home beat in the hour-long episodes, which unlike in real life was mixed with other duties. In ‘Beggar My Neighbour’, a tramp is found burned on a park bench after someone from the nearby Beckett Estate set fire to him. “The usual,” observes George after questioning passers-by. “The Three Wise Monkeys – except nobody’s wise.” Ron is reluctant to have Tosh by his side asking questions while he does his rounds on the estate, saying “they’re just getting used to me.” He gets on well enough with the black manager of the community centre, but realises he’s been holding back about drug dealers on the estate: “Because I won’t play the white man? Naming names to keep you sweet? Don’t lean on me, that’s not the way we work together.” After he has reluctantly handed over the details, the manager adds, “You know, maybe it was better when people like you and me just didn’t talk to each other.”
On the way to raid a squat, Ron points out to the other PCs that when they have done their job they’re gone, whereas he has to come back the next day and face the consequences. This is demonstrated in ‘Comeback’, the next script by Julian Jones about the ongoing Cryer/Smollett arc. While Bob makes his return to the relief, Ron is opening a police community office on the Kingsmead Estate. He enlists Dave and Cathy to help him kit it out, ordering that the door remain open so people can see inside, even though it doesn’t officially start up until the next day. “Who does he reckon he is?” asks Dave once Ron has slipped outside. “It’s a publicity job, that’s all.” But when the area car is stolen and written off in a crash, Ron gets caught up in the investigation, against his wishes. He reluctantly gives Brownlow the name of a youth who has dropped into the centre and knows one of the thieves, on the assurance that it won’t be traced back to him. But as he locks up that night, petrol is thrown into the office and he has to escape via a side window as the building goes up in flames. In the hunt that follows, a piece of graffiti springs up saying ‘Burn Pigs Out’, but on the flipside we see that Ron has made friends as well as enemies. “Everyone I’ve had in the shop this morning has been asking after you,” says a concerned newsagent. A resident who told June that it was too dark for her to see much admits to him that she did see someone, “but I didn’t want to tell that lady copper. ’Cos I know Jeff’s black, and I’m not trying to say you’re racist, I know you’re all right Ron… well, things have happened in the past.” Much like the racists she is complaining about, she evidently finds individual coppers OK ‘when you get to know them’. Another woman recognises the photo fit of the suspect as her daughter’s boyfriend. The daughter does not share her fondness for their home beat officer: “He wants to pretend he’s all nice so he can turn everyone in!” “It’s his job to catch people!” “To spy on us!” Revealing that an arrest has been made via a tip off, Conway suggests that, “It vindicates all the work Ron’s been doing on that estate, people really stood up to help him.” “Maybe we’ve lost an office but gained a community,” replies a hopeful Brownlow. Ron is given a gallon bottle of whisky by the grateful residents, assuring Conway that he will rattle it for charity – but adding privately that he’d rather have that than the commendation he is in line for.
While Ron himself is out there trying to make a difference, there is seemingly no respite from – and no variety in – the endless series of sink estates that he is policing. The Billaton’s map of real-life filming locations deserves to be accompanied by a fictional map of Sun Hill’s ground, complete with each and every estate that supposedly falls within its boundaries. The Jasmine Allen may be the granddaddy of them all – who was Jasmine Allen, and how many crimes have been committed in her name? – but throughout the Nineties there was also the Abelard, the Bronte, the Cockcroft, the Copthorne, the Larkmead… to say nothing of the Bannister, the Fairways, the Matthew Arnold, the Tankeray, the Beckett, the Kingsmead… and probably half a dozen more that have evaded my powers of recall. The only thing that distinguishes these places is the new putdown each time one is mentioned – “I’d rather sleep on a bench than in those flats”, “They need a TSG van on permanent standby, not a community office” – and one sometimes gets the feeling that the one-liners were the only reason for their existence. Things are at their bleakest in Steve Trafford’s two-parter, ‘Well Out of Order’/‘Into the Mire’, in which Ron’s ‘social work act’ comes in for severe criticism. “Look I’m working a twelve-hour shift today, we are running like mad just to keep still,” protests Steve. “And he’s up here swanning about, poncing cups of tea.” After a violent attack on a shopkeeper at the Tankeray Flats, Meadows points out that his team have been pursuing the criminal element there for months: “Whenever one of my lads is tailing some thief with a rucksack of car stereos back to the estate, someone from uniform turns up with a smiling community face and he dives for cover!” Brownlow and Conway, however, maintain that they must follow the long-term strategy of the community liaison panel. “So Ron Smollett’s calling the shots now, is he?” Burnside complains. “I mean we all know if you go down that estate and ask the real community what they want, they’ll tell you loud and clear: cuff ’em and stuff ’em!” Meadows has put his objections on record, but is clear that “we’re exercising restraint… Till the job comes completely unwrapped, when no doubt we’ll be asked to go in and dig Ron Smollett out.”
Following another vicious attack on a community leader, who loses the baby she is carrying, Burnside convinces Conway that they must go in hard – and the latter tells Ron ominously that they’ll “have a chat in the morning.” “How do you police a hellhole like this?” Tosh asks Burnside as they drive in. “You walk tall, carry a big stick and use it when you have to. You lose the streets to the local yobs and you can dream up all the murals and summer schools you like, but you won’t win them back.” Ron does win again, however, when a teenage couple come forward and admit that they know the attacker. He grabs the suspect and brings him in himself, much to the annoyance of Burnside. But in the next episode he learns that all his work will come to nothing in the end, because a bigger strategy has been going on behind his back. Having found a man and his children squatting in a vacant flat, Ron visits the council’s housing department with Conway to discuss the problem: “I’d say it made Beirut look like the Ideal Home Exhibition.” Bemused that seventy-two ‘voids’ on the estate have been left empty for months, awaiting repair works, they are told the truth. “The council intends to decant the occupants of Tankeray Flats and demolish. Until the money is available the project is on hold.” “And until then you’ll let the whole place slide into the mire, is that the idea?” “That’s not the intention, but it may very well be the consequence.” “I’m the Thin Blue Line down there,” protests Ron. “I’m doing my best to create goodwill in the community and all the rest of it, and you’re telling me the council’s given up on the place! These ‘occupants’ that you intend to decant – I mean all right, they are not the solid citizens of Middle England, but most of them are decent people and they are sick of seeing their community going to the dogs!” The squatting epidemic turns out to be the result of a scam that has already featured earlier in the year, and would several times in future: a council repairman is letting people move into empty flats in return for private ‘rent’, which is then passed on to a housing officer who was at Ron and Conway’s meeting.
Ron draws a distinction between the residents, mostly pensioners who “live in terror of going out”, and the troublemakers, but this is turned on its head in ‘Cold Shoulder’ by Tony Etchells, who was fast becoming one of the show’s standout writers. It opens with Barry and Tony debating the issue of home ownership under the Right to Buy scheme, and we can predict the latter’s view. “Why should people look after something if they don’t own it? There is nothing wrong with people buying their flats, Barry.” “There was nothing wrong with people renting them, either.” Outside a block of flats they find the victim of a stabbing, recognised by Jim as a notorious burglar: “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer feller.” “Cresswell Court has moved away from traditional council management towards owner occupation,” Brownlow informs a meeting. “There’s a residue of five or six problem families who think the rest of the neighbours are fair game.” CID begin to make enquiries and find that everyone on the estate was deaf, dumb and blind at the time of the incident. The son of a man who was broken into and assaulted a few months earlier is the obvious suspect, but no-one is willing to implicate him. Amid a chorus of officers who think justice has been done, Meadows emerges as the dissenting voice. “Judge and jury now, are we Jim?” he observes after the latter mouths off about the case. “There’s a seventeen year old lad in intensive care with his tripes hanging out. Anyone who thinks that’s acceptable, let me know and I’ll put them on to something else.” On a visit to the estate, he reminds him that, “We police by consensus, not divide and rule.” The chief suspect, McKinnel, is brought in for interview and maintains that “we won’t tolerate people like that no more.” Accused of “protecting his investment”, he challenges Meadows: “So what’s wrong with that? You’ve got a nice house, intcha? How many villains live where you live, eh? How would you feel if one of them moved in next door?” Brownlow suggests that, while he doesn’t like it either, people are filling the gap left by the failure of the police. In a memorable ending, Meadows storms into the local pub like an anti-hero in the last reel of a Western, telling the patrons what they don’t want to hear. “He’s got your backing has he, to clear out the flats, get rid of the undesirables? A bit of stabbing here and there?” The landlord reluctantly orders McKinnel and his pals to leave, knowing the trouble that this moral gesture will cause him. “What happened to all the decent people, Frank?” Meadows asks his subordinate as they leave. “They bought their own flats, guv.”
It’s little surprise that this unremittingly grim picture drew the ire of real residents, and that an actual home beat officer like Kevin Holland began to request more positive storylines in return for access to the locations, as revealed on The Bill Podcast. Ron’s activities, and improbable run of triumphs, seem to be part of an effort to forge closer links with the Met. It was Julian Jones, who wrote so much for the character, whose previous episode ‘Without Consent’ was criticised for its negative impression of how they handle rape cases. In that light, it’s interesting to see a run of episodes this year that feel as though they were requested by the police to shine a light on particular problems. Perhaps, as the show became a long-running presence during the Nineties, they stopped worrying about bad PR and realised the positive work it could do if they got it on side. Some stories are reminiscent of the public information films of the Seventies, showing how juvenile pranks can escalate into something fatal. The obvious example is Jones’ ‘Chicken’, which builds to its powerful ending via a scene in which a classroom of kids laughs and jeers at a video on rail safety that a hapless BTP officer is trying to show them. It makes for doubly macabre viewing nowadays, given that the video is helmed by none other than It’s a Knockout compère turned convicted felon Stuart Hall, suggesting that those children knew something we didn’t. With chants of ‘Boring!” the kids heckle their way through it until the bell goes and they scramble for the exit, barely pausing to take the safety leaflets offered. These chaotic images probably earned the disapproval of education authorities instead. “First time I gave a talk here, a young lad at the back set fire to the curtains,” a sympathetic Ron tells his counterpart. But the kids, and the railway workers who laugh at the police’s futile efforts to keep them off the line, end up failing to see the funny side. “It has been a problem in the area,” a British Rail supervisor notes of their games. “It won’t be any more,” says Peters. Railways are another source of trouble in Duncan Gould’s ‘Fireworks’, when Tony finds two kids setting off detonators that have been stolen from the line. “The gangers strap them on the lines about a mile above where they’re working,” explains another BTP officer. “Then the train goes over it, it makes a bang and it warns the driver to slow down. The trouble is, the kids are always nicking them. We lost a hundred last week.” He and Tony march the two youths to their school, but then hear another bang from the primary next door. They rush over to find a six-year old girl with a bloodied face, caused by flying debris. “You hit it hard with a brick or something and it goes off. If you’re too close, it sends the brick back in your face.” Tony tracks down the youth who is selling the detonators to other kids, corners him in a lift and does a Burnside on him. Pinning him to the wall, he hisses a warning: “You’d better make up your mind what you’re going to do, or you could end up with a face like hers.” As they leave he explains to a startled onlooker, “Bit of community policing, madam” – the kind that’s more to his taste. The school caretaker later calls him out to an unusual break-in, “More in the nature of a deposit than a withdrawal.” He is shown a stack of detonators and says he knows who left them: “A bit of a face-saving tactic, in a manner of speaking.”
‘Chicken’ was something of a sequel to Julian Jones’ ‘FAT’AC’, in the way it ended on the lingering trauma of one man who has witnessed the unspeakable. Duncan Gould delivers another episode that’s firmly within this strand – and instead of focusing on a likeable bloke like Yorkie or Peters, the hard man of the relief is put through it. ‘All the King’s Horses’ opens with Steve hearing a pile-up round the corner, just as Yorkie did in ‘FAT’AC’, and rushing to the scene. How fortunate, a cynic might argue, The Bill’s police-only perspective is at times like this: it means that we must only be shown the aftermath of what would be an expensive action sequence, not the moment itself. He finds a timber lorry that has crashed outside a school, burying a child under debris. Whereas Yorkie had to control a situation on his own, Steve gets help from onlookers and his colleagues. He finds a missing boy and gets him breathing before the paramedics arrive. As first responder he must compile witness statements for the accident report book, and goes with the boy to hospital; but en route, his heart stops again. “But he was all right! We had him…” a shocked Steve keeps repeating. After the boy dies from his injuries, he is sitting numbly in casualty when another boy comes up. Slowly, he admits the truth: that they were playing football and he kicked the ball over the fence. “And Paul said he’d go and get it, and he got it… but then the bell went, so he ran back across the road…” Steve comforts the tearful kid while burying his own feelings. The episode serves as a powerful lesson on road safety to the child audience, and also an examination of what we would now recognise as mental health. Monroe is on safe ground as he consoles the sobbing Norika, but has no idea how to tackle the wellbeing of the troops as a whole. Instead it’s Conway, whose stress awareness training has always been a source of comedy, who gets the numbers of the officers involved so he can phone their homes and “let their other halves know they’ve had a stressful day.” He advises Monroe to take the relief out for a drink after the shift, and there’s a wonderful moment where the bluff Yorkshireman is terrified at the prospect of being touchy-feely. “You don’t have to hold their hands, Andrew; just show up and show them that you care!” Shrugging off other people’s concern, Steve goes on compiling his report. The worried June tells Tony, who puts up a shield of flippant humour to deal with things like this, “The day you don’t get upset about the death of a kid is the day you should quit.” In the pub, Ron’s attempt to reassure Steve backfires. “Look, just go and play social workers with someone else, would you Ron?” He rushes off to the toilets and when Ron knocks on the door, he assures him that, “I’m all right.” Only we, the audience, see otherwise.
Besides the emotional challenges faced by the police, we are given an insight into the range of extra jobs that fall within their scope. ‘Safety First’, a story not as didactic as its title would suggest, sees Cryer wading through the huge backlog of applications for shotgun licence renewals. “If they made shotguns as hard to get as pistols and rifles, we wouldn’t have every Tom, Dick and Harry wanting one,” he complains, but is told, “It still has to be done – a security check on every shotgun owner’s home.” He visits one such man who is a security consultant himself, warning him that his glass-fronted cabinet is no longer adequate. “It needs to be a steel one. New police policy. It is a condition of granting and renewing a certificate now; it’s in the Home Office guidelines.” “It might be in the guidelines, but it’s not in the Firearms Amendment Act,” he protests, highlighting a woolly piece of legislation. “All I’m required to do by law is provide enough security to prevent access by unauthorised persons.” He comes to Sun Hill to make a protest to Brownlow. “I know your views, Bob,” says a sympathetic Monroe. “With respect sir, no-one can: until they look down the wrong end of a gun barrel.” “I wonder if things are going to be any easier when firearms licensing goes under civilian control,” muses Brownlow. The owner, Jones, maintains that, “Criminals will always get hold of guns.” “Often by stealing them from legitimate owners,” Monroe reminds him. He is given no assurances, but Brownlow does not intend to oppose the renewal. “How many others are going to take the same tack as Mr Jones, and then the more concessions we make, the more chances there are of a shotgun ending up in criminal hands,” Cryer protests. The episode runs another story in tandem that proves his and Monroe’s point: CID uncover the history of a shotgun that has been dropped after wounding a pawnbroker in a robbery. “I’ll be glad when we do have a record of every shotgun on a computer,” says a hopeful Woods. “Cloud cuckoo land, mate,” replies the clerk of a gunsmith’s as he checks his books. “Even if you did have time to keep up with the paperwork, you’d only have legally owned guns on record. Villains don’t bother taking out licences, remember?” The gun turns out to have been sold by the firm six years earlier, sold back to them a few months ago, sold on to someone else with a dodgy record, then sold by him to an associate. Burnside tracks down this man and finds a garden shed full of weapons, which he hires out to blaggers like the two who robbed the pawnbroker’s. “You’re going to need one of those steel cabinets for this lot,” he declares as they are checked into custody. “Well we haven’t got one of those anymore,” Cryer observes, giving Brownlow a dark look. With Dunblane little more than three years away, this storyline feels like a potent warning of what guns in the wrong hands could do.
‘We Should Be Talking’, another Duncan Gould episode, asks some important questions about public responsibility. George stops a car suspected of being involved in a ramraid, while June finds a bloodied shoe and thinks that a child has been injured in a hit and run. However, their radios then go down, which turns out to be a division-wide problem caused by vandalism to an aerial transmitter. “We can do things in the old way for a while,” Cryer suggests to Monroe, “like we did before we had radios.” “You mean ringing in? I don’t know if you’d noticed Bob, but they’ve done away with the TARDIS.” “No I don’t just mean ringing in, I mean getting the public to help us, use their phones and that.” “In London? Nowadays?” “Well people are still people.” “OK Bob, but don’t expect miracles. The old Blue Lamp approach doesn’t cut much ice nowadays.” Cryer enforces some “fire brigade policing”, having the van stationed at Sun Hill ready to respond to an emergency. The other old-timer on the relief, Ron, is also taken back to his youth: “Be just like the old days before 1968, eh skip? If you need any help, just ask the people. And I’ll tell you something else, be a lot quieter. You won’t get nearly as many rubbish calls and you’ll be able to have as many cups of tea as you like.” June is offered the use of a phone by a newsagent, then enlists the help of neighbours who realise they must pool their resources to find the child, now that a search cannot be co-ordinated by radio. Meanwhile, George spots another car of people who fit the ramraiders, follows them to a pub and persuades the landlord to let him use the phone behind the bar. He tries to stop them escaping and is nearly crippled as they back up their car with him hanging inside the window. He is saved by a group of men who turn up with baseball bats, led by the landlord, and smash the windscreen. Though the car gets away, George is left bruised but otherwise intact. “I couldn’t stand by and watch three against one, could I?” the landlord tells him. His faith borne out, Cryer observes that “people used to do it all the time, they knew you were on your Jack Jones.” June finds the injured boy with the aid of another child who knows an out of the way spot where he might be. There is an interesting, but unspoken suggestion that technology has caused the police to become divorced from the public, who now see all their slick equipment and assume they can handle their own problems. George spots the man he let go earlier, supposedly on an urgent business trip to Wales, and is advised by Ron to have another word, without relying on the PNC to give him all the answers. He questions him gently about the damage to the front of his car, and the man admits everything – only not the crime George was expecting. He is no ramraider, but he was the one who hit the child.
After the spate of exits early in the year, there is a significant one midway through as Mike Dashwood departs, heralding a bigger overhaul within CID the following year. But unlike most characters who are done and dusted when their time is come, he just can’t stay away. His final episode as a regular, ‘Part of the Furniture’, opens with his posting to the Arts and Antiques Squad already finalised off-screen. This sudden leap into the kind of role that had eluded him suggests the production team were as keen to be shot of the character as his onscreen colleagues are. Different writers have different takes on people; if Dashwood as written by Barry Appleton is a sincere and hard-working figure, then Dashwood by Christopher Russell is a flash git who gets up people’s noses. Thanking Jim for the farewell gift of a figurine, Mike is put straight by Burnside: “He didn’t buy it! Not after that Kim Reid fiasco. I happened to be in the local junk, erm, antique shop, and I spotted that.” “I shall give it pride of place on my credenza.” “Yeah, well, what you do is up to you.” On being told by Cryer that he will miss him, Mike observes, “No-one upstairs is protesting too violently.” He is given a farewell wind-up of looking into the theft of “fine furniture”, i.e. plastic chairs, from a school. But being Mike, he uncovers an inside job that leads back to a relief caretaker and his wife, whose garage is filled with bricks. Luckily he is on hand to explain to his baffled sergeant: “Yellows – London stock. Over a hundred years old, Ted. Gangs nick these in bulk from derelict buildings, often owned by the council, then resell them – usually back to the same council.” In the best visual gag of the year, Roach restrains himself from chucking the brick in his hand at Mike’s departing figure. The second best comes minutes later during a raid on the suppliers of the stolen gear, which turns into a massive brawl in which the camera acts as a participant. Burnside strolls through the chaos, officers locked in punch-ups either side of him, before delivering a sudden elbow jab to a thug who crosses his path, a la Rex Kramer beating up charity cases in Airplane! Meanwhile, the man who has caused all this trouble is safely out of it, enjoying farewell tea and biscuits with Brownlow. Here we see Mike in his element, not just conversing with the great and good but showing them how it’s done. “Tell most policemen that you’re looking for a lowboy and you get a very funny look,” he wisecracks as Brownlow smiles politely. He begins to outline, in excessive detail, his new duties as part of the ‘knocker squad’ that targets bogus callers to people’s homes, implying that his chief super may have a dodgy antique or two sitting around. “You should leave more often, Mike,” says Roach as they return from their successful raid. Mike cheerfully reveals that the figurine Burnside bought for thirty quid is actually worth about three hundred: “Been a good day all round, hasn’t it? See you in the pub.” He leaves the rest of CID looking dumbstruck, but doesn’t get the last laugh. In the corridor he is bumped into by Conway, who wishes him “all the best with the fine art, mate”, oblivious to the fact that he has just shattered his leaving gift.
When Dashwood returns at the end of the year in ‘Finders Keepers’/‘Return Match’, he has become that little bit more insufferable, and Jon Iles implied on one of the online Bill Reunions that this wasn’t quite the direction he wanted to go. Perhaps though, this is the fate of a ‘guest spot’ character: to be painted in slightly broader strokes, because they are now peripheral to the main cast. If anything the episodes are about his sparring partner, the hapless Jim, who sees in Mike the thwarting of his own hopes for advancement. By now Dashwood has finished his transformation into the yuppie he always aspired to be, sporting a slicked back Gordon Gekko haircut, although he still smokes his trademark cheroots. “No job’s too big or too little,” he replies to Jim’s suggestion that the dodgy couple they’re onto are small fry for the antiques squad. “International art theft one day, granddad’s silver watch the next – that’s what gives the job such a buzz!” “Oh goody,” Jim mutters venomously as he trails after him, the swing doors repeatedly shut in his face in one of the show’s more obvious metaphors. “I’m off to New York this weekend – big conference on title of goods.” “Well, if you need a lift to the airport…” Furious at Mike’s suggestion that he is “getting a bit… parochial”, Jim tries to keep hold of the enquiry himself. His lack of specialist knowledge soon becomes a problem, a familiar deer-in-headlight look creeping over his face as he tries to work out the provenance of four hundred different items. Magnanimous all of a sudden, he brings Mike back into the fold, insisting that “we have to be professional” about these things. But the disaster he drops in Mike’s lap is quickly turned into a triumph, involving the Regional Crime Squad. Likewise, in the next episode Jim’s enquiries into the theft of an antique doll collection are usurped by a familiar figure: “Are you haunting me or what? Do you sit at Scotland Yard scanning our radio frequencies?” Mike is acting on information received from Burnside: “Dolls are a trend, all right? The theft thereof. Nobody made of china and under two feet tall is safe! If you’ve got a problem working with Michael Dashwood, just say so. I’ll get someone else to take over, won’t I Tosh? I’m not having Dashwood ending up in an alley with a sharpened peg doll in his back.” Viv advises Jim he’s “better off out of the job than losing it.” “Who said I was going to lose it?” he hits back angrily. “You see, you rise to the bait,” observes Tosh. “Me, I don’t rise to anything anymore.” Indeed, he remains tight-lipped as Mike patronises him: “I hope you appreciate the way I’m sharing everything with you, despite your siege mentality. I expect hostility from someone as insecure as Jim, but not a man of your maturity.” Mike gets a smack in the face from a fleeing suspect, and the sight of him dabbing at his shiner brings rare joy into Jim’s life. But he has got a tip-off from his snout Adrian – “What do you expect with the Antiques Squad, Lenny the Lip?” – on the location of the dolls. He passes word to Jim and they go in on their own, “like the good old days.” “What good old days?” asks the latter, who was the new boy in CID when Mike tried – and failed – to grab a big result behind Galloway’s back. At that time he was another young and ambitious DC hoping to make a name for himself; it’s only now that he is an outsider that he does make it, because it throws into relief the struggles of those who remain. Having cast many actors from a comedic background, including Jon Iles himself, the show adheres to the same rule as sitcom: success is never as interesting as failure.
Jim’s jaded perspective has already flared up in his dealings with Mike’s replacement, Alan Woods. Bearing in mind that Viv Martella was transferred upstairs from uniform, Woods is the first genuinely new face in CID for three and a half years, and signifies the new breed of detective that would take over in the mid-Nineties. They’re more straight-laced and professional than their forebears, who were firmly of the Sweeney generation, all shirtsleeves, sweat patches and whisky bottles. His distinguishing trait is “the bloke that plays rugby”, the same way his fellow Scot Greig was “that bloke with the clarinet” for his first few episodes. As sketchy as these backgrounds are, they’re still an improvement on the blank slate given to some of the uniformed roles. This year also marks the debut of Polly Page and Gary McCann, both of whom wander in as rookies with no attempt to give them any back story. We are, perhaps, entering a period where the actors had to build up their parts because the series was juggling them in the background, waiting to see which ones showed promise. Jim is given the task of easing in the new boy, to his obvious annoyance: “You’ve hardly transferred into the big time, mate.” Alan reveals he is moving into the area with a new wife, and on learning that Jim is neither married nor divorced, remarks, “Married to the job, eh? You’ve got the look.” “What look?” “Dedicated.” The big time is suddenly thrust upon them when they are called to an armed robbery. The culprit is a middle-aged woman running a meals on wheels service, who decided to extract money from the banks by force after they refused her appeals for a loan. Jim, who has taken a statement from a distraught cashier, is unimpressed at the news that the gun was actually a hammer in a carrier bag: “She assumed you were willing and able to blow her head off! I mean that’s the point of armed robbery isn’t it, to put them in fear of their lives?” Rolling his eyes at this sermon, Woods ridicules the idea of a five-year sentence: “Och away, she’ll get eighteen months’ suspended and a nice spread in the local rag: the moped Robin Hood. You provide the burning sense of justice Jim, I’ll provide a sense of proportion. I think we could make a good team.”
However, teamwork is thin on the ground a few episodes later, in ‘Private Enterprise’ by Carolyn Sally Jones. Woods is being courted by Brownlow for the rugby team, in the hope that he can knock the lads into shape. “You ought to get some of that,” a watching Cryer tells Carver, before spelling out the one quality that poor old Jim-Jim will never have in abundance: “Clout.” Unaware that Alan is wincing at the idea when Brownlow’s back is turned, Jim develops a complex that soon becomes obvious to his colleague: “Hey, what’s the problem pal?” “”Oh, no problem ‘pal’, it’s just I ain’t joined your fan club yet.” Out on surveillance, they are reconciled when both get into an almighty struggle with a violent suspect, in which an entire storeroom is trashed. Nursing their injuries in a corner, Woods reveals that his bad knee has gone, and with it any hope of leading the rugby team. “Put you out of favour with the nobs, that will.” “That’s OK by me,” he sighs – and, just like Greig’s short-lived musical talents, another gimmick has quickly been shelved. More points of comparison between the two Scotsmen are revealed as time goes on, but also points of difference. Woods too is a stoic and rather unknowable figure with a calm temperament, which in theory makes them two peas in a pod – but despite being the older of the two, he’s also the junior in rank, and his inexperience emerges now and then. In ‘On the Record, Off the Record’ they investigate a warehouse theft and one of the employees is found to have form for drugs and credit card fraud. “Do we pull him, or do we pull him?” asks an eager Woods, who is put in his place when Greig scolds him for being a little premature. When they speak to a witness who is himself an ex-copper, Alan unwisely lets him know that someone at the firm has a record and this time gets a major dressing down: “You do not come out with confidential information like that to anyone, I don’t care if he’s an ex-commissioner! Is that understood? Make sure it is.” This exchange goes to show that the main role of the DCs was to get into trouble of one sort or another, either through ambition or plain naivety.
Tom Cotcher isn’t the only face in Series 8 who would go on to become a familiar presence in CID. In a break with tradition, however, many returned as the same character slightly repurposed, not someone brand new. Martin Marquez has a cameo role as the Essex-based DC Pearce, minus both the rank and the first name he would acquire (the same episode, ‘Letting Go’, has a blink and you’ll miss it appearance by Alan Westaway as one of the PCs eager to send Reg on his way as he moves out of the section house at last). Far more substantial is the role given to Gary Whelan, playing DS ‘Ken’ Haines, a Drugs Squad officer suspended over corruption charges who is found to have been set up. When John Salthouse left the show, was it made a condition that anyone who took over the DI’s chair had to be sourced from a past episode and then re-christened? After Tommy Burnside became Frank to avoid causing offence to a real Met officer with that name, Ken Haines returned as Harry to take over from him – possibly for the same reason, or maybe it just had a better ring to it. The one man who did come back as someone new was Russell Boulter, here playing the wounded PC Trevor Gale; and yet, not that new. Gale may be a cheeky chappie at first, hoping to get a nurse’s number as he lies in his hospital bed, but when he realises that Tony helped put him there the malevolent fury of Boulton descends on him: “What exactly are you telling me, you just stood there watching? You’re not a Catholic, are you? Shame. Couple of Hail Marys, few pints of lager, you’d feel a lot better. Go on, get lost, will you? And hey – try and pick up some real muggers next time.”
There are more glimpses of the future in the number of scenes later used for the opening titles: Barry and Dave in an interview room, Meadows and Greig in a corridor, Boyden and Norika in CAD, Conway giving orders to Steve and George (those last two from the same episode, ‘Hands Up’). We have seen these moments far more times than the episodes they came from, and their original context has been forgotten. But memories tend to get jumbled, swapped and generally distorted when recalling a show with such a huge lifespan. The first time I watched the show from the beginning, I was waiting to see my earliest memory of it: a youth absconds from a detention centre on the edge of woodland and is chased into it by one of the PCs, with a shot of him splashing across wet ground. When no such moment appeared, I wondered if I had imagined the whole thing. Only the second time round did I recognise the episode – ‘Not Waving’ by Russell Lewis, from early 1992. Even then the ID was shaky, because the plot is totally the reverse of what I remembered. The building is a nurse’s accommodation block, spied on by a young man from “the nice honest travelling folk.” When he escapes from custody – “There was nothing I could do!” protests Roach, “But you do it so well,” Burnside reassures him – Steve chases the kid into the woods and ends up being saved from drowning by him. I mention this episode not just out of personal indulgence, but also because it features a moment that illustrates how things change when taken out of context. At one point Viv walks in on the rest of CID in Burnside’s office as they watch a video of a ramraid. This clip featured in Thames TV’s final look back on its programming history, in the two minutes before it closed down on New Year’s Eve 1992. From her startled eyes it appears as if she has stumbled on a viewing of herself, with Burnside giving her a reproving glare for what she’s doing on the tape! The same montage features a clip of two people enjoying a roll in the hay, followed by a startled look from Reg that was sourced from the same year’s ‘Comeback’. No matter how fleeting or misleading the clips, though, the show had earned its place in this line-up of Thames’ greatest hits. Few other TV companies would have had the confidence to set up such a huge logistical operation and keep it rolling; it’s ironic that that company’s broadcast franchise ended just as one of its biggest successes ramped up its output to three times a week. As it moved into a new era The Bill may have been the same, but the television landscape around it was changing rapidly.