History of The Bill

History of The Bill

The History of "The Bill" is a long and varied one, and many things have happened in the programme's 23 year run.


"The Bill" started as a one-off drama for ITV entitled "Woodentop" which was broadcasted at 21:00 on 16 August, 1983. This one-off drama was centered around Mark Wingett as new PC Jim Carver on his first day on the beat at Sun Hill police station, where he also befriended PC June Ackland (Trudie Goodwin). It was originally devised by Geoff McQueen, and it impressed ITV so much that they decided to launch a series based on it. Both original characters, Ackland and Carver, left "The Bill" for good in March 2007.

1984-1987 - The Originals

The first proper episode of "The Bill" was transmitted at 21:00 on 16 October 1984. From the pilot episode the actors who portrayed the characters of Carver, Ackland, Litten and Morgan (now renamed Edwards but outwardly the same character) were retained. The character DI Roy Galloway was retained from the pilot but was recast, and now played by new actor John Salthouse. Several new characters were shown for the first time, including Sergeant Bob Cryer. The first episode also features an appearance by Christopher Ellison playing DS Frank Burnside (although his first name here is Tommy). The Sub Divisional Officer was Chief Superintendent Charles Brownlow.

The original format was episodes with a duration of fifty minutes. Thirty-five episodes were produced over the first three seasons of "The Bill". These are known as 'the originals' Fact|date=January 2008.

The Bill's production base changed from the first two series where it was filmed in Wapping, East London, due to an industrial dispute at an adjoining plant. Filming for the third series went ahead in Ladbroke Grove in West London, in March 1987. The location of the set would later change again, in 1989 where they moved into the current production base in Merton, South London.

These early 50-minute shows were broadcast after the watershed time, allowing for more gritty content that frequently featured nudity, drug use and brutal violence on-screen. Many of the officers would also smoke and liberally swear.

The tone of the early series stuck very close to the realistic depiction of police life, with Geoff McQueen's credo being very much that it focus on the mundane and the ordinary aspects of working at a police station, although the case work was often hard-hitting and gritty all the same. The investigations in the episodes would vary from muggings and domestics to bomb scares, pornography rings, child mollesters, drugs raids and armed robberies. Where other police drama series would tend to focus on major murder investigations, The Bill at this stage was a series proud to focus on the paperwork afterwards.

1988-1998 - Change to the half-hour format

After the conclusion of the 1987 series, the decision was taken to drastically change the format. As of 19 July, 1988, "The Bill" was broadcast all year-round, and instead of one 50-minute episode, two 25-minute episodes would air every week. Contrary to popular belief, although it was produced and broadcast in a manner more familiar to serialised television, most of the episodes were still stand alone stories, with each story rounded up in the half-hour time. The series was moved to an earlier 20:00 time slot, and as such the swearing and violence was toned down to a greater extent. Focus would now be given to telling compelling stories, although there was still a major focus on the mundane nature of police life.

The series continued relatively unchanged, except for the cast. In January 1993, three half-hour episodes were shown each week.

Throughout this era, the focus of the show remained broadly the same: very much focused on police work, with very few personal stories for the characters unless they were on their way out. Episodes would often feature interesting crimes which were wrapped up by the end of the episode. A common plot feature would be an episode following two incidents in parallel that started off seemingly unrelated would end up directly related. The twist was usually in how.

Character deaths were a rare occurrence on "The Bill" throughout the first 15 years or so. The first known death of an officer was that of PC Ken Melvin in May 1990, who was killed after a booby-trapped car blew up in the station yard. This was later followed in March 1993 by the death of DC Viv Martella, who was shot and killed by armed robbers. It was this episode, "The Short Straw", which clocked "The Bill's" highest ever viewing figures - 17.5 million viewers tuned in to watch it.

By 1995, however, there were already moves to bring the series into a more serialised style. In a three-part storyline WPC June Ackland was the target of a hitman, which concluded with the death of DS Jo Morgan. The following episode ("Damage Limitation"), mainly dealt with June's reaction to Jo's death. But on the whole the format in this period remained remarkably consistent.

The 1998 Revamp

The second major revamp of the show took place in 1998, as Richard Handford took over as Executive Producer of the show from Michael Chapman. Handford had worked variously on the series in the capacity of Line Producer since 1992, and had an intimate understanding of how the series format had been used in the past. This said, the show's focus was altered so that interactions between the officers became as important as the solving of crimes. The look of the show was also updated. A rule implemented at the start of the series, was that stories would follow only the work of the officers, and not feature their outside life (unless directly linked to their work). As the series has progressed, through its several revamps, this rule has gradually been relaxed. The old titles were thrown out entirely, in favour of new opening titles featuring images of generic police things: dayglo jackets, hats, a suspect being interviewed, and a map in CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) among other things. The theme tune was also completely revamped, with a change from the original irregular time signature of 7/8. Episodes moved to being 1 hour long later in 1998, though for quite a while the times & days the episodes were shown varied, along with the number of episodes a week (for a period in spring 2002, only one episode was shown a week), but by late 2002, it had finally settled at 20:00 on Wednesdays & Thursdays, which is still the case as of CURRENTMONTHNAME CURRENTYEAR.

In late 2000, Handford made sweeping changes to the cast. Chief Superintendent Brownlow (Sun Hill's first Sub-Divisional Officer) was removed and replaced by the smooth, enthusiastic Superintendent Tom Chandler. Chief Inspector Conway was also removed, killed of by a carbomb shortly before the main raft of sweeping changes took place.

Nearly the whole of CID was replaced, following the explosive exit of DS Don Beech (Billy Murray), who always bent the rules slightly. Beech finally crossed the line — lying in court in exchange for a £20,000 bribe paid by a gangland boss. CIB became aware of his corrupt activities and placed undercover officer DS Stanton at Sun Hill to expose him. Beech came undone when his relationship with arch villain Fallon spiralled out of control. Beech killed fellow CID officer DS John Boulton, who was in a relationship with DS Stanton at the time, during a fight as Boulton was close to exposing his corrupt activities. So he fled to foreign climes (which led to a one off special, "Beech on the Run", which was filmed exclusively in Australia, home to one of "The Bill"'s largest audiences, and his own six part series "Beech is Back").

PC Eddie Santini also appeared in the dock, charged with murder. He was acquitted (although he had killed the victim accidentally) but was later shot dead in cold blood by another corrupt officer.

More changes followed in 2001, as Sgt Bob Cryer was forced into early retirement by an accidental shooting — the perpetrator was the now Duty Sgt Dale Smith, at that time assigned to SO19. He was replaced by Duty Sgt Craig Gilmore. PC Des Taviner arrived as the new Area Car Driver: he was to form an odd-couple friendship with long-standing PC Reg Hollis that would provide some of the series' greatest moments. The titles were changed again to include static cast photographs and the music was remixed to take it back closer to the 1988 Pask/Morgan mix of "Overkill". The series was also shot in Widescreen ratio for the first time.

Also, a new trend emerged: no more would cases be solved in 25 or 50 minutes: now, they spanned many episodes, and quite often a minor offence dealt with by Uniform a few weeks ago would re-appear as part of the major case in CID.

erial Format (2002)

In late 2001 Handford left the show, with his last on-screen credit as producer on the episode "Set in Stone" in January 2002. Chris Parr (who at the time was Head of Drama at talkbackTHAMES) temporarily took over as executive producer until Paul Marquess was appointed. Marquess, unlike Handford, had never worked on the series before and was more famous for helming the soap opera "Brookside". As soon as Marquess took over, there was a complete revamp of the show's cast, format and formula. The series adopted its now familiar serial format, with episode titles dropped. The last episode to have its own given title was "Set in Stone", broadcast on 31st of January 2002. There followed a six-part storyline which had no on-screen title but is familiarly known as "Quinnan" (for the character who leaves in its duration, PC Dave Quinnan). The first to use the new format was #001, broadcast on 28th of February 2002. As of 2006 there have been over 400 episodes using the new numbering system.

The new serialised format allowed for storylines to continue indefinitely, with no need for an immediate resolution. This allowed for more prolonged story arcs. In the first of these, six officers were killed in an explosion negligently caused by PC Des Taviner in April 2002 - Insp. Andrew Monroe, PC Sam Harker, PC Di Worrell, PC Ben Hayward, DC Kate Spears and DC Paul Riley. PC Taviner would escape for two years before finally being forced to face the music. There was also the decision not to replace the Chief Inspector, a rank that Marquess found desk-bound and boring, following the murder of Chief Inspector (Operations) Derek Conway (although there is still a space in the station carpark marked 'CI Ops'). In some recent episodes a memorial plaque to this long serving character can still be seen outside the police station.

On 30 October 2003, a LIVE episode of "The Bill" was broadcast from its South Wimbledon, London studio to mark the show's 20th year on air, directed by Sylvie Boden and produced by Susan Mather. The episode was transmitted in Australia on 19 June 2004.

While the series remained fairly grounded in the early days of the new serial format, gradually more sensational and soapy storylines were introduced, many of these aimed to boost the show's ratings. The earliest of these took place in 2002 where viewers witnesed a gay kiss between PC Luke Ashton and Sgt. Craig Gilmore. More of these particular scenes would follow, for example with the lesbian kiss between DS Debbie McAllister and DC Juliet Becker. The show later went on to tackle homosexual marriage in the police force, with the partnership registry of PC Lance Powell and Sgt. Mark Rollins in 2005. "The Bill" under Marquess featured a male on male rape storyline in 2003, where the victim was DC Mickey Webb, and later in 2005 Sgt. June Ackland revealed she was raped in her teens by a 13 year-old boy. Other sensational aspects of the show were the manner in which characters were killed off - such as the death of PC Cass Rickman at the hands of a serial killer, and that of Superintendent Tom Chandler who shot himself after raping his wife DS Debbie McAllister. Chandler was replaced by Adam Okaro, a black Superintendent played by Cyril Nri. The misguided PC Gabriel Kent became the most prominent character in the darker and sensational storylines, joining the series in early 2003 and lasting out the remainder of the Marquess era as an increasingly unhinged individual. Arguably the most controversial storyline during the Marquess period was the relationship between PC Kent and what viewers assumed was his birth mother, Sgt. June Ackland. PC Kent often stretched viewer credibility with the crimes which he was willing to commit in order to keep his secrets, including deliberately killing his colleague PC Kerry Young while managing to avoid the evidence ever pointing back to him.

Another sensational storyline of Marquess's tenure came when the station suffered another explosion in February 2005, three years after the previous, this time caused by disaffected PCSO Colin Fairfax, who drove a van into the front of the station, killing DC Ken Drummond, (who was in the back of the van), SRO Marilyn Chambers and PC Andrea Dunbar (an undercover journalist). A few months after the episode aired, Paul Marquess was signed away by Endemol, the makers of Big Brother, to head their new drama division. His replacement was Johnathan Young, whose name has appeared on the credits since September 2005.

2005 & Beyond

Johnathan Young's retooling of the programme has led to noticeable changes in "The Bill". Whilst personal storylines remain, they are of less abundance than before, and more time is spent on crime-based stories. Sensational storylines have also been dropped since Young took over. The deaths of officers are far less frequent and the focus of the more dramatic storylines is largely on the crimes being dealt with, and not on the personal lives or conduct of the officers. Arguably the most memorable storyline of the Young era so far was DC Zain Nadir's undercover operation.

Although the serial format remains in place, the storylines are generally more self-contained and are often dealt with in two or three episode blocks. An example of this might be the recent "Closing The Net" two-part storyline and "Witness", a storyline which spanned out over eight episodes . The Bill has more frequently featured self-contained episodes, focusing on one or more crime storylines wrapped up in one hour. In this way, the programme more closely resembles the earlier period helmed by Richard Handford.

Under Johnathan Young's tenure, a second live episode was broasdcast on 22 September, 2005 to mark the ITV Network's 50th anniversary. The episode was written by Graham Mitchell and, again, co-produced and directed by Sylvie Boden.

On the 3 January, 2007 to bring in the new year, the episode opening titles were revamped once again, paying homage to the original 1984 titles. The 2007 ones have shots of London, interspersed with police work and shots of Sun Hill Police Station. The break bumpers and music were also updated.

Because of the more compact and less serialised format adopted under Johnathan Young, episode titles were reintroduced, beginning with Episode # 490 which was titled "Sweet Revenge" - broadcast on 21 March, 2007. A spokesperson for the programme commented on how the titles summed up the 'essence' of an episode.


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