The Old Bill

I used to love The Bill, way back when it was a cop show with a sense of realism, rather than a full-on soapie.

The episodes I enjoyed the most, season 4 (from 1988) are currently airing on the ABC, in the middle of the day (around 3pm, and again the next morning around 5am). I’ve got my PVR recording them and I’m checking to see if any memorable episodes pop-up that I want to watch again.

Being a long-running series with a lot of minor once-of characters, many now well-known British actors appeared on the show in guest rolls. The other day there was an episode (“Conflict”) with Alex Kingston as a doctor — no, not Elizabeth Corday or River Song.
Alex Kingston and Nick Reding in The Bill (1988)

Of course it’s also a bit of a time-capsule from the 1980s. A week or two ago one great episode (“Hold Fire”) featured Bob Cryer trying write a report on an actual typewriter…
Bob Cryer (Eric Richard) in The Bill (1988)

…while Jim Carver and Viv Martella were undercover in a pub, playing Gorf and driving game Out Run while they wait for a suspect.
Carver and Martella in The Bill (1988)

Carver: “Oh my God!”

Martella: “What?”

Carver: “I just hit a windsurfer!”

The final Bill

Ackland and Carver on The BillBack in the day, I was obsessed by The Bill — part of my greater obsession with British television drama. I watched it religiously from the late-80s until about 2001 or 2002 when went off the rails and into soapie land, then I abandoned it.

Last night I watched the final two episodes, courtesy of iView.

If those two episodes were any judge, the writing had got back to its roots: good drama with a reasonable touch of realism.

But I’m left with questions.

  • When did they change the music? (The original, used for many years, was if I recall correctly, entitled Overkill)
  • When did Jack Meadows switch to uniform?
  • When did Smiffy become an Inspector? (In fact I’m not sure I even remember him being a sergeant.)
  • What happened to Cryer, Ackland, Carver, Stamp, Hollis? (Actually now I think about it, I think I do remember Cryer’s exit.)
  • I don’t remember the Parkview Estate. Is the Jasmine Allen Estate still around?

Maybe I’ll do some reading to satisfy my curiosity, but in any case, the last two episodes, with Meadows’ speech at the end, were a satisfying conclusion to a long-running series.

(It’s not quite over: there’s a Farewell special next Saturday night on ABC1.)