WPC Ackland and PC Carver, out on their beat.
"Sierra One from Sierra Oscar"...
Britain's longest running police drama (1983 pilot called "Woodentop", then a regular series which ran from 1984 until 2010), The Bill
told the story of A-Relief, one of the regular shifts in the divisional police station of Sun Hill, located in the fictional borough of Canley, East London. The series followed both uniform and plain clothes officers — though the storylines were usually skewed more towards the uniform branch — as they investigated crimes around "the manor". These crimes could be anything from high-end drug deals and gun running, right down to petty shoplifting, or relatively minor domestic squabbles between neighbours.
Originally a Police Procedural
whose strict aim was to show the dull minutiae of policing, its modus operandi was not unlike that of Hill Street Blues
. The use of long single camera takes
, shooting the series on raw videotape rather than glossy film, and the ubiquitous use of SteadiCam
gave viewers a genuine insight into what it must be like to work inside a real police station. The series became widely seen as a Crime Time Soap
as the years went on, however, especially after Paul Marquess took over as Executive Producer in 2002. Marquess left the series in 2005, after which the show moved considerably back towards being a Police Procedural
It began as a series of twelve Dramatic Hour Long
teleplays in the literal sense of the word - the original pilot episode was written as a one-off televised "play for today", and there was no immediate intention
of creating a series out of it. It switched to half hour long
episodes in 1988 following network pressure
, and it was in this format that it became widely known. However, in 1998 it changed back to hour long
episodes again, whereafter it reformatted itself to become a Television Serial
. Its this kind of flexibility to change and adapt with the times that had been largely attributed to its long term success. From 1988 to 2009 it ran throughout the year with approximately 90 episodes per annum (mostly two per week, but other major TV events, i.e. football, Britain's Got Talent
or award shows meant that many weeks had just one), a rate of production matched in the UK only by the major soaps. This might be a large reason why it eventually came to be regarded as a soap opera, even before the more soap orientated plotlines
started to come into effect later in its life.
For most of its life the show went out at 8pm, before the Watershed
- which had affected specific on-screen content. However, in 2009 it was moved to a once weekly 9pm slot, which meant a cut in episode numbers per year to about 50, and an increase in the amount of violence it may show on-screen. It also ditched the classic Theme Tune
, added a "film effect" filter over the action (as part of a move to broadcast it in high definition for the first time), and acquired regular background incidental music, although Narmish
examples had occasionally appeared in some past episodes. The overall effect was described by some as making things feel a little too CSI
The series had been suffering a gradual decline in its viewing figures (especially after the timeslot change), and its long-term future was seen as uncertain, especially after it was dropped from terrestrial TV in Scotland as part of a broader problem with STV, the Scottish version of ITV
. Its cancellation was announced on 26 March 2010, and the show ended in September of that year. In the same year, The BBC's equivalent Long Runner
, the sitcom Last of the Summer Wine
(actually a decade older than The Bill
) was also announced to be ending, bringing the end of an era of British television to many (and, if you count in the end of the American Long Runner Law & Order
, this gets global).This show is notable for:
- Predating The West Wing in using the Walk and Talk.
- The "plodding feet" closing sequence, used between 1984 and 1998.
- Virtually every British TV actor having appeared in it at some point, before or after reaching the big time (this list includes a pre-fame Keira Knightley, Sean Bean, James McAvoy, David Tennant, and Catherine Tate).
- Its stupendously high rate of major character death, especially by murder, and even more so after 2002 (31+ deaths in 23 years, including six in a fire at Sun Hill police station in 2002 and another three when a van filled with petrol plowed into the front office in 2005 — Sun Hill is one Dangerous Workplace). See the Character Sheet for the series for a complete list of Sun Hill's fatal casualties, and the way in which they were killed off. In fact, in the shows 23 years of airing, 71 British police officers were killed in real life, making Sun Hill ridiculously dangerous by comparison.
Has two spin-off series: the short-lived Burnside
starring the popular detective character Frank Burnside, and the slightly-longer-lived Murder Investigation Team
Frequent tropes seen in The Bill include:
Tropes that The Bill averts:
- British Brevity: It clocked up more than 3000 episodes during its 27 year run.
- Doubling For London: In 27 years, it continued to film in the capital, even after other London set series had moved production to other (cheaper) places.
- Hot Scientist: Completely averted with Eddie, who is obese (and happily so).
- Limited Advancement Opportunities: Averted very much. Several characters have moved up from PC to Sergeant over the years, with Dale Smith moving from PC all the way up to Inspector as of 2009.
- Superintendent Jack Meadows was actually introduced as a Detective Superintendent way back in 1990, and was only subsequently demoted back to Detective Chief Inspector (on grounds of "lack of supervision" of a corrupt officer under his command). He had made several unsuccessful attempts to regain promotion over the years, before finally being re-promoted back to Superintendent in 2009 (albeit in the uniform branch, rather than the CID).
- It was played straight once or twice. Sergeant Cryer turned down promotion. His short tenure as a plain clothes officer ended with him deciding it wasn't where he wanted his career to go, and opting to go back to his old job in uniform where he felt more comfortable. Similarly, PC Tony Stamp remained a PC for his entire 26 year time on the series by choice, deliberately refusing any attempts to promote him because he prefered being near the sharp end of policing.
- Necro Cam: Completely averted, even with denouements.
- One Steve Limit: In a rare example of this trope being averted, between 1988 and 1989, there were actually two characters named Anthony: PC Tony "Yorkie" Smith, and PC Tony Stamp.
- Three-Wall Set: Consciously averted. The producers converted a building into a complete mock-up police station, which allows plenty of opportunity for one-take Walk and Talk scenes.
- Following the show's conclusion, the set (along with the other standing ones for the show) remains intact and available for hire in what is now Wimbledon Studios.
- The War on Terror: The two plots involving terrorism post-2001 turned out to be, respectively, a Far Right attempt to stir up racial hatred and a Mad Bomber.