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Series / The Bill

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WPC Ackland and PC Carver, out on their beat.
"Sierra One from Sierra Oscar"...

Britain's second longest running police drama (1983 pilot called "Woodentop", then a regular series which ran from 1984 until 2010) after the Scottish series Taggart note , 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", which aired as part of the anthology series Storyboard, 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, e.g. 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 could 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-like.

The series had been suffering a gradual decline in its viewing figures (especially after the time-slot 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. After the 2009 Retool failed to turn things around, its cancellation was announced on 26 March 2010, and the show ended in August 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).

In April 2021 it was reported that a Reboot under the name Sun Hill (for licensing reasons) was in development, but it has not yet been picked up by any network.

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, Catherine Tate, and Idris Elba).
  • 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 ploughed 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 show's 23 years on the air, around 71 British police officers were killed in real lifenote , making Sun Hill ridiculously dangerous by comparison.

Spawned 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:

  • The Alcoholic: Jim Carver, beginning with the storyline where he was forced to transfer back to Uniform.
  • Alliterative Name: Polly Page, George Garfield, Honey Harman, Suzie Sim.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The final episode ends this way, following Smithy and Callum as they leave the station, passing (amid the rest of the cast either leaving for the day or staying late at Sun Hill) Jo Masters and Leon Taylor being called to some trouble and other officers bringing some arrested drunks into the station.
  • Anyone Can Die: To the point of being a bit silly, actually; real-life British police forces don't suffer casualties like this outside of Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles.
  • Artifact Title: 'The Old Bill' was a common slang term for the police, especially during the 1970s and 1980s. But it's not heard so much anymore.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comparison: From "Confessions of a Zookeeper", courtesy of Dion Barrie, a boxer participating in a charity lock-up in the Sun Hill cells.
    Dion: If I had to choose between being trapped in a small space with a tattooed psychopath and going to prison, I'd choose the ring every time.
  • Bathroom Stall Graffiti: One episode features someone writing a lot of rude things about Hollis in the toilets. It's the cleaner, who needs the overtime.
  • Boot Camp Episode: several times, mostly involving one or two of the regular characters going back to Hendon Academy for further training (an advanced driving course, a firearms refresher course, a crowd control course, etc.).
  • Bottle Episode: Fairly common in the early years, with a few episodes focusing on the more mundane aspects of a police station, though not so common in the later years.
  • The Bridge: The various incarnations of Sun Hill's Computer Aided Dispatch/Integrated Borough Operations room serve the same function as this trope, complete with an equivalent to The Captain (the duty Sergeant), as well as various Bridge Bunnies (of either gender) using headsets to answer emergency calls and to direct the officers who are out and about on the beat to go to the scene of a crime. One episode from the early 1990s even took place entirely within the confines of the C.A.D. room, with all the "action" taking place entirely off-screen (or heard over the radio system). It was much better than it sounds.
  • British Coppers
  • Bury Your Gays: Most of the gay regulars left via death (Lance Powell and Juliet Becker) or serious injury (Craig Gilmore and Gemma Osbourne). Jo Masters survived by not being prominently lesbian. On the other hand, many of the straight regulars left via death or serious injury as well.
  • The Bus Came Back: Quite a few characters returned for guest appearances after leaving the show, among them Charles Brownlow, Don Beech, Ted Roach, Steve Loxton and George Garfield. For a while Burnside was Commuting on a Bus. In a rarer example, Luke Ashton returned after an absence of several years and became a regular character again.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Good guys example, they deal with too many people to remember everyone they checked was alright after a robbery. Most of those people remember it a lot better.
  • Butt-Monkey: Nick Slater's over-enthusiasm often made him vulnerable to practical jokes.
  • By-the-Book Cop: In early episodes the characters were largely defined by their attitudes to the 1984 PACE act. Chief Inspector Conway and DS Greig were notable adherents to the guidelines. Inspector Monroe and Sgt Cryer were also textbook examples. See Cowboy Cop for their opposites at Sun Hill.
  • Car Meets House: In the 1986 episode "The Chief Super's Party". DS Ted Roach was behind the wheel (and under the influence).
  • Character Development: And a lot of it too. It's very easy to forget that when Inspector Dale Smith was first introduced as a PC in 1999, Smith was portrayed as a bigot and a bully, brought into the show mainly to shake up the existing cast dynamic. He eventually left to join (as it was called then) SO19, the Armed Response dudes of the Met, and managed to end Bob Cryer's career by an unfortunate gunshot. When he returned as a regular character and a sergeant in 2003, Dale Smith was generally shown to be a very moral and sympathetic character, and certainly by the time it was axed in 2010 he had more or less become the de facto "star" of the series.
  • Chase Scene: Given its supposed depiction of "genuine police work", the series often avoids doing over-the-top car chases, with officers often stopping a chase if things look dangerous. However, one notable episode from 1994 titled "Instant Response" is, effectively, a car chase which lasts for an entire episode, shown mainly in one-take scenes shot from the back seat of the police vehicle. That said, foot chases are ubiquitous in this show, as in Once per Episode. Officer will walk towards suspect, who will then try to leg it, with varying results.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Even some prominent characters like DI Galloway vanished without an exit story or any explanation of what had happened to them.
  • The City Narrows: The (fictional) setting of the series is based on London's poorest borough. How much the episode in question portrays this on screen Depends on the writer, to the extent where Sun Hill can be relatively middle class at times; and nothing short of a lawless Wretched Hive at others. Intentionally or otherwise, this is perfectly realistic for London; a thoroughly insalubrious-looking Council Estate and a row of ruinously expensive townhouses can be separated by less than half a mile.
  • Cliffhanger: At the end of every single episode broadcast between 2002 and 2007, the period in its history when it was very heavily serialised.
  • Clumsy Copyright Censorship: Sadly, the Region 2 (UK) DVD releases of older episodes appear to suffer from this. The episode "Snout", for example, originally opened with DI Burnside listening to Every Breath You Take by The Police, on his car radio while driving to work. He even sings along (badly) to the chorus of the song. Both the licensed song, and the overlay of Burnside's singing it, are missing on the Region 2 DVD, redubbed with a cover version of same.
  • Code Name: All uniform officers have a radio call sign beginning "Sierra Oscar" followed by the number on their epaulettes, except for the Inspector (who is Sierra Oscar One) and the Superintendent (Sierra Oscar Five-Two).
  • Commuting on a Bus: DC Lennox transferred to MIT partway through 2002, but continued appearing at Sun Hill until early the following year, thanks to the serial killer investigation.
  • Compilation Movie: The earliest commercial releases of the half-hour episodes on VHS videotape were almost exclusively made up of compilations of two or three episodes edited into a single "movie". Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
  • Cowboy Cop: Sun Hill had more than its fair share over the years, among them DI Burnside, DS Boulton, DS Beech and Sgt Boyden.
  • Crime Time Soap: For much of the Paul Marquess era.
  • Crossover: For the 25th anniversary, the show did a crossover with German cop show SOKO Leipzig.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: 1999's "A Night to Forget" and "A Day to Remember".
  • Da Chief: Several characters have this role. DCI Superintendent Jack Meadows and DI Manson in particular, and Chief Inspector Conway.
  • Dangerous Workplace: One non-fiction work dryly commented that "Sun Hill has a hearse permanently parked in the station carpark", due to the high instances of character deaths in the Crime Time Soap era.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Jo Masters.
    • The legendary DCI Frank Burnside was the original deadpan snarker in the series. Just look at the quotes on this fansite to see what I mean.
      DCI Burnside: Charge her with being in possession of an offensive mouth.
  • Death Faked for You: Don Beech does it in Beech On The Run.
  • Delivery Guy: In one episode, socially awkward PC Reg Hollis happens to be the one on hand to help a pregnant when she goes into labour and winds up being the one to deliver the baby. He actually does an excellent job, and the parents considered naming the child after him, except it was a girl. And they didn't really take to Hollis' suggestion of 'Regina'.
  • Delivery Guy Infiltration: In "Death Of A Nobody", John Boulton gets kidnappers to open their front door by delivering pizza.
  • Desk Jockey: The entire purpose of the various Superintendents and Chief Inspectors seen in the series. Only seldom do they leave the office and "get involved" in cases, and usually a big fuss is made out of it when they do. The decision to kill off the character of Chief Inspector Conway after 14 years was made when a new producer came in and decided that Conway didn't really have a dramatic function to play in the series... his role was too desk bound.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Matt Hinckley, Emma Keane's ex. Will Fletcher was the Only Sane Man to spot him.
  • Dirty Cop:
    • Don Beech took bribes, planted evidence, deliberately botched investigations and eventually killed John Boulton in a fight.
    • Ted Roach tried to stitch up a suspect who beat a rap in "By Hook Or By Crook".
  • Dirty Harriet: Not counting Cathy Bradford, some of the females spend a suspicious amount of time pretending to be streetwalkers for surveillance reasons.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male:
    • In "Sweet Sixteen", Rod Skase gets overpowered by a gang of women, who tie him up and yank his trousers down. It's Played for Laughs and the entire relief mock him for it. Suffice to say, the incident would have been treated a lot differently had a group of men done that to a female officer.
    • In "Playing Away", a 15 year old boy is discovered in a sexual relationship with a 35 year old woman. The gender-swapped version would be considered Jailbait Taboo and sexual assault, as 15 is below the age of consent in the UK, but most of the relief find it funny and they decide not to press charges, noting that the CPS would probably not be interested anyway. Monroe states that there isn't even much they could charge her with, as at the time the offense of underage sexual intercourse did not apply to underage boys.
  • Downer Ending: A particular trope that the series used to be fond of back when it started. The key thing was to show that the police don't always win, and more often than not an episode would end with two officers drowning their sorrows in the local pub, after a case they've been working on has gone belly-up. Later seasons still kept downer endings in play for certain storylines, but usually opted for slightly more uplifting bittersweet endings instead.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Emma Winifred Keane, Reginald Percival Hollis.
  • Fair Cop: A good portion of the cast, but especially Louisa Lytton, who was about 18 and looked closer to 15. Somewhat ironically, one of things which was originally lauded about the series by the critics was that it didn't cast "good looking actors" as the cops.
  • Fake Defector: DC Zain Nadir had a long story arc posing as a Dirty Cop to infiltrate a criminal organisation, before Becoming the Mask out of love for one of its leaders, Kristen Shaw. But after her involvement with the death of PC Honey Harman, his conscience caught up with him and he hesitated on escaping with Kristen long enough for them to get caught.
  • Faking the Dead: Des Taviner pulled this when he was about to be exposed for his role in the 2002 Sun Hill Fire, before being caught in early 2004. Don Beech also did it to avoid capture.
  • First-Name Basis: Senior officers typically refer to their subordinates by their first name.
  • Flash Back: generally averted until the 2009 retool.
  • Football Hooligans: Most recently in the episode "Great Power".
  • Forced Addiction: One episode features them facing a vicious pimp, who deliberately gets teenage girls addicted to heroin so that he can force them into prostitution for him.
  • Fun with Acronyms: As a prank, Tony tells PC Luke Ashton that a visiting inspector is from the "Area Recruitment/Secondment Exercise," which checks up on probationers like himself, and encourages him to ask about it.
  • Generic Cop Badges: Averted since it's allowed to use real London Metropolitan Police decals and badges. This is a relatively recent development, however; in the early days, the series was rather less sympathetic in its portrayal of the Met, and relations between them and the showrunners rather less cordial.
  • Gentle Giant: Eddie the crime scene examiner.
  • Geographic Flexibility: It's not unknown for two scenes showing the area car racing through the streets to be filmed in two entirely different locations, miles from each other, but edited together in a way which clearly implies them as being right next to each other.
  • Ghost Extras: A particularly conspicuous offender (see trope page).
  • Giving Them the Strip: In "Someone Personal", Tony Stamp attempts to grab a burglar who is disappearing over a wall and ends up holding the offender's trousers.
  • The Great British Copper Capture: Happens at least once a month. At least twice, a gun has been produced inside Sun Hill nick. A running joke among fans of the show is that Smithy, having been in the army and in the CO19 armed police unit (and naturally, therefore, involved in most plotlines involving firearms) is something of a bullet magnet.
  • Halloween Episode: "Haunted". Stanton, Lennox and Proctor are doing an obbo at a creepy abandoned pumping station. Nothing much is happening, so they start sharing ghost stories.
  • Hello Again, Officer: In the episode "Killer On The Run", the episode begins this way.
  • House Fire: The Sun Hill police station burned down twice; both times allowing a revamped set and a turnover in cast.
    • In "Golden Opportunity" (2002), PC Des Taviner throws a Molotov Cocktail through the window of Inspector Monroe's office to destroy a counterfeit banknote that would prove he had stolen money off someone he had arrested. However, unbeknown to him, the decorators who are in the process of refurbishing the station have left all their equipment in Monroe's office - including two gas canisters. As Des throws the petrol bomb, the ensuing explosion engulfs the whole station. The explosion and resulting fire kills six officers and completely guts the station.
    • In "Confessions of a Killer", a disgruntled ex-PCSO crashes a van filled with containers of petrol into the station's front office. Although it initially fails to detonate, it is subsequently set off by a mobile phone. Two officers and a civilian receptionist die in the ensuing fire.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: Ruled out of an operation because it requires interaction with the gay community, PC Steve Loxton protests that he has "nothing against shirt-lifters".
  • The Infiltration: DS Claire Stanton, a CIB officer who goes undercover at Sun Hill to expose corruption.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: When DC Tom Proctor laments that he isn't the most intimidating copper around, WPC Vicki Hagen tries to assure him that he has other positive qualities, like sensitivity. Proctor responds with "Are you saying I'm a poof?"
  • Jerkass: Supt. Tom Chandler, PC Gabriel Kent, PCSO Colin Fairfax, PC Cathy Bradford and Insp. Brian Kite (to name a few).
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Sgt. Callum Stone. The only crime he was punished for was beating an innocent man who turned out to be having an epileptic fit, and even then he was only temporarily suspended. Same goes for his partners in crime Smithy, Sally and Ben.
    • Zigzagged with DS Don Beech. After killing Boulton he successfully fled to Australia, but was eventually apprehended by Stanton and sent to prison. However, he later escaped and wasn't heard from again.
  • The Lab Rat: Eddie the crime scene examiner.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Not so much these days, but in its earliest incarnation the series used cuts and inserts very sparingly indeed, and it wasn't uncommon for a single scene to last for upwards of three or four minutes without any kind of cutaway or edit.
  • Letterbox Arson:
    • In "Initative", Garfield and Young investigate when fireworks are shoved through a woman's letterbox.
    • In "Fire", an attempt is made on June Ackland's life by pouring petrol through her letterbox and lighting it.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: "Bouncy Bouncy" Jo Masters.
  • Live Episode: "Fatal Consequences" in 2003 (featuring the murder of Juliet Becker) and "The Anniversary Part 2" in 2005 (featuring a hostage situation at the station).
  • Living Prop: A lot of the background extras at the police station, who mostly exist to maintain a credibility to the setting (you will always see the same faces in every episode, even if they are only in the background). The production team even coined a phrase to describe these background actors: "TREV", which stands for 'Truly Reliable Extra Veteran'. Occasionally, a TREV would even be given a line of dialogue in an episode, allowing them to be the Spear Carrier for a day. They got a lot of airtime in the episode "A Night To Forget", when most of A-Relief were off-duty at Dave's stag night and Jenny's hen night. One of the most notable TREVs was Karen England, who "played" the female set of feet in the iconic title sequence from 1984 onwards, and who was still being seen in the background of episodes as late as 2000.
  • London Gangster: Long-running crime drama set in London? Masses and masses of them. The 1995 episode including actor Ray Winstone is a classic example.
  • Long-Runner Cast Turnover: Apart from a few exceptions, the original cast from 1984 managed (in one form or another) to survive nearly intact for a whole nine years, after which the departure of Jon Iiles as DC Mike Dashwood seemed to open the floodgates, and a raft of departures followed. That being said, at least a third of the original 1984 cast were still in the show as of the year 2000. A massive cast clear-out at that time removed some of them (notably Peter Ellis as the Chief Super Brownlow), while others followed in quick succession (Eric Richard as Bob Cryer, Mark Wingett as Jim Carver, Trudie Goodwin as Sergeant Ackland). Jeff Stewart, as PC Reg Hollis ended up being the last original cast member in the show, and he left in unfortunate circumstances in 2008.
  • Mood Whiplash: Episode 070 in late 2002 cuts back and forth between a Christmas party and talent contest called "Cop Idol", a subplot involving Nick Klein trying to get leverage on DS Phil Hunter (who had a hold on him because of his drug problem), a fairly light case for Tony Stamp and Gary Best, and Cass Rickman being abducted and tormented by the Canley River Murderer. The following episode continues this by cutting between a comic relief case involving a couple feuding over their pets, and Nick desperately searching for Cass, eventually finding her body.
    • Episode 307 in April 2005 cuts between Honey Harman and Scott Burnett's wedding (though the marriage didn't exactly end well), a light case involving a school football team, and Superintedent Okaro's wife and kids all getting killed in a horrific car accident.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: In the wake of the 2005 Sun Hill Fire, Inspector Gold asks the team to raise their glasses to the victims, "Ken and Marilyn. Good colleagues, and good friends. And Andrea as well." For context, PC Andrea Dunbar had been recently exposed as an undercover journalist.
  • My Local: The Canley Arms.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The first three seasons very explicitly took place in Tower Hamlets, and were actually filmed in and around those real-life locations. Industrial disputes at a nearby printing plant in 1986 led to the crew having to move to a location in North London instead, and Sun Hill was then rechristened as being in a fictional borough called 'Canley', where it has remained ever since.
  • Not as You Know Them: WPC Page was written out of the series in 2002, following her role in the 'Dave Quinnan' exit storyline. Then she was brought back a whole year later, having supposedly been "on leave" for all that time, only to immediately be plunged into a storyline where she committed murder and lost her job as a cop. And THEN she was brought back again a few months later as a "civilian" worker at the station, where what little dignity the character still had left was systematically removed, before she was finally dumped for good in early 2004. To anyone who grew up watching the optimistic and lovable WPC Page of 1992-2001, it was like we were watching the same actress playing a completely different person.
  • Not Listening to Me, Are You?: In "Section F", when Meadows is distracted by the promotion he's going for, DI Deakin gets his attention by telling him that Jim Carver loves wearing women's clothing.
  • Novelization: 6 compilation volumes of the TV scripts were written between 1984 and 1990, by author John Burke.
  • Oblivious Mockery: "Chinese Whispers" opens with PC Norika Datta struggling with her car in a parking lot and being helped by an old man, who goes off to buy the part she needs, and she reimburses him when he returns. When she gets to the station, Sgt Penny is briefing the relief about a conman who's been going around sabotaging cars and then "helping" the drivers in exchange for being "reimbursed". Datta immediately makes the connection and then has to listen to PC George Garfield laughing about how stupid someone would have to be to fall for that.
  • Office Romance: Claire Stanton and John Boulton, Jim Carver and June Ackland, Tom Chandler and Kate Spears.
  • Old-Fashioned Copper: Sergeant Bob Cryer was the Dixon of Dock Green type. DI Frank Burnside was the other kind.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Although it was once established that his given name was actually Alfred, DC Lines was usually referred to on-screen only by his nick-name, "Tosh".
  • On the Next: Became a regular part of the format (as in Once per Episode) in 1998. The 2009 revamp kept the end-of-episode trailer for "next week".
  • Oop North: Most notably in the episode "Cast No Shadow", set almost entirely in Manchester and its surrounds. Likewise, the two-part story "Thug On The Tyne" took place entirely in Newcastle.
  • Passed-Over Promotion: Chief Inspector Cato's reason for quitting in "Is That The Time?"
  • The Plan: Frequently employed by senior officers, particularly Sgt Smith & Gina Gold.
  • Platonic Prostitution: One episode revealed that Reg Hollis visits one, but only for someone to talk to (he pays her anyway).
  • Poor Communication Kills: DS Sam Nixon goes behind DC Jo Masters' back to talk to Seth Mercer, a supergrass who immediately figures out that she's a cop as well and gets furious with Jo for, however indirectly, compromising his identity (Sam only found out how to contact him through DC Best). Jo blows up at Sam for ruining her relationship with her informant, but Sam argues that Jo should have just told her upfront why Seth wouldn't trust anyone else.
  • Previously on…: Became a regular part of the format in 1998, approaching Once an Episode by 2002. The 2009 revamp stopped doing recaps of previous episodes.
  • Put on a Bus: Frequently. It was quite common in the old days for a character to simply vanish without even getting a departure storyline - the producers of the show apparently even had their own phrase for this: "they went to the stationery cupboard and didn't come back".
  • Rank Up: Happened to multiple characters over the course of the show, usually from PC to DC or PC to Sergeant. Occasionally inverted with sergeants or inspectors being demoted. Dale Smith went all the way from PC to Inspector.
  • Rearrange the Song: Many times over the course of 27 years. In 2009 it was finally decided to replace it with a completely different piece of music, rather than once again rearranging the one which had served it so well in its first 25 seasons. In the final episode, a new version of the old theme music, that was similar in tone and style to the new 2009 music played over the credits.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Plenty of instances throughout the series. One unexpected example occurs when June Ackland, of all people, is the first to tell Inspector Andrew Monroe exactly what the relief thinks of him:
    June Ackland: Since you took over this relief, you've established yourself as a petty-minded, rule-bound little Hitler with all the warmth and humour of a rusted up Dalek!
    • In "Section F", Conway lets loose on Brownlow after he blocks his latest attempt at promotion. "I was never good enough for you, was I? Wrong attitude, wrong image, wrong face. Well I'm sorry if I've got the wrong face, but at least I've only got one of them."
  • Recycled Title: Several times. There were two different episodes titled "Whose Side Are You On?" for example, broadcast nearly a decade apart from each other, each with an entirely different plot to the other. A complete list can be found here.
  • Remember the New Guy?: The vagaries of police appointments and postings - from newly recruited Constables to transferred Chief Inspectors - enabled many a cast change without explanation.
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: The first episode of the 2003 Spin-Off series Murder Investigation Team followed the titular team while investigating the murder of Sgt Matt Boyden, which occurred in the immediately preceding episode of The Bill two nights earlier. In addition to Boyden himself, the episode included requisite cameos from six of the then regular members of the parent series' cast (Gina Gold, Sam Nixon, Nick Klein, Ruby Buxton, and uncredited cameos from Gary Best and Honey Harman) as well as a few guest characters as suspects, and also the use of the regular Sun Hill police station sets and locations.
  • Retool: Many times over the course of its long lifespan, including its switch to half-hour episodes in 1988, its switch back to 50 minutes episodes with occasional multi-parters in 1998 and its switch to full-on serialization in 2002. The most recent retool was in 2009, beginning with the episode "Live By The Sword".
  • Revolving Door Casting: It has been revealed by one of the actors that they are only ever given six-month contracts at any one time before having those contracts renewed, so (in theory) major cast turnarounds could happen as regularly as half way through each broadcast year.
  • Right Behind Me: When DC Rod Skase talks to Inspector Monroe about using PC Debbie Keane in an undercover sting, he rejects his suggestion of June Ackland by saying that he needs someone who can appear young, attractive and naive and that June is no spring chicken. Monroe then looks over Rod's shoulder and asks June if he can help her with anything.
  • Rousing Speech: At the end of the final episode, Superintendent Meadows gives one about respect to the press, as a Take That! to the thugs and the warped gang culture and mentality they faced during the final story. And some would argue, as a Take That! from the production team to ITV... "Rousing speech" is given an ironic double meaning here, when you consider that the actor who played Supt Meadows was... Simon Rouse.
  • Run for the Border: In this case, usually London City Airport or the Eurostar Terminal.
  • Serial Escalation: After the production team retooled the series to become an ongoing serial from 2002 onwards, some of the storylines became exercises in this.
  • Serial Killer: A few of these cases, two of which led to the murders of main characters: Pat Kitson (killed six women, including PC Cass Rickman, who she saw as rivals for her brother's affections) and John Lord and Michael Keanan (targeted gay men, including PC Lance Powell.) Also serial rapists, such as DS Nixon's nemesis Alan Kennedy.
  • Shown Their Work: A lot of the earlier episodes are particularly realistic about the day-to-day minutiae of police work. One episode in particular (featuring little-remembered DS Alistair Greig interrogating a local hard case) was so accurate about technique that it was used to teach police cadets how to question suspects effectively.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Episode 324 ends with Smithy and Louise Larson having a heated argument over her refusal to sign a witness statement about her carjacking earlier that day when she suddenly kisses him and, after a moment, he kisses back.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Chief Inspector Cato's resignation letter was full of formally worded concerns about the future of the force, ending with "I therefore feel I have no choice but to submit my resignation, I trust that you will know where to stick it."
  • Spin-Off: The short-lived Burnside, and the slightly-longer-lived MIT: Murder Investigation Team. Whether Beech Is Back counts as a spinoff or simply as a slightly differently packaged set of regular episodes is up for debate.
  • Team Dad: Sgt. Bob Cryer to the uniform branch for the duration of his main time on the show, when Ken Melvin was killed he referred to him as 'one of my lads' while delivering a bollocking to the head of the anti-terrorist squad. DCI Jack Meadows to the CID branch, Meadows became something of one to both sides after his promotion to Superintendent.
  • Team Mom: PC/Sgt. June Ackland. In the episode "A Good Night Out", some of the characters debate whether she is more of a mother or a big sister figure to the team. Upon first meeting June, Insp. Gina Gold remarks on her established reputation as "Auntie June", "good ol' June" and "Saint June".
  • Television Geography: Play spot the Southwark street with this show. Or, if you know National Rail, spot the out-of-place train. Or, a scene clearly filmed south of the Thames.
  • Title Drop: a regular trope of the earliest episodes was that the episode title always popped up somewhere in the dialogue of that particular episode.
  • Transplant: Detective Constable Eva Sharpe was moved over to the Spin-Off series Murder Investigation Team during that programme's second (and, as it turned out, final) series.
  • Trash the Set: At least twice, but not always when the location had to be moved.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: DC Zain Nadir was first introduced as a drug dealer going by the name Adi Mateen, only later revealing he was undercover to save Lance Powell from being killed.
  • Walk and Talk:
    • Arguably an early pioneer, certainly as far as UK television is concerned.
    • The final shot of the show was one long walk through the station, with various characters popping in and out.
  • Wardrobe Wound: Viv Martella wears a really nice suit to celebrate her first day in CID. When she tears the skirt chasing a suspect, she is less than pleased.
  • Welcome Episode: The 1983 pilot episode takes this format, introducing Jim Carver to Sun Hill and policework in general.
  • Wham Line: One of the most famous in-universe examples was when Dave Quinnan had to confirm the identity of a body at an local industrial estate, to which Sgt. Boyden is stunned when he hears it:
    PC Dave Quinnan: Confirm there is a body at this location, it's DS Boulton
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Pretty much any officer of Sergeant or higher rank will be required to dish these out. A particularly glorious one comes from Meadows to DS Singh, after the latter gets into a bar fight with a racist extremist named Jeff Simpson, leading to inflamed racial tensions in the area, then keeps quiet about it even after multiple police officers had been attacked and Chief Inspector Conway murdered by a petrol bomb.
    Meadows: You know, whatever your colour, whatever your grievance, you let me down, you let your teammates down, you let the public down, you let Mr. Conway down. But you know the worst thing you did? You were weak enough to take a bit of dirt like Simpson seriously! And so far you've let him win! Do you know how far you have to carry that with you?
  • Written-In Absence: Surprisingly common, even with well known characters like Burnside, Tosh and Reg Hollis, who just got an after the fact explanation for their disappearance.
  • You Do Not Have to Say Anything:
    • "... but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say can (and probably will) be taken down and used in evidence."
    • The CID branch usually preferred the more concise "You're nicked, you slag!"
  • You Just Told Me: While investigating a warehouse burglary, DS Greig focuses his attention on an employee with an undisclosed criminal record (drug offences and credit card fraud), while promising him to keep it quiet as long as he's not involved in the break-in. However, the manager picks up on it.
    Salter: Why all the attention? Is it because of his criminal record?
    Greig: You know about that?
    Salter: I do now.
  • You Owe Me: DCI Meadows calls in a favour from someone at Scotland Yard to save himself from the cull of CID after the Don Beech scandal.

Tropes that The Bill averts:

  • British Brevity: It clocked up more than 2400 episodes during its 27 year run.
  • 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 preferred being near the sharp end of policing. Jim Carver was never recommended for promotion in his first 12 years in CID so, thanks to the tenure policy, had to return to being a uniformed constable. Finally averted later on when he returned to Sun Hill having had an off-screen promotion to DS.
  • 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 sets for the show) remained intact and available for hire in what is now Wimbledon Studios until 2013, when it was torn down.
  • You Taught Me That: Inspector Burnside gets a complaint from a judge when a female detective 'accidentally' reads out the accused former offenses in court. When Burnside tells her off for it, she points out that she learned that trick from Burnside.

"All units: go, go, go!"