From Norwich

ITV axe The Bill

Doubt many here would be old enough to remember, but if anyone is of a certain age what did The Bill replace when it launched on ITV? Did ITV have regular pre-watershed dramas or was it just local tat?

The Bill was first shown in October 1984, and the first three one-hour-episode series were transmitted on either Monday or Tuesday at 9pm.

It wasn't really a direct replacement for any other police series - I guess that The Sweeney had finished a few years before, I think Granada's Bulman was still in production (though tired) and the BBC's main offering was Juliet Bravo.

What is so easy to forget is just how different The Bill was to anything else on TV when it started.

Back in 1984, nearly everything was studio-based, and produced using traditional three-wall "sets", correctly lit, with several dolly-mounted studio cameras. Then only Channel Four�s Brookside used real houses and interiors as a production base.

Thames converted a former cigarette packing factory in Wappings�s Artichoke Hill into a rundown, EastEnd �police station�, cast unknown, though generally superb actors and set about filming a drama, that really looked like a documentary. Internal scenes were naturally lit, sound was often poor, and a single, hand-held video camera followed the action as if the viewer was a bystander.

Don�t forget that back then, not even all of the regions had gone over to videotape for their news output, so the change in appearance to the production on-screen was just as big as when �filmic� effects were introduced a few years back.

Choosing unknown actors enabled them to walk some of the busiest streets of the East End, in full uniform, surrounded by members of the public, with very few people aware of what was going on. No double decker catering buses, and numerous props vans, the �old-bill� was filmed using a VW Camper for the crew, and an old Luton van for props.

The original set looked like you imagine a police station to be � Depressing, maze-like, in need of a repaint, and somewhat grey throughout. The set was quite small, so always looked busy, and the use of extras as police officers was restricted � If an officer was present in a scene, even as background, they were from the known cast, and viewers recognised them, as you would collegues from work.

I remember watching the first episode, and being unsure if it was a documentary or not � I had never seen anything like it.

London looked as scary as I recalled it to be � The regeneration of the EastEnd was in its infancy, and postwar council flats and disused dockside warehouses dominate. The ethnic mix was highly alien to someone from the provinces, the public can be seen stopping to watch the filming and the locations seem highly undesirable.

Swearing was liberally and realistically included, and as really happens, villains often got the better of the police.

All of the characters were so well-drawn, but the show-stoppers were to me the superb performances by Eric Richard and John Salthouse as Sgt Cryer and DI Galloway. These men had so much respect for each other, yet could shout and scream like sworn enemies. These were people that I wanted to watch � complex, passionate, sometimes bitter, and certainly far from perfect. They did do things mainly by the book, but knew that you had to fight fire with fire, despite the changes that were coming in to make that more difficult. I want coppers to be out there giving real grief to the people that spoil life for others, and they fitted the bill perfectly.

Sadly, the move the half-hour episodes diluted some of the subject matter, but the programme remained watchable for many years. The cast grew bigger, as did the police station, and the real East End was substituted by leafy West London and sunny Surrey.

Instead of looking like an outpost of the KGB, Sun Hill gained an interior that would put to shame many smart legal practices, and what is it with these big touch-screen monitors they now have?

Totally believable character such as Bob Cryer were replaced by the likes of �Smithy�, and former stars of Neighbours. The police station didn�t look like a police station anymore, and the characters became equally unbelievable.

The relaunch promises so much, and I knew so many people who were optimistic that it would return to its roots. Instead it gained incidental music, �arty� camerawork, and lost most of the cast. It was if anything, further from where it needed to be than before.

I loved The Bill. No other programme stuck in my memory like those first few series back in the mid-eighties. They were really groundbreaking, and where the producers should have looked when moving back to 9pm last year � A mix of Ashes to Ashes meets Law and Order UK.

I agree with you here, although I've only just discovered Series 1-4 & the 1988 series this year. There's some excellent characters there (Cryer, Galloway, Roach, Dashwood, Carver, Ackland, Martella, Taffy & Burnside, to pick a few). I do still rather like the 1988 series although agree the atmosphere of Series 1-3 was excellent. To me The Bill started losing it's touch when they dropped the 1988 theme and then when you had the likes of Tosh Lines (who's departure was unavoidable sadly), Bob Cryer, Ted Roach, June Ackland, Jim Carver, etc. dissapear it was just never the same.

It's a shame it is going but in hindsight it kind of was inevitable. Shame however that a production that continued Thames' connection with ITV ever since they went off air on 31st December 1992, has finally come to an end.

I had forgotten that it was the last Thames TV programme remaining on ITV from the days when they had the London Franchise. I think that the fact that it had a separate production base (then over in Barlby Road, near Notting Hill) rather than being studio-based would have helped there.

This is the sort of thing that I miss - (Excuse the writing on-screen)

The scene that starts at 05.35 and runs to 08.38 - One camera in a fixed location whilst Cryer and Edwards walk right through the centre of Whitechapel Market.

A really difficult place to do a "two-hander" scene, especially with a running time of over three minutes. There are no camera changes and apart from the police officers, only other actors are the three market traders.