Monday, August 30, 2010

RIP The Bill

As ITV's police series The Bill comes to an end, on the Writers' Guild website writer Gregory Evans (right) reflects on the show's significance.
I heard about Alan Plater's death on the day of the Bill wrap party.

The party seemed significant enough in itself, a celebration-cum-wake marking the end, after a run of 27 years, of British television's most popular police series. And, on a personal note, the end of an 18-year period in my own writing career: my first episode of The Bill was screened in 1992, my final episode went out in June this year.

Between those two dates I’ve chalked up 27 episodes (or so it says on IMDb: I haven’t been counting). Despite this, I've never really thought of myself as a Bill writer: I’m just a writer who sometimes worked on The Bill, and loved the show, as contributor and viewer, for most of its long and varied life (half-hours, hours; once, twice, three times a week; and, finally, uneasily, post-watershed).

Some years I wrote three or four episodes, others I was busy with other work so I didn’t make that long, boring journey down to Merton. (For those who've never had the pleasure, Merton – which a few years ago mysteriously became South Wimbledon – the last-stop-but-one on the Northern Line, is where The Bill studios and production offices are, or rather were, situated.)

Once I took a seven-year break from The Bill from 2001 to 2008, when, under executive producer Paul Marquess, it took an eye-stingingly soapy turn that I didn’t much care for (though, to be fair, many viewers did: the reinvention slowed a long slow slide in the audience figures). And then, three years ago, I was pleased as punch to be invited back on the show after it rediscovered its police-procedural mojo under Johnathan Young.

The sad news of Alan Plater's death made the Bill wrap party seem more momentous than ever. In fact, it occurred to me that, in the subtext at least, the passing of something bigger than The Bill was being marked on that late-June evening. It seemed we were there to celebrate and mourn not only The Bill itself, not only a certain kind of cop show – realistic, defiantly low-concept, with its roots in ‘ordinary’, i.e. working-class, life (reports of Alan's death mentioned his early work on Z-Cars, which broke the ground The Bill built on and occupied for so long), but also a particular kind of television drama: distinctively British, often regional; writer-led (therefore well-crafted, thoughtful and emotionally true); quietly confident in what it does and how it does it. The kind of drama Alan Plater wrote throughout his long and illustrious career; the kind John Wilsher has been writing (a fair amount of it for The Bill) for 30 years.

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