Some things in life you can be certain of. When a politician wishes to make something “perfectly clear” you know it won’t be. Every action hero, at some point in a film, will need to dive under or through sliding doors. When you go to the theatre and look at an actor’s credits – they will have The Bill.
Britain’s longest running non-soap drama, The Bill, will come to an explosive end tonight, after 27 years of collaring villains. Across the country actors of all shapes, ages and sizes will mourn the loss of a constant source of employment, a rite of passage and a British institution. Since 1983, The Bill has kept 3, 101 actors out of bar work and on the beat.
Older actors will often tell you of the golden days, when they ‘cut their teeth’ in rep theatre. This was a rite of passage that few young actors can claim to today. Flash forward twenty years and the same will be heard in the dressing rooms of some fast paced, HD slick show, ‘Darling, you have it easy now. In my day, we did The Bill. Now, that was a training.’
I was lucky enough to be employed twice at Sun Hill’s famous nick. My first stint was playing a cocaine dealing posh bird who made her deliveries on a pink scooter. Lady Penelope with a habit.
Then, just nine months later, they straightened my hair and I was back on the show as a slick lawyer, mugged by drug users. Probably the most range I’ll showcase in my career. It was my first ever telly job and as soon as I got it, I felt I had arrived. Now, I could call myself a real actress. I was in The Bill. Here my career would be born.
I was out of work again in a week and back to my part time job as a children’s entertainer. Still, The Bill gave me hope that I was now a ‘professional’. (These thoughts help as children scream at you in a pink, fluffy fairy costume.)
Airing in over 55 countries, I was really chuffed when I was spotted as ‘that brit bird on TV last night’ whilst holidaying in Australia. I chased the poor surfer dude down the beach with glee at having been officially “recognised”.
It wasn’t just my illustrious, ahem, career that The Bill kicked off. A whole host of stars have used the drama as a launchpad for their screen work. A young Keira Knightley did her first bit of eye batting with some of our boys in blue in 1994 and a fresh faced Russell Brand also had his break on the show.
Georgia Moffett, of Doctor Who and Spooks Code 9 fame, played the character of Abigail Nixon for 26 episodes. For her the show will be sorely missed.
Georgia told me: “There are so many wonderful things about The Bill. The casting opportunities it brings for actors starting out and the quality of scripts every week to name a few but the thing that makes it special above any other show I’ve worked on are the people who work on it. They are the most brilliant bunch and made my time there amazing. I think we’ll all feel it’s loss for many years to come.”
The Bill is hardly the height of TV glamour. It is the one TV job where you actually have to make your own way to set. I know, shock, horror, poor actor doesn’t get a car for his knackered limbs but these perks are what keep you warm through the chilling times of unemployment.
However, the crew, producers and 18 main cast members are the warm, friendly Brady Bunch of Brit TV. I haven’t met an actor who hasn’t enjoyed their time with The Bill bobbies. However, maybe this cosy, tea time TV feel was its downfall.
In 2008 the show was cut to just one ep a week and given a 9pm time slot in order to sex-up its storylines. We lost the theme tune and characters grimaced a lot more.
The Bill was never going to rival The Wire, its US counterpart, for twisting narratives and hard edged occupants, so it’s a shame they felt it needed such a makeover. But, we were still rooting for the huge employer of actors, writers, tea boys.
Sadly, audiences continued to dwindle and slipped below four million this year. Peter Fincham, ITV director of television, insists that it will be replaced by one-off films and short run series to give “a wide range of high-quality drama” on the channel.
A host of great shows have been announced for ITV’s Autumn schedule, including Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes latest lavish, period offering, so perhaps ITV are keeping their word. Life must move on. We still have politicians and action heroes. And I still have the fairy costume.
The final episode will be broadcast at 9pm, Tuesday, on ITV1.
Watch Daisy’s dastardly drug-dealer crack under interrogation at the Sun Hill nick, it’s three minutes into her showreel…