Bill (The): Volume 3 (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (9th May 2009).
The Show

This is the third volume in Network’s releases of the serialised episodes of long-running police drama The Bill (Thames, 1984- ). (See our review of volume two here.) The Bill began its life as a post-watershed hour-long drama, and in that incarnation The Bill ran for three series. In 1988, the show was rebranded as a serialised half-hour drama broadcast before the watershed, losing some key members of the cast (principally, John Salthouse as Detective Inspector Roy Galloway) and gaining some new regular characters (including Kevin Lloyd as Detective Constable ‘Tosh’ Lines). The rebranded series also featured a more prominent role for the tough-talking, rule-bending Detective Inspector Burnside (Christopher Ellison), whose run-ins with the paternal Sergeant Bob Cryer (Eric Richard)—who headed the uniformed ‘bobbies’--foregrounded the series’ ongoing juxtaposition of the CID officers’ ethos of policing as a form of social control (as per The Sweeney, Thames 1974-9) and the representation of uniformed policing as a form of pastoral care (as per Dixon of Dock Green, BBC 1955-76).

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Storylines are divided between the uniformed bobbies and the CID men, with some episodes (such as ‘The Quick and the Dead’, whose core narrative involves the theft of a body from a funeral home) focusing exclusively on the uniformed policemen and women. Most episodes feature several intersecting narratives, one of which usually acts as a form of comic relief: for example, ‘The Quick and the Dead’ features a comic subplot revolving around a compulsory fitness test for the uniformed officers. Some of the storylines are very challenging: for example, ‘Personal Imports’ features a key narrative revolving around the use of a 14 year old Turkish immigrant as a male prostitute. (The episode also features an appearance from Paul O’Grady, aka ‘Lily Savage’, as a transvestite prostitute who helps Detective Sergeant Ted Roach in his investigation into a cottaging incident.) These episodes also feature a surprising number of episodes revolving around the use of illegal drugs and its role in the transmission of the AIDS virus, something which was very much at the foreground of public consciousness in 1988: in ‘Stop and Search’, a young WPC undergoes a health scare after pricking her hand on a used needle during a stop-and-search of drug users; in ‘Personal Imports’, Tosh begins to give mouth-to-mouth to the daughter of an MP who has passed out from an overdose, but he’s stopped by his colleague, who tells him that ‘Ten to one, she’s got it’.

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Set in the fictional police district of Sun Hill, the series made heavy use of location shooting: in the first two series, episodes were filmed in and around Wapping, but in 1985 production moved to North Kensington; after 1990, the series began filming on an industrial estate in Merton (see Tibballs, 2004: 11). The series benefits greatly from this use of real locations, which add a sense of visual realism to the often gritty storylines.

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The scriptwriters are unafraid of ambiguity and don’t patronise the viewer, never feeling the need to spell everything out for the audience: for example, ‘Personal Imports’ features a number of intersecting narrative strands, which subtly reinforce the theme of prostitution that runs throughout the episode; these narrative strands come together at the conclusion of ‘Personal Imports’. Likewise, ‘Paper Chase’ closes before the villains are caught but after a key piece of evidence has been discovered, leaving the viewer to ponder over how the story might be resolved. The episodes are, for the most part, tightly-paced, often featuring very short scenes; it is debatable as to whether this is an improvement from the series’ original hour-long format, which allowed a little more ‘breathing room’.

This volume sees the first introduction of Detective Constable Alfred ‘Tosh’ Lines, in the episode ‘Stop and Search’. Played by the actor Kevin Lloyd, Tosh was an iconic feature of The Bill up until the character’s departure from the series in 1998. A much-loved character, Tosh is introduced in a storyline which sees him helping Burnside to investigate a thirty year old murder that is uncovered when a man comes in to the police station and confesses to murdering his wife during the 1950s.

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Episodes:
Disc One:
1. 'The Quick and the Dead'
2. 'Witness'
3. 'Here We Go Loopy Lou'
4. 'Stop and Search'
5. 'Spook Stuff'
6. 'Evacuation'

Disc Two:
7. 'Personal Imports'
8. 'Paper Chase'
9. 'Intruder'
10. 'Conflict'
11. 'Duplicates'
12. 'Snout'
13. 'Old Habits'

Video

The episodes were shot on video and get a handsome presentation on this release from Network. Colours are especially vibrant. The episodes are presented in their original broadcast screen ratio of 4:3, with the original break bumpers intact. There do not appear to be any cuts.

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Audio

Sound is presented via a 2-channel stereo track. This is clear. There are no subtitles.

Extras

There is no contextual material.

Overall

The episodes in this set are consistently good. Whilst it could be argued that The Bill was at its peak during its first three years, in its incarnation as a post-watershed hour-long drama, these half hour episodes saw the series’ popularity snowballing. As noted in our earlier review of Volume Two, the half hour format results in less of a focus on the procedural elements of the drama, as the writers try to cram in both the investigation elements of the stories and the banter between the characters. The series really benefits from the introduction of Tosh Lines, who for the next ten years would develop into one of the series’ most loved characters.

References:
Tibballs, Geoff, 2004: The Bill: The Official History of Sun Hill. London: Carlton Books

For more information, please visit the homepage of Network DVD.

The Show: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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