Farewell The Bill

27 years. 2,400 episodes. 19,000 actors. 400 chase sequences. 30 Police characters killed on duty. Three explosions at Sun Hill Police Station. Two live episodes -finally The Bill, leaves our screens this Saturday night.

ITV’s police drama has been a staple of ABC broadcasting for longer than we care to remember.

For most of its run it aired twice a week until it shifted to double episodes on Saturdays and finally single episodes.

But after ITV was hit hard by the Global Financial Crisis (with losses of $AU300m), the writing was on the wall.

As the United Kingdom’s longest-running police drama, the show began life in 1983 as a one-off, Woodentop (a colloquial name for helmeted bobbies). At the time other police / detective dramas in the UK included Minder, Bergerac and Taggart.

But The Bill zeroed in on cops on the front line. In the midst of Thatcherism and the bleak 1980s, it held a mirror up to society.

With its raw, documentary shooting style it gave a sense of what cops faced on the backstreets and estates of an inner metropolis. While New York had “Let’s be careful out there” from Hill Street Blues, London had the “Right, you’re nicked!” from The Bill. Both were fearless in portraying their heroes as flawless characters.

Using actual police uniforms and cars gave the show authenticity. It favoured real sounds from the street over music (although many identify with the theme song, “Overkill”).

Its use of action scenes, and especially chase scenes, is memorable. They gave a sense of what Metropolitan Police risk every day on the front line.

For many of its years The Bill was purely procedural, drawing a line between the crime and the personal. But possibly as evidence of its longevity, it wasn’t afraid to reinvent itself.

In 2002 it shifted to a serial format, as a single shift of police officers. It also looked at the personal lives of its central characters -a risky move that was heavily criticised at the time. Many accused it of dumbing down into a soap. But after a soapie Sun Hill fire erased several characters, ratings steadily improved.

Last year another revamp saw the show trimmed to an hour a week, promising “grittier” storylines, a new theme, and the addition of “younger and sexier” actors seeing veterans such as Graham Cole (PC Tony Stamp) sacked after 22 years.

Other notable characters included Sgt. June Ackland (Trudie Goodwin), Sgt Bob Cryer (Eric Richard), DCI Frank Burnside (Christopher Ellison), DS Jim Carver (Mark Wingett), Inspector Gina Gold (Roberta Taylor), Jack Meadows (Simon Rouse), Inspector Dale “Smithy” Smith (Alex Walkinshaw) and DS Don Beech (Billy Murray) who was even in a boat explosion filmed on Sydney Harbour.

Guest cast has included Robert Carlyle, Martine McCutcheon, Russell Brand, Edward Woodward, Roger Daltrey, Ray Winstone, Hugh Laurie, Michelle Collins, Alex Kingston, David Walliams, John Hannah, and a young Emma Bunton, Keira Knightley and James McAvoy.

Australia’s Daniel MacPherson also played PC Cameron Tait for 12 months in 2003, with his very first scene starkers.

Across its life The Bill also reflected the changing face of crime in the UK. While early crimes depicted armed robbery and domestic violence, it later included football hooliganism, people smuggling, attacks on police, race riots, biological warfare.

Its 2-part finale “Respect” has veered away from explosions and grand send-offs, preferring to focus on what the show has done for all of its 27 years: upheld the law, protected society, dramatised the real world. It centres on a story about girls as the victims of gang culture.

But it ends with an emotional speech from Superintendent Jack Meadows (Simon Rouse) that symbolises the end of the show.

Watch for another ground-breaking moment as it features all 17 cast members in a single tracking shot.

Farewell The Bill, which shows the making of the finale plus retrospective moments will air on ABC1 on October 23rd.

The Bill finale Part 2 airs 8:30pm Saturday on ABC1.



  1. @David: re: flawed characters. Yes that’s my point exactly. The Bill (and HSB) was never afraid to portray heroes with flaws. That’s why I thought the article might be better worded “Both were fearless in portraying their heroes as flawed characters”. No biggie. I think we’re both saying the same thing.

  2. JohnW: On the question of flawed characters… The Bill didn’t mind showing Police who sometimes failed at their task. They didn’t always get the guy or save the day. They had weaknesses. For a genre where the lead characters are heroic this was significant. Hill St. Blues was another at the time. It’s more commonplace now but not back then….

  3. I didn’t realise quoting facts was Plagiarism.

    Maybe you should have reordered them David – oh wait, I think The Australian and most other newspapers already do that 😛

  4. Copyright Protector

    Hey David! you do know this is colled Plagerism, TV Week had a article about the bill finale and included these facts “27 years. 2,400 episodes. 19,000 actors. 400 chase sequences. 30 Police characters killed on duty. Three explosions at Sun Hill Police Station. Two live episodes” I hope your happy with your copyrighting self

    • Given your post is so rude and anonymous you will forgive my blunt reply. Haven’t read TV Week. Presume the same journo watched the same special I did, as indicated in the story. You might be new here but this site lists sources c-o-m-p-r-e-h-e-n-s-i-v-e-l-y. Check the Dictionary for correct spelling of ‘Plagiarism’ next time?

  5. My friends and I would have Jam sessions on saturday nights and it would drive them crazy when I would just stop and go upstairs to watch The Bill.
    I loved the storyline where Jim fell down through the ranks and into being a full on Alcoholic and how he sucked June into his spiral.
    Tosh was such a character, i remember a whole episode being done on him.
    Who could forget Reg ?

    I think when all the oldies left and it went into soapy stuff it was over.
    Cant help thinking it should have stayed as 25min episodes.

  6. Loooove The Bill. Well, I used to love The Bill anyways – I hardly ever see it any more.

    So long, it’s be good fun 🙂 Plus I’ve loved some of the opening sequences over the years…

  7. The show died (to me) after half of C.I.D. were demoted (or rather “sacked”) after the Don Beech corruption storyline. Watching the DVDs from the very beginning, the show was very raw which I think they tried to replicate with the last revamp, but it was so dark and gritty it missed the banter and lightheartedness the show was renowned for, for a good 15 years. There were some classic moments that would make you laugh with the likes of Burnside, Hollis, heck, even Roy Galloway from the very beginning — but the show lost that realness and it was too serious. I was hoping the show would end with Burnside returning for one last cameo, but obviously not to be.

    David, Don Beech was not actually killed in that explosion. The last appearance of Don was when he escaped from Neil Manson.

  8. What are they going to do with all those writers, production assistants, folley pullars,make up artists, mechanics and production people? Maybe they will do a gritty hospital drama.
    I has been such an interesting journey with The Bill. The characters that we loved like June and Reg and Tony. I hope that with whatever show the production company does next they try to get some real relationships that actually work. I cant think of a single Bill couple who have a successful relationship. Everyone is divorced or single or struggling with their identity too much to make committment.
    Looking forward to the new show.
    Agree with Clint. RIP Bill

  9. Great article David.

    I know of many friends who are upset it’s ending – nothing stays on air forever I guess.

    I’ve already seen the last few minutes of the final episode – well done it is too. But I’ll see the full episode on Saturday night as well.

    Spooks will be replacing it in its timeslot soon – it’ll have very big shoes to fill that’s for sure.

  10. The Bill was always there in the background throughout my childhood. Would always watch the 2pm repeats when I was about 4!

    If it wasn’t for that revamp it might still be here – losing the iconic theme, putting in background music didn’t help either. In fact I wonder if ITV devised this whole grittier revamp for the show to get ratings down so they’d have an excuse to axe it!

    Will be missed!

  11. While other shows like CSI had to rely on fake crime fighting technology and unbelievable characters, The Bill was true to life, well researched and the acting was brilliant. There were many fantastic stories and a lot of drama. The Bill maintained its longevity and rightly so, but all things must end, and its better to give The Bill the dignified end it deserves.

  12. Good write up David. Sums up 26 years of Bill watching for me.
    “portraying their heroes as flawless characters” – do you mean “flawed characters”?

  13. I don’t like where the later stories took it, but I grew up with the show and remember Monday lunch time at school with discussion about the latest bill ep.

    I wish current shows would show the gritty filmmaking this show had in the early years. Real characters you felt you could meet on the street, stories based off many real events and just an amazing execution of filmmaking. You felt you were at the station every week, on the beat. Riding in the area car with Tony, working a murder case with Burnside, wanting to slap Hollis in the back of the head.

    I’ve said it many times, but RIP Old Bill!

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