DVD review: “The Bill: Series Six” (1990)

“The Bill: Series 6” (1990)

Television

One hundred and five Episodes

Created by: Geoff McQueen

Featuring: Mark Wingett, Nula Conwell, Mark Haddigan, Peter Ellis, Ben Roberts, Larry Dann, Roger Leach, Seeta Indrani, Mark Powley, Andrew Paul, Huw Higginson, Chris Humphreys, Jeff Stewart and Graham Cole

Sgt. Alec Peters: “Best thing to do is to close your office door.”

Chief Inspector Derek Conway: “Yeah, and tell the world to Foxtrot Oscar.”

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 second set is titled “The Bill: Series SixThe Bill: Series 6” (1990), which includes all one hundred and five episodes, a mammoth total which would be the norm for a number of years with each episode running approximately thirty minutes including commercials

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.

This sixth series sees the show with each episode at the shorter running time of 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 this 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, 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.

What becomes apparent upon viewing this series was that there was always a huge turnover, with each series bringing new and different ways to get rid of characters, there were illicit affairs, crooked cops, promotions and demotions. The new arrivals this series were plenty, some that arrived would stay with the series for over a decade, some were not so lucky. The main arrivals were Colin Tarrant as Inspector Monroe, Jonathan Dow as PC Stringer, Victor Gallucci as Detective Constable Tom Baker, Tom Butcher as PC Steve Loxton, Nick Stringer as PC Ron Smollett, Natasha Williams as WPC Delia French, Roland Oliver as Sergeant Joseph Corrie, Carolyn Pickles as DCI Kim Reid, and Sam Miller as Sergeant John Maitland. What these comings and going prove is that “The Bill”, like Dick Wolf’s “Law and Order” franchise, would have an ongoing 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 series also saw some very high profile departures, some of these were written out in some very high profile ways, the biggest being Mark Powley as PC Ken Melvin who was killed when a comb went off in a car he was moving around the police stations carpark, this would not be the last explosion that was to rock the show over the years. The other high profile departure was Roger Leach as Sergeant Tom Penny who was on a downward spiral for a number of episodes and was finally arrested for drunk driving, having to retire from the force and becoming a security advisor at a local firm. The rest of the departures were Barbara Thorn as Inspector Christine Frazer, Colin Blumenau as PC Taffy Edwards, Mark Haddigan as PC Able, Chris Humphreys as PC Richard Turnham, Mark Powley as PC Ken Melvin

There are some very real and original episodes among this huge season, for me they are: Carry Your Bags, Sir?: A German police officer is escorted around London looking for stolen car engines; C.A.D.: PC Hollis is organising a blood bank at the station. WPC Martella is sent to assist at an armed robbery, but hits a radio black spot; A Clean Division: DC Carver is arrested after failing a breath test; Burnside Knew My Father: When a youth arrives at the station to request DI Burnside’s help, he discovers that an old friend of his is planning to help his terminally ill wife commit suicide; One of the Boys: WPC Martella has just joined CID. One of her first assignments finds her being sent to bring a prostitute, Sheena Rossi, in for questioning – as a suspect is using Sheena as an alibi; Rites: The relief are given a day’s leave for PC Melvin’s funeral. PC Stamp struggles to cope – and Monroe leads the investigation into the bomb blast that killed one of Sun Hill’s most-loved officers. At the funeral, former PCs Yorkie and Taffy make an appearance, and Stamp keeps his composure as he recites his reading. Afterwards, the relief are seen drinking in the pub, and a member of PC Melvin’s family asks for Stamp, and thanks him; What Kind of Man?: Sgt Penny arrests a man in connection with the murder of two school children; When Did You Last See Your Father?: Hollis attends an accident involving a school bus. Dashwood investigates a stray animal on the loose; Blue Murder: Sgt. Cryer faces a man with a sawn-off shotgun and One for the Road: Sgt Penny runs into trouble when he gets pulled by vindictive Barton Street officers for driving with a defective tail-light. But worse still, he fails a breath test and is arrested – leaving him feeling he’s been the victim of a huge stitch-up by the rival nick;

This is just the third box set to be re-released with series seven and eight arriving soon, 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.

Episodes

By the Skin of Our Teeth: PC Able is sent to a pub to deal with a man on valium. Meanwhile, Brownlow goes to Area for a board meeting to select candidates for a graduate entry scheme.

Officers and Gentlemen: PC Turnham talks to a pavement artist before he is called to deal with a shoplifter at a music shop. Carver and Conway face an embarrassing situation when a thief confesses to a crime that has already been cleared up.

Carry Your Bags, Sir?: A German police officer is escorted around London looking for stolen car engines.

I Thought You’d Gone: Insp Frazer & PC Edwards discover that there is life after Sun Hill.

C.A.D.: PC Hollis is organising a blood bank at the station. WPC Martella is sent to assist at an armed robbery, but hits a radio black spot.

A Day Lost: A 9 year-old boy is reported missing – causing the relief to conduct a full-scale search.

A Clean Division: DC Carver is arrested after failing a breath test.

Roger and Out: Sgt Penny isn’t happy when he discovers that DC Lines has taken in a lodger – in breach of police regulations.

Addresses: WPC Martella and Sgt Cryer are out together on night patrol.

Michael Runs the Family Now: A video shop robbery leads Burnside to the son of a villain he arrested twenty years ago.

Against the Odds: A tip-off about a potential gang war puts Dashwood in a dilemma and is a cause of alarm for Conway.

Bloodsucker: WPC Marshall’s crime figures cause concern: a domestic incident alerts Lines and Roach to the latest tactics of loan shark Harry Soames.

Workers in Uniform: A street festival that was to be cancelled is now to be held as planned, leading to tense negotiations between Hollis and Brownlow.

Something to Hide: Turnham and Datta are called to a break-in but there are no signs of forced entry.

The Old Men’s Run: Cryer feels the strain, while Quinnan and Stamp attend a road collision that was anything but accidental.

Legacies: An elderly lady has her valuables stolen from a hidden location; CID suspect a criminal family is involved.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: DI Burnside brings in a van of partygoers involved with drugs. Meanwhile, Martella goes undercover to investigate theft at a leather-ware factory.

Something Special: DI Burnside has an important visitor looking for an officer to join a special operation, while Sgt. Peters panics when a set of keys to the cells goes astray, and WPC Datta arrests a streetwalker with a baby.

Enemies: Race relations are in the spotlight as an Asian gang intimidates traders – and Datta helps a family caught between two cultures.

Safe Place: WPC Martella goes undercover when Roach struggles for a lead after a bank robbery.

Burnside Knew My Father: When a youth arrives at the station to request DI Burnside’s help, he discovers that an old friend of his is planning to help his terminally ill wife commit suicide.

Watching: Cryer faces a tough crowd, as Garfield and Quinnan investigate a puzzling presence at a school.

University Challenge: Joey Buchan is aupposedly a reformed villain – but is hotly suspected of being involved in a recent supermarket raid.

Growing Pains: When Carver is badly beaten, Burnside and Roach race to find the attacker.

One of the Boys: WPC Martella has just joined CID. One of her first assignments finds her being sent to bring a prostitute, Sheena Rossi, in for questioning – as a suspect is using Sheena as an alibi.

Beggars and Choosers: The amount of beggars and homeless are increasing on the streets of Sun Hill.

Citadel: Turnham is being vetted by an officer from MI11 after applying for a transfer to Special Branch. Meanwhile, Bronwlow learns that Sun Hill station is to be refurbished and enlarged.

Blue Eyed Boy: Melvin is late for duty and things get worse for him as the day progresses.

Full House: Refurbishments begin on the Sun Hill station and it’s causing problems for all concerned. 

Big Fish, Little Fish: CID and Uniform conduct surveillance on possible drug couriers.

Information Received: DS Roach is in court against Mickey Owen, a protection racketeer.

Close Co-Operation: Tensions run high as Sun Hill’s cells are being refurbished – prisoners are being held at Barton Street, but not without problems.

Middleman: CID set up ‘Operation Middleman’ to crack down on the drug trade.

Corkscrew: Following the failure of ‘Operation Middleman’, it is suspected that information must have been leaked.

Obsessions: CID are instructed to assist with a family dispute. Ackland and Stamp attend to a barking dog.

Small Hours: The relief are experiencing a typically dull nightshift – however, things soon change.

Victims: DC Lines investigates the assault of a primary school teacher.

Somebody’s Husband: CID conduct a surveillance operation to catch the man responsible for attacking women.

Canley Fields: The relief conduct a search after a child is reported abducted.

The Night Watch: Roach and Martella respond to a report of sexual assault.

Trojan Horse: Routine duty proves to be fatal for PC Ken Melvin.

Rites: The relief are given a day’s leave for PC Melvin’s funeral. PC Stamp struggles to cope – and Monroe leads the investigation into the bomb blast that killed one of Sun Hill’s most-loved officers. At the funeral, former PCs Yorkie and Taffy make an appearance, and Stamp keeps his composure as he recites his reading. Afterwards, the relief are seen drinking in the pub, and a member of PC Melvin’s family asks for Stamp, and thanks him.

Answers: Lines and Dashwood re-investigate attacks on women that occurred 2 years prior.

A Fresh Start: Sun Hill mark the opening of their refurbished station.

A Case to Answer: Martella assists a victim of rape in court, while Wray decides things need to be changed in CID.

Line Up: PC Stamp arrests a man for robbery, however there are issues surrounding the identification of the suspect.

Police Powers: The relief are on duty at a local football match where players clash on and off the field.

Action Book: DS Roach leads the incident room in regard to the murder of two children.

Tactics: A Sheffield CID team arrives at Sun Hill in a bid to bring down five villains.

Scores: Burnside has Roach and Lines observe an old adversary of his that has returned to Sun Hill.

Witch Hunt: CID continue their investigation into the murder of two school children.

Close to Home: Ackland and Cryer respond to a report of possible child abuse.

Breaking Point: Burnside and Dashwood arrest a thief whose fingerprints are found at a crime scene.

Jumping the Gun: CID respond to a violent armed robbery at a building society.

What Kind of Man?: Sgt Penny arrests a man in connection with the murder of two school children.

Beat Crime: WPC Ackland follows up on some recent burglaries that have occurred on her beat.

Unsocial Hours: DCI Wray’s lunch date with WPC Ackland coincides with a CID operation.

Interpretations: DS Roach leads the investigation into a racist arson attack.

Angles: Burnside and Monroe argue about resources and overtime for a street operation.

Watch My Lips: WPC Ford uses her sign language skills with a deaf prisoner.

Feeling Brave: Carver and Stamp give chase to armed robbers.

Come Fly with Me: Stamp and Ackland are called to a disturbance at a travel agency. Meanwhile, Stringer and Marshall assist an immigration officer.

Attitudes: After Young beats them at cards, Loxton and friends plan to make life on the beat one long run-around for him. But Cryer is soon suspicious.

Robbo: A former special constable comes to the assistance of Tosh and Jim.

Ground Rules: Sun Hill prepares for a visit from the inspectorate. Quinnan goes undercover for Burnside.

Once a Copper: Hoping to receive information on a case, Burnside visits a crooked ex-cop in prison.

Vendetta: Burnside believes a feud is developing between two criminal families.

My Favourite Things: Inspector Monroe is unhappy with PC Quinnan’s ways as a police officer.

Win Some Lose Some: Stringer and Quinnan are sent to investigate stolen garbage bins. CID consider closing a local nightclub.

Up the Steps: Loxton, Young and Peters attend court to give evidence.

Where There’s a Will: Sgt Cryer is asked by a solicitor to attend the reading of a will. CID follow up on a burglary where the stolen items were returned to the owner.

Near the Knuckle: WPC Datta investigates a domestic between a prominent couple.

Body Language: Stamp and Stringer give chase to a group of black youths.

When Did You Last See Your Father?: Hollis attends an accident involving a school bus. Dashwood investigates a stray animal on the loose.

Eye-Witness: A man is attacked by a group of football supporters and hooligans.

Sufficient Evidence: Quinnan attends a noisy party where he proceeds to frame one of the partygoers.

Forget-Me-Not: WPC Marshall’s violent ex-husband arrives at Sun Hill looking for her.

Something to Remember: PC Quinnan receives a commendation, much to the disgust of Sgt Penny.

Off the Leash: Former Sun Hill typist Delia French starts work as a probationary WPC.

Family Ties: Sun Hill is forced to accommodate a mentally ill prisoner.

Old Friends: DS Roach is at the hospital seeing to the 82-year-old victim of a mugging.

Pride and Prejudice: Garfield and Stamp arrest a man who reveals he has AIDS.

Housey Housey: Uniform oversee squatters being evicted from a block of council flats.

Connelly’s Kids: Greig and Carver arrest a man on suspicion of handling stolen property.

One of Those Days: Ackland and Loxton are at each other’s throats after attending a hit and run. Meanwhile, Brownlow wishes to interview female officers regarding equal opportunities.

Jack-The-Lad: Datta and Stamp find two women fighting each other over one of the woman’s husbands.

Blue Murder: Sgt. Cryer faces a man with a sawn-off shotgun.

Effective Persuaders: Some of the relief go on an interview technique training course.

A Sense of Duty: DS Roach arrests a drunk while off duty, much to the anger of Insp Monroe.

Lying in Wait: Sgt Peters, Ackland and Garfield are called to a minor disturbance – and discover a dead body. Stamp enjoys a quiet moment by the canal – but ends up being called upon to save a child’s life. A set of stolen traffic lights also signals problems for Sun Hill.

Plato for Policemen: DS Roach visits a familiar thief who is supposed to be going straight – and Ackland and Hollis discover a traumatized victim. Meanwhile, Brownlow goes back to school – and decides he doesn’t like it. 

Testimony: DS Roach interviews a man suspected of burglary and rape.

Decisions: Bob Cryer returns to duty for the first time since the tragic events of a few weeks’ back, when he shot and killed an armed robber. Monroe is concerned that Bob may still be feeling the effects – and rumours are flying around the station as to his future.

Know Your Enemy: Dangerous criminal Tony Jarvis has been released from prison early, and has a score to settle. While he was inside, Ted Roach has been keeping Mrs Jarvis sweet – and now she and Roach both seem to be in Tony’s sights.

Lies: Greig is deputizing for Burnside, and oversees a CID operation to intercept armed robbers at a factory wages raid. When one of the robbers’ firearms appears to go missing at the scene, he lands in trouble with acting-DCI Bradby. Meanwhile, Datta and Quinnan attend a fracas at a DSS office.

Old Wounds: Patrick Litton’s father died of a heart attack while in custody at Sun Hill – but thieving seems to run in the family, with Patrick soon under suspicion himself of carrying on the family ‘business’. Meanwhile, Datta helps an old lady living in the past in a condemned house to come to terms with reality.

Just for a Moment: Stamp and Loxton are called to a disturbance at a house – and find a young man who has stabbed his mother, leaving her critically wounded. The mentally-disturbed young man doesn’t seem to understand what’s happened to his mother, and is arrested and taken in for questioning by CID. Once back at the station though, events take on a surprising new turn. 

Market Forces: The ‘bike squad’ theft operation of Quinnan and Garfield successfully nick a teenager who’s broken into a car and stolen a radio. When the owner is traced though, it seems that there’s more at stake for him than just the simple loss of his stereo.

One for the Road: Sgt Penny runs into trouble when he gets pulled by vindictive Barton Street officers for driving with a defective tail-light. But worse still, he fails a breath test and is arrested – leaving him feeling he’s been the victim of a huge stitch-up by the rival nick.

Start with the Whistle: Sgt Penny is left devastated following his arrest for drink-driving by Barton Street officers – his job now hanging in the balance. After various house visits from well-meaning colleagues to offer advice, he’s left to face the music in court – and also from the force itself.

Out of the Blue: Not only is W.P.C. Ackland late, her friendship with D.C.I. Wray is station gossip.

Street Smart: It’s DCI Wray’s final day, and the relief aren’t happy – and they’re keen to show their feelings to Inspector Monroe by making a monkey of him. Meanwhile, Wray’s replacement Kim Reid arrives – and she’s even brought a body in with her too.

Safe as Houses: CID are tasked with guarding grass Lennie Powell for the night at a safehouse – he’s set to give evidence the following day in court that will send his other gang members down. A tense situation ensues when Burnside gets word that a contract is out on Lennie’s life – leaving Tosh, Martella and Lennie all feeling vulnerable.

Friends and Neighbours: D.I. Burnside decides D.C. Carver has to move into the section house to avoid three misdemeanours. His room is across the hall from P.C. Hollis.

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