The Bill Made Me Famous!!!
What do Kiera Knightley, Paul O’Grady, Michelle Collins and Ray Winstone have in common? They, among many other stars, have all appeared in one of the country’s most loved television shows, The Bill.
With exclusive interviews with guest actors, behind the scenes secrets, and fascinating insights from cast past and present, The Bill Made Me Famous is an intriguing look into the history of television’s longest running police drama.
In 1983 the pilot episode called Woodentop started with the immortal first words: “OK Carver, let’s do it.” This led to a series which has kept viewers gripped for 25 years, and created many memorable and iconic characters.
The centre of The Bill universe has been Sun Hill police station in the fictional east London district of Canley, and it has always remained as true to real life as possible. The uniforms and vehicles match those of the Metropolitan Police, the only television drama allowed to do so.
Roberta Taylor, who played Inspector Gina Gold, says of the uniforms: “It didn’t feel like a costume, I felt like I’d joined up.”
The Bill has launched many acting careers, and has attracted a huge range of established actors to play guest parts.
In 1986 Michelle Collins was a 23-year-old jobbing actress at the start of her career when she landed one of her first major roles.
She tells the programme: “Like it is now, it was really respected, so to get a good, gutsy part in The Bill was quite a coup. It definitely helped my career.”
Other actors who started their careers with parts in The Bill include Ray Winstone who was a relative unknown when he appeared in 1995 and Sean Bean who played a young hoodlum in what was only his second television role. Keira Knightley was just ten years old when she appeared and her Atonement co-star James McAvoy got his break in The Bill when he was just a teenager.
Before finding fame in Little Britain, David Walliams appeared in an episode in 2002, while 1988 saw the television debut of someone who is now a household name – Paul O’Grady.
Then known as Paul Savage, he played a transvestite called Roxanne in three episodes. Paul reveals: “It was my first telly job. I was working at the Vauxhall Tavern and one of the casting directors came down and said do you fancy being in The Bill?
“They had a lot of trust in me and I was really grateful for that. At the time I thought I was the new Garbo. I’ve got such happy memories of it, I’d like to go back and play a villain. A really twisted serial killer.”
One person who says his career was transformed by The Bill is Darren Day. Although established in musical theatre he wasn’t known as a serious actor until his part in The Bill. “I’d never done a prime time, very established job. I was really, really flattered to be offered it. What The Bill did for me was it made people sit up and take notice. I’m seeing some casting people now that I truly believe wouldn’t have let me in the door, or wouldn’t have been interested in me coming in the door, pre The Bill.”
Ben Richards who plays PC Nate Roberts says: “The Bill isn’t a fashionable show, it’s not a show that grabs the headlines, but we have the best, best, guest artists.”
It’s a demanding task for the guest actors, especially when they’ve never done a serious dramatic role before.
Popular entertainer and gameshow host Les Dennis played a man suspected of murdering his father. Les admits that one of the most difficult aspects was working with Lisa Maxwell. He explains: “Lisa and I worked together on the Les Dennis Laughter Show, she was my leading lady. We were doing all these serious things and I kept thinking, there’s no gag at the end of this.”
Les’s character’s father was missing and would eventually be found in the freezer. Lisa Maxwell reveals that Les came up with one of the great lines of the shoot. When asked where his father was by the police he responded with: “Dad’s gone to Iceland.”
He admits it was a challenge playing the role of Tom Walker. “To bring some sort of darkness to a character was a challenge for me and interestingly the feedback I got from people was at first: ‘We thought it was Les Dennis, but then we got into the character and believed it’.”
Rock legend Roger Daltrey says: “The Bill seems to find the great actors before they are famous.”
He played a reformed drug dealer whose life disintegrated when he was falsely accused of dealing again. This gritty storyline culminated in tragedy when his character shot his young daughter and then killed himself.
He says of his experience on The Bill: “I was quite pleased when I saw it. I very rarely watch myself but because it was the Bill I had to, because that’s the rite of passage for most English actors isn’t it?”
Pauline Quirke admits to feeling left out before landing a part in The Bill.
“I was probably the only actor in the United Kingdom who hadn’t been in The Bill and it was starting to worry me a little bit. In fact some of the actors I know have been in more than once. Rumours have it that some dead actors have been brought back to life and appeared in The Bill.”
There have been many villains in The Bill, but sometimes the coppers were the biggest villains. The most infamous amongst these was PC Gabriel Kent, played by Todd Carty.
Todd says of his character: “He raped, he pillaged, he murdered, he shot, he beat up people and he happened to be a copper at the same time.”
He also reveals: “The part gave me a chance to do something completely different, lose a bit of weight running around in those hot suits. It took my career in a completely different direction. So good on you Bill, and thanks for the memories.”
The role call of guests in The Bill is legendary. Jo Absolom cut his teeth in the show and a young Emma Bunton appeared as an extra. Other star guests include Hugh Laurie, Alex Kingston, John Hannah, Denise Van Outen and Kathy Burke. And of course, the narrator of this programme – Martin Kemp.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008, 9:00PM – 10:00PM