The Bill (1984-1987)

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Simon36
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The Bill (1984-1987)

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I’ve been laid up for the last week and it’s been a great opportunity to watch some of the things I thought I’d never ever find time for. The first series of New Scotland Yard (interesting) and now the early series of The Bill.

Although from the episodes I watched at the time, I knew its first incarnation was good, capable stuff, I’d no idea it was THIS good. It’s so unusual, almost mock-documentary in its constantly moving camera, absence of music and suffocating confinement to the officers at work. A great ensemble cast, very realistically messy violence and very witty too.

Does anyone know why the format was changed to half-hours? To me that was always the imperial phase, but the first three series and their grit and originality have stunned me.

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Billy Smart
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Re: The Bill (1984-1987)

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The whole feel of those early series is very distinctive. There's a particular sense of contained chaos, with episodes structured so that several things are going on at once, accurately reflecting the competing calls upon a policeman's attention. Each of those three series is better than the one before, reaching a peak in 1987 with the insufferable Inspector Kite and his close attention to the new Police & Criminal Evidence Act regulations.

The mobile OB shooting feels as though it could go anywhere, making it a very evocative record of what London was like to walk around when I was a boy. And how it was changing... I like Trudie Goodwin's account of how the places where they filmed were often being pulled down almost immediately after they recorded there - https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radi ... ne-ackland

Brian F
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Re: The Bill (1984-1987)

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I saw them recording a scene in Croydon Market and was really surprised at how small the camera was, connected to recording equipment via a radio link. They were almost invisible to the crowds compared with a traditional crew.

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Nick Cooper 625
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Re: The Bill (1984-1987)

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I've been going through series 15-18 and 21-23 of The Bill as they're being repeated on Drama and Watch, checking for any appearances of the London Underground/DLR I wasn't previously aware of.* A lot of the time this has been on FF, but I've ended up watching quite a few episodes that looked interesting, and I've found the quality to be generally better than I would have thought. Every now and again, though, it throws a real curve-ball, like the Arthur Ellis-scripted The Jury's Out, which comes across as I imagine Z Cars would have done if they'd actually allowed GF Newman to write an episode!

* Which turns out to be a lot more than I expected. Not only quite complex scenes on either network, but also the repeated use across series 17, 17 & 22 of the road junction where Colliers Wood station is!
"Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo." [Wells]

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Nick Cooper 625
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Re: The Bill (1984-1987)

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Billy Smart wrote:I like Trudie Goodwin's account of how the places where they filmed were often being pulled down almost immediately after they recorded there - https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radi ... ne-ackland
The live 999th episode being a case in point, with a chemical tanker crashing outside a Tube station, all shot on the old Woolwich Arsenal site, shortly before its controversial redevelopment.
"Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo." [Wells]

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Simon36
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Re: The Bill (1984-1987)

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Billy Smart wrote:The whole feel of those early series is very distinctive. There's a particular sense of contained chaos, with episodes structured so that several things are going on at once, accurately reflecting the competing calls upon a policeman's attention. Each of those three series is better than the one before, reaching a peak in 1987 with the insufferable Inspector Kite and his close attention to the new Police & Criminal Evidence Act regulations.

The mobile OB shooting feels as though it could go anywhere, making it a very evocative record of what London was like to walk around when I was a boy. And how it was changing... I like Trudie Goodwin's account of how the places where they filmed were often being pulled down almost immediately after they recorded there - https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radi ... ne-ackland
You’re absolutely right, contained chaos. One person dashes up a staircase and smooth as silk someone in the hurry going the other way nabs them. It’s constant bustle, and exceptionally well done. Surprised to see so many episodes directed by christopher Hodson, an old-school studio director; it feels more like the work of ambitious young bloods.

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Billy Smart
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Re: The Bill (1984-1987)

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Simon36 wrote:Surprised to see so many episodes directed by Christopher Hodson, an old-school studio director; it feels more like the work of ambitious young bloods.
Look at the writers used for Series 1. - three episodes by Geoff McQueen and seven by Barry Appleton - both screenwriters with only a handful of credits to their name (all within the last couple of years). There's only one episode by a trusted old hand, John Kershaw. They didn't hedge their bets by using experienced police series writers, like Terence Feely or Allan Prior. Even 35 years on, the sense of trying to do something new and unfamiliar with this series (a great virtue of Thames drama - see Rock Follies, Bill Brand or Fox for example) is striking.

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Simon36
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Re: The Bill (1984-1987)

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Indeed. Barry Appleton was an ex-copper, and I think doubled as the advisor in those early series.

The episode WITH FRIENDS LIKE THAT I remember vividly from the time: a superb performance by Sara Moore, who seemed to vanish again immediately after.

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Re: The Bill (1984-1987)

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Incidentally, I notice the rule of every scene having to feature a police officer doesn’t apply in series 1, and it makes a vast difference to the nature of the storyline: in Death of a Cracksman we witness a murder take place and know all along who did it and how, unlike the police. Burning the Books has a few scenes just between the villains which are far less necessary, but both make those episodes feel a little more ordinary for the effect they have on the narrative.

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