“The Bill” is a police procedural television drama that was broadcast in the UK on the ITV network from 16 October 1984 until 31 August 2010.

The series name originated from “Old Bill”, a London slang term for the police. This was also the show’s original title, before creator Geoff McQueen opted for “The Bill”.

The program stemmed from a one-off drama, called “Woodentop”, which was broadcast in August 1983.

Rather than concentrate on a particular aspect of police work, the show focused on the lives and work of one shift of police officers.

At the time of the series’ conclusion, “The Bill” was the longest-running police procedural television series in the United Kingdom, and at twenty-seven years was among the longest-running of any television series in British history.

Series Origins

“The Bill” was originally conceived in 1983 as a one-off drama by Geoff McQueen. It was picked up for production company Thames Television by Michael Chapman, and renamed from its original title “Old Bill” to “Woodentop”.

Broadcast as part of Thames’ “Storyboard” series on 16 August 1983, “Woodentop” starred Mark Wingett as Police Constable (PC) Jim Carver and Trudie Goodwin as Woman Police Constable (WPC) June Ackland of London’s Metropolitan Police, both attached to the fictional Sun Hill police station.

“Woodentop” impressed the ITV network so much that a full series was commissioned, first broadcast on 16 October 1984. The show consisted of one post-watershed (marking the boundary between family and adult television) installment per week, featuring an hour-long, separate storyline for each episode of the first three seasons.

On serialization, the name of the show changed from “Woodentop” to “The Bill”.

Evolution of the Show

The series format changed to two thirty-minute episodes per week in 1988, increasing to three a week from 1993.

From 1998, “The Bill” returned to hour-long episodes, which later became twice-weekly. At this point, the series was able to explore much more of the characters’ personal lives.

The change also allowed “The Bill” to become more reflective of modern policing with the introduction of officers from ethnic minorities (most notably, the new superintendent, Adam Okaro). It also allowed coverage of the relationship between homosexual Sergeant Craig Gilmore and PC Luke Ashton.

In 2005, Johnathan Young took over as executive producer, and the serial format was dropped. “The Bill” returned to stand-alone episodes with more focus on crime and policing than the personal lives of the officers.


The first official episode of “The Bill” was titled “Funny Ol’ Business – Cops & Robbers”.

The opening sequence consisted of two police officers, one male, one female, walking down a street, as images of Sun Hill were interspersed between them. It featured the first version of the series iconic theme tune, “Overkill”, which was composed by Charlie Morgan and Andy Pask.

Through the years of the show’s evolution, this basic tune was repackaged several times until 2009, when the classic “Overkill” theme was replaced by a new one created by Simba Studios.

Here’s one version, courtesy of YouTube:

In deference to the fans, a specially commissioned remix of “Overkill” was used for “The Bill”‘s final episode on 31 August 2010.

Sun Hill

“The Bill” is set in and around Sun Hill police station, in the fictional “Canley Borough Operational Command Unit” in East London. Series creator Geoff McQueen claimed that he named Sun Hill after a street in his home town of Royston, Hertfordshire.

The fictional suburb of Sun Hill is located in the fictional London borough of Canley in the East End, north of the River Thames. The Borough of Canley is roughly analogous to the real-life London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Sun Hill has a London E1 postcode, which corresponds to the real-life areas of Whitechapel and Stepney.

From the first series, the police station consisted of a set of buildings in Artichoke Hill, Wapping, East London. These buildings were next to the News International plant, and during industrial action there in the winter of 1985–86, there were some altercations between the strikers and actors working on “The Bill” who were mistaken for real police officers.

The production team moved the sets to an old record distribution depot in Barlby Road, North Kensington in North West London. Filming began there in March 1987.

In 1989, the production moved to an old wine distribution warehouse in Merton, South West London. The relocation was disguised on screen by the ‘ongoing’ refurbishment of Sun Hill police station and ultimately, by the explosion of a terrorist car-bomb in the station car-park, which ended up killing one of the characters (PC Ken Melvin).

The Cast of Characters

Over “The Bill”‘s twenty-seven year run, 174 actors have formed part of the series’ main cast. A number of cast members have played multiple roles on the show, in that time.

Some of the more notable residents of Sun Hill were:

Detective Sergeant (DS) Jim Carver:
Actor Mark Wingett played Carver, from 1983 to 2007. The character featured as a Police Constable, in the very first episode of the show. After his marriage to June Ackland (see below) collapsed and he built up gambling debts, the character left Sun Hill.

Sergeant June Ackland:
Trudie Goodwin played PC, later promoted to Sergeant, June Ackland from 1983 to 2007. The character retired in 2007 after her on-screen relationship with Jim Carver came to an abrupt end. When Goodwin left “The Bill” in 2007 she was not only the longest serving cast member, but also held the world record for the longest time an actor has portrayed a police character.

Sergeant Bob Cryer:
Eric Richard played Sergeant Bob Cryer from 1984 to 2001. The character left after having been accidentally shot by then PC Dale Smith. Cryer made brief re-appearances later in the series – including in one storyline involving his niece Roberta, who later joined the station.

Detective Chief Inspector Frank Burnside:
Christopher Ellison played DI (Detective Inspector), later promoted to DCI, Frank Burnside from 1984 to 2000. Amid allegations of corruption and abuse, Burnside made many enemies both at Sun Hill and among the criminal element. The character spawned a brief (six-episodes!) spin-off series called “Burnside”, which followed Frank Burnside in his transfer and promotion to the National Crime Squad.

Detective Constable Tosh Lines:
Kevin Lloyd played DC Tosh Lines from 1988 to 1998. The character was written out as having accepted a position in the Coroner’s Office after Lloyd was sacked from the show for turning up drunk. Lloyd died a week after his dismissal.

Police Constable Reg Hollis:
Jeff Stewart played PC Reg Hollis from 1984 to 2008. The character was written out of the show after resigning on the grounds of having being traumatized by the death of colleagues during a bomb blast. After learning of his axing from the show, actor Stewart attempted suicide on set by slashing his wrists.

Detective Sergeant Don Beech:
Actor Billy Murray played DS Don Beech from 1995 to 2004. The character was a corrupt police officer, notably murdering DS John Boulton, which forced Beech to go on the run, sparking the “Don Beech scandal”.

Sergeant Matt Boyden:
Tony O’Callaghan played Sergeant Matt Boyden from 1991 to 2003. Boyden was shot dead by his daughter’s boyfriend on her instigation, so she could profit from insurance money to fund her drugs habit. This storyline formed the basis for the opening episode of a spin-off series called “M.I.T.: Murder Investigation Team”.

Powerful Stuff


In the UK, working on “The Bill” became something of a rite of passage for television actors.

The finale episodes featured all the cast, and the final scene was specially written so all cast members would be featured.

Here’s a YouTube clip from the series finale, “Respect”:

Following “The Bill”‘s final episode on 31 August 2010, ITV aired a documentary titled “Farewell The Bill” featuring interviews from past and present cast and crew. The special explored the history of the series and gave viewers a behind the scenes look at the filming of the last episode.

This special was later released onto DVD in Australia on 5 October 2011, along with the last two-part episode “Respect”.


“The Bill” was Britain’s longest running police drama.

It has been compared to “Hill Street Blues” due to the similar, serialized format that both shows take.

During its 27-year-run, The Bill spawned several spin-off productions and related series in German and Dutch languages, as well as a series of documentaries.

When “The Bill” began, the majority of the UK’s Police Federation were opposed to the show, claiming that it portrayed the police as a racist organization. However, feelings towards the program mellowed, over the years. Some editorial input from the Police Federation was allowed, as was the use of some official police equipment.

“The Bill” did not have permission to use sirens while on location. However, the police uniforms used in the series were genuine – making “The Bill” unique amongst police dramas.

When the series ended, London’s Metropolitan Police Service, after talks with the production company, bought 400 kilograms of police related paraphernalia, including flat caps and stab vests, to prevent them falling into the hands of criminals after the production ceased.

And here’s where this one ceases.

See you next time – I hope.

Till then.