One to Watch: To mark the return of The Bill to UKTV screens we celebrate its 27 year history looking at some of the memorable moments, characters and guest stars.
In 2010 after 27 years on-air The Bill departed ITV screens – cancelled by the broadcaster following a failed revamp, in the previous year, which aimed to turn the drama into a CSI style series. However at noon today UKTV channel Drama will return the show to television screens in its original format with the first episode.
For the first time ever since the original broadcasts, all 2,421 episodes will be shown in chronological order – and as well as being broadcast from the very beginning. Originating from police slang term ‘Old Bill’, The Bill was one of the UK’s longest-running TV series ever. It was highly-acclaimed by fans and critics, winning several awards including BAFTAs, a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain award and Best Drama at the Inside Soap Awards for four consecutive years. It was also broadcast in 55 different countries around the world.
The Bill is fondly-remembered by cast and TV industry colleagues alike as one of the first series to use hand-held cameras to follow the action in a documentary-style. This is a technique which is now commonly used across major US and UK drama series.
To mark Sun Hill being back on the beat ATV Today celebrates its 27 year history; looking at some of the memorable moments, characters and guest stars. We start off with just some of the many popular characters to have walked the beat of Sun Hill over nearly three decades.
Frank Burnside [Christopher Ellison] 1984 – 1993, appearing occasionally after.
Ask someone, of a certain age, to name a character from The Bill and chances are they’ll say Burnside. Frank Burnside was a tough-as-nails copper, who didn’t always follow the book to the word but was a decent copper, if not always likable, that got results. Burnside first appeared in The Bill in 1984 but didn’t become a regular until 1988. He often worked undercover, infiltrating various gangs and leading some to believe he was a corrupt officer working both sides. This was probably due to Burnside’s hard attitude and keeping his cards very close to his chest, not everyone trusted him and they were probably right not to. Burnside wasn’t corrupt but he could smell corruption and had worked, before arriving at Sun Hill, in a unit designed to smoke out corrupt officers. Burnside was a popular character with fans thanks to his ways and returned many times after leaving the show in 1993. The character was so popular that ITV commissioned a spin-off show for the character but it only ran for a season.
June Ackland [Trudie Goodwin] 1983 – 2007
June Ackland first appeared in The Bill in its original one-off drama format, Woodentop. In the drama Ackland was paired with new PC Jim Carver as they patrolled Sun Hill, June was just a WPC back then. Nowadays she’s probably better known for her years sporting Sergeant stripes. A sounding-board for her team, June also applied a sympathetic approach to the job.
For most of the time she kept her private life just that, private. But on a few occasions it became the source of station gossip, which pained June. Her affair with DCI Wray was one such occasion and her troubled marriage to Jim Carver another. Later her past came back to haunt her in the form of Gabriel Kent who wooed her and then masqueraded as her adopted son, before revealing he was actually the brother of said son. After many trials and tribulations, June left Sun Hill for the last time in 2007 after twenty four years at the station.
Gina Gold [Roberta Taylor] 2002 – 2008
Inspector Gold arrived at Sun Hill in 2002 shortly after five officers, including the previous Inspector, were killed in a race-related explosion and fire. Sun Hill’s new Inspector was an old-fashioned, tough talking, hard as nails woman who wasn’t about to take any crap from anyone. Inspector Gold quickly made herself feel right at home in Sun Hill and sussed out her officers very quickly. Although Sergeant June Ackland was widely popular, Gina referred to her mockingly as ‘Aunty’ June. Although in time Gina would come to respect June and appreciate her as a colleague. Gina famously told Sergeant Gilmore to put his ‘pink hat’ on and deal with a homophobic attack, Craig at first thought she was being homophobic herself but quickly found out she wasn’t. Gina didn’t mince her words or go in for political correctness.
Inspector Gold lasted five years at Sun Hill before deciding the time was right to move on. During that time she lost many of her officers and colleagues who were killed in the line of duty.
Jack Meadows [Simon Rouse] 1992 – 2010
Head of Sun Hill’s CID for many years, Jack survived many a scandal that rocked the station including the Don Beech saga and the suicide of Superintendent Tom Chandler. It was the Don Beech saga that really threatened to bring down his career, as it did with some of his colleagues, and he had to fight hard to curry favour with Superintendent Chandler whom he would later bring down after uncovering his murky past. Jack was a loyal officer to his colleagues and would back them all the way but if he was betrayed, he’d have no mercy. Women were a weakness for Jack; he allowed himself to be used by DS Debbie McAlister and dated Rachel Heath against his better judgement. Despite the rough times in his career, Jack eventually became superintendent.
Cathy Bradford [Connie Hyde] 2002 – 2004
Dangerously unstable and highly manipulative are words that just don’t do Cathy Bradford any justice. Cathy was very intelligent, fast thinking; cool under pressure, devious, cunning, manipulative and not beyond killing someone if they got in her way. When Cathy joined Sun Hill in 2002, after returning from Hong Kong, none of this was apparent. Cathy seemed to be a hard working, likable individual who knew how to have a laugh. So what changed? Cathy became utterly obsessed with fellow officer Brandon Kane.
Cathy accidentally murdered Brandon’s wife during an argument but was remorseless in covering her tracks and was later responsible for another murder. When Cathy’s lies began to unravel she attacked Roberta Cryer and kidnapped Brandon’s children, holding them hostage in Sun Hill’s boiler room. Finally Sun Hill realised what Cathy was really like and she was sectioned.
Luke Aston [Scott Neal] 1997 – 1999/2002 – 2003
When Luke first arrived at Sun Hill he was young and straight out of Police training, naive to the world but keen to learn. But his first stint at Sun Hill was a troubled one for Luke, witnessing a suicide on his first day. Later on he failed to stop an attack on PC Dale Smith, who Luke had issues with anyway and then failed to stop a suspect from killing himself. All of this took its toll on the youngster and he quit the force to go travelling. In 2002, a more confident Luke returned to Sun Hill and became involved with fellow PC Kerry Young, but little did she know that he was also attracted to Sgt Gilmore with whom he also became sexually involved.
Luke’s marriage proved neither happy nor enduring; and broke down following Craig’s departure from Sun Hill and Kerry discovering Luke was gay. When Dale Smith returned to Sun Hill in 2003, now as a Sergeant, the issues between them re-emerged especially as it was clear Dale fancied Kerry. Luke sank into depression as he struggled to deal with his sexuality or it being revealed to the other officers on the force. During an armed robbery Luke became suicidal and tried to get himself shot by the robbers. Kerry pleaded with him not to leave but it was the end of the line for Luke at Sun Hill.
Bob Cryer [Eric Richard] 1984 – 2001, occasional appearances after
If June Ackland was ‘Aunty June’ [as Inspector Gold dubbed her] then Sergeant Bob Cryer was “father bob”, taking on a fatherly role with his officers. Bob was a tough but fair sergeant who was well liked at Sun Hill and someone the officers felt safe with. If someone had a problem Bob or June were two of the people they could go to for advice and the two worked alongside each other well. Bob was an old school style officer who knew his patch well and could sense trouble a mile off. Bob knew the rounds, knew the criminals and knew who to respond to any given situation. He was well respected by his team and somewhat married to his job, but had a family outside of the station. Changing times at Sun Hill saw Bob sidelined and when he was accidentally shot new Superintendent Chandler had him invalided out of the force. But Bob returned following the fire at Sun Hill in 2002 and then on a few occasions after to help his niece, Roberta Cryer, who worked at Sun Hill for a while.
Polly Paige [Lisa Geoghan] 1992 – 2004
Poor old Polly Paige didn’t have life easy at Sun Hill during her time on the beat. Although dedicated to her job, hard working and sympathetic her love life was something of a car crash. Although Polly for years managed to keep her personal and work life separate they came crashing together when she fell for colleague Dave Quinnan. However, her brief relationship with Dave wasn’t a success and he transferred away from Sun Hill leaving Polly devastated. When the fireball ripped through the station in 2002 Polly was considering suicide and later confessed this to Sergeant Ackland – Polly was given leave to put her life back together. A year later Polly returned to Sun Hill and joined the Community Safety Unit, run by Sergeant Ackland, and befriended PC Cathy Bradford – it was to be her undoing. Polly didn’t know it but Cathy was highly unstable and helped to send poor Polly down for a murder. Although Polly later appealed and was released she decided, after some soul searching, to start afresh away from Sun Hill.
Don Beech [Billy Murray] 1995 – 2000/appearances there-after
At times it was harder to work out who was the criminal; Don Beech or the crook he was after. Don operated by his own rules but the true extent of his unorthodox approach wasn’t widely known, meaning for the most part suspicion was minimised – and he got results. However, in 1998 Beech went too far with his dodgy ways when he took a very big bribe to lie in court and was put under investigation, unbeknown to him, by CIB. Slowly Don’s world began to fall apart around him and undercover officer DS Stanton arrived at the station in 2000 to nail him. This resulted in Don killing a colleague before fleeting to Oz. Pursued by DS Stanton, he was later almost brought to justice, but escaped in 2004.
Dale Smith [Alex Walkinshaw] 1999 2010
When PC Smith, or “Smithy” to some, arrived in Sun Hill in 1999 he wasn’t the most pleasant, likable or “politically correct” of officers. An ex-squaddie who trained as a copper after leaving the army, “Smithy” spoke his mind about anything and everything. However, he won the respect of Sergeant Bob Cryer who convinced him to join the armed response unit, SO19 – but this would come back and haunt Bob when Smithy accidentally shot him during an incident. In 2003 he returned to Sun Hill as a Sergeant and quickly became involved with WPC Kerry Young who was married to Luke Aston, only Luke was gay. Smithy wasn’t impressed with Luke using a marriage to try and hide his sexuality. His relationship with Kerry though would have serious consequences when she falsely accused him of rape – she later died in his arms after being shot. In 2009 he was promoted once again to Inspector following the departure of Rachel (Claire Goose) from Sun Hill.
Over its nearly three decades on air the show saw many memorable storylines with human trafficking, homosexuality, drug addiction, gambling, alcoholism, murder and rape just some of the issues touched upon within officers’ duties and private lives.
One memorable storyline from the early noughties was Luke Aston’s (Scott Neal) struggle to accept his sexuality and his doomed marriage to Kerry Young (Beth Cordingly). A love triangle between Luke, Kerry and Sergeant Craig Gilmore (Hywel Simons) gripped millions of viewers and produced the first on-screen gay kiss between two uniformed officers on British television. It’s interesting to note it partly came about because of producer Paul Marquess’ desire to get the jump on rival show Merseybeat – in the end though the Liverpool based BBC cop-drama never did produce such a moment.
The rampage of PC Cathy Bradford (Connie Hyde) was another memorable storyline with her murderous antics keeping viewers entertained for months. Amongst her victims were Bobby Cryer who she hospitalised and Brandon Kane’s ex-wife who she murdered. Cathy, despite being thoroughly racist, was attracted to Asian officer Brandon to the point of obsession and it all came to a head when she kidnapped his children and held them hostage underneath the station. She was later sectioned.
One of the earliest officers to meet an untimely demise was PC Melvin when in 1990 a booby-trapped bomb exploded in a car outside the station. In 1993 Viv Martella was shot dead by armed robbers in an episode watched by 18 million viewers. In 1995 DC Jo Morgan was also shot dead while in the late 1990s PC Dave Quinnan was stabbed by youths – though he did survive the attack.
Memorable Guest Stars
Over the years The Bill has attracted a wealth of talent not just in terms of actors who have taken on regular characters in the show but also in the form of guest-stars. To many appearing in The Bill is considered a right of passage; just as appearing in Casualty and Holby City is. In its 27 year history the series has attracted many guest-stars and we remember but a few of them now.
Alex Kingston made two appearances in The Bill in the 1990s. Her first was in 1991 playing a Doctor while her second was in 1995 playing an undercover police officer posing as a high-class escort. The actress went on to find fame in the American medical drama E.R. Anita Dobson – best known for her role as Angie Watts in EastEnders – has also appeared twice with a role in 1997 and more recently in 2005 as Lynn Hunter; the mother of DC Phil Hunter (Scott Maslen) and PC Steve Hunter (James Lloyd). Dobson’s on-screen husband in EastEnders Leslie Grantham has also appeared in the show with four episodes in 1998 as ‘Jimmy Smith’ – the first of which also guest starred Hugh Laurie. In 2007 the actor made another appearance in the drama as escaped con Jimmy Collins.
Comedy actor Leslie Phillips, whose numerous roles also include several Carry On films, appeared in a 1996 episode. Eldorado villain Jesse Birdsall, meanwhile, had a recurring role in 2002/2003 as Ron Gregory, a small time criminal mastermind with fingers in many pies. Dempsey and Makepeace actress Glynis Barber appeared in a 1999 episode, while Lynda Bellingham played Irene Radford – a “godmother” style character subject to an undercover operation in 2004. Although famous for her role in the 1980s/1990s series of Oxo Adverts Bellingham’s other credits included General Hospital, At Home With The Braithwaites and All Creatures Great and Small and she was a panellist on ITV topical chat-show Loose Women prior to her death from cancer in 2014.
Just some of the other many (now) well-known faces to appear in the show over the years include Sylvester McCoy, Paul O’Grady, Samantha Bond, Linda Robson, Kathy Burke, Stefan Dennis, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Linda Lusardi and Molly Sugden.
The success of The Bill led ITV to try and replicate it with several spin-off attempts to varying success. The first such project was in 2000 with the six-part drama Burnside which featured the fan favourite character of DCI Frank Burnside (Christopher Ellison) now in charge of a small team of the National Crime Squad. Also in Burnside were Shane Richie, Paul Nicholas, Tony Selby, Zoe Eeles and Justin Pierre. The six-part drama launched well with 8 million viewers but fell in popularity over its run and was not re-commissioned by ITV.
In 2000 a special one-off episode The Trial of Eddie Santini concluded the story of the corrupt copper who had raped colleague WPC Rosie Fox (Caroline Catz). The episode sees both Santini (Michael Higgs) and Fox killed off during the course of it. In 2001 another special one-off episode was written; Beech on the Run. The episode continued the story of DS Don Beech (Billy Murray) who had fled Sun Hill following his murder of colleague DS John Boulton (Russell Boulter). The episode was set in Australia where Beech had fled to but he was being persued by Claire Stanton (Clara Salaman) and eventually faked his death to throw the copper off his trail. A six-part sequel quickly followed; Beech is Back which followed the character’s antics back in the UK. Once again Beech is being pursued by Claire Stanton and at the end of the six episodes he is caught and arrested. In 2004 the character returned for a brief stint in the parent series The Bill where he once again escaped and fled Sun Hill.
In 2003 another spin-off series was launched from The Bill; MIT: Murder Investigation Team. The first episode featured a crossover storyline with the main show as the murder team were called to Sun Hill to investigate the shooting of Sergeant Matthew Boyden (Tony O’Callaghan) with several of the other officers at Sun Hill being suspects in his death. The remaining nine episodes of the spin-off featured no further crossover elements with The Bill.
The first season of the spin-off focused mainly on two female detectives; DI Vivien Friend (Samantha Spiro) and DC Rosie MacManus (Lindsay Coulson). Ratings were good enough for ITV to order a second series but with changes; the episodes were cut down to four 90 minute stories and half the cast were written out. While Lindsay Coulson, Michael McKell and Richard Hope remained part of the team newer characters played by Meera Syal, Will Mellor and Hugh Sachs were introduced. The character of DC Eva Sharpe (Diane Parish) was brought over from The Bill for the season. The second season was also simply named Murder Investigation Team but its delayed broadcast, until 2005, meant ratings were low and so it was not re-commissioned.
In 2008 there was a special crossover storyline between The Bill and German police-drama SOKO Leipzig with characters from both dramas appearing in respective episodes relating to the storyline. In Germany a drama series based on The Bill, using some scripts from the series, had aired on RTL from 1994 and 2006 and was titled Die Wache.