Tonight will mark one of the biggest changes in the history of The Bill as it moves to a new 9pm time slot; with a darker and grittier look. To mark this occasion we’ve taken a look back at the history of the show to reveal other big changes to the format of the series, including the cop-drama’s other previous time-switch; moving from a post-watershed slot to an early evening time-slot.
Tonight will mark one of the biggest changes in the history of The Bill as it moves to a new 9pm slot with a darker and grittier look. To mark this occasion we’ve taken a look back at the history of the show to reveal other big changes to the format of the series – and as reveal it won’t be the first time the series has aired in a post watershed slot. In fact when The Bill returned, after its pilot episode, the drama was a very different beast.
1984 – 1988: The Drama Serial Years
Following the success of Woodentop in 1983 The Bill returned to ITV in 1984, the basic format of the drama remained the same. Creator Geoff McQueen and producer Michael Chapman decided to keep most of the elements that had made Woodentop so successful; but added a few new characters to the mix – such as Bob Cryer and Reg Hollis both of whom would become firm fan favourites. A special purpose built “police station” was erected in Aritchoke Hill, Wapping, to accommodate the series; although it was only a single story building and the sets were very cramped. The first series was once again a success due to increased public interest in the Police due to real-life events. The first series ran for 11 episodes
Series Two of The Bill aired in 1985 and ran for 12 episodes. The Third series was delayed until 1987; due to the high profile strikes at the Wapping Newspaper printing plants. Filming was delayed because some of the strikers at the plant were mistaking cast members for their real-life counterparts placing them in danger. In the end production of the series was moved to Ladbroke Grove in West London and as the fake bill moved out of Wapping the real old bill moved in! Series Three didn’t begin airing until September of 1987.
1988: A New Era
It was in 1988 that the decision was taken to alter the format of the series. The Bill had proved hugely successful with audiences and Thames Television decided that the drama should air all year round. The company also decided to switch the series from hour-long episodes to twice weekly half-hour episodes, perhaps the format the show is best remembered for. However, this switch would mean big changes to the show; it would see the drama move to an 8pm slot – it had from inception occupied the ITV 9pm slot.
The earlier episodes saw producers toning down the gritty storylines and also the language! It’s ironic that 21 years later The Bill is moving back to a 9pm so it can become grittier, darker with more bad language! Unfortunately some press sites seem to have forgotten the 9pm era of The Bill’s early days and report this change as a first.. how quick some forget.
The half hour 8pm format of The Bill launched in July of 1988 and was an instant hit with audiences. In 1989 another big change to the show was forced upon the team when the owners of their current site decided to redevelop with an ever increasing property boom. Thames Television found a new home for the series – in Merton where the programme still resides to this day.
The move to new studio’s was covered on-screen by a backlog of 20 episodes being filmed to allow production crews more time to build new sets and in terms of storylining the station was given a “make-over” to allow the sets to be built around the officers as filming took place. To further justify the changes on-screen a bomb exploded outside the station killing PC Kev Melvin – it was the first time part of the station would be blown up.
In 1993 ITV ordered a third weekly episode of The Bill due to its continued success. In 1994 the drama celebrated ten years on-air. The occasion was marked on-screen with a birthday party for one of the characters in-which all the regulars appeared in the same episode – this was a first for the series due to the large nature of the cast. However, sadly, it was also in 1994 that creator Geoff McQueen died at the age of 46.
It wasn’t until 1998 that the next big change of The Bill took place. New executive producer Richard Hanford, who had previously worked as director on the series, made his mark. The theme tune was revamped and the opening and closing titles were also drastically changed – the famous plodding feet of the closing titles were dropped.
Another alteration saw The Bill move back to an hour format due to the constraints of the half-hour story-telling. It was also at this time that previous restrictions of the types of stories told were relaxed allowing storylines regarding the private lives of the officers to creep in.
The 2000’s: Big Changes
Just two years later in 2000 further big changes to the series were made. The biggest cast cull ever in the series, to that date, saw most of the CID characters replaced with younger, and some-say more politically correct, characters. The cast clear out also saw the axing of Superintendent Brownlow who had been in the series since the first episode of Series One. 2000 also saw the first spin-off from the series concentrating on popular character Burnside but the new drama wasn’t a huge hit with audiences. In 2001 the theme tune and opening titles were once again updated and the popular character of Sergeant Bob Cryer was axed from the show.
In 2002 it was all change again as new executive producer Paul Marquiss arrived and was intent on sexing up The Bill and making it more soapy. A huge explosion ripped through the station killing off six characters; while across the year further Sun Hill faces were ruthlessly killed off in the pursuit of ratings. The private lives of the officers were now the main focus of storylines with a gay love triangle just one example.
Episodes titles were dropped in favour of numbers. In 2005 another explosion ripped through the station killing off yet more characters. To celebrate the show’s anniversary a live episode aired which saw yet another character killed off. 2005 also saw a second live episode of the series air which with a hostage situation at the station.
In 2006 Jonathan Young took over as Executive Producer of the series. 2007 saw the reintroduction of episode titles – but also a farewell to June Ackland, who had been a character since the pilot episode. With the departure of June from the series there were no longer any characters from the original pilot left within the cast.
2009 sees The Bill moving back to its original 9pm slot; but with a whole new theme tune and opening sequence. The series will be darker and grittier, as it once was, but will it last? Will the new look series be a success or will it sink without a trace?
Information for this article is from The Bill Bios, a brilliant site for all fans of The Bill. The site contains a detailed history of the series as well as excellent profiles on the regular characters to have featured in the show [new and old], guest stars in the series and a news page as well. To visit the site click here >>
Series One, Two and Three of The Bill have been released on DVD and are available to buy directly from the Network DVD website. A volume of the “Half-Hour” episodes has also been released by Network DVD and is also available to buy directly from their website.