Series 9 – Part 3

By Edward Kellett

* Please note Part 3 contains examples of offensive racial slurs within the context of quotes whilst discussing portrayal of race in series 9.

Up till now this review has danced around the key issue: what effect does the move to three times a week have on The Bill’s overall quality?  During Richard Marson’s interview on The Bill Podcast, one of his many fascinating and trenchant opinions was that greed reduced the show to ‘wallpaper’, as later happened with Coronation Street when it was screened across an entire week.  Given that The Bill had already adopted a soap opera format five years earlier, it’s interesting to compare it to what the soaps were doing at the time.  1993 was the year that Eldorado crashed and burned, having launched the year before with the extra burden of producing three episodes a week as well as filming overseas.  Undaunted, the BBC moved EastEnders to a thrice-weekly format in 1994, no doubt to combat the huge prime-time success that The Bill had achieved.  ITV’s request for fifty per cent more content per year was a huge vote of confidence in the production team, justified by viewing figures that hit their peak in early 1993, regularly reaching the 15 million mark.  So, by every measure that counts with the higher echelons of TV, a huge success.  The negative side-effects are less obvious, and perhaps only visible with the benefit of hindsight.  It might seem like a truism to say that the more episodes are added to something, the more episodic it becomes; but a further comparison with the soaps proves the opposite.  The natural route for a programme that suddenly has more slots to fill is to become more serialised.  Storylines are spread out across weeks and months, flowing directly from one episode to the next, and characters’ lives depicted in minute detail.  One suspects that, had a new executive producer been installed at this time, The Bill would have switched to the serialised format a decade before it did.  Instead, thanks to the continued presence of Michael Chapman and his doctrinaire approach, it went in the opposite direction.  Each episode becomes more self-contained than ever, the reset button being hit every twenty-five minutes.

Of all the directions the show could have gone down, this one is preferable to the comic strip of the early Noughties – but it also tips the finely weighted balance that The Bill had achieved up till now.  As noted in a previous review, it was an authored series made to the vision of relatively few people.  A core team of writers could fashion individual stories while steering the characters and the overall narrative on a long-term basis.  But from here the sheer number of episodes requires a greater number of writers, creating a patchwork effect.  The reliable contributors of the past few years are still doing sterling work: Tony Etchells, Duncan Gould, Joanne Maguire, A. Valentine (known in real life as Anthony Valentine – shortened to an initial, one can only assume, to prevent viewers thinking that the actor who played such memorably villainous roles in Callan and Colditz had reinvented himself as a Bill scriptwriter in his later years).  To them can be added the newer names whose stories are always outstanding, like Candy Denman and Gregory Evans, who was still writing for the show in its final year.  In essence, the amount of quality material is the same as before – but it’s mingled with more filler, therefore less connected, and less impactful.  New writers are, understandably, more interested in the world they can create than the one they’re inheriting; so the show becomes a series of disparate tales about people’s lives, rather than the continuing lives of the officers.  One casting decision in particular sums up the fact that this is a new and self-contained era.  We got used to seeing guest actors return as regulars, but the reverse happens when one teenager’s mother turns up, played by the familiar face of Janette Legge.  Granted, her three appearances in five years as Tom Penny’s wife Wendy stretch the definition of ‘regular’, but when a face that was part of an officer’s domestic life reappears in a new guise, it’s a sign that the past has been put to bed.

The experimental story threads that we saw in the past, like Cathy’s spell in DVU, are notable by their absence, as they are now much harder to sustain.  The difference is clear in the two ongoing arcs of Series 9 that we have discussed, the CLO post and Operation Bumblebee.  Both start promisingly, set on their way by the show’s top-tier authors, but soon lose momentum, interspersed with more and more unrelated episodes – in part because it’s easier for new writers to create their own thing, rather than try to integrate it into a running story.  The visual high point of the CLO role comes in ‘Home to Roost’, where the YACS team take underprivileged kids on a jaunt to Chessington.  The establishing crane shot looks suspiciously like a publicity deal struck with the show – which is fair enough for the commercial channel.  Steve, who has dismissed this jaunt as “work for plonks”, is horrified when he is drafted in to replace the ailing Ron Smollett.  But he soon gets a taste for it, marching the kids around like new recruits.  “This is my friend, Derek,” he announces as they line up.  “I’m sure he’d like to come on with us.”  “Don’t push it, Loxton…”  Conway’s ride on Splash Mountain ends as we would expect, but even better than the plunge itself is the shot leading up to it, where he floats sourly towards his doom.  “Oh go on Steve admit it, you enjoyed yourself,” Norika tells the curmudgeon later.  “I saw you giving that kid two quid,” says Barry.  “The one that said he’d lost his money.”  “Oh, you didn’t fall for that?  There’s always one that tries it on.”  “They know a soft touch when they see it!”  To counter the prevailing cynicism, the author would like to state that he visited Chessington as a schoolkid in the Nineties and lost quite a substantial amount of money – and where was my psycho copper with a heart of gold when I needed him?  On the other hand, I didn’t get embroiled in a custody battle between my parents over an abusive partner, as happens to another child here: so, much like the park itself, swings and roundabouts.

Inevitably, these expensive days out don’t last.  The themes of community liaison and burglary cannot help but drift into generic storytelling, given that they intersect at the show’s most reliable staple, the Troubled Teenager.  This is the period from which we could all construct a typical Bill script, based on collective memory: a spate of break-ins, committed by a tearaway teen high on drugs or racked by family strife, who attends a youth centre being courted by Conway, leading to the inevitable stand-off between uniform and CID.  If the show is indeed remembered by the general public as wallpaper, a series of moral fables that made for cosy and reassuring viewing, then it stems in part from the familiarity of this era.  When you’ve seen Andrews Paul and Mackintosh stare into a broken pane of glass round the back for the half-dozenth time, you start to know what to expect.  Oliver Crocker observed on the Podcast that the number of regulars in an episode swelled during this time, and noted the reason.  Their roles in the story can be swapped freely, giving the actors leeway to shuffle between different units filming scenes for multiple episodes on one day.  In the end, despite best intentions, the tail still wags the dog – which happens to an extent on every film and TV series, but the end result depends on striking a balance.  Many characters, even memorable ones such as Cato, step into the background for long periods before the series remembers that they are there, and it follows that the actors playing them are equally disposable.  Liz Crowther was axed after only a dozen episodes, the role of Sgt. Kendall deemed surplus to requirements, but she is in very good company.  The roll call of ‘final appearances’ that can be identified only by reference to the show’s Wikipedia page continues unabated.  There goes Barry Stringer, as we have already noted; there goes Ron Smollett; there goes John Maitland, who we are at least told is leaving for a teaching post, but his final episode is business as usual; in comes Ray Steele, arguing with a difficult punter at the custody desk as though he has been there for some time. 

You will note that these are all uniform characters, and therefore easier to sideline – they could, plausibly, have been transferred to other shifts, other reliefs, other stations without any comment needed.  But the biggest casualty of this off-screen culling hails from the heart of CID.  By this point Christopher Ellison had notched up five years as a Sun Hill regular, and a couple more prior to that, dating back to the show’s first episode.  After nearly a decade Burnside is still at the height of his powers come Series 9, even when thrust into an unfamiliar role as manager of Operation Bumblebee.  “It’s not the taking part that matters, Alistair,” he declares, after Greig has used up five days and two surveillance teams shadowing a burglary suspect – was there ever a more characteristic Burnside quote?  Missing property from a break-in that day is found in the garden shed of the suspect, Gary Palmer.  But this leaves the tiny problem of ten officers, Greig included, who were following him to the Isle of Dogs and back at the time.  It turns out to be a fit-up by the elderly victim: another case of vigilantism sabotaging its own aims.  “He just turned his own place over, hopped in his car and deposited some stuff at Palmer’s.”  “It’s old boys like him that made this country great, Alistair,” muses Burnside.  “And it’s scum like Palmer who’ve made it the jockstrap it is today.”  He points out that if Greig’s team hadn’t done their job so well, “You might have been willing him into court now for a burglary that never happened.”  It’s not the first time that Greig has been too thorough for his own good – and while he might shudder at the thought of getting a result by underhand means, Burnside wouldn’t lose sleep over it.  As he tells the furious wife of a snitch, “I don’t give a monkey’s why he’s doing it, just so long as it gets done!”

It would have taken a big effort to give Burnside an onscreen farewell worthy of the character.  The odd, fudged departure that we do get is surely related to the “blazing row” that Christopher Ellison had with Michael Chapman before he left.  It feels as though the production team were determined to bundle him through the exit as fast as possible.  The story itself, from the pen of Russell Lewis, is as well-crafted as it could be given the circumstances.  ‘But Not Forgotten’ (the title is quite a big clue) opens with Tosh running late and enduring the jibes of his colleagues.  “At least you bothered to call,” says Greig, who reveals that both Suzi and the DI are currently AWOL.  Brownlow is ordered to a meeting at area with DAC Hicks; “Probably fixing up the date of their next whist drive or something,” Conway assures Meadows.  At the same time DCI Rance from the Robbery Squad arrives at the front desk, asking to see Burnside.  Rance tells Meadows that he tried to arrest two wanted faces that morning, but they slipped through his fingers by a matter of minutes: the second time that “Frank’s info was duff.  He was seen pottering around our office late Friday night.”  “What, up at the Yard?”  “I’d like to know exactly what he was doing there.”  While most of the team are curious, a panicked Tosh rushes to find Jim: “I knew this would come back up the pipes.”  He gets permission to swing by Burnside’s flat to check on him.  It’s rare that we go Through the Keyhole at this point in the show’s history, and in this case the home offers no insight into its owner; the cupboards and wardrobes are all empty.  “You don’t really think he’s done a runner?” Jim asks back at Sun Hill.  Checking that the CCTV in the yard is off, Tosh beckons him into a corner.  “I am not going out on a limb for Frank Burnside!”  “We owe him,” mutters the dependable Jim, who has become awed by his boss’s mystique in spite of all their shouting matches down the years over his pesky principles.  “One thing or another, we all owe him.”  “Oh yeah.  We owe him all right.”

It’s fitting that Burnside leaves the same way he arrived – under a cloud of suspicion, tainting the people around him, who are still not sure after all this time whether they were aiding and abetting a crook posing as a policeman, rather than the other way round.  The grinning Cato warns Meadows to watch his back, suggesting that the dots are adding up: “Just so long as you’re all right.”  Up in CID the whereabouts of Suzi are an equal mystery.  “Maybe she’s eloped with the DI,” suggests Greig.   The unlikeliest romance in Sun Hill’s history is scotched when she strolls in having visited the dentist.  “Didn’t you get my message?  I called the front office; cracked a wisdom tooth.  Muesli, would you believe.”  “Well that’s health food for you,” Morgan observes wisely.  “No pain, no gain.”  Brownlow returns from area and summons the three chief inspectors.  Rance is questioning Jim when he gets a call from God himself, AKA the ACC, and is told to abandon his enquiries.  In seconds he is gone and Carver admits the truth to Meadows: that in the hope of becoming permanent, not Acting DCI, Burnside invented a snout who was really the wife of one of the robbery suspects, getting Jim and Tosh to back him up.  Brownlow updates his senior officers in the hope of avoiding the “usual round of Chinese whispers” – in vain, as the story has already proved that police stations run on gossip.  “Frank will not be coming back to Sun Hill,” he announces.  But it’s not for the reason that we were expecting.  Instead of being carted off to jail in ignominy, Meadows informs his bemused team, “He’s been taken out on a special job…  All I can tell you is that the first thing he knew about it himself was Friday evening.  It’s been sanctioned and approved at the highest level.  Look, he was here and now he’s not.  People out there haven’t stopped nicking, conning, tomming or knocking each other about with blunt instruments.  So let’s get back to it, shall we?”  

The shell-shocked troops are left to digest the news.  “We mean a lot to him, obviously,” huffs Jim.  “What would you say?” Tosh hits back.  “Somebody says, ‘Jim, do you want to go back to work next Monday morning for another plateful, or do you want to spend the next six months on the Costa del Sol, sun, sea, sand and a leg up the greasy pole?’  Nothing’s for nothing.  How else do you think he was going to make DCI?”  The entrepreneurial spirit Burnside has fostered in his team is shown when Pearce pops into Meadows’ office for a chat.  “This thing with the governor, boss.  Any idea how long before we get a new one?  I don’t want it to seem like dead men’s shoes…”  There’s another knock at the door and the choirboy Greig is also in at the kill, backing off when he realises Danny has beaten him to it.  Meadows sets them straight: “My information is, there’ll be a new DI in place before the end of the week.  So I’m sure we can manage till then without appointing an Acting DI from in-house.”  The predators slink off with no meal, and this isn’t the last time they jostle for the DI’s chair when it becomes vacant.  Conway drops in to recognise a watershed moment for his opposite number: “So, how does it feel?  Master in your own house?”  “Haven’t I always been?” asks Meadows naively.  Up till now Burnside hasn’t just been the driving force of CID, he has been the marker for the change going on around him, seeing off one forward-thinking boss after another.  Now, as the DI’s role goes through a rapid series of changes, it’s Meadows who becomes the fixed point, watching his deputies come and go.  Word arrives of an armed robbery and the team springs into action, proving his point that it’s business as usual.  But someone has to hold the fort.  Tosh, the DC who has never chased promotion and always insisted he is happy where he is, watches the others rush out and is left in sudden silence.  He glances toward the empty office of Burnside, who he followed into CID during the early half-hour days; the slow lane is a lonely place to be.

Despite the good work done at the edges, the hole in the middle of the episode remains glaring.   His final showing in the opening titles excluded, Christopher Ellison becomes perhaps the only actor in TV history not to appear in his own farewell episode.  Never has the phrase ‘thrown out of your own party’ been more apposite.  When Burnside returns in the hour-long era we find out what this special job was all about.  It’s no surprise that Tosh hedges his bets, suggesting it could be Belfast, not the Costa.  The new role in 1990’s ‘Something Special’ that Burnside tried to push him into was hoped to be the latter and turned out to be the former.  Likewise, five years in sunny Manchester would disappoint if you expected the Med.  It sounds like a long time, allowing enough water to flow under the bridge, but it came a matter of months after Michael Chapman had departed as executive producer at the end of 1997, suggesting that there was the real obstacle.  In the short term, a show weakened by the loss of Ted Roach is hit even harder by the absence of another charismatic figure.  The majority of episodes discussed in this review hail from the first half of 1993, which may reflect a feeling of ennui on my part in the later stages – but if so, it only mirrors that on screen.  The sense of treading water is enhanced by Burnside’s replacement, the forgotten DI, Harry Haines.  Here perhaps can be seen the folly of trying to mimic what has gone before.  Gary Whelan tries his best, but there is no sense from the writing side that Haines is there to do anything but fill a Burnside-shaped hole – and that’s an awfully big task, even for someone nearly twice the size of Christopher Ellison.  Most of the time he comes across as a man nursing a severe headache, stomping round the office and barking at colleague and suspect alike.  He used to be DS Ken Haines in the Drugs Squad, facing corruption charges.  The author of that tale, Joanne Maguire, re-introduces him as a regular, but after a year of thrice-weekly episodes his backstory is dim and distant history, and unlikely to mean much to the audience.  “With his background he’s not exactly on fast-track promotion, is he?” says Jim.  Throwing his toys out of the pram, Danny pouts, “How come he gets made up to DI and we get landed with him?”, failing to realise that a chequered past is obligatory for Sun Hill’s governors. 

If the feeling persists that Haines is speaking lines intended for Burnside, it reflects a wider symptom of the show at this time.  When roles start to become interchangeable, the dialogue is sometimes an awkward match.  On occasions during this year one notices the ‘canteen cowboy’ effect: an officer becomes the git of the week to prompt a debate about the issue of that episode, even if it seems an unlikely stance for them to adopt.  An early episode, ‘Delinquent’, sees June possessed by the spirit of Tony when dealing with an out of control teenager who has ransacked his parents’ house.  “Tell him we’re somewhere else,” she urges Dave after they get the call.  “Don’t ask me, talk to the Youth and Communities Section… can’t stand juveniles.”  Once they have brought him in it’s Dave who suggests he is acting up because of an emotional problem.  “Well we’ve arrested him, haven’t we, or isn’t that enough for you?” replies an unsaintly St. June.  “It’s called crime prevention, June.”  “Oh, I thought it was called armchair psychology.  Juveniles and domestics Dave, we don’t want to touch them with a bargepole.”  That line in particular has a distinctive Stamp on it, suggesting that his role might have had to be reallocated based on the demands of filming.  Just when you think June has had a complete transplant she goes into the lad’s cell to give him a warning, and the real Ackland returns – that streak of severity, masking an underlying compassion.  “I didn’t ask to get arrested.”  “Yes you did!  You were crying out for it!  Well you’re going to get all the attention you want and more, where you’re going.  You’ll be up with the big boys then, won’t you?  Oh you’re looking forward to that, are you?” she challenges him as he smiles.  “Sharing a cell with two other blokes and a bucket for a toilet that only gets emptied once a day, or do you think they make up stories about what prison’s like?  Have you heard of male rape?  Do you think that doesn’t happen either?”  This is consistent with her ‘Desperate Dans’ threat to a nonchalant youth way back in Series 1.   She concludes by saying she doesn’t give a toss what happens to him, “It’s one less body for me to worry about”, but her lecture does its job: he is reduced to a sobbing, repentant heap.

It’s worth noting that the writer of this episode is no newbie but ‘Victoria Taylor’, who we now know to have been a pseudonym for former script editor Tim Vaughan.  If anyone understood the characters inside and out, it was him.  Philip Palmer, another established author, delivers ‘A Duty of Care’, in which Cryer investigates the death of a warehouse worker who fell off a pallet truck, despite suffering from vertigo.  “Makes you wonder, dunnit?” muses Boyden.  “Smoking, car crashes; falling off a forklift truck.”  “Don’t worry Matthew,” Monroe reassures him.  “Some jealous husband will do for you.”  The stories of an unpleasant, bullying colleague and the weak-willed foreman contradict each other.  Cryer inches towards the truth by asking the former whether he played any practical jokes at work, using his own as an example.  “There’s nothing like the police for a wind-up.  When we get a probationer PC, get ’em up on the roof of the station, see how many planes are going by.  And then wait to see how long until he finds out what an idiot he’s been!”  “Yeah, I used to be the record holder,” George smiles ruefully.  “Twelve planes before I sussed it was a wind-up.”  It’s surely no coincidence that Garfield, the patsy of Sun Hill, is used here to supply his experience, which helps put the suspect at ease; it might have been a ploy worked out beforehand by him and Cryer.  Finally the workers admit it was a prank gone horribly wrong.  They sent the boy up against his will as an initiation test, but he lost his balance.  Yet after Bob has told the foreman that he failed in his duty of care, George doesn’t think that a charge of manslaughter will stick.  “It was an accident really: a joke that got out of hand.”  “It was bullying, it was recklessness.”  “Oh come on, Sarge.  Who could have guessed that?”  “He was screaming, he was kicking!”  “You get worse on the bus back after rugby matches….  It was bad luck.”  “It was negligence, whose side are you on?”  “I don’t know.  Look, I’m not trying to defend them, I just think: what would I have done?”  “The right thing, I hope.”  Through the need to debate the issue, the story gives George a viewpoint that he would never hold, and not just because he was the victim of pranks himself.  This is the man who has always been concerned about how the police are treated by their superiors: the natural fit for Fed Rep because of his interest in workplace conditions.  The idea that he would dismiss a death at work as “bad luck”, even in the nascent Health and Safety culture of the early Nineties, when people were still expected to man up and stand on a few cardboard boxes if they had to, is ludicrous.

But this is where a key drawback of these reviews should be acknowledged.  Watching the series through in chronological order, never missing a beat, is to replicate the experience of no one who was there at the time.  At two episodes a week, the most diehard fan would have been pressed to catch them all; at three a week it’s impossible if you have any other commitments besides your TV screen, and even I have been known to venture out occasionally.  The mid-Nineties is the one era of the show where a rigid, continuous viewing arguably does a disservice to the material rather than bringing out its hidden qualities, because it departs even further from how the original audience saw it.  This is a show that is designed to be picked up and dropped again, the total opposite of how a soap opera tries to ensnare viewers from day one.  It’s the actions of the characters for those twenty-five minutes that count, not how consistent they are from week to week and month to month.  Some fifty episodes after his introduction, Sgt. Steele is finally given a central role and some personality in ‘Consequences’, an episode I remember well from an old UK Gold omnibus I taped on VHS.  A Brazilian woman, Eldira, arrested in a nightclub raid for possession, is brought into custody and breaks her vow of silence after Steele encourages her to co-operate.  Noticing that he has taken a shine to her, and with his mind lodged south of the Equator as always, Boyden offers encouragement of his own: “I reckon you’re in there.”  Steele just walks away.  Grilled by Meadows, who is once more in attack dog mode with a female suspect – if you want consistency, there’s a worrying trait right there – she insists she will talk only to Steele.  He coaxes out a sad story of how she arrived in the country with a baby daughter, took work as a barmaid at the club and was coerced into ‘entertaining’ the friends of its drug dealing owner.  Knowing that she will be deported, Eldira makes the heart-rending decision to leave her child behind so that she will have a better life with adoptive parents.  Steele urges her not to rush into anything, but she is adamant.  At the end she thanks him for his help, and it is clear that he was the first ally she found, even if he wishes he could have done more. 

Fast-forward a mere eight episodes, to ‘The Law in Their Hands’, and Steele has become Boyden Mk II.  A burglar has been left with a head injury following an attack by two men who think he turned them over.  “Some might call it summary justice,” Steele tells George in the van.  “Yeah.  Some might,” the latter replies tersely.  When they arrive at the attackers’ ramshackle home, where they are working on a brown Cortina as the victim described, Steele insists that George is mistaken: “All I can see is a scene of urban bliss.  A nice quiet road, people going about their everyday business.  Nothing to concern us: yet.  Come on George, turn the van around, let’s get going.”  They are called back to the same road to find that the jack on the car has mysteriously failed, crushing the legs of the man beneath it.  “I don’t need this…” mutters Steele to himself as he realises the error he has made.  George later gives his skip a piercing look through the van windshield, in case he had forgotten that this is partly his doing.  But the casual viewer, catching only one of these two episodes, wouldn’t even notice a change in Steele’s attitude, much less care.  So long as it serves the individual story, and both work perfectly well in their own right, the outlook of the characters can be flexible.  It might also be pointed out that these aren’t like for like scenarios, and that Steele reacts accordingly.  A woman in trouble stirs his conscience; a war between two gangs of hooligans isn’t worth his time, unless he has no choice.  Any character worth their salt has the ability to be contrary, and to apply double standards based on their own prejudices.

Moreover, the precedence of story above character didn’t begin with the plot-driven half-hours.  Characterisation was never the primary goal of The Bill, and it remained this way until the 1998 revamp when personal lives assumed greater importance.  Characters grow by their experiences, but no one would suggest that all the events we see on screen really take place in the same continuum, one after the other; no nick is that eventful in real life, even in the days before Sun Hill was used for Molotov-chucking practice.  Actors were arguably there to be a character, not to develop one, an important difference.  That’s not to say there was no development: when talented writers and actors get together, there is a natural desire to build up the fictional world that has been created.  But, if it feels as though 1993 was the moment when characters became interchangeable, we should recall Larry Dann’s observation that the cast were “Tippex actors”, i.e. one name crossed out because somebody was unavailable and another one pencilled in to take over their line.  Then there was Robert Hudson’s comment that after he, Eamonn Walker and Nick Reding all left at the same point in mid-1989, the spooked production team responded by introducing characters written so generically that they could be anybody.  There’s a lot of truth to this, especially in the cautious handling of new PCs like Cathy and Norika who are introduced in Series 5.  The most interesting take on this comes, again, from Richard Marson, who brought up the “Tippex actors” remark and insisted that this was nothing more than people doing their job: “They were there to bring the extra icing on the cake.  And the ones that could do it were the ones that you remember.  In the end it’s a bit specious when actors go, ‘Oh, it wasn’t really there’ – do the line more interestingly, then.” 

The value of the actor seems particularly applicable to the other new female face in CID: Big Suze, she of the frizzy hair, sensible handbag and extravagant waistcoats.  Sun Hill’s very own Detective Goddess is introduced as WPC/Trainee Investigator Croft, attached to the Bumblebee squad, and remains in this apprenticed role throughout her first year.  During this time Suzi is hardly ever centre stage, a background presence listening and learning: but that may not be such a bad thing.  One of the benefits of the thrice-weekly era is that there is less need for characters to make a splash early on.  When there is so much material to spread around so many people, it can be held back from the newer recruits until it’s worthy of them.  Another officer whose time coincided with Suzi’s, Mike Jarvis, is brought in from Barton Street and spends his first day hanging around the nick, getting in people’s way and musing on the challenges ahead.  This is a more authentic start for a new PC than putting them on the street and giving them an arrest right out of the blocks, as sometimes happened before.  Of course, the storylines have to deliver eventually.  The most interesting thing about Mike in his first year is his unexpected command of Spanish when a lost driver is causing trouble at the front desk; but in the case of Suzi, the slow burn proves worthwhile.  There cannot be a character who better defines this mid-Nineties era.  Introduced at the start of 1993, leaving early in 1998, she clocked up over 250 appearances.  In that time, to my recollection, we learn next to nothing about her upbringing, her past career, her current personal life, or her future ambitions.  Yet the character still feels utterly real in the moment, at whatever point she is on screen – and that has to be down to the presence of Kerry Peers, above all to the disarming gentleness that she imbues in every line, which cannot be conveyed by quoting them in print.  On the page there would be precious little to Suzi Croft.  It’s in the performance that she is brought to life, and though this is a cyclical process between writing and acting, it’s the latter that has to shoulder more of the work. 

While she remains at the bottom of the ladder, wincing at the heavy-handed tactics of Burnside, Suzi rises above the punches.  Alan’s suggestion that she needs measuring up for a Girl Guides uniform – besides being another example of a character suddenly turning jerk for argument’s sake – is wide of the mark, as she isn’t just a naive bleeding heart.  A wannabe member of the superstars, she attaches more importance to solving cases than doing the right thing by ‘the community’.  In ‘Hearts and Minds’, uniform and CID clash over a project that offers young offenders an alternative to prison.  A youth hurrying to get to it is stopped by Suzi, investigating a violent burglary.  He slams her into the wall, leaving blood trickling from her scalp.  While he is cleared of the burglary she is determined to press charges for assault, in spite of Conway’s efforts to dissuade her: “I was going to say confound his expectations…”  “What about my expectations?  I wasn’t giving him any grief.”  She is visibly annoyed at this attempt to pressure her.  The man’s swaggering friend is released, telling him, “Don’t worry about these lot, they never do anything.”  After the furious Boyden has thrown him out, he is ready to charge the other one.  Suzi gives him a long look, before announcing, “It’s all right, Sarge.  I’ve changed my mind.”  She walks away knowing she has done the right thing for management, but not for herself – and that the encouragement this gives others to have a go in future will affect her more than most, given her physical disadvantages.  While her main antagonist is yet to arrive on the scene, her natural ally is in place.  Paired up on Bumblebee enquiries, she and Greig are an unbeatable combination.  Already straight as a die, they are pushed further into these roles by the plot-driven demands of the new format.  Since neither one is likely to beat up a suspect or plant evidence, there is little mileage in examining how they do the job: only in what they do.  But they can be ruthless in their own way.  In ‘You Don’t Always Get What You Want’, Greig raids a burglar’s flat and finds heroin which his girlfriend claims is hers.  Brought in with her baby son, she is body-searched by June and Suzi in a grim scene reminiscent of the early days.  But when her son is returned to her, Suzi finds her shooting up next to him, having concealed her stash in his clothes.  She tears into her, furious at being used: “That’s what they say about junkies, isn’t it?  No responsibility; no brains.  If you stay with Gains, you may lose Sam anyway.  Gains is a thief.  He’s made you an addict.  One day we’ll be fishing you out of the river.”  With this threat hanging over her, she tells them where to look in Gains’ flat for the stolen gear.  “You’re not going to take Sam away from me, are you?” she sobs.  “Don’t worry Lizzie, Sam’ll be all right,” Suzi assures her, and Greig agrees – but the look between them makes it clear this is not the same thing. 

Suzi’s first outing as star of the show, ‘Game of Two Halves’, is a reminder of her odd hybrid status.  “I need a good thick rubber band,” she tells Reg as she tries to force her unruly curls into a WPC’s cap.  Thanks to a state visit that has tied up most of the relief, they are under strength and she has been pressed into service.  She is sent out on foot patrol with Gary, who observes that it must be a change of pace from life in CID.  “We don’t always have our feet on the desk, you know,” she corrects him.  “Sometimes we have them on the windowsill.”  They see a disturbance break out among a group of footballers in the park, but when they go over, Gary recognises a man who does a runner.  As he sets off in pursuit, the fracas resumes and Suzi is knocked to the ground.  When CAD learn that she “fell over”, Cato ascribes it to spending “too long in the brains department – they lose the use of their legs.”  Already ticked off from a bad result in court, Meadows is furious to learn that she has been corralled into uniform without his knowledge.  “Correct me if I’m wrong, but a trainee investigator isn’t strictly ‘one of your officers’,” replies the ever-cuddly Cato.  “Look, I’m talking consultation here, not the small print of the police manual.”  “A decision was taken at a meeting two weeks ago; as I recall you were out of the station and delegated attendance to your DI.  In any event, uniformed officers on the street are what the public likes to see.  When the going got rough, I hear the young lady came over all fragile.”  Smarting from this attack, Meadows finds Suzi nursing a sprained wrist, and hears the story from her.  The moment Gary appears he launches an assault of his own: “There he is, Pride of the Plods.  Leaves his partner in the lurch, loses a suspect and ends up arresting a pair of trousers!”  “It wasn’t like that, sir,” an embarrassed Suzi tries to tell him, but he swans off without listening.  Gary is put through the mill all over again by his own chief inspector.  “It’s a basic tenet of effective policing, you don’t abandon a fellow officer!”  “I had a gut feeling!”  “I have a gut feeling about you, McCann, but I’m not going to act on it.  And you didn’t even catch him.  I thought you lot were supposed to be good runners!”  “Which lot’s that, sir?” Gary replies icily.  He reveals that he recognised the man from a description given by a badly beaten night watchman, “and I thought that took precedence over a bunch of prats scrapping over a game of football!”  Mollified, Cato asks what Meadows said to him, and the war escalates.  “You know if the recommendations of the Sheehy Report are adopted, Tosh, the rank of chief inspector might well disappear,” notes Meadows.  “It’s a price I’d be happy to pay – for the abolition of Chief Inspector Cato.”

While Meadows is directing a big operation from his office, barking orders over the radio, Suzi knocks on his door and asks if she can have a word.  Compare and contrast with how the permanently indignant Viv would have handled the same situation.  Far from starting an argument or even raising her voice, Suzi’s way is to kill with kindness.  “I just wanted to say about you having a go at Gary: it didn’t make me look very good, having you… ‘defending’ me.  It made me look… well, I looked a bit pathetic.”  “You saying I undermined you?”  “Maybe, a bit.”  Smackdown delivered, she is back on the beat, and Meadows is back at Cato’s throat: a dispute that has nothing to do with defending her honour, as she knows full well.  “I don’t think it’s conducive to station morale to have a Detective Chief Inspector making personal and disparaging remarks against a uniformed constable, a probationer,” Cato hisses.  “Particularly when comparing him to a fellow officer who looks like she couldn’t find a hairbrush in a handbag!”  “Doesn’t that sound disparaging and personal to you?”  Seeing the big beasts lock horns, Brownlow strides across and breaks it up with his own form of strained politeness.  He discusses it with Cryer, who as always has a strategic overview: “Mr Cato is a mite jealous.  He was hoping that a day back in uniform would demonstrate just how far Suzi had slipped back – under the supervision, or lack of it, of the DCI.”  He insists that there is no blame to be attached to either rookie.  “So why are their two senior officers behaving so badly?”  Suzi tracks down the wanted man and, in the tradition of June Ackland, is first to grab him before the cavalry arrives.  Fittingly, she and Gary subdue him together.  “Good work, Gary: consider yourself appraised,” says Cato.  “You too, Suzi.  You’re wasted upstairs.”  Brownlow brings the two chief inspectors together to resolve the issue.  “In light of the excellent performance of our two most junior officers, I thought we should appraise the management skills of our senior officers, under whom they serve.”  Meadows apologises to Gary, but also tells Suzi he will see her tomorrow, “Back in the brains department.”  She smiles and shakes her head, happy to leave the posturing to him.

Putting Suzi and Gary together makes it clear why an undignified squabble is occurring in their name.  Both are regarded as precious assets, to be handled with kid gloves, for reasons that go beyond their being trainees.  Gary is of course the latest iteration of The Black Copper – every police show should have one, but no more – stretching back through Delia French, Malcolm Haynes and Abe Lyttelton.  But whereas they lasted no more than a year each, Gary is the one who stayed, and for longer than we might realise.  Despite spanning three different formats across eight years, his name conjures few memorable moments or big storylines.  Partly this is down to being underused and underwritten, like a lot of people during this time: but it may also be the result of his onscreen persona.  Gary is an introvert, perhaps the most introverted figure we see on the show.  Everything is buried deep inside, masked by that benign and rather meek exterior that might be attributed to nerves during his probationary period, yet is actually his default setting.  He has plenty of need of it, because during this year there is more abuse heaped on him than any of his predecessors got, even during the rough and tumble Eighties.  The slow burn effect of the era can be seen here too.  After a promising introduction in Series 8, and no follow-up for six months, the show starts to push him into the limelight.  He is developing under the wing of Tony, who is not exactly the ideal tutor.  When he loses an arrest handed to him on a plate, Tony instructs him not to call it in as an escaped prisoner.  “Good job you didn’t actually nick him, then,” Boyden remarks after hearing the story.  Alone with Gary, he gives him some advice: “Don’t let Tony Stamp teach you bad habits.”  “It was me, I screwed up, Tony was just…”  “Funny.  I’ve gone suddenly deaf.  Get on, shall we?”

Tony is still trying to hold Gary’s hand in ‘Sticks and Stones’, by David Lane, but it’s clear from the off that he is fighting a losing battle.  CID carry out simultaneous raids on two criminal brothers, Billy and Eddie Stevenson.  The younger one, Eddie, is found hiding under the bed alongside his black girlfriend.  “Keep your filthy hands off my gear,” she snaps at Gary.  “That the only way you can get your hands on a black woman’s clothes, is it?  Don’t you speak to me.  The sight of you in that uniform makes me sick!  You’re a coconut man, you might be brown on the outside but you’re just as white as the rest of these pigs inside!”  For good measure she spits in his face, a frontal assault this time compared to the black youth who gobbed on Lyttelton’s shoulder in ‘This Little Pig’ in Series 2.  “The lady didn’t seem to like Gary’s chat-up lines,” Tony tells Cryer when they book her in.  “You expect me to be carrying around a stash just because I’m black?” she scoffs after she has emptied the loose change from her pockets.  “I’m surprised you don’t get searched every time you come in here,” she tells Gary.  Boyden hands Tony the job of bringing in one Winston Mowat who hasn’t turned up for jury duty: “Take McCann with you.”  “Sarge, this bloke, is he black?”  “Well with a name like that and that address it seems likely, why?”  “I could just do without any more bother today.”  In the sergeant’s office he explains his misgivings: “It’s his colour…  You’ve only got to look at what happened this morning.  One sight of a black man in uniform and that bird blew her stack.  Going to Elcott Street, if there was a problem… it might shake his confidence a bit.  You know, twice in one day.”  “So all this is about helping Gary, is it?” Boyden sneers.  “The ethnic groups make a big fuss about us not having enough coloured officers.  Now if he’s going to be any use as a copper, he’s got to be able to deal with blacks, whites, the lot.  It’s for him to sort out.  Not us.”

The burden that Gary must shoulder on his own becomes clear when they arrive at Mowat’s door.  “What’s with you, man?  You trying to show your friend you can handle a brother just like a white pig can?”  Telling Tony that he “wants nothing to do with no court”, he adds, “Now go away, and take your pet nigger-boy with you.”  This prompts nothing more than a mild blink from Gary, who we can imagine has developed a thick shell at a young age to deal with comments like this.  Word comes through from the judge that Mowat must be brought in.  When they approach him again he is on the street, surrounded by his mates, who join in the attack on Gary.  “The law’s the same for everybody!” he insists.  “As a nigger, you really believe that?”  “The name’s McCann, sir.”  “The name’s sell-out… Judas!”  Mowat says there is no need for him to explain his reasons to the judge, an educated man who can count to three: “That’s how many brothers there were in the court yesterday.  Two in the dock and me, a black face on the jury, so all those white men can go home to their white wives and their white kids, and say, ‘Isn’t our justice system wonderful?  We even allow darkies on our juries!’  Of course, not enough of them to make a difference.  I’m not going to be the token black in a white man’s justice – not like you, Judas.”  As they surround him, Gary not only stands his ground but hits back: “You wanted me here last month, didn’t you?  When that black boy got stabbed across the road?  Nobody called me Judas then, did they?  Nobody said, ‘Don’t take my black kid to hospital!’  If you’re so suspicious of the law, don’t put yourself up against it!”  Mowat is taken to court but repeats his argument to the judge with a little more formality.  “You know and I know that you’re going to find them guilty.  There’s no such thing as a fair trial for black people.  The system doesn’t allow it.  Justice is for whites only and you know it!”  “I find that attitude very difficult to understand when you were brought to court this morning by a black officer.”  “He’s a token.  Just like me.”  “There isn’t any way you’re going to view this case objectively, is there?”  The judge asks the two barristers if they are willing to continue.  The defence, unsurprisingly, is not: “It is easy to understand, if not sympathise with Mr Mowat’s attitude.  It is widely held within certain sections of the black community.  If the case continues with the only black juror removed, my clients may feel that their case is not best served.”  The judge makes the pointed comment that the law allows for trial by jury, not a specific composition of that jury, but nonetheless orders a retrial. 

The two black men on trial turn out to have shared their armed robbery with the Stevensons, even though Billy is “not exactly a member of the Campaign for Racial Equality”, because his younger brother’s “suntanned bit of skirt” is their cousin.  Having put aside their prejudice in the name of crime, the police manage to reignite and exploit it in order to divide and conquer them.  Burnside commends Gary for acting as ‘bait’: “If she hadn’t taken exception to your pretty face this morning, we’d have been in serious trouble.  Keep it up, son.”  The startling use of the N-word at ten past eight is just one example of the show stretching its timeslot this year, after it had seemingly left the edgy content of the early days behind.  References to “Paki-bashing” are one thing, but it’s disconcerting to hear Ted Roach refer to a “Paki shop” being offered stolen fags.  And just two episodes after ‘Sticks and Stones’, the abuse continues when Gary’s own side puts the boot in too.  ‘Recruiting Officer’ is the second script from a name that would become familiar during the Nineties: Len Collin, whose two previous acting credits in the show were to be supplemented by over thirty as a writer.  It can be risky to generalise, but just at the point that the veteran Christopher Russell leaves the show, Collin feels like the heir apparent.  His writing delivers that same combination of wry humour and biting commentary, one blending seamlessly into the other.  Maitland’s interview with a hopeful candidate recalls a similar scene in ‘What Are Little Boys Made Of?’  There it was the father of the applicant who had to be reminded that there’s “more to policing than knocking blacks on the head, Dad.”  Here it’s the applicant himself who displays some worrying attitudes.  “What is it that appeals to you about the Metropolitan Police?”  “I don’t know, it’s a steady job: secure, pays well.  It’s exciting, I suppose.  I’ve always fancied it, nicking people and that.  What I mean is, upholding the law.”  “It’s not all nicking people,” Maitland reminds him.  “A lot of it’s paperwork.  So how do you see the role of the police in the community?”  “Well, it’s law and order, innit?  You’ve got to have order haven’t you, otherwise what you’ve got is… disorder.  See the way I see it, people have a right to get things.  You know what I mean, nice car, nice house, stuff like that, well it’s democracy isn’t it?  People have got the right to protection.  And that’s where we come in.  The police.”  “What about those people who don’t have such material possessions?  What would you say to them?”  “My advice?  Get a job, you don’t get nothing unless you work for it.”  Maitland leaves, saying the police will be in touch.  As he walks away he adds privately, “I shouldn’t hold out too much hope.”

Maitland’s next interview is with a black ambulance driver who is cut from the same cloth as Gary: an earnest, upstanding blazer-wearing type who believes in traditional values.  Given that his work overlaps with that of the police, he has seen the good work they do at first hand: “What swung me was seeing one of your blokes talking down a suicide, he was brilliant!”  But his enthusiasm isn’t shared by his wife, who asks why there are so few black officers in the Met.  “My younger brother was stripped naked and searched for drugs, and why?  Because he had a broken light on the rear of his car, that’s why.”  “I’ve told you Jennifer, that was probably an isolated incident.  My wife is concerned because she believes everything she reads in the papers.”  “Declan!  You know as well as I do that the police are racist!”  “Mrs Oyelami, there are twenty-eight thousand officers in the Met,” says Maitland.  “There’s bound to be one or two undesirables.”  “So why if my husband walks through that door in uniform, will he be seen as a traitor?  By the neighbours, the community, who do you think?”  Maitland insists that there is a divide between the image of the police and the reality – but suggests that he send a young black PC to talk to them.  “Maybe he can change the damned fool’s mind,” she declares.  The job, of course, will fall to only one man.  Gary has already begun the episode with a familiar rite of passage, bringing in a drunk who everyone else would have left on the street.  “He was threatening suicide.”  “He’s been doing that for years!”  The man is booked in under the watchful gaze of a PC from another relief, Rob ‘the Gob’ Leach, who is mates with Tony.  “Keep nicking the winos, leave the real police work to us, eh?”  Boyden says that the man needs a change of clothes, and Gary is given another rite of passage, like the one we have discussed.  “You didn’t fall for Boyden’s wind-up, did you?” asks George, the expert.  “Paper suit, bog roll?”  Gary walks into the canteen to be met with a round of applause from his colleagues.  “Yeah, all right.  Joke’s on me,” he concedes.  The applause dies away – until there is only the slow, ironic clapping of Leach.

Tony begins to pine for the bygone days of the Met, before the top brass lost their bottle.  Seeing Gary chat with the black canteen lady, he observes that he’s “well in there – free spotted dick for life.”  “Talk the same language, don’t they?” adds Leach.  When Gary sits down, he tells him he should have dumped the wino in the park: “Not worth the wristwork, if you know what I mean?”  Gary stares at him in silence, realising what he’s dealing with.  After Leach has thrown some creepy chat-up lines at Cathy, he argues with Gary about the “quicker rhythm” of the job nowadays.  “And there’s not a lot we could teach you about ‘rhythm’, is there sunshine?  What’s wrong, can’t take a joke?” he challenges him, face to face, as the atmosphere palls.  “You’ll get worse out there mate, you’d better get used to it!”  “No, you’d better get used to it,” Gary corrects him quietly.  “People like me wearing a uniform.”  Taking a deep breath, Tony urges Leach to change the subject, but he won’t let it go.  “You think you’ve got a right to wear that uniform, do you?”  “I’ve earned it.”  “What, not yet out of probation?  For some of us it’s easier!  For some of us they got rid of the height requirement; got rid of the brain requirement.  Lowered standards.”  “What does that mean?  Spell it out.”  “Oh, you can spell can you?  Lads, we’ve got an intelligent one here.”  “Look, I’ve got a degree in history and politics, what have you got?”  “Twenty years in,” Leach proclaims, as if that trumps all else.  Later as he is writing his IRB, the others prepare to leave, taking Gary with them.  “Nick a brother for me,” he requests, determined to get a rise out of him.  “What was that?”  “You heard.  Nick a jig!”  Finally losing his cool, Gary lunges at him and has to be held back.  “Grow up, sunshine.  I was nicking slags while you were still filling your nappies!”  “You ain’t got the bottle, Leach.”  “Druggies, muggers, bag-snatchers.  Give ’em a can of spray paint, they’re happy.  Not even your better class of criminal!  You’ve got to decide something, McCann.  You’re either one of us – or one of them.” 

Ray Ashcroft’s performance feels a little strained, as though he was uncomfortable playing an outright bigot – or maybe it’s just culture shock after seeing him as the cool and collected Geoff Daly.   Giving an extreme view to someone outside the regular cast is arguably a cop-out in more ways than one, suggesting that the bad apples are always somewhere else.  But soon the debate comes home, and the attitudes of ‘our’ relief are under the microscope.  “So nobody did anything?” says a disgusted George, confronting Tony.  “He’s your mate, you should have a word.”  “For what?  For expressing his opinion?”  “He’s a racist!”  “Aren’t you?  We’re all racist to a degree.”  “Oh yeah, and what degree are you then Tony?  You wouldn’t want your daughter to marry one, eh?  You’re as bad as he is.”  Tony follows him into CAD with Dave trailing behind.  “Look George, I’m not saying I agree with Leach, in fact I don’t.  But he’s a good copper and he does have a point.  Well they have lowered standards, haven’t they?” he insists as George and Cathy turn on him.  “I’ve seen one Asian plonk over on seven area, four foot nothing; what use is she in a punch-up?”  “Because she’s Asian or because she’s a plonk?” asks Cathy.  “Because she’s a midget!”  “I know what McCann’s up against.  Yeah, you know he’s a decent bloke, but he had to prove it, didn’t he?  Just like I had to prove it when I joined.  The only difference between McCann and me is that half the relief aren’t trying to get their hand up his trouser leg.”  “I don’t know, there’s Reg Hollis.  He’ll try it on with anybody,” Dave chips in – and this is more than just a throwaway gag, reminding us that he likes to brush off awkward situations rather than face them.  This is the man who keeps his head down in the Fox-Santini saga on the basis that he’s “everyone’s mate” but cannot sustain it.  For someone playing a chirpy geezer, nobody did ‘brooding in the background’ as well as Andrew Paul.  In ‘Blood Counts’, Dave arrests a black man in a DSS office who lashed out and struck him, with Gary as witness.  Cryer observes that “Gary doesn’t want to stick his neck out over this.  His silence says it all.”  Dave voices the thought of Suzi when it happened to her: “They see ’em get off easy and it gets them thinking, eh?  ‘Why don’t I have a crack too?’  Sometimes you get the feeling you’re out there on your own.”  Gary plays down the severity, insisting it was only an accident.  Dave stops short of implying that he is looking out for his own, but without a shred of irony warns, “You want to be careful about sitting on the fence like that.  It might be a cushy option but it can make you look a right idiot.”

Declaring that he “needs sorting out”, George finds Leach in the locker room and pins him to the wall.  “McCann is on my relief, get it?  McCann also happens to be a mate of mine, right?  So maybe you should keep your views to yourself.”  “It’s a free country, I’ll say what I want, when I want.”  “You could be reported, you know.”  “Oh yeah?  Who’s going to report me?  You?  Tony Stamp?  The plonk?”  “You make me sick.”  George turns away, thinking he has won the argument.  But the story points out that ingrained bigotry can’t be conquered with a few noble words.  Grabbing his arm, Leach twists it behind him and this time he is the one putting the pressure on.  “Don’t like my attitude, eh, make you sick?  Well just chew on this.  Next time you pull up a carload of jigs, and one of them pulls a knife and holds it to your throat, eh, who do you want on urgent assist?  Me, twenty years in, or McCann?  Think about it,” he declares after he has released his grip.  Meanwhile, Gary has been sent on his PR mission, which is music to the ears of Conway.  “This is exactly the type of gentleman we want to recruit; good for community relations,” he tells Maitland.  “In fact, I wanted to have a chat with you about how we could get more Declan Oye-whatsits to apply.”  Meeting Gary, Oyelami tries to forge a bond based on their shared Caribbean roots.  “So, your parents are from St. Lucia.”  “My mother is.”  “I’ve got an uncle who lives in Castries.  I don’t suppose…”  “I’ve never been there,” Gary cuts in, uninterested in small talk; he remains a closed book.  “I don’t want to be rude or anything, but what exactly do you want to know?”  “The truth,” says Jennifer.  Gary points out the value of doing a job that makes a difference, such as the drunk he brought in earlier who was threatening to kill himself.  “Sure, but how do you fit in?  With your fellow officers?”  Gary pauses, and then gives an anodyne smile.  “Fine.”

Oyelami tries on Gary’s helmet and sizes himself up in the mirror.  “We’d have to move,” his wife declares.  “We couldn’t stay here, people wouldn’t trust us.”  “We’ll move.  We’ll move to a nice house, in a nice area, where there aren’t any gangs and drugs…”  “And black people?  My friends are here!  People I know even when they’re strangers, because they’re Trinidadians, St Lucians, Jamaicans.  Nice areas don’t have that.  We create ghettos if we move out just because we’ve got a few quid in the bank!”  Gary is challenged once more about what the job is like, and concedes that “there are some bad things… but all coppers get that.”  “Even from their own?”  “Look, in five years’ time I hope to make a sergeant.  And after that, maybe an inspector.  But all the way I’ll be fighting criticism that the only reason I’m there is…”  “Because you’re black.”  “Exactly.”  Oyelami, who clearly has the principles and the tenacity for the job, insists that “there is so much I could give back to the community.”  “Yeah, there is,” says Gary, “and the community will spit at you, call you names, maybe even try to kill you.”  “But if you don’t talk to people, don’t communicate, don’t try – where’s the hope?”  “The hope is in people like you.  People like myself.  And I don’t know about you, but that scares the pants off of me.”  “But I don’t want you to change, Declan,” Jennifer pleads with him.  “I don’t want to lose you.”  Gary makes a discreet exit.  He sees a group of black kids watching him suspiciously; then his helmet is back on and he is walking away, treading his own path.  The drunk he ‘saved’ is giving Boyden earache about how he wants to die.  “I feel suicidal every time I step outside the house.”  “Well don’t step outside the house then!”  “You don’t understand.”  “No, I don’t.  I’m not paid for that.  So just shut your mouth, sober up, you’ll be home and we’ll all be happy!”  On Gary’s return, he is told that “your friend wants to see you.  He wants to leave you a goldmine in his will, along with his collection of empty vodka bottles.”  Boyden opens the cell door to find him lying there, his head bloody from where he has battered it.  “I told him, I said I’d do it,” he says as Gary tends to him, his rookie instincts proven right.  “I lost her, you see, I lost her… it’s the drink that does it.  I lost my wife, lost my job, all for the drink.  Then I’d had enough; couldn’t step outside the house without trying to end it.”  “Suppose it’s one way of getting noticed.”  The man breaks out in a smile.  “You’re all right, you are,” he praises Gary.  “For a darkie.” 

It’s notable that this story plants the seeds of Gary’s ambition to rise in the ranks, which he finally achieves in his last appearance.  It also condemns him to be Sun Hill’s resident expert on ‘ethnic matters’.  Maitland gives him a warning that Conway is “looking for new initiatives on how to recruit from the ethnic community.  He may well be tapping you for some ideas.”  “But why me?”  “How many other PCs are there around with a degree?”  Gary must be all things to all people, battle-hardened and thick-skinned out on the streets and a progressive thinker to his own employers.  This conflict plays out in someone who is, on the surface, an ordinary mild-mannered bloke, tired of people projecting their complexes onto him.  Only towards the end of his time, when the show has swung firmly into character-led drama, do we get a deeper insight into his background and the mindset that took him into the police.  But the issues themselves remain the same, which is why, whenever they’re covered in these reviews, there is an air of repetition to the way they’re handled.  After nearly ten years, the views of Rob Leach are basically those of Pete Muswell; it’s only the status of the character that has changed, a guest part rather than one of the core team, implying that those views have been pushed out of the mainstream and towards the fringes.  But it would be hard for anyone watching in early 1993 to detect a massive sea-change, especially if they had an eye on the headlines.  With The Bill’s unerring ability to mirror real life, both ‘Sticks and Stones’ and ‘Recruiting Officer’ went out within ten days of the killing of Stephen Lawrence: an event that would have huge repercussions for the real Met, which fed back into the show at the end of the Nineties.

The dialogue is the standout feature of Len Collin’s scripts, carrying the ring of an authentic Londoner rather than the generic Mockney that some writers would slip into.  Words loom large in his next episode, ‘Mouth and Trousers’, where both the police and the criminals are talking big.  The relief are warned of a feud between Terry Mullen and the Kennedy family, one of whom, Michael, has just been convicted for stabbing him.  The elder brother Joe has convictions for ABH and GBH, “but what he hasn’t done, yet, is kill a copper.  But that’s his professed ambition.”  Polly has been granted the honour of riding in the area car, “And I’m ever so grateful Tone.”  “If I didn’t want you, you wouldn’t be here.”  “I know, you told me last time.”  They stop three of the Kennedy brothers on their way to the park, one of them carrying a baseball bat.  “Hoping for a trial with the Boston Red Sox, Joe?” asks Tony.  “Weren’t planning to have a game with Terry Mullen, were you?  Whatever happened to cricket?”  As they watch them hitting in the park, Polly observes that the youngest brother seems all right.  “He may seem it, but he’s a Kennedy.  The only Kennedy that was ever any good was shot.”  “They’re not going to do anything while we’re playing spectators – or are you waiting for the girls in rah-rah skirts?”  Tony takes her to “visit another slagbag, Terence J. Mullen.”  They pull up outside a pub where he is drinking with his buddies, and exchange the kind of verbals that probably happen more often in real life than one would imagine from some po-faced crime shows.  “When was it that I last nicked you, Terry?”  “February.”  “What was that for?”  “Putting that geezer through a plate-glass window.”  “Anything we can nick you for now?  Fact is, there’s a certain person, who shall remain nameless, who’s baying for your blood.  Thought you might jump at the chance of a nice quiet room.”  Polly tries to close the sale: “En suite toilet, free food, good company, what more could you ask?”  “Your warning’s come just a little bit too late – you seen the state of my motor?”  Mullen points at the graffiti covering his car.  “You should have got it done professional,” says Tony.  “You got to admit though, Terry, probably doubled the motor’s value.” 

This not so friendly banter is Tony’s version of all those chats that Uncle Bob has with shopkeepers and tradesmen on his beat, minus the warmth.  The principle is the same, to remind people that the police are around and keeping an eye out, even when it’s directed at the criminal element rather than the community.  He questions the Kennedys about the graffiti and the youngest is arrested for drunk and disorderly behaviour.  “We’re off watch at the moment, Sarge; we’ve got a body in.”  “Right, well we’d better show you off watch,” growls Boyden.  “Two sugars in mine, Tony.”  But he has more important things to worry about than a cuppa.  “Where’s me choccy bar?” he demands in the canteen before Polly chucks it to him.  “If I didn’t know better I’d say you only nicked him so you could come in and have a drink.”  The smile is wiped off Tony’s face when he is confronted by Cryer.  “It’s precisely because he’s a Kennedy that you should have let it ride!  I just hope that Joe Kennedy doesn’t find this as an excuse to stick a knife into Terry Mullen.”  The war of words becomes real as another of the Kennedys is run over by Mullen’s car.  Pursuing him onto an estate, Cathy gets booted in the chest.  She and Barry bring him down, but then face Joe Kennedy, wielding a baseball bat and declaring, “He’s mine!”  In a story all about fronting up, Barry is the one who stands his ground.  “You’ve got a stick, why don’t you use it?”  “You’ve got a brain, why don’t you use that?  Put the bat down!”  He, Cathy and Dave overpower him together, leaving Tony to declare, “You don’t need us, then,” when he arrives with the cavalry.  Back at the station the younger brother has confessed to the stabbing of Mullen, for which his elder sibling took the blame in order to preserve his chance of going to college.  Asked why, all he can say is, “I’m a Kennedy.”  Their world-weary father, who Cryer has known ever since he arrested the oldest sixteen years earlier, can only say, “They’re boys.  What can you do?  I think they must get it from their mother’s side.”

The show’s greatest writers always had the ability to scale their work, going big or small depending on the needs of the production team.  Collin’s next episode, ‘Sweet Charity’, opens with Tony laying down the law to his new passenger: “Let’s get one thing clear, Reg.  No more rubbish calls.  Let me give you the nod before you accept any calls.  I don’t want any more running on blues and twos to a sweetshop because some kid’s lifted a packet of cheese and onion, all right?”  “Peanuts, actually.”  He is dismayed when Reg instantly takes a shout to a teenage girl kicking a door.  “What have I just said?  It’s bound to be an LOB, probably some tart who’s locked herself out!”  They find her hammering at the windows and screaming for her mother.  “All I want’s me clothes, she won’t let me in to get ’em!  I ain’t had a changea’ knickers in two days!”  “Yeah well, love to help out you know, but as I say…”  She storms off, leaving Tony to declare, “You dirty…”  “What?”  “Jailbait.”  “I feel sorry for the girl.”  Reg’s sympathy is tested when she picks up a stone and lobs it through the front window.  “Ever considered bowling for England?” asks an impressed Tony.  The mother rushes out and the two women have to be dragged apart; she knees him in the groin and both are arrested.  While the girl is taken back in a car, Reg goes in the van with the mother, who is barely twice her age.  “Blokes fancy her, don’t they?” she observes.  Leaning forward, she unleashes her feminine whiles: “They fancied me when I was her age.  I still look young, though.  Most people think we’re sisters.  But all the fellers go for her.  Young, you see.”  The panic-stricken Reg is grateful to be let out.  “Get her locked up for us Steve, mate, she’s gone weird on me.” 

This bizarre domestic set-up would have been right at home in the hour-long era, as a comedic sub-plot in one of the day in the life episodes; here, promoted to the main plot, it shows the ability of the half-hours to be trivial and still engrossing.  Lauren reveals that her mother has a nineteen-year old boyfriend, Mark, to cope with her paranoia.  “She thinks she’s old but she ain’t.  She likes Mark because he makes her feel young.  He ain’t her toy-boy, she’s only thirty-three!  Look, she ain’t a bad mum.  You might not think it, but I see her as a big sister, really.”   Boyden agrees that the best move is to caution the mother, with some weight behind it.  Playing on her vanity, he dials the charm up to eleven: “So, Carrie… you don’t mind if I call you Carrie, do you?  You working?”  “Perfume counter at the department store.”  “I thought you smelt nice…  It disappoints me to see an attractive young lady making a mess of her life.”  She reveals that the two of them go to nightclubs together: “We might get off with a couple of blokes; don’t let on that we’re mother and daughter.  I met Mark.  We both fancied him, only he came up to me first.  So what would you do if you came back and found your daughter in bed with the man you love?”  When Lauren is released, Boyden observes that this Mark must be “some bloke.  Bit of a catch, is he?”  “Nah, he’s just a bloke,” she shrugs.  “To tell the truth, I think he’s a bit immature.”  Throughout it all, Reg has been the boy scout while everyone around him is smirking.  But, proving that he was never just one thing or the other, he leans wistfully on Boyden’s desk and stares after the two women: “Wouldn’t say no, would you?  Don’t bear thinking about, does it?  Mother and daughter…”  “Reg – area car, now!”  Returning to the house, the women have made up – “I need someone to do the washing up, don’t I?” says Carrie.  The nineteen-year old stud who drove them apart opens the front door, whining that he’s been worried sick.  Tony stares at him in disbelief.  “You see the state of that?  Hope for you yet, Reg.”

But Reg’s hopes are dashed in ‘The Law in Their Hands’, when he suffers the ignominy of a second defeat in the Fed Rep elections in little more than a year.  “When Barry resigned I was willing to step in and no-one objected then.  Look, the only reason I stepped in was that the feeling I got from the floor, was that come the election I would be unopposed.  Et tu Brute!”  But the story uses Reg for more than just comic relief.  When he and Cathy are called to a locked house whose occupant, another Reg H., is thought to have collapsed, he breaks in and finds him dead upstairs.  On the mantelpiece is a photo of him receiving a police medal.  “He got that after thirty years’ service,” his grandson reveals.  “Well it’s more than he’d get now.  He’s probably better off out of it – the job, I mean.”  Learning that he was only fifty-nine, Reg adds, “Under the latest proposals he wouldn’t even get his pension.”  The man’s tearful daughter explains that he tried to start new businesses after he left the force, but they didn’t work out and he “just… deteriorated.  He did his back, chasing some villains or something.”  Reg asks Cathy if they should arrange a whip-round, “get some flowers or something.  I wonder how many points we’d get for that?  Couple of quid each, sudden death?”  “That’s sick, Reg.”  “No.  That’s what Sheehy’s all about.  Performance means results, and results means nicking people.  It’s a joke.  Could be you or me up there in twenty-five years’ time.  Only we wouldn’t have a penny to our names.  The job don’t kill you, retirement will.  I think I’ll have a word with Cato.  After all, they are first in the firing line, aren’t they?  Senior management.”  “I thought that was George’s job now.”  “Oh yeah – but is he up to it?”  So begins an examination of the biggest issue affecting the real-life police of 1993: the Sheehy Report, which recommended sweeping changes to their ranking structure, pay and budgeting.  It went down like a lead balloon with the force, reflected in several episodes this year where officers fear the advent of performance pay.  “You wait, we’ll all be on short-term contracts before long,” Steve warns Mike.  “Performance-related pay, that’ll be the next thing.  You’d better just hope Reg Hollis has got a private income.” 

So far, so familiar; but this obligatory swipe is another example of how Reg’s colleagues can’t see past the messenger to the message.  All his whining about occupational stress and sick leave and the havoc wreaked on the body’s Circadian rhythms by shift work is perfectly genuine and well-meant, while at the same time rooted in his desire to show off and make his presence felt.  Unfortunately, the one blinds people to the merits of the other.  Back at the station he is on the warpath, and Tony tries to head him off: “Look, I gotta tell you – I voted for you.  Sorry you didn’t win, mate.”  “The worm is turning.  I want to propose a work to rule, as a direct response to the unreasonable demands and recommendations, and suggestions, as contained in the Sheehy Report.”  “This George Garfield’s idea, is it?”  “No, it’s mine.  So what do you think?”  “Think you might be onto something there, Hollis,” declares Cato as he emerges from a toilet cubicle, having heard the entire exchange.  He’s not kidding either; a different kettle of fish from Brownlow or even Conway, he’s no fan of the hot air from management.  “Haven’t you heard?” Cathy tells Dave and Tony in the canteen, as they watch the two men discuss the issue.  “There’s going to be a revolution.  Hollis is growing a beard and Cato’s sharpening his ice pick.”  “As much as I’d like to support you, I can’t condone a work to rule,” the latter concludes.  “We can make our feelings known but we can’t act on them.  We’re police officers.  We’re not afforded the same freedoms as the public.  I appreciate your concern for my position, Reg,” he adds, acknowledging what Meadows has already pointed out: that the rank of chief inspector would be first for the axe under these proposals.  “But I assure you I’m not for the scrapheap yet.  The game is not lost or won until the final piece has been played.  I suggest you have a word with your Fed Rep: see what he can come up with.”  Rubbing it in, Cato adds softly, “After all, he is your elected representative.  Thanks for the tea.” 

At this point the handover from one generation of writers to the next is almost complete.  The output of Christopher Russell, which had driven so much of the show’s narrative, is reduced to four episodes, and the last of his fifty-seven comes the following year.  But the quality remains undiminished.  In ‘No Comment’, Steve and George are told of a burglary at a tower block and intercept two black youths nearby who match the description.  The victim is found unconscious in his flat, amid a pile of debris, and dies on the way to hospital.  The two youths, Michael Osman and Ian Prior, are being read their rights by Boyden when Conway strolls into custody.  “Free of charge and in private,” he adds, regarding the section on consulting a solicitor and the codes of practice.  Taking this in, the dominant one, Prior, instantly says his mate wants a solicitor.  “Is that what you want?”  The withdrawn Osman nods.  “Still regard it as a challenge, Matthew?” Conway later asks.  “PACE: suspects’ rights.”  “I think you’ll find I go by the book, sir.”  “You might go by it, but you hardly sell it to the punters, do you?”  “Well they know the score – why waste time?  Is there something you wanted sir, only I’ve got a violent criminal to be processed.”  “Let’s get it right then, shall we?  No cock-ups.  Michael Osman asked for a solicitor.”  “Heavily coached by Prior.”  “Make sure he gets one anyway.”  Conway has informed Osman’s father of his arrest, even though he didn’t ask for this.  “As you well know, he’d have to ask what day it is.  He may be a scrote but he’s a thick one.  I want Dad to know he’s not being stitched up.  It’s called open policing, Matthew.  You’ll thank me for it one day.”  The father happens to be on the police consultative group: “He’s the first sensible black Jasmine Allen resident I’ve persuaded on board.”  “I’m sure the niceties will be observed, Derek,” Brownlow reassures him.  There is no sign of forced entry and little forensic, so it all hinges on the suspects.  Prior has form for burglary artifice, which may explain the bag of dusters and shammies that the two men were carrying.  Meadows gets stuck in, despite the doubts of Greig, who observes that the evidence places them near the scene, not at it.  They start with Prior, who stares at the walls in silence until a furious Meadows has to wrap it up and move on to Osman.  Boyden assures him that the duty brief, Brian Cattlin, is “nothing spectacular, I should think you’ll turn him over all right.” 

Once the interview has begun, this confidence is soon dispelled.  “Can you confirm to Mr Osman that if he chooses not to speak, no adverse comment may legally be made about his silence by the prosecution at any trial that may take place?  In other words, his silence may not be used against him.”  Meadows is dumbstruck for a moment before he concedes, “That is the legal position, yes.”  Glancing at Cattlin every few seconds, Osman is asked about his whereabouts.  “Having taken legal advice, no comment.”  He becomes visibly distressed, but after a shake of the head from Cattlin, does not yield.  Meadows takes Cattlin into another interview room for a word: “I know your legal duty, but what about your moral duty?  Either Osman or Prior killed that old man.”  “The point is, you don’t know that.”  “You know it and I know it, and I bet my pension Osman’s admitted as much to you.”  “What he’s told me in private is none of your business.  I can’t permit him to tell you lies, but that doesn’t affect his right to say nothing.  Both men are innocent of this crime until proven guilty, and neither of them is required to help you prove that guilt.  That’s my moral duty – defending that principle.”  Meadows stares at him in disgust before turning away.  “Thanks for the lecture.”  “Oh, and all solicitors are either lefty or bent, yes?”  “Well I do sometimes wonder why else somebody would devote a career to helping pond life, frankly.  Broadly speaking, Mr Cattlin, we’re dealing with scum here.  You know that.  Joe Public wants protecting from scum.  And that’s my job.  So don’t expect me to pat you on the back for stopping me!”  “What if you were Michael Osman: inarticulate, vulnerable, scared stiff, with the full weight of the police and CPS bearing down on you?”  “An innocent man has nothing to fear.”  “I beg to differ.”   This exchange can be seen in the historical context of 1993 and the five years of high-profile overturned convictions that had tarnished the police; but it also speaks of an ongoing problem, namely their reliance on confessions from suspects with borderline mental capacity.  Cattlin’s point has already been made in a revealing interlude where Steve gazes at Prior through his cell grille: “‘Right to silence.’  I’d like the right to five minutes with him, the cocky little scum.”  “Extract a confession by unfair means?” asks a deadpan Boyden.  “Never stand up in court.”  “Yeah.  And nor would he.” 

Boyden informs Conway that the score is, “Ten-nil to the legal fraternity and the criminals, sir.”  The dead man’s son is being questioned by Jim and Suzi, which exposes a problem with the ‘join the dots’ approach to proving a case.  Instead of asking what he saw, they are trying to make it match what they have got.  “We often find with witnesses once they’ve had time to think that they remember things more clearly.  You’re quite sure you didn’t see them coming out of the flat?”  “I saw them outside the flat, both of them.  The door was shut.  You keep asking me and I keep telling you!  You’ve nicked the scumbags who were there, why aren’t you asking them?”  “We are asking them, Mr Harding.  But under the law they’re not obliged to say anything.”  “Not obliged?  My old man had his head smashed in, and they’re not obliged?  So I’ve got to tell lies so you can screw the bastards, is that the way the system works?”  Meadows has another crack at Osman, reminding him he has the right to speak out as well as stay silent.  “Why don’t you do what you want to do, for a change?  ’Cos believe me, you’ll feel a hell of a lot better when you’ve got it off your chest.”  His lips trembling, tears in his eyes, Osman is reminded gently by Cattlin that there is no fresh evidence – and after an agonising pause, declares, “No reply.”  “I only hope you can sleep well at night,” Meadows snarls at Cattlin.  “Better than a few policemen I could name.”  The DCI then thanks Conway for all his help.  “If you’re saying Osman only got fair treatment because I took an interest…”  “He’s probably going to walk away from this; and Prior!  You think that’s fair?”  “If the evidence against them is rubbish, yes!  Look, I’m sure without a solicitor present you’d have got a confession out of him in two seconds flat, whether he was guilty or not.  But when we get to court, it’s going to blow up in our faces – yet again!  But I’m the one who’s getting stick for saying, ‘Do it properly’!”  “And where does that leave Mr Harding’s son?”  The latter hears that the two men are being bailed and charges out to confront them.  Conway watches him being restrained from his office window, while Brownlow delivers a sermon on Meadows: “If he thinks the job’s hard now, it’s going to get harder still, for all of us.  Knowing we’re right just isn’t enough.  You can’t argue with that.  Accountability, hard evidence; proof.  That’s the only way we’re going to regain public confidence.”  Seeing Prior walk away from the grieving man and the police, raising a finger to them all, Conway mutters, “Yes sir.” 

In a period where individual characters are gaining ascendance over the regular cast, Russell is still adept at balancing both.  In ‘Missing’ the subdued Burnside, still trying to absorb the death of Viv, is handed the case of a twenty five year old man, Jason Salter, who has vanished from a shopping mall.  “He looks big enough to look after himself.”  “Special circumstances.  Looks can be deceptive, this strapping lad’s got a mental age of six.”  Having tackled animal rights, illegal immigrants, the homeless, euthanasia and underage sex, the writer returns to the theme of disability that he explored in two early half-hour episodes, ‘Alarms and Embarrassments’ and ‘Homes and Gardens’.  The father-son relationship of the latter is echoed here.  Burnside meets Alan Salter – a brilliant performance by David Hargreaves as a tightly wound man, his greying hair close-cropped, carrying a lifetime’s bitterness.  “He disappeared from a busy shopping precinct, you can’t find a single witness!  The truth is you’re not interested, you’re like the local rag.  If Jay had been a gorgeous dolly bird he’d have been all over the front page.  But he’s not.  He’s Jay!” he sneers, pointing at a photo of his son.  “And a face like his doesn’t sell many newspapers.”  There is a report of Jason being dragged across a road by another man who turns out to be Gerry Whitfield, a worker at a city farm where he fed the animals.  Whitfield is a proud and defiant figure who let an angry Jason come to his home because he couldn’t go to the farm.  “I didn’t lure him back to my flat for immoral purposes, that’s what you think isn’t it?  That’s about the limit of your imagination.  The truth about Jason is the truth about most handicapped people: their handicap is their relatives.  The people they’re saddled with; in Jason’s case, his parents.  Especially his prat of a father!  I don’t have to have met him to get the picture.  Jason’s locked in a box.  He has so much energy, vitality, intelligence, and he’s allowed to live for, what – two hours a week.  And why?  Because he doesn’t fit the norm, and his parents are frightened of that.  After twenty years they’re still frightened.  They haven’t got a clue how to tap into what’s there.”  “And you have?”  “I’m a special needs outreach worker, if you know what that is.  Soon to be cut back, naturally.  I do voluntary work at the farm, because of the results.  Why do you think people like Jason react so well to animals?  Because they don’t get patronised or suffocated by them.  They get an innocent physical response to their affections.”  “Is that what you give?  An innocent physical response?”  “Nothing happened.  I sent him home.”  “You didn’t phone his parents, let them know where he was?” asks Tosh.  “What for?  He was out of his box and enjoying it.”  “Not your fault if he gets lost?” says Burnside.  “What gives you the right to play God with other people’s children?”  He concludes that Whitfield is “lethal but innocent – kick him out.” 

June and Tony respond to a 999 call from a woman who has spotted something floating in the canal.  They find the washed-up body of Jason lying against a grille.  “He always used to love the water,” his mother remarks as she dissolves into tears.  But a mechanic working nearby reveals that he saw Jason the night he disappeared – “Big geezer, sandwich short of a picnic?” – while he was out walking his dog.  “Anyway, this other feller comes down the footpath and he shouts out to the big feller.  Middle aged, big bloke, though not as big as the dopey one.  Hair very short, like a squaddie – you know, bullet head!”  Bringing the parents into the station, Burnside takes Alan Salter to his office and asks whether he has been truthful about the last time he saw his son.  At this stage in the show’s history, as the interview scenes become central to the drama, so too does the revealing monologue, and Russell’s are in a class of their own.  “Have you got kids?  My mates all have.  Ex-mates.  My fault, the ex bit.  You tend to close in on yourself with a Jay in the family.  Because you feel a bit embarrassed!  They’re all taking their twelve-year olds to football, you’re taking yours to play park with his nappies on.”  “Well, I’m sure there’s no need to feel embarrassed.  Could happen to anyone.”  “No!  It doesn’t happen to anyone!  It happens to one in a million!  It’s called an accident of birth.  And you know what it’s like?  It’s like living with a cuckoo, which just goes on growing and growing, and you know it’ll never leave the nest, ’cos it can’t fly!  It’s supposed to be a bird, but it can’t fly! So you keep on feeding it and cleaning it and amusing it, year in, year out, until it sucks you dry.  I’m telling you that it’s hard!  Some people have a lot more love to give, a lot more patience than others.  Cheryl has, I wish I did!  I feel guilty, but that’s the way it is.  I care for my son.  But love him?  No.  I hate him!  And most of the time, I hate myself for having brought him into the world!” 

After Burnside has cautioned him, he advises that there’s no need to panic: “I wouldn’t kill my own flesh and blood.  It’s the other way round.  He’s been killing us from day one.  You’ve only got to look at his mother.”  He had been looking for Jason all day when he saw him, but he ran off laughing down the path.  “A bit further along, he slipped and fell into the canal.  By the time I got there he was floundering about and crying his eyes out.  ’Cos he never liked water.  Doesn’t matter what his mother said, he used to hate it, he used to hate getting his face wet!  I was standing there on the bank, and it was like ten, fifteen years ago, when we used to go to the swimming baths.  Used to try to teach him to swim.  Years I tried, but it was no use.  He just couldn’t co-ordinate his legs and his arms.  Just splashed and floundered about and cried.  And I could hear myself shouting, like I used to shout at the swimming baths, ‘Swim Jason, what’s the matter with you, swim for God’s sake!’  And then he went quiet.  It was getting dark and I couldn’t see him.”  “You didn’t jump in?  Or call for help?”  “No.  I just stood there.  About half an hour, I stood and looked at the water.  And then I went home.  By the time I got home I’d wiped it out.  Jason was alive and missing.  Because you can do that after twenty years: in your mind.  You can reconstruct it, like it should be.”  The episode’s most powerful and disturbing message is left unspoken.  The man who hated his son knew his limitations better than anyone; the man who wanted to liberate his untapped potential didn’t.  Whitfield saw in Jason the illusion of independence and allowed him to go off on his own, without which he would still be alive: another form of condescension towards the disabled, like those he attacked.  This recalls the exchange between Carver and Roach in ‘Alarms and Embarrassments’, when the latter objects to the former trying to nursemaid a victim with cerebral palsy and declares that disability is a misfortune, not a privilege.  Besides shoring up the regular characters and the life of the station, Christopher Russell’s mammoth toll of fifty-seven episodes enabled him to examine the entire spectrum of human life – including the bits that we don’t like to think exist.

With Barry Appleton having left the previous year, the old guard begins to fade away.  One who did so temporarily, and is sorely missed during Series 9, is JC Wilsher, who was understandably busy with his own project for the other side.  Like Russell, Wilsher could always steer the show back to a benchmark of quality if it was drifting a little.  Come the end of 1993 that role is taken by Edward Canfor-Dumas.  In ‘Nothing Ventured’, Haines gets a lead on an LSD factory run by a big-time importer he has pursued for years.  He calls in his old mate from the Drugs Squad, DCI Grant, who is now with the Regional Crime Squad – but Meadows spoils the reunion, insisting that he go speak to a key witness who is refusing to testify in an assault trial.  “You’re a divisional DI, you’re not a Drugs Squad officer.  And to be quite frank, once you’ve briefed the RCS you’re going to be redundant anyway.  They’re going to want lads from the station who know the ground.  You haven’t been here that long, have you?”  There’s an element of malice from Meadows that we see with the next DI: if he’s going to be busted down and relegated to a backwater, then his subordinates are going to share that feeling, excluded from all the plum jobs.  While a sulking Haines is sent off on his errand, the RCS team conduct a mob-handed raid on the factory, reminiscent of the big action set-pieces from the early days; it’s a reminder that this kind of energy has been missing in the show of late.  Back at the station, as the troops celebrate, Grant assures Haines that “your governor’s decision was… not one I’d have made.”  He has a vacancy for a DI that needs to be filled yesterday.  Haines is doubtful that he can square it, but is reminded that he still has friends at area.  His mind is made up by another chat with Meadows.  “We’ve both been through the mill, senior ranking officers wondering whether we’re bent.  The only difference is at the end, you went down a peg and I went up one.”  “With a little help from your friends.”  “I’m not disputing that.  I’m just wondering whether you’re so scared of coming down another notch, you’ll never put yourself on the line again.”  “I think you’d better go and have your drink, Harry.  Calm you down.” 

But it’s Meadows who is soon in need of calming.  At a press briefing, Brownlow gets word from Commander Hughes that Haines is being headhunted for the RCS drugs wing.”  “What?  He’s only been here five minutes!  Do I have any choice?” he murmurs as he realises that the push is coming right from the top.  Meadows later points out that he could have said no.  “And leave you with a disgruntled DI?  Not to mention various people less than pleased at area and above.”  “But it’s outrageous!  How the hell am I meant to run the shop, if they keep nicking DIs from under my nose?  Why don’t they just tell Sheehy they can clear everybody out between the Commander and the bloke on the street if he wants?  And let area get on with it, if they’re so keen on jerking the bloody strings!”  Meadows pops into the local to bitch at Grant: “Pleased with yourself?  Only four million quid of LSD’s not enough for you, is it?  You have to nick my DI as well.”  “Don’t know if anyone’s informed you, Jack, but Harry doesn’t exactly belong to you.”  Pearce and Carver are told that they are about to lose their governor.  “Are we jinxed or what?” complains Jim.  “Don’t worry,” says Danny, who can scent another opportunity in the distance.  “We’ll survive.”  Meadows tells Haines that he stuck his neck out for him.  “Not far enough.”  “Well, good luck with your new friends.  I hope they last this time.”  As the first year of this new format draws to a close, the standard remains high but the show feels rather directionless.  The overall impression is of a programme that’s hit upon a winning formula and can execute it with competence, yet badly needs an injection of Magic.  Fortunately, this was just around the corner.