DVD review: “The Bill: Series 1 – 4” (1983-1988)

“The Bill: Series 1 – 4” (1983-1988)


Eighty-four Episodes

Created by: Geoff McQueen

Featuring: Mark Wingett, Gary Olsen, Trudie Goodwin, Peter Dean, Robert Pugh, Colin Blumenau, Jon Croft, Gary Hailes, Colin McCormack, Chris Jenkinson, Richard Huw, John Salthouse, Jon Iles and Paul McKenzie

PC Jim Carver: “Bradford? She’s got about as much community spirit as Adolf Hitler.”

Re-released recently in repackaged cases is the long running (now defunct) police show “The Bill” (1983-2010), the longest running police show in UK television history, as well as one of the longest running dramas ever. This first set is titled “The Bill: Series 1 – 4” (1983-1988), which includes the first four series as well as what would become the pilot episode ‘Woodenhead’.

When “The Bill” premiered it showed something that had rarely been seen on television, a working police station set in the fictional Sunhill with the narrative set from the point of view of its police officers with no part of the seperate plots told from the criminals, no home life seen (at least in the early years) and only rare conversations about any real home life. Not only were those elements in play but in the early series there were scenes of violence, open racism, alcoholism, swearing and other aspects that attempted to reflect what it was like, not only in early 1980s London but also within the police force itself. When viewing some of the episodes within the first four series it can feel like a show that is firmly set in the 1980s, with most of the officers being white (definitely no minorities in CID), and most of the supposed criminals either being newly arrived foreigners, minorities, young people or lower working class, which is a fairly sad state of affairs. The other element that actually makes the series look very good is the hand held style, the seemingly natural shots, at times if you stumbled across an early episode you might think it was a reality show, which adds to the tension and perceived realism. Finally the casting of either new actors, character actors or very little known actors meant that they all seemed like they were making it up as they went along which again added to its authenticity. Finally in terms of keeping it as real as possible there was a divide between the CID (the plain clothes detectives) and the uniform police which again created tension, and it was difficult for the beat police officers to cross the divide to CID, but when it happened it was obvious how it would go, in the beginning, at least.

The first four series were all one hour in duration with episode orders increasing with each subsequent year until the fifth series when a format change occurred in that episode length decreased to thirty minutes (airing three times a week) and the number of episodes increased to around one hundred and two per series, which is a huge increase to workload and regularity, it also meant that viewers were seeing the actors on-screen a lot, this is also meant that the characters who were considered part of the main cast became incredibly famous, they were not unknown for almost a decade, or until they were dropped from the show, which happened with increasing regularity.

Whilst watching these first four series one of the aspects of the show that becomes apparent is the large cast, with the very main actors being, Mark Wingett, Trudie Goodwin, Peter Dean, Colin Blumenau, John Salthouse, Jon Iles, Jeff Stewart, Graham Cole, Robert Hudson, Nula Conwell, Tony Scannell and Peter Ellis. In fact many of these actors would stay for years, with Trudie Goodwin, Graham Cole, Eric Richards and Mark Wingett staying with the series for three decades. In terms of the cast through the first four series is that there seemed to be no reason for cast changes with new officers arriving and departing rather quickly, one example is the great character actor Ralph Brown who played P.C. Muswell, he was an open racist who was in almost every episode of the first and second series but by the third had disappeared, he was one of a number. Other interesting developments that would occur would be something that the show had in common with Dick Wolf’s “Law and Order” franchise in that there was such a demand for actors that it was not uncommon for guest stars to go on and become huge stars, some examples were early appearances of Sean Bean, James McAvoy, Ray Winstone and a host of others which are always great to see and spot.

This is just the first box set to be re-released with series five and six arriving in November, these are the first two full one hundred plus episode series, so they are not only good value for money but they see something very interesting happening, that is a step up in production value with not only set filming, but also on location filming, overarching narratives that run for a number of episodes as well as a police station that looks and feels like something far more permanent than is seen in these first four series. There is a lo-fi feel about these series, there is no central or decentralised call centre, there are no real interrogation rooms and the sets feel a little underdone, but because everyone buys into them there is no issue from a viewers point of view, but it is noticed when viewing seasons beyond this and that must be a reason for the releases the way they have always been done, although this is the first time that series four has been included with one to three.

There is no doubt there is a feeling of the beginning of something, but at this stage within the first four series this is a show in search of something, what that is becomes clear by about series five. However in saying that there are a lot of individual stories that easily illustrate the role of certain functions within the police station as well as the kind of crimes one might expect within the inner city as a beat cop. It is also a show that once bought into is like no other show of its time in its attempt at reality with life on the beat. Once it became very popular it did become more polished with much of the sex, violence and swearing cooling right off, but when you reach over fifteen million people per episode it needs to become palatable for a mass audience. Again there are parts of these series in particular that stand out, for instance there is only one black police officer who is teamed or around the one racist which is a little formulaic, this was dropped early on, with more minorities involved as the series progresses.

I recommend this highly, it is vastly rewarding for those that stay with it which is not hard. I am looking forward to the next few series which arrive soon.

Series One

Funny Ol’ Business – Cops & Robbers: Carver is still getting used to life at Sun Hill, as he continues to raise his popularity level amongst the other officers. Meanwhile, Galloway is desperate to get results on a recent spree of break and enters.

A Friend in Need: When a spate of bomb hoaxes begin to threaten peace and harmony in Sun Hill, Brownlow becomes eager to find the hoax callers and stop chaos from breaking out.

Clutching at Straws: When a gang of thugs use violence to extort money from local youths, Brownlow takes a “hands off” approach. Cryer and Galloway investigate a series of attempted child abductions.

Long Odds: Litten’s day goes from bad to worse when he gets on the wrong side of both Galloway and Cryer. Meanwhile Edwards pursues a mugger into a derelict building.

It’s Not Such a Bad Job After All: The discovery of a teenage body from suicide leaves a bitter taste in Ackland’s mouth.

The Drugs Riad: A well-planned drugs raid goes amiss when an informer of DI Galloway’s is stabbed and the supplier manages to get away in a car which bears diplomatic plates.

A Dangerous Breed: Litten is up for promotion and he is desperate to prove himself to Galloway.

Rough in the Afternoon: Litten allows a man to take a car from the police impound that does not belong to him. Meanwhile, Carver and Edwards attend a domestic dispute that revolves around a custody battle.

Burning the books: CID are on the trail of a thug who has stolen an important briefcase.

Death of a Cracksman: The team at Sun Hill investigate an old fashioned safe cracker.

The Sweet Smell of Failure: A tip in a counterfeit perfume case leads Carver and Ackland to two elderly pensioners who have a reputation of stealing things going as far back as WWII

Series Two

Snouts and Red Herrings: Everything is in chaos at the Sun Hill Police Station, with workmen, new cases and a new PC named Abel Lyttleton’s arrival.

Suspects: There has been an armed robbery on Sun Hill’s manor. The wages office of an umbrella manufacturing company has been cleaned out. The police are on the scene with Sgt Roach leading the investigation.

Lost: CID and uniformed officers investigate the disappearance of an 8 year old girl.

Home Beat: Brownlow wants to start a Neighbourhood Watch program within Sun Hill. 

Hostage: DS Roach and Sgt Cryer take charge of a siege operation.

The Little Pig: PC Edwards corners a pig that was released from the City Farm.

Ringer: A serious road crash results in six deaths. Meanwhile DS Burnside goes under cover.

Public and Confidential: A Polish sailor seeks political asylum at the police station.

Loan Shark: A young mother caught shoplifting confesses to Sgt Cryer that she is in debt to a loan shark.

With Friends Like That…?: Sgt Cryer brings in Debbie Lindfield, who is reluctant to report a rape. Meanwhile DS Roach investigates a burglary.

Whose Side Are You On?: Sun Hill police take on a local youth group in a five-a-side indoor football match.

The Chief Super’s Party: Brownlow throws a farewell party for his retiring clerk.

Series Three

The New Order of Things: Sgt Peters and Sgt Penny apprehend a man who is waiting to attack PC Muswell. Meanwhile PC Carver begins his CID training.

Some You Win, Some You Lose: Chief Superintendant Brownlow and DI Galloway lead a massive raid on a drug den within a local council estate.

Brownie Points: PC Reg Hollis has been nominated for the position of the station’s police federation representative. Meanwhile the “Tom Squad” are out in force, cracking down on prostitution in Sun Hill.

Missing, Presumed Dead: A shooting occurs in Sun Hill but none of the neighbours appear to have witnessed anything. Meanwhile, PC Yorkie Smith discovers more than he bargained for when making door to door enquires.

Domestics: Residents take action against a women’s refuge in their area. D.I. Galloway gets tough with his detectives about the clear up rates of burglaries in the area.

What Are Little Boys Made Of?: It is discovered that elderly people are being targeted by a group of children.

Blind Alleys, Clogged Roads: PC Jim Carver is sent to the morgue to investigate a suspicious drowning. DI Roy Galloway and DC Mike Dashwood are reprimanded by a judge presiding over a fraud case.

Double Trouble: DI Galloway conducts an identity parade after an attack on a woman. PC Shaw and WPC Ackland come under scrutiny from the complaints investigation bureau.

Sun Hill Karma: WPC Martella applies for a position in the Bermuda police force, but after being punched during a fight, and failing to prevent a suicide jumper, she feels she is not up to the job and withdraws her application.

Skipper: WPC Ackland’s father is dying in hospital. PC Taffy Edwards is given traffic duty after arriving late for parade, whilst Sgt Cryer and PC Patel investigate an alleged rape.

Overnight Stay: Half the relief, including CID, are at a hotel guarding a sequestered jury in a gangland murder trial. Back at Sun Hill, Inspector Kite deals with a serial nuisance confessing to bigamy, and PC Shaw brings in a man with a blow-up doll.

Not Without Cause: Sgt Penny is asked by a landlord to investigate a lady on the top floor who is keeping cats. Meanwhile, Inspector Kite arrests four people for a breach of peace that he caused.

Series Four

Light Duties: Recently transferred to CID, DC Carver is feeling seasick while he and DS Roach work on a case on the police launch.

The Three Wise Monkeys: D.S. Ted Roach and D.C. Mike Dashwood are on the trail of armed robbers who have taken a women hostage.

Good Will Visit: D.S. Ted Roach and D.C. Mike Dashwood are on the trail of armed robbers who have taken a women hostage.

Home Sweet Home: Sgt. Cryer leads a raid to enforce an eviction order on a squat occupied by upper-class kids. Meanwhile, P.C. Smith and P.C. Haynes are called to the local library where a homeless woman and her kids are sheltering.

All in good faith: WPC Martella and WPC Ackland report a bogus gasman to Acting DI Roach.

Just Call Me Guvnor: Burnside arrives to takeover Sun Hill CID. He takes charge of an undercover operation to nail a gang of ruthless football supporters.

Caught Red Handed: When Carver spots Yorkie having a secret meeting with a drug dealer in a pub, he and Burnside are convinced he’s got himself involved in drugs however Yorkie admits that they were for his upcoming rugby match.

Homes and Gardens: Yorkie befriends Mickey Cozen, a man with the mental age of 7. After taking him home, they get into an argument and Mickey knocks Yorkie out. The father then bundles Yorkie and his son into the car and abducts Yorkie.

Country Cousin: DS Jarvis arrives in London to arrest a suspect believed to be living in Sun Hill. Uniformed officers attend a bus crash where the driver and passengers are badly injured.

Alarms and Embarrassments: The crew at Sun Hill investigate a robbery at an off-licence.

Stealing Cars and Nursery Rhymes: Yorke volunteers to do some work at a youth club, a decision he will later regret when he is forced to deal with a gang of vicious teenagers who go joyriding which later turns into a murder investigation.

Hold Fire: A traffic accident leaves many people dead and Yorkie in hospital. CID discover a big time gangster, who got caught up in the accident.

Bad Faith: When a known burglar escapes from custody, CID are convinced he will return to his old estate and begin a stake out.

Requiem: After human remains are discovered in a sub-divided townhouse, CID launch a hunt for the former occupants of the flat where it was found.

Tresspasses: After finding a newborn baby dumped in a skip, Ramsey tries to discover why she was dumped there.

Save the Last Dance for Me: An escaped convict arrives in Sun Hill to settle an old score with his ex-girlfriend.

Runaround: An agoraphobic old lady thinks her neighbours are being burgled. CID investigate when a dead body is found in a cafe.

The Trap: Burnside sets a trap to settle an old score by parking a van full of VHS recorders in front of his house with the door open but the trap is back backfires. Tom Penny pays the price for having come back to work too soon after being shot.

Community Relations: Conway attends a council meeting where his attempts to make changes on the Jasmine Allen estate results in a riot.

A Dogs Life: When Ramsey investigates a theft at a library, CID discover the man rumoured to be behind the theft is a gangster from Manchester.

Trouble & Strife: PC Ramsey befriends Joanna Mancini, a pregnant women suffering from domestic abuse. However, Joanna rejects Ramsey’s help and tries to deal with her abusive husband herself which leads to a confrontation.

Running Late: WPC Brind makes an enemy of Burnside when she gets in the way of a CID operation; she arrests a teenage tearaway on the local estate, she is suspicious about the girl and her family so she decides to investigate.

They Say We’re Rough: Cryer and Martella investigate an army surplus shop that appears to be stocked with stolen goods. When two military police arrive to take over the investigation, Cryer discovers that there may be more to the case.

Blue for a Boy: When a young baby is kidnapped by a mystery man, CID turn their attentions to the baby’s mother Brenda, who appears to have something to hide. Burnside pushes Brenda to the truth and the man’s identity is revealed.

Chasing the Dragon: D.S. Roach spots a drug deal taking place on the Rochester Estate, but he, Carver and Dashwood fail to catch the dealers. P.C. Haynes and P.C. Ramsey spot the escaping car in their panda and give chase.

The Coop: P.C. Edwards and W.P.C. Ackland are on their lunch break. They investigate a terrible smell coming from a nearby property, and discover a shed full of the carcasses of battery hens.

The Quick and the Dead: Sgt Peters attends a physical fitness evaluation, but does not do too well. PC Ramsey & PC Frank give chase after witnessing a robbery.

Witness: PC Ramsey & PC Smith are looking after a witness in a court case who is applying to become a special constable.

Here We Go Loopy Lou: Bob, Claire and Taffy investigate the report of a man carrying a cross which is found hanging from a crane.

Stop and Search: Sgt Cryer introduces two special constables who will be joining the relief: Mary Kilnair and Brian Defoe. While on patrol with P.C. Edwards, Kilnair is pricked by a junkie’s needle, there is concern she may have been infected.

Spook Stuff: W.P.C. Martella and P.C. Stamp take an American woman who has been caught shoplifting into custody. She is very insistent that the police contact her husband who is staying in a hotel.

Evacuation: It’s a busy day on the station front desk, and P.C. Smith fails to notice that someone has left a hold-all next to the desk. When it is discovered, Insp Frazer orders the station evacuated as a safety measure.

Personal Imports: P.C. Melvin sees a chemist being robbed, but he has powder thrown in his face and the thieves escape. D.C. Carver spots what looks like a drug exchange and pursues the car.

Paper Chase: A schoolgirl has been abducted, and D.I. Burnside is determined to find her. The girl’s father is reluctant to have the police involved, as the kidnappers have threatened to kill his daughter if the police are called.

Intruider: While Melvin and Haynes are on the beat, they are nearly decoyed away from a robbery. Giving chase Haynes is diverted to an armed robbery while Melvin has to let his prisoner go so he can help Haynes.

Conflict: D.Cs Tosh Lines and Jim Carver are carrying out an obbo (observation) on a man who might lead them to an arms dump. W.P.C. June Ackland and P.C. Pete Ramsey arrest him because he beat his girlfriend who didn’t want him to go out.

Duplicates: Due to her slight resemblance to a missing woman, W.P.C. Brind reluctantly agrees to perform a reconstruction of her disappearance for television.

Snout: D.I. Burnside visits D.C. Carver’s prisoner, and interrogates him alone, against regulations, leaving Carver outside wincing at his methods as he hears Burnside bellowing at the prisoner.

Old Habits: W.P.C. Brind is called to the house of an elderly lady, who has just been robbed. The old lady is in such a state of shock, she attacks Brind and then suffers a heart attack. It appears there’s been a spate of burglaries.

The Silent Gun: P.C. Haynes arrives at a house to investigate what seems like a routine disturbance. Instead he finds a bailiff who has been shot in the hand while trying to evict the lodger in the upstairs room.

An Old-Fashioned Term: Edwards and Martella find the naked body of a woman who appears to have gassed herself to death.

Getting Stressed: Frazer witnesses an accident on the way to work. On informing the man she has rescued she is a police officer he hits her. Ramsey deals with a victim of assault and an old lady helps Mike Dashwood with info about motorbike muggers.

Tigers: D.I. Burnside receives a phone call from an Asian boy who is frightened that a gang from the White Swan pub are planning to attack his father’s restaurant. D.C.s Carver and Lines check it out but their car gets turned over.

Guessing Game: Neighbours report an elderly man who hasn’t been seen for days. P.C. Ramsey breaks into the house to find the man dead on the floor. It becomes apparent that the man had a fetish for restraining women against their will.

The Assassins: Yorkie and Haynes investigate a removal van. The elderly driver doesn’t think the company is to be trusted and he is proven right after visiting the station three times. Tosh’s wife turns up looking for housekeeping money.

Outmoded: Sun Hill police are being called out to a series of bogus shouts which the Yard pins down to a computer hacker breaking into the police computer network. Sgt Cryer investigates, and finds a former university student.

Digging Up the Past: An excavator on a building site has uncovered some human remains, and Sgt. Cryer calls in C.I.D. Cryer is avoiding returning to the station, as his son Patrick is being charged with causing death by dangerous driving.

Taken into Consideration: D.C. Dashwood and D.C. Carver are on an observation in a street where a spate of burglaries has taken place. They see a young man, Kevin Boswell, climbing over a wall with a bag full of 50p pieces, and they arrest him for theft.

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